A Brief Rant: The Metropolitan Opera Quizzes Have To Go

BB on Met Broadcast Quiz
A Metropolitan Opera Quiz being recorded in 1991. Photo credit: Bruce Burroughs

I’ll start by admitting that I rarely tune in for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts.  When I do, it’s usually because I’m in the car and when I turn the ignition, the radio comes on, and it is almost always tuned to the station that employs me.  So I’ll listen for as long as it takes to get where I’m going.  It’s even rarer that I listen to an entire production from start to finish, and in those cases it’s usually when I’ve had to step in to run the board due to the regular board operator’s illness or vacation.  So it’s safe to say, before I get any further, that I’m not a big fan of opera on the radio.  There are plenty of people who are, and that’s great, but it isn’t for me.  This has nothing to do with opera itself, which is often intensely beautiful and dramatic, but everything to do with the fact that without the visual elements of opera, it doesn’t hold up for me.  I want to be able to see the reaction of characters on stage who aren’t actually singing.  I want to marvel at the sets and the costumes.  You get the point.  It was especially frustrating this weekend, when twice I heard Ira Siff allude to the “magnificent visual” performances during the Met’s new production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.  Thanks, Ira – I wish I could actually, you know, see it.  Luckily, many actually did this weekend, given that Manon was one of a handful of the Met’s highly successful HD theater broadcasts this season.

I think we can all agree with the fact that opera on the radio is always going to be a struggle given the lack of visuals.  It’s also a struggle due to the fact that the majority of radio listeners are like me – transient, background listeners who aren’t often in a situation where they can sit back, close their eyes, and allow themselves to be transported to New York.  They’re doing other things – driving around, cleaning the house, and so on.  So it’s a surprise to me that the broadcasts are designed to serve the tiny group of listeners who are completely nuts about opera, rather than attempting to create an interest among those who might actually make time for the broadcasts, but don’t due to lack of interest.

In my nearly eleven years in radio, I believe that the broadcasts have become better in many ways.  The interviews with cast members right after they leave the stage are full of great stuff.  As I sat in the studio all alone on Saturday, listening to Roberto Alagna out of breath after the conclusion of Act I of Manon was awesome.  Mary Jo Heath, following in the footsteps of Margaret Juntwait, has definitely dialed back the pretentiousness of Met hosts of eras past.  But one element of the broadcasts that lives on, and makes for the absolute worst possible radio, is the quiz.   It goes against everything we should be doing as classical music broadcasters.  Nothing makes a worse case for opera than having a panel of opera experts acting like a group of peacocks trying to see who has the biggest plumage.  They hem and haw and use big words, all to the delight of a studio audience that oohs and ahhs at every correct answer like that person you really wish you hadn’t run into at the art museum.  These quizzes are terrible ambassadors for opera, which has for decades (centuries, even?)  been plagued with the perception that it is for the wealthy few and not for consumption by anyone else.  What better way to to perpetuate that perception than by offering content that is appealing to those with vast amounts of knowledge but completely locks out everyone else?  If it were a short segment in an otherwise engaging intermission, I would be on board, but these things take up twenty freaking minutes!  That is an eternity in radio, and each minute spent on the quiz squanders the chance to engage new audiences with content that is actually welcoming and relevant.

None of these criticisms, I should stress, are meant to disparage the knowledge of the participants in the quizzes.  I just think their time, knowledge, and creative energy would be better spent on engaging those who might be curious about opera but who haven’t yet taken the plunge.  No one likes a show-off, after all.   Let’s get creative!



An update:  I had no idea this post would create such a shitstorm.  But here we are.  So I think I need to clarify a few things, especially for the benefit of WFIU’s local audience.

  1. This post was meant as a critique of one part of the Met broadcasts, not an indictment of the whole system.  Nor is it an indictment of opera itself.  Let’s all calm down.
  2. WFIU has no plans to move, drop, modify, or in any other way do ANYTHING to our opera programming. This includes the Met and the WFMT American Opera Series that starts when the Met season concludes in May.  So let’s just put that to rest right now.

