Following installation of the Big Screen Liverpool in 2004, the world-famous Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet approached the emerging network to form a partnership that continues to bring free world-class opera and ballet to the UK public. Beamed live direct to selected sites across the UK via an exclusive satellite link-up, these annual broadcasts are not available on television or pay-per-view. During the first full year of operation in 2005, the free-to-all collaboration began with Stars of the Royal Ballet. Next on the catwalk, a hunchbacked jester labours under a cruel curse in Verdi’s Rigoletto, while Puccini’s La bohème is not a tale to be watched by those with a sore throat as a cough turns into consumption and… well, you can imagine it doesn’t end with a prescription and a week off work.
We led with The Sleeping Beauty in 2006, a new production from The Royal Ballet in celebration of the company’s 75th Anniversary. Over 300 came to watch, with many more dipping in and out en route to the pub or supermarket in the purposely informal surroundings, allowing many who might otherwise feel intimidated or excluded via high ticket prices to sample a bite-sized chunk of unfamiliar fruit. This was followed that same year by one of Mozart’s most popular operas, The Marriage of Figaro as put-upon servants outwitted their demanding masters. Laced with Dynasty-esque bust-ups, secret assignations and people rushing on and off stage in absurd wigs, this is what opera is all about. This was capped by Turandot, a cross between Aladdin and Reservoir Dogs in an Oriental fantasy in which a crazed princess condemns one suitor after another to death.
Having broken new ground, audiences continued to rise year-on-year. During the summer of 2007 as many as 300 per performance sat watching for the entire production plus many hundreds more dipping in for a scene or two on the way to and from their journey through the city centre. We opened with the classic ballet Swan Lake, later followed by Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The biggest lowlife playboy of them all, DG is a pathologically sleazy and corrupt anti-hero, wreaking havoc on the lives of the women he seduces for fun. It was then up toTosca to thwart sex-pest Scarpia in Puccini’s highly charged operatic thriller of love, jealousy, murder and deception.
For 2008, and during the city’s reign as European Capital of Culture, there were further opportunities to catch some of the world’s finest performers without having to poke about the back of the sofa for enough brown coinage to purchase a ticket and train fare. These included Verdi’s Don Carlo (Dad marries son’s fiancé – oops), paired with a repeat outing of The Marriage of Figaro. For my final ROH relay stint in 2009, I was granted the good fortune of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, one of the most recognisable and feel-good of all operas in which, amazingly, not one person chugs poison, stabs themselves or leaps from a balcony!