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How the Metropolitan Opera Works


Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts
Merlin H. Aylesworth (standing), President of NBC, and Paul D. Cravath (sitting), President of the Metropolitan Opera Company, listening to the opera on the radio after making their introductory remarks on Christmas Day in 1931.
Merlin H. Aylesworth (standing), President of NBC, and Paul D. Cravath (sitting), President of the Metropolitan Opera Company, listening to the opera on the radio after making their introductory remarks on Christmas Day in 1931.
AP Photo

The Metropolitan Opera has had a long history of utilizing technology to expand the reach of the performing arts. Between 1901 and 1903, the Met recorded some of the first live recordings by using an Edison cylinder machine to record performances from high above the main stage. Although these early recordings were done years before the Met began broadcasts of its performances, it helped set the tone for future uses of technology at the Met.

The first full Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast was on Christmas Day in 1931 and was the first step in what has become a tradition for the opera house. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) paid the opera company $5,000 for each broadcast, which, at the time, was about $800 more than what the Met earned for each performance in ticket sales [source: The Metropolitan Opera]. The broadcasts became a popular program for NBC and the Met, and in 1940 the opera sent a small group of performers to Radio City in New York to produce an hour-long television broadcast. As mentioned on the previous page, in that same year, the opera house remodeled the auditorium and built a radio booth to expand the theater and permanently bring the art of opera into the homes of the American public.

1940 continued to be an important year in broadcasting for the Met, when Texaco began sponsoring a Saturday matinee broadcast of the opera. The partnership began with a performance of Mozart's "Nozze de Figaro" and ended 64 years later in 2004. However, the Saturday matinees weren't the only broadcasts. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) began a series called "Live from the Met" in 1977 that brought live, televised broadcasts to millions of television sets. In reality, only the first few performances were simulcast live. The others were taped in front of a live audience and then aired at a later date. The Met later worked with PBS on a series called "The Metropolitan Opera Presents," which made about 80 opera performances available to public audiences all over the world.

The Met's radio broadcasts are currently heard in 42 countries and their series is the longest running classical music series in American broadcast history. For the 2006 to 2007 season, the Met introduced its "Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD" program that brought live, high definition theater performances into movie theaters throughout the world and into the classrooms of New York City schools through a partnership with city's education department. The Metropolitan Opera also has its own station on satellite radio that broadcasts both live and rare performances.

So the Met continues to innovate and evolve as the years pass. From Edison's cylinder machines in 1901 to today's satellite radio broadcasts, the use of cutting-edge technology helps keep the art of opera in front of not only the American public, but also a worldwide audience. It's a strategy that's worked for the Metropolitan Opera for more than 100 years.

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