About Joe Goetz

Joe Goetz is Music Director for WFIU 103.7 FM in Bloomington, Indiana, and has eleven years of experience hosting and producing classical music programming for public radio. While completing his B.A. in Music at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO, Joe worked part time as a classical music host at KCME 88.7 FM. Following graduation, he worked as a classical music host and producer at Vermont Public Radio, developing new and engaging programming in addition to programming and hosting a daily afternoon air shift. He is an accomplished pianist with several chamber music performances to his credit, an occasional choir singer, and an avid golfer. He lives with his wife, Meghann, their son William, daughter Allison, and cats Ollie and Blanche.

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39 thoughts on “A Brief Rant: The Metropolitan Opera Quizzes Have To Go

  1. I believe you should change to another mindless radio station since you really can’t get in to it and it’s only there because you have left the channel on your classical station. Listen to something mindless and keep driving.

  2. Your article was a very interesting read, and there are some points very well taken in it.

    My love of opera began in the 1970s when, as a elementary school-aged kid, I was glued to the radio most Saturday afternoons listening to the Met. I was studying piano and reading a lot about classical music and opera, as the age of videogames and other related distraction had not dawned. This was before the time of Live from the Met telecasts (which began in 1977), the births of the internet, the cd and the dvd, and the 2006 beginning of the Met Opera Network and the HD presentations in the movie theater.

    The Opera Quiz and the intermission features with such learned lecturers as Father M. Owen Lee and Boris Goldovsky were connectors between the acts in a much different way than today. In fact, every person whose question was used on the Quiz received a very nice gift package of records/cds, books, a piece of audio, and a one-year subscription to OPERA NEWS, so there was a real incentive for listeners to participate. It also offered listeners the opportunity to test their own personal knowledge, akin to the game show that used to occupy the television channels which have now been replaced by countless interview shows, non-reality competitions, and other potentially mind-numbing, worthless viewing. My questions were used in 1977, 1986, and 1996. That incentive as well as the whole tone and format of the broadcasts changed in 2006 with the advent of Peter Gelb’s administration.

    Today, the internet provides most of the historical and musical analysis for those individual even remotely interested. I am not so sure what one gets from the Quiz if their question is used, and the commentary both during the week on Sirius and on the weekends is quite glossy as opposed to erudite. Music and arts education since my time has changed, and this is apparent on so many fronts. So many musical styles have evolved since the 1970s (not all necessary good either), and people seem to prefer sound bytes rather than full-fledged dissection whether of music or news. If one compares issues of OPERA NEWS throughout its history, the approaches to reporting and recording events and sharing background information has morphed considerably. Our attention spans have shrunk, and music/opera has become more portable and available for bite-sized consumption since the days of the long-playing records.

    The bottom line is that artistic values and expectations have evolved and changed over time. This is understandable, at times commendable, but on some fronts lamentable. I can also imagine that the number of words used in the English language may have been reduced because the convenience of texting and the overall decline of the quality of education in the US, thanks in no part to “No Child Left Behind” and Common Core methods. The art-form in many ways has become dumbed down and cheapened, much like a lot of things these days.

    I don’t doubt that over the 75+ years since Texaco originally sponsored the radio broadcasts and the quiz become a staple of the broadcast intermissions that every conceivable question that could be posed to a panel of enthusiasts has been – probably multiple times over. The Quiz is a reflection and holdover from a time gone by, and while it might be time for it to leave the airwaves, what, may I ask, would you suggest should replace it?

    In an effort to make opera more accessible, friendly, and relevant, the intermissions have become a different animal zeroing in on the behind the scenes picture and the interviews of the key performers of that broadcast. As much as this change of emphasis engages the viewer more than before, I have to wonder how many of the singers might find it rattling or an inconvenience to have to think on their feet in answering questions while their mind should be resting for their upcoming musical responsibilities and challenges. Some may not mind, but if you are going to have such interviews, why not have them all (not just some) pre-taped so that those interviewed can be in the cohesive mindset to really speak meaningful insight. While I know that to some opera is a “sport”, it is also (and primarily) an art, requiring the development of thinking, assessment, intelligence, and analysis, skills that seem to be going the way of the dodo for most of our population.

  3. Your post stinks. If you don’t like the opera quiz, don’t listen.

    I LOVE the opera quiz.

    I have been listening to them since I was a child.

