On October 26, the premiere of Yuri Grigorovich’s version of the Arif Melikov ballet The Legend of Love will take place at Moscow’s legendary Bolshoi Theater on Oct. 26 – to an audience of several hundred thousand people. But most of these people will not actually be in the theater – they will be watching the performance from movie theaters around the country.
This unlikely feat will be made possible thanks to a live broadcast project of which the Bolshoi has been a participant for six years. Russian movie theaters will have to pay the Russian company Cool Connections for screening rights, then Cool Connections must give a percentage to the French Pathé Live, which in turn will give a share of the profits back to the Bolshoi.
Broadcasting performances first became popular in 2006, when the New York Metropolitan Opera announced the beginning of live transmissions, organized by Pathé Live. Those who could not attend the opera house and wished to see their favorite artists up close instead of from the gallery went to watch the performances in movie theaters instead.
In 2009 Pathé Live signed a contract with the Bolshoi Theater to broadcast exclusively ballet performances, perhaps because the Bolshoi's ballet is better received in the world or perhaps in order not to compete with the Metropolitan, which releases only opera performances.
The difficulties in realizing the project
For three years the Bolshoi’s ballets had been broadcast in many countries around the world, but not in Russia. Russian movie theaters joined the project in 2012 when Cool Connections became the Russian distributor.
"Our expectations were very high because out of all the theaters whose performances we transmitted, the Bolshoi was the most well-known and sought-after in Russia," says Nadezhda Kotova, general director of the Cool Connections art group. Negotiations with the movie theater directors were complicated: In order to receive the live signal, the movie theaters need a satellite antenna and decoder that cost $12,700. Therefore, in 2012 only five movie theaters started transmitting performances from the Bolshoi.
"This project still needs a bit of time to build up an audience, which definitely exists," affirms Kotova. "However, finding the viewers is not easy. We do not have a big advertising budget for print and outdoor ads. We don't have TV commercials. None of the TV channels that we approached with a partnership proposal has supported our initiative."
The French trace
Bolshoi performances are now shown in 1,000 theaters, 46 of which are in Russia. The organization of one transmission costs the French company $500,000. "The network of movie theaters that transmit our performances is gradually growing, but Russia does not have the quantity of theaters that Europe has," explains Anton Getman, the Bolshoi's deputy director.
"First of all, the transmission requires expensive equipment. Secondly, permission to transmit the performances must be obtained from the Pathé Live company. They stood by us at the inception of this idea, that’s why we have this two-layer construction."
With regard to video recording, all roads also lead from the Bolshoi to Paris. Since 2002, filming in the Bolshoi and video production rights have been in the possession of another French company, Bel Air Classiques.
This company then sells the video content to Pathé Live, which transmits the content throughout the world. Bel Air released several dozens of CDs with Bolshoi performances, which until 2012 were not permitted to be sold on Russian territory.
The French are considered authorities in the field of filming classical music and musical theater, and the quality of their work has attracted no complaints either at the Bolshoi, or anywhere else.
A vicious circle
"Russia has advanced sound engineering," says Anton Gopka, general director of Paraclassics, an international platform for coverage of classical music events, which broadcast the International Tchaikovsky Competition and performances from the Mikhailovsky Theater.
"We can easily record the sound for the broadcasts at a global level. The main thing that our western colleagues are better at is the video recording itself,” says Gopka. “Bel Air employs director Vincent Bataillon, who is perhaps the best in the world at filming classical music.
Thus the vicious circle: Russia's leading theaters are afraid of working with weak domestic companies, while those companies have difficulties in attracting first-rate directors and cameramen without the requests from the leading theaters."
Nevertheless, not all theaters have resigned themselves to the situation. For example, Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky Theater’s general director and artistic director, had a peculiar solution. In 2009 he created the Mariinsky label, which has already released six DVDs.
However, this has not changed the filming process: The Mariinsky's performances and concerts are still filmed by French, as well as Austrian, star directors such as Olivier Simone and Brian Large. But from the outside there is a difference: the St. Petersburg production is released worldwide under the Mariinsky brand, creating at least the appearance of an existing Russian sound recording industry.
Gergiev's "brand patriotism" has also motivated him to create the Mariinsky internet TV channel and radio station, which transmit many performances free. The Bolshoi, on the other hand, prefers to work on the internet's YouTube platform. There is another important advantage in having your own label: The Mariinsky decides alone what and when it will record and broadcast.
First published in Russian in Izvestia.
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