Tuesday 7 December 2021

To present the artistic diversity and quality of the European opera scene: Introducing ARTE Opera

Walter Bergman of ARTE Opera
Wolfgang Bergmann
managing director of ARTE Deutschland & ARTE Coordinator of the ZDF
Now in its fourth season, ARTE Opera presents current productions that whenever possible are live-streamed  from the opera house, and  afterwards the operas, ballets  and concerts can all be viewed as videos on demand. All productions are available throughout Europe and most of them  even worldwide. Wolfgang Bergmann, managing director of ARTE Deutschland and ARTE Coordinator of the ZDF, was kind enough to answer some questions about the enterprise.

ARTE seems a huge undertaking, what are its aims?

The goal of the European project of the ARTE Opera Season is to present the artistic diversity and quality of the European opera scene and to introduce it to new audiences. 

Furthermore, ARTE Opera is conceived as a network between opera houses, festivals and ARTE as a broadcaster, aiming to work on a pan-European visibility of European opera production. We are very happy to count 21 of the leading European opera houses among our partners, e.g. the Paris National Opera, the Berlin State Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, the Royal Theatre of Madrid or the Czech National Theatre of Prague.

Do the economics work, securing the rights for videos and then streaming them to members?

ARTE is a public European culture channel, financed by broadcasting fees and operating from France and Germany. Its aim is, amongst others, to make the productions of the ARTE Opera Season available all over Europe. The opera productions we produce for the ARTE Opera Season are by definition available free of charge for streaming with worldwide or pan-European rights (including the EU, the United Kingdom and the member states of the European Free Trade Association). 

The numbers are encouraging so far: The ARTE Opera Season has already recorded more than 4 million video views from all over Europe since its launch in 2018. 2 million of them in the 2020-2021 season alone.

The productions of the ARTE Opera Season are part of our channel’s quantity structure for new and archive productions of opera. We have two dedicated programme slots in the ARTE TV plans. 

Do you worry that such a service might be used by people as a replacement for live opera?

By broadcasting the productions, ARTE gives opera audiences all over Europe an access to the best productions of the current season. As it is not always possible for everyone to visit operas for various reasons (location, ticket prices, sold-out productions, inhibition before the institution of opera), we perceive our offer at the same time as an extension for regular opera visitors and as an opening to this world for people who physically never or rarely go to the opera. 

Moreover, a broadcast offers a different experience of an actual opera visit: the camera views allow a different perspective on the action and a focus on elements of the action that one would not necessarily notice in the hall. 

The non-musical area the channel has content in a wide variety of languages, is this worth the complex logistics that it music involve?

In general, ARTE mostly does not translate or subtitle music content where the viewers don’t need to follow a plot. Other than opera, there are only limited cases where subtitles are necessary for our musical content. 

All productions of the ARTE Opera Season, however, are available throughout Europe and most of them even worldwide. With the support of the Creative Europe MEDIA programme of the European Union the operas all come with subtitles in six languages: German, English, French, Italian, Polish and Spanish. Nearly 70 per cent of all EU citizens can enjoy ARTE Opera in their mother tongue.

Thanks to our partnership in the ARTE Opera Season, productions from all over Europe have, for example, been made available on Finnish National Opera’s Stage24 platform, further promoting international productions to Finnish audiences outside of the Helsinki area. Some productions have found international success that they most likely wouldn’t have gathered otherwise. E.g. the Strasbourg opera’s production of Astor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires has been met by huge enthusiasm by viewers from the Iberian peninsula.

How are the artistic decisions made, do you ever reject films or artistic products as not good enough or simply not suitable?

Every project that is available on ARTE Concert and/or broadcasted on ARTE Television has been discussed in at least two programme conferences. Projects or films are regularly rejected for various reasons, e.g. an artist/composer/piece that is overly present in our catalogue, a project that doesn’t match our artistic criteria, a project that doesn’t have a broader appeal for European audiences.

The operas of the ARTE Opera Season are part of a particularly carefully selected opera offer. Our aim is to propose an offer comparable to a season in an opera house, proposing to the crowd pleasing repertoire classics (in new productions and/or with an exceptional casting) next to rediscovered works, contemporary opera, baroque productions and even ballets or gala concerts.

And is there a house style, do you encourage co-productions to be a particular type of production, musical style etc?

ARTE Concert (ARTE’s general music offer online) has no particular house style. We see ourselves as a distributor for current artistic movements and we hope that our offer reflects in some way what happens on the stages in Europe. 

For the ARTE Opera Season in particular we discuss with our partners the kind of works that they would like to put forward and present on a European stage. Most of the time our wishes and ideas match up quite neatly with the ideas and wishes of the opera houses. In the past, we were able to set certain focal points in the programme selection together with our partner houses: e.g. we put forward contemporary works at Dutch National Opera (Rudi Stephan's Die ersten Menschen, Henze's Das Floß der Medusa), forgotten repertoire at Wexford Festival (Mercadante's Il bravo, Catalini's Edmea), the rich Czech repertoire from Prague (Smetana's Dalibor), Mozart in Aix-en-Provence (Le Nozze di Figaro) …

How much of the channel's output is a) music, b) classical music, c) opera

As already indicated, ARTE’s most varied musical offer is to be found online on ARTE Concert

ARTE Concert has been showing more than 900 performances and concerts a year since 2009 (about half of them live-streamed) in all genres of music like pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, metal, world music etc. as well as in theatre and dance. About one third of the programmes offered on ARTE Concert is from the classic genre (including operas). Operas alone account for 6 percent of the total music offer, made available online on ARTE Concert.

But music programmes of course also play a vital part in ARTE’s TV broadcast programme. In 2020 the “pure” music offer (documentaries on popular music excluded) on TV accounted for about 6% of the whole ARTE programme; half of this was in classical music (including opera). Opera itself made up 0,58 % of the total broadcast programme in 2020.  

(Side note: The percentages represent broadcasting times and shares of programme categories with an explicit reference to music; in addition, music shares may also be included in other programme categories.  ) 

Will these percentages change?

The goal of ARTE Concert is to offer a wide range of concerts in all genres. It works well, attracts audiences from all genres and also arouses curiosity and a sense of discovery among users. Therefore, we have no plans to change these percentages.

Do you worry that the majority of classical music/opera on the channel is undoubtedly 'high end', eg Salzburg Festival so that the channel is missing out on the lively and imaginative smaller scale performances all over Europe.

It is important to us to present on ARTE Concert, next to high-end productions, also concerts or works promoting emerging artists. In classical music, ARTE Concert has some projects aiming to promote young artists, e.g. “Stars von morgen”. During the Beethoven anniversary year, ARTE Concert was promoting emerging artists by collaborating on chamber music concerts with the music conservatories of Geneva and Lausanne as well as with the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

In opera, e.g. ARTE has for a long time been a broadcasting partner of the Armel Festival in Hungary that promotes the work of young artists. This partnership is unfortunately suspended momentarily due to the Covid pandemic.

ARTE Concert has a long established partnership with Young Euro Classic, a European festival for young artists and orchestras from all over Europe. Also ARTE Concert promoted young artists during the first lockdowns via several daily projects such as Hope@Home - Next Generation, Open Stage Berlin or United We Stream, a daily livestream of electronic music from closed venues in Germany, France and all over the world. Another example would be Dans le club, a format that gives a platform to young hopes of the French rap scene. 

Catalani's Edmea from the 2021 Wexford Festival (Photo Clive Barda)
Catalani's Edmea from the 2021 Wexford Festival (Photo Clive Barda)
Currently available on ARTE Opera

Further detail of ARTE Opera from the website.

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