    One time, I won a prize package because a question I submitted was used for the quiz.

    You are fatuous.

    You’re entitled to your need for visuals in order to enjoy opera, the same way that some unsophisticated people “need” sugar to enjoy espresso.

    However, opera has a deep rich culture, and sometimes focusing on the music only is a great way to develop a more profound knowledge of the work, which one brings to the next live performance he/she attends.

    In the 19th century — and still today, fyi — musicians/pianists enjoyed playing through piano scores of operas as yet one more way into a work.

    You are not an opera lover. You have a toxic attitude and your station should reassign somebody who loves opera to your position.

  4. As a following to my previous comments, check out WAGNER’S RING: TURNING THE SKY ROUND and FIRST INTERMISSIONS by Father M. Owen Lee, a quiz panelist and an intermission commentator in the pre-Gelb days. These were based on scripts that he used for intermission features during that time period. In short, this is what was sacrificed by the new administration in favor of the present customs.

  5. Joe…. if by your own words, you aren’t a fan of opera on the radio, why ruin the fun for those of us who DO listen. Just change the darn station or turn it off and leave the rest of us alone. This subject is by your own admissions in the beginning of your article VERY CLEARLY none of your business.

  6. The REAL rationale behind claiming that the quiz is “elitist” is political: These people who answer all these questions about opera, have the time and money to attend operas and/or to listen frequently to performances, to study, to learn about all this opera culture. Most ordinary people are not so fortunate, so hearing about all these elitist quizzes in which elitist questions are asked by elitist experts makes us plain folks feel inferior and unimportant. So: the Met gets some Government money in the form of Arts subsidies? WQXR is part of NPR which is partially subsidized by the government? The Opera Quiz must go. America and its government is for all people, not just the super educated elitists. Now we will have justice.

  7. I LOVE the opera quiz. I miss it when I go to the HD performances. I grew up listening the the opera every Saturday afternoon. I was lucky, I also went to the old Met, when no one in the family wanted to go. My Dad took me.
    But my strongest memory is of hearing Simon Boccanegra on the radio. From the first note I was hooked. From that moment it was , and still is, my favorite opera. I didn’t even know the story. I don’t know what was happening, but I loved the music. Even then, without knowing anything about it, it had me in tears.

    Eventually, all grown up, I found out the story. I still loved the opera, but never saw it live on stage until 1966, at the old Covent Garden.

    I still love this opera. I’m happy listening to it, or seeing it.

  8. What I forgot, is… Last year I actually attended an opera quiz in person. LOVED IT as much as I loved listening to it all these years. I guess different strokes for different folks.

  9. “None of these criticisms, I should stress, are meant to disparage the knowledge of the participants in the quizzes. I just think their time, knowledge, and creative energy would be better spent on engaging those who might be curious about opera but who haven’t yet taken the plunge. No one likes a show-off, after all. Let’s get creative!”

    Really? Then why did you write this?

    “Nothing makes a worse case for opera than having a panel of opera experts acting like a group of peacocks trying to see who has the biggest plumage. They hem and haw and use big words, all to the delight of a studio audience that oohs and ahhs at every correct answer like that person you really wish you hadn’t run into at the art museum.”

    You seem to be faulting those who are more learned about the art form for making you feel inferior. But cutting off the heads of others can and will never make you taller.

    Those who have some knowledge of the art & craft of singing—as well as its history—know that criticism is best leveled with concrete suggestions. But you haven’t done this unfortunately. Instead, you have indeed given the reader a “rant,” one which is severely lacking in any suggestion of the remedies you believe are necessary.

    What would you do? And how would you do it better?

  10. I too found the posting and responses to be interesting, including viewpoints with which I both agree and disagree. So in true operatic fashion, I think the appropriate reaction is “Chacun a son gout.”

    As background, I have been a listener to the Saturday broadcasts for over 5 decades… sometimes with greater regularity than others. I too regularly submitted questions for use on the Opera Quiz and was fortunate enough to have them selected twice. The prize benefits included numerous recordings, books, electronics, and even year-long subscriptions to Opera News. The prize packages had major value to be sure. So that was clearly an incentive. But the real contest was to pen a question that was either tough or clever enough to challenge the panelists AND would make for entertaining discussion to the wide range of listeners.

