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The Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts are a regular series of weekly broadcasts on network radio of full-length opera performances. They are transmitted live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York Citymarker. The International Metropolitan Opera Radio Network airs the live performances on Saturday afternoons while the Met is in season, typically beginnning the first Saturday in December, and totalling 20 weekly performances through the end of April. The Met broadcasts are the longest-running continuous classical music program in radio history, and the series has won several Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting.

The series is currently broadcast on over 300 stations in the United States, and stations in 40 countries on five continents. These countries include Canada, Mexico, 27 European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, China, and Japan. The broadcasts are also listenable online via streaming audio; and select broadcasts and excerpts are listenable year-round on the free online service Rhapsody.

History

The Met's radio broadcast history dates back to January, 1910, when radio pioneer Lee De Forest transmitted — experimentally, with erratic signal — two live performances from the stage of the Met, which were reportedly heard as far away as Newark, New Jerseymarker.

The first network broadcast was heard on December 25, 1931 — a performanceof Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. The series was created as the Met, financially endangered in the early years of the Great Depression, sought to enlarge its audience and support through national exposure on network radio. Initially, the broadcasts featured only parts of longer operas, and were limited to selected acts. Regular broadcasts of complete operas began March 11, 1933, with the full transmission of Tristan und Isolde with Frida Leider and Lauritz Melchior.

The live radio broadcasts were originally heard on NBC, and became a staple of its Blue Network. Starting in 1944 the series continued on the Blue Network's successor, ABC, through 1958. From 1958 to 1960 the series was broadcast on CBS. As network radio waned with the rise of television, the Met founded its own independent Metropolitan Opera Radio Network in 1960, which is now heard on radio stations around the world.

In Canada the live broadcasts have been heard since December 1933, first on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Since 1934 they have been heard on the CRBC's successor, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where they currently air on CBC Radio 2marker on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

In December 1990, the broadcast series expanded its transmission to include Europe, via satellite transmission and the European Broadcasting Union. Australia and New Zealand joined the network in the late 1990s; Brazil and Mexico in 1999. Uruguay, Ecuador, and Japan joined in 2000. Spanish commentary and intermission features are inserted for Spanish-speaking countries.

Technical quality of the broadcasts steadily improved over the years. FM broadcasts were added in the 1950s, transmitted to stations via telephone lines. With the arrival of 1973-74 broadcasting season (December, 1973), all broadcasts were offered in FM stereo. Satellite technology later allowed uniformly excellent broadcast sound to be sent live worldwide.

Sponsors

Financing the Met broadcasts during the Depression years of the 1930s proved to be problematic, moving between NBC, the American Tobacco Companymarker, the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, and RCA (NBC’s parent company).

Sponsorship of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts by The Texas Company (Texaco) began on December 7, 1940, with a performance of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Texaco's support continued for 63 years, the longest continuous sponsorship in broadcast history, and also included the early PBS television broadcasts. After its merger with Chevron, however, the combined company ChevronTexaco ended its sponsorship of the Met's radio network in April, 2004. Emergency grants allowed the broadcasts to continue through 2005, whereupon the home-building company Toll Brothers stepped in to become the primary sponsor.

Additional support for the broadcasts also comes from the Annenberg Foundation, the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media, and contributions from listeners around the world.

Announcers

In the seven decades of its Saturday broadcasts, the Met has been introduced by the voices of only three permanent announcers. Veteran NBC announcer Milton Cross served for 43 seasons, from the inaugural 1931 broadcast until his death in 1975. He was succeeded by Peter Allen, who presided for 29 years through the 2003-04 season. Margaret Juntwait began her tenure as host the following season. Since September 2006, Juntwait has also served as host for all of the live and recorded broadcasts on the Met's Sirius XM satellite radio channel, Metropolitan Opera Radio.

Other announcers have included veteran classical music announcer Lloyd Moss, who twice substituted for Milton Cross, and Deems Taylor, who was heard briefly as co-host during the early years. In recent seasons, opera broadcaster William Berger and operatic singer and director Ira Siff have been heard as commentators along with Juntwait.

The announcer introduces each broadcast with cast information and background about the week's opera, and then introduces each act with a plot summary. Since 2006, the announcer has also been joined by a co-commentator — currently Ira Siff — who adds additional overview, insight, and personal experience to the conversation.

Intermission features

Because live opera includes lengthy intermissions between multiple acts, the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts offer informative and entertaining opera-related intermission features. These include discussions of the opera being performed, roundtables, quizzes, interviews with various current and retired opera performers, and information on notable behind-the-scenes Met staff members. Since 2006, the lead singers of the day's opera have also been interviewed live as they leave the stage.

Among the most popular intermission features is the Opera Quiz, which attracts thousands of questions submitted by listeners each year. First introduced in the 1930s as the Opera Question Forum, the Quiz was originally hosted by the noted music critic Olin Downes asking a panel of experts the questions sent in by listeners. From 1958 to 1996 the host was Edward Downes, Olin's son. Now called the Opera Quiz, the segment includes conversation and humor as well as information. Frequent guest panelists during Edward Downes's tenure as host included actors Tony Randall and Walter Slezak in addition to well-known musicians and critics.

Other intermission features over the years have included Opera News on the Air, the Singers’ Roundtable, and annual interviews with the Metropolitan Opera’s general managers. Boris Goldovsky, an opera producer and lecturer known for making opera more accessible to audiences, hosted a series of musical lectures from 1946 to the mid-1980s. Analyzing the opera being performed that day, he spoke and played the piano, illustrating his comments with musical excerpts.

