New York's Opera Not Just For Snobs

Couric--opera for the masses
Couric--opera for the masses

The streets of New York City normally sound like they're filled with honking and horns. But on one Autumn evening in Times Square, something brought the Big Apple to a stand-still, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports.

There, up in the sky, was a butterfly, or at least the sound of one. "Madame Butterfly" was being broadcast on the Jumbotron. Would Puccini have been proud or peeved?

"What I was trying to do was demystify and make less elitist and more accessible this wonderful art form," says Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

In other words, it's not just for snobs anymore. Gelb has been general manager for only five months, but he's already begun to lift the veil of formality that has always shrouded opera.

"I believe that opera should be an experience for everyone," Gelb says.

Gelb has practically been raised at the Met; He was an usher in his teens, showing people their seats. Today, his job is to fill as many of the 3,800 seats as he can.

"To develop new audiences, we have to reach out," Gelb says.

His first act? Put the Met on the Net. Performances are now being streamed on the Met's website.

Act two? Slash prices for prime seats. Orchestra tickets on weeknights are reduced from $100 down to $20.

And starting this week, a special holiday version of Mozart's "Magic Flute" is being beamed via satellite to more than fifty movie theatres nationwide.

"Our plans can only backfire if the artistic results on the stage suffer. And my plan is to do the opposite: to make them better," Gelb explains.

That's why Gelb says part of his Met makeover included bringing in British filmmaker Anthony Menghella, an Oscar winner for "The English Patient," to direct "Madame Butterfly."

What's next? La Boheme by George Lucas?

"Well, we don't have a La Boheme by George Lucas planned. But, we're dealing with an art form that is old. It's aging. And the only remedy is to make it youthful and replenish it," Gelb says.