    So much has changed over the years. MET telecasts have brought opera into millions of homes for people to watch from their sofas what had been before only a listening exercise. And over the past 10 years, the HD transmissions have taken millions more back into theatres …local movie theatres…. to witness Saturday matinees with movie-quality sound and closeups that are still different from the normal opera house experience.

    Different strokes for different folks. Not every football fan who sits glued to the tv on Sunday adternoon or Monday & Thursday nights ever sets foot in an NFL stadium for an in-arena experience. I dont think that makes them any less deserving of the experience they seek and sometimes receive. We all get to seek and take advantage of whatever is available.

    My major complaint is that the broadcasts in my area are no longer available on regular radio stations or in the car. So i need to get some newer hardware to play a regular broadcast. I can listen to “live streaming” through the computer or my mobile phone, but neither of those are ideal since the sonic quality of those speakers is not so good and I don’t like being tied to the computer with headphones. It used to be so easy to crank up the sound system that could play throughout the house.

    The bottom line is (& was) … listen if you want to… & if you don’t like what you are hearing, change channels or turn it off.

  11. I’ve always thought the quizz was the best part of the show, although I’m hopeless at the “guess the singer” parts.

  12. Joe. May I make the assumption that you were not encouraged to use your imagination in your formative years? For me, listening to opera on the radio took me out of my drab, difficult childhood and gave me some joy in hearing live music sung by great(for the most part) singers, allowed my imagination to see it in my dreamer’s eyes and transported me to another time and place. I can assure you that much of it was better than the BS that passes for “Director’s Concept” these days. I loved the quiz and the other features, especially the singers round table, Boris Goldovsky and Father Lee. Without them,I might never have had the courage to become a singer. I was fortunate enough to train under Mr. Goldovsky, an experience which changed my life.

  13. I really don’t understand the animosity. I love listening to the opera, both in person and on the radio (haven’t tried the movie broadcasts yet), but I rarely listen to the quizzes. I agree with the author that they can often come across as snobbish and off-putting. The whole thing feels like one big inside joke and the opera fanboys and fangirls who “get it” probably enjoy patting themselves on the back but that’s hardly the best way to attract the largest number of listeners.

    All of the angry, bitter replies above only reinforce just how out of touch many of the classical arts form really are.

    Don’t understand? You’re an idiot. Shame on you.

    Don’t pretend to laugh at the inside jokes? You’re an IDIOT! SHAME on you!

    Don’t know how to pronounce the non-English terms (even when I’m betting that the hosts/guests aren’t fluent in that language either)? YOU’RE AN IDIOT. SHAME ON YOU.

    When it comes down to it, I would NEVER bring a friend who had never attended an opera to something like the quiz.

    So while I’m glad the hard core fans get their thing, why not branch out a bit and cast a wider net with a program that features a more down to earth host more people can relate to or put together an entirely different program and split the time the quiz receives?

  14. I guess these days it can take very little effort to raise a ruckus, but such is a blessing and a curse of our present computer age.

    Another interesting development since the olden days is the ability to submit quiz questions via the broadcast website which has supplanted snail mail. It is this very technology that has forwarded dissenting comments to your blog in a very short time. It is not uncommon for individuals in the position of rendering opinions to a wider audience to only read a chapter of a book, see a snippet of a movie, hear a verse of a song, an aria of opera, a movement of a symphony, oratorio, or chamber piece, etc. before rendering a review. Such is true for examining the lifetime of the long history of a broadcast segment.

    I am sure in the long-run that the producers of the Met broadcasts will make their own choices as to what and how they will air, despite the opinions of others because they are in the positions to do that. The opinion of one is, after all, the opinion of one. How they might choose to use their guests and available personnel is not only at their request but the participants’ acceptance. It might be a wise exercise to reread your blog wearing their glasses and then imagine what their reaction might be, if they were to even take the time to entertain your words and to give one.

  15. Not at all. I started listening to opera on the radio in the 1970s, and LOVED the quizzes then. Alberta Masiello was my favorite–full of great stories and wonderful humor. The bits and pieces of operas I heard on the quiz and the intriguing questions led me on to want to learn more about what would become one of my musical passions. Today, I still love the quiz. I sometimes make up questions in my head (I never submit them) and I always feel triumphant when I get something right. I STILL love the opera quizzes. They are terrific!

    • Our public broadcasting station took opera off the air. I can’t listen in the car. We only have talk and quiz shows now. So sad. I grew up seeing the Met on tour but now thank heaven we have the Live in HD. So sad to think we would not have had Jessye Norman be who she is, if not for the radio in Augusta, Georgia. Please don’t wish it away. It is a great loss without the radio and I find myself learning a lot from the quiz. Maybe you could tune to Car Talk or Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. That’s what I have to listen to when I am in the car!!

  16. Sometimes I don’t listen to the whole opera, but try to time it so that I can listen JUST to the opera quiz, I love it so much. It’s the highlight of my week. It gives opera lovers of all levels a knowledge to aspire to.

  17. I have listened to the Met broadcast since I was a child—in the days before TV. I was used to using sound to create my own mental imagery. I spent my adolescence and yoiung adulthood with recordings, listiening with a libretto open on my lap. I have always found the opera quiz to be a way to test my own knowledge. I hope they stay.

  18. I had always loved the intermission features, singers’ round tables, Mrs. Belmont talking about the next season; and the quizzes. I started listening in th early 60’s and loved listening to Boris Goldovsky, Fr. Lee, Tony Randall and many others. I still listen but the quiz these days is anemic beyond description; gone is Edward Downes as well as the quickness, spontaneity and humor of the game. There seems to be no fun involved either from the panel nor the audience. A feature which used to be looked forward to; to hear the wit, erudition and knowledge of a lively panel is gone. Lastly I too miss the prize packages – though sadly I never got my questions on the air. I disagree with Mr. Goetz about eliminating the quiz; but a severe REVISION is long overdue.

  19. While I do not want to get too deep into what is clearly a heated discussion, I thought I might give a couple of insights and perhaps provide a correction or two. First, in full disclosure, I should mention that I was a frequent panelist on the Opera Quiz for 25 years. My last appearance was in December 2011. I am also the opera writer for WQXR. I do not, by choice, write reviews but have published 440 articles (and now writing #441) to explore every kind of issue on what I call Planet Opera. The Quiz used to be different in that it lasted longer and was structured in a way that people with knowledge could teach the listening audience in an interesting and engaging way. It was less about lightning rounds and winning and more about making lively radio for a sophisticated, already informed audience that was eager to be tested on its own knowledge and to learn from the speakers on the broadcast. If you listen to very old broadcasts there was a certain kind of “this is New York” radio voice that was akin to old time radio and television shows such as “What’s My Line” with panelists such as Kitty Carlisle, Bennet Cerf, Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Tony Randall. But these people, despite that speech pattern, were not stuffy, arrogant and snooty. They were lively, witty and fun and the listening audience enjoyed the sophistication. Same too for many people who appeared on the Opera Quiz. I had the pleasure and honor of knowing and collaborating with people such as Edward Downes, Father Owen Lee, Alberta Masiello and others. I learned from them while sitting next to them just as I learned listening to them as a boy growing up. What opera on radio offered in the past and still offers today is the opportunity to become what I call “a stage director in the imagination” in which you can create your own settings and direction. So, in the case of “Manon Lescaut” you do not have to feel left out because you cannot see what the Met has put on stage. Take the music and the performance you hear and envision your own settings for Amiens, Paris, Le Havre and Louisiana. Envision your own costumes (is she wearing red? gold? white? Does her neckline plunge? What kind of shoes is she wearing? Is she barefoot?). All of this imagining makes you focus a lot more on the story, so it is not background music as you do other things. Whether Mary Jo Heath and Ira Siff (both very talented broadcasters) tell the story in enough detail for your satisfaction or not, you can pursue it further online. For example, synopses are widely available. I would not necessarily recommend using the ones from the Met website because they reflect the way a production might have reinterpreted a story so that “Manon Lescaut” is updated from the 1740s to 1941 in Nazi-occupied France and “Rigoletto” has been transplanted from Mantua 1485 to Las Vegas 1960. Search for the synopses that reflect the original work of the librettists and composers because that is what you are hearing even if live audiences are sometimes not seeing that. To the commenter who equates “elitism” with “liberalism”, I respectfully beg to differ. You surely know that Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who seldom agreed on judicial matters, were very close friends and very often went to the opera together. They both found meaning and pleasure in it and could share with each other what they experienced. I know personally that Nancy Reagan liked opera. Newt Gingrich goes to the opera all the time. Pres. George H.W. Bush likes opera but suppressed that because he felt his constituency would not respond well to that. Part of the beauty of opera is that it cuts across political, religious, economic and social boundaries and is loved and shared by people from all walks of life. The tiny fraction of 1% that goes from government money to all arts funding is equivalent to about the price of one postage stamp for every American citizen. And we know that the arts are good for the economy. For every dollar spent on a ticket, another $6 are spent in activities related to attending a performance (meals, hotels, recordings and more) so that businesses near arts institutions tend to do better than those that are not. I just want to invite all commenters to desist from using invective? What purpose does it serve? Mr. Goetz stated his opinion, to which he is fully entitled. Some people agree and others disagree. Fine. Let us endeavor to become better, more active listeners to music, to radio and to one another and then we really might learn something and derive more pleasure in the process.