Commentators for the various intermission segments during the Met broadcasts have also included author and radio host George Jellinek, opera coach Alberta Masiello, music historian and translator William Weaver, opera critic Speight Jenkins, opera historian Alan Wagner, and classics scholar Father Owen Lee.

Peabody Awards

The Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts have won over 60 awards, including multiple Peabody Awards, the highest honor in radio broadcasting.

In 1950, the Metropolitan Opera, ABC Radio, and the Texas Company (Texaco, the series' long-term sponsor) were awarded the Peabody Award in music for "public service in making the most brilliant opera company in the world a by-word in millions of homes." The announcement commended the "great artists," the "superlative orchestra," and the intermission features, as well as the series' spin-off programs such as the Auditions of the Air and the Opera Album.

In 1954, the Peabody committee gave a Personal Award for Radio Music to Boris Goldovsky, via the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. The Peabody announcement noted Goldovsky's contagious enthusiasm for opera, evident in his decade of hosting intermission features and interviews on the Met broadcast series.

In 1960, the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera Network was awarded a Peabody Institutional Award for Radio Public Service. The Peabody committee cited 20 years of public service "of inestimable cultural value," and mentioned the carefully planned intermission programs and high-level music commentary. The committee also noted the "long-time excellence of this series, the good taste and restraint in the commercial identification," and the international use of the broadcasts.

In 1982, Texaco and the Metropolitan Opera were awarded a Peabody for excellence in both radio and television broadcasting. The Peabody committee cited the more than four decades of radio broadcasts, the continued technical refinements and improvements in sound, and the "informative intermission features, intelligent narration, and outstanding musical quality."

In 1989, its 50th year of broadcasting, the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera radio series received another Peabody Award. The committee noted that "the Met Opera has been continually innovative in its presentation. Sound quality is excellent, performances are first-rate, and the entertaining intermissions have become outstanding programs in their own right."

Simulcasts and beyond

In conjunction with the live radio broadcasts, a series of live television broadcasts from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, called Live from the Metropolitan Opera, began in 1977. These live broadcasts, aired on PBS, were called simulcasts, as they were broadcast simultaneously by both a television station and an FM stereo radio station in the same geographic areas. Through these simulcasts, listeners were able to hear the operas in stereo, which was then unavailable on television. The first simulcast, La Bohème, featured Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Renata Scotto as Mimi, with James Levine conducting, and all three were interviewed during the intermission. In 1988, the television program title was changed to The Metropolitan Opera Presents, to accommodate the fact that the performances at that point were often taped prior to broadcast, although for a few years thereafter they were still sometimes live and simulcast on the radio.

On December 30, 2006, the Met expanded its live broadcast series tradition by premiering the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series, which transmits live Met performances in high definition video to select movie theaters and other venues across the U.S. and other parts of the world. These broadcasts are usually also aired on television several months later on the new PBS series, Great Performances at the Met. Other recent broadcast expansion efforts by the Met include the Metropolitan Opera Radio channel on Sirius XM radio (launched in 2006), Rhapsody on-demand listening andiPod downloads, and live streaming video on the Met website.

Listening

The live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts are listenable in real time every Saturday during its broadcast season, which typically runs from early December through the end of April. These broadcasts may be accessed via hundreds of radio stations worldwide (the official website provides a station finder), or via free live streaming internet transmission on the Allegro site and elsewhere.

Year round, online archived video and audio of hundreds of complete operas and excerpts are available via the Met Player. Hundreds of archived audio operas and selections are also available year-round on Rhapsody, a service which is free for listening and downloadable with payment.

A further year-round listening venue is the Metropolitan Opera Radio channel on Sirius XM Radio, launched in 2006. The channel airs performances from among the 1,500 recorded broadcasts in the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast archives, in addition to live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera three to four evenings each week during the opera season. The channel's host and announcer is Margaret Juntwait, and William Berger is the writer and co-host.

The Met's official site provides complete composer and background information, detailed plot summaries, and cast and characters for all current and upcoming opera broadcasts, as well as for every opera broadcast since 2000. In addition, the Met's online archive provides links to all Rhapsody, Sirius XM, and Met Player operas, with complete program and cast information. The online archive also provides an exhaustive searchable list of every performance and performer in the Metropolitan Opera's history.

See also



Footnotes

  1. Official site
  2. Metropolitan Opera Radio Station Finder
  3. Metropolitan Opera via Streaming Audio
  4. The Met on Rhapsody
  5. Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network Broadcast History
  6. Godfrey, Donald G. and Frederic A. Leigh, eds. Historical Dictionary of American Radio. Greenwood Publishing, 1998. p. 257.
  7. Phonothèque québécoise, accessed January 21, 2008
  8. Oestreich, James R. "Met Opera Live on Radio in Europe. New York Times. December 8, 1990.
  9. Network Histories – The Texaco-Metropolitan Opera Network
  10. Peabody Award – 1950
  11. Peabody Award, Boris Goldovsky –1954
  12. Peabody Award – 1960
  13. Peabody Award – 1982
  14. Peabody Award – 1989
  15. Met Player On-demand video and audio
  16. Metropolitan Opera International Broadcast Information Center Archive: All Operas
  17. Met Archives online


External links

Official site Listening History Articles Media


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