I reproduce below a letter I wrote to the management of the Metropolitan Opera New York, dated 8 November 2011:

I’d like to congratulate you on your Live in HD initiative, which has quite an impressive list of international theatres, but sadly none in India. Even neighbouring China’s on the list, but not India. Ironically, I see you have Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, which I am sure would garner great interest in India purely on account of the subject matter.

I feel it is a great mistake to overlook India as an audience/market.

I am convinced that there’s a win-win situation for opera houses like the Met, and indeed for ballet companies and orchestras, to make inroads into the Indian market. Movie theatre screenings will be lucrative for orchestras, opera and ballet companies, and will make music more accessible, and closer to the enjoyment of the "real thing". This will then whet the appetite for more music, and all its spin-offs (DVDs, CDs, books, etc), and even if a small fraction of the Indian population gets bitten by this bug, it will be a gargantuan market, equivalent to several European countries put together.

To stress the point further: I was watching an old recording of an aria sung by Mirella Freni, on Youtube; it dated back several decades. It had Japanese subtitles. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the idea of a Far Eastern audience for classical music must have seemed terribly far-fetched. Today we accept it as a given.

The screenings need not have to be "live" with all its attendant problems of time-zone differences, and satellite links, etc. Even "old" archival DVD footage would do just fine.

It is too prohibitive, at this moment in time, for opera companies, ballet companies, and orchestras to visit India regularly, and so our populace is being deprived of the "live" experience that is taken for granted in the Western world, and in the Far East. So the big screen is the next best thing, and will  pay huge dividends for the future.

I’m willing to wager that before long, in a decade or two, there’ll be music DVDs with subtitles in Hindi, Urdu and other South Asian languages. It seems farfetched today, but it will happen. And the music institutions that do this first, the pioneers, will gain the most.

The benefit for India, of course, will be the spread of awareness of classical music here, and discovery of talent here on an unprecedented scale. High-calibre musicians of home-grown Indian origin today are the exception rather than the norm. This is not due to lack of talent, but due to insufficient detection and honing of this talent, the lack of opportunity for it to blossom fully. It is a statistical reality that a population of 1.5 billion HAS to have a similar sprinkling of talent, as in other parts of the world. All we need is a chance. And you can help us get this chance, in a way that benefits you as well, with minimal expenditure. As I said, win-win!

I’d love to help this come to fruition. I’m actively involved in music education and appreciation, and regularly have screenings of classical music for the public in Goa, India. I have to make do with tiny projectors and suboptimal sound, as it is often conducted in premises that are not purpose-built. I’d love for this to happen in a real cinema, and will be glad to help the Met bring screenings to India.

Best wishes,

Dr. Luis Dias (www.luisdias.wordpress.com)

I wrote a blog post “Classical music: the screen experience and why it matters” shortly after.

I am glad to report (whether or not it was thanks to my urging) that the Met Opera is now coming to cinema screens in India!

Well, to the NCPA Mumbai at any rate: There will be a live screening of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore at the NCPA’s Godrej Theatre on October 28 & 29, 2012.

I hope this trend continues, and that this initiative is not confined to the “posh folk” in SoBo (South Bombay/Mumbai) but gets rolled out onto cinema screens in less “glamorous” locations in Mumbai, and indeed the rest of our huge country. I am confident the audiences will appear, given enough time.

This is an Idea whose time has come! 

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