    • Is that Frep Plotkin, or Jack Kerouac? Either one, I greatly appreciate the background he contributed. Mr. Goetz’s original complaint left me with the impression that here is a person who loves classical music but is annoyed by others who love it more. I have always been impressed by the evident engagement and pleasure that the audience brought to, and took from, the Opera Quiz. I have always recognized that my meager opera knowledge did not qualify me to participate, or enjoy, fully. Yes, some might find it off-putting, snobbish and elitist, but surely a couple of hours into a Saturday opera broadcast would be an apt time for a radio program to indulge those who more fully appreciate the art form, rather than to cater to the audience that still needs cultivating.

  20. Sometimes it’s good to ruffle some feathers with fellow listeners. People are more likely to engage in discussion when their position is perceived to be defensive. It is human nature. I for one agree with almost everything you said concerning opera on the radio.

    I did a radio show where I played Reich’s Four Organs performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and I knew there would be some issues. My show dealt with modern music so I usually put in one challenging piece every once in a great while. So many people called in confused and angry. I made sure that they understood why I chose to play the work. A few people let me know that they thought it was interesting to hear a work like that. It was great engaging with all of them.

    Keep poking the bear… but not often.

  21. There’s a new elitism out there these days. Specifically, it’s non-elitists who criticize the elitists. They’re sniffy, snooty, snobs who lord it over the rest of us. This ‘rant’ is a classic that I’m going to save. It comes from a guy who admittedly doesn’t like opera, sees no value in just hearing the music without the ‘visuals’. (Does he not realize that oftentimes opera is better just heard than seen? That without the music, most librettos and the singers and the sets all look and sound rather silly?) Funny how millions of opera recordings have been purchased for as many years as they’ve been available, and how The Met has broadcast these ‘visuals-less’ operas to great demand since 1931?

    Joe, it’s ok not to like opera. And it’s ok to think that the Opera Quiz is the height of snobbery. But as you can see from the comments here, there is a vast public for radio broadcasts of opera. Most of these people aren’t snobs but just ordinary people who like music and opera and — like me — enjoy learning about other operas with the quiz show. It’s a chance to broaden my knowledge and learn. If that makes me ‘elitist’, I plead guilty.

  22. Dear Mr. Goetz:

    In the 30 years I’ve been listening to the Metropolitan radio broadcasts, the quiz segments have been at worst mildly amusing and often quite entertaining and erudite. Your mileage, as they say, may vary; if you don’t like it, don’t listen.

    I take greater issue with your assertion that the current hosts have “dialed back the pretentiousness of Met hosts of eras past.” Who? Before Juntwait, there were only two: Milton Cross and Peter Allen. I’m too young to have heard Cross (as, I believe, are you), but I would say Allen was as near to being universally loved as any announcer in the history of radio. He was anything but pretentious unless you are of the opinion that opera is by its nature pretentious.

  23. Sad to say the venerable opera quiz is disappearing. Cheaper to just interview singers backstage I guess. Does anyone know the details of this terrible loss? Sigh!

  24. I stumbled upon this site attempting to discover what had become of the Met Quiz. I