Opera and ballet performances are to be relayed to cinemas in multiplexes throughout the country under a plan being prepared by the Royal Opera House.
But this, allied to plans to hold screenings in parks and stately homes, may not be enough to satisfy Chris Smith, Secretary of State for National Heritage, who has demanded that the opera house increase access to its performances and become "the people's opera".
The radical move - it would be the first time live opera has been shown on cinema screens across the United Kingdom - will not alter the fact that actual reductions in seat prices at Covent Garden itself remain far from certain.
When the opera house re-opens after rebuilding work, in 1999, both the main house and the new studio theatre will be fitted with remote control cameras and equipment for satellite links to facilitate live relays.
The opera house management has already held private talks with cinema distribution companies about showing first-night relays at city-centre cinemas.
Although there have been reports that the opera house management, chaired by Lord Chadlington, is considering reducing seat prices, this remains far from certain. Options of low-price Sunday and weekday matinees are being considered, but Keith Cooper, head of corporate affairs, warned yesterday: "No one seems to have quite made the connection between a reduction in ticket prices and an increase in subsidy."
The management believes Mr Smith will have to accept this solution to the accessibility problem as the Secretary of State has called publicly for more British product in British multiplexes, and film relays will allow people outside London to enjoy Royal Opera and Royal Ballet performances.
Reductions in ticket prices would only help people in the home counties, as the two companies still have no plans to tour when the Royal Opera House re-opens, unless they receive an increase in Arts Council funding, Mr Cooper confirmed.
Asked about the multiplex plan, he said: "The re-opening in 1999 is a good thing to hook this on ... It's technically very simple.
"We will have to find a sponsor and we will have to sort out the question of payments to artists ... But already the cinema chains are very interested. They have smaller cinemas in their multiplexes, and they too are looking to attract different sorts of audiences."
He added that the relays could also apply to any popular productions that were sold out. Ballet, in particular, would benefit from big-screen treatment, he said, as television rarely did it justice.
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