An Opera Impresario Looks at Radio

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Edward Johnson (c) General Manager of the Met Opera Association in 1936

Edward Johnson is General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera Association and wrote the following in the March, 1941 WQXR Program Guide:

The magic of radio has broadened the ranks of the Metropolitan Opera audience until it extends from coast to coast and beyond to the countries of South America. But radio has not been able to bring back to our stage the great voices of the past which were stilled before opera performances went on the air, nor can it repeat an opera again and again to satisfy the appetite of the enthusiast.

For these two special contributions I find that many members of the Metropolitan public look to the special facilities of WQXR, which combine the advantages of both radio and recordings for the opera-loving public. Even the artists of my company tell me that they look for the WQXR programs of such legendary singers as Tamagno and Plançon and of Caruso and Geraldine Farrar in our own generation. To bring these voices back to us by their recordings and to present them with intelligent commentary on the repertoire and special gifts is, to my mind, a most valuable service to the cause of opera today.

Then again I congratulate WQXR on the generous list of operatic selections on its programs. Each week in The Metropolitan Opera Guild's publication Opera News, I read of a wealth of arias, orchestral selections and adaptations, and even condensed performances of opera which can be heard on this station. With my own busy schedule, I find little time to relax at my radio to listen to more opera, but many people tell me of their pleasure in doing so.

The complex operatic scores of the later Verdi and the repertory that has grown up since his day demand frequent hearings before we can enjoy them to the fullest extent. It may not be possible for the average person to hear every Otello that we put on at the Metropolitan, nor is it always possible for us to repeat an opera as often as we should like to. The exigencies of casting inevitably restrict our work. How valuable, then, it becomes to the opera lover--especially if, like so many of the young people in the audiences, he is a novice in the art--to listen to such music again and again, through the recorded programs of radio, until he is sufficiently familiar with it to enjoy it to the maximum.

Familiarity with the voices and vocal styles of the past, as well as the singers of our own day, is enhanced for the radio listener if he is able to follow the music with score in hand. This is, of course, impractical in the Opera House, where the lights must be lowered to secure the most effective stage picture. But with the advance information conveyed by the WQXR monthly program booklet, and the opportunity that is offered to secure the music ahead of time, from either a music library or a publishing house, it is a simple matter for the opera lover to become intimate with the operatic music to an extent never possible before. I congratulate the WQXR audience on this unique facility to further its musical education.

A brief glance at the January WQXR program booklet shows me that on three separate occasions this station has broadcast excerpts from Madama Butterfly, while the Ride of the Valkyries has also been heard three times, not to speak of dozens of other excerpts from Puccini and Wagner. It is this very repetition that I commend so strongly.

In planning our Metropolitan repertory, we arrange to give the subscriber to each of our subscription series a balanced and varied diet. We try to meet all tastes, and to avoid repetition during any one season. Such a procedure is inevitable; it is the only way we can answer the demands of a sophisticated public. And yet, as I have said before, the opera public includes many young people. For them Die Walküre or Madama Butterfly may be a new experience. They wish to familiarize themselves with these masterworks. How can this be accomplished? I turn to the cultural contribution of the Interstate Broadcasting Company as a very real adjunct to the work which the Metropolitan Opera Association is doing in both the Opera House and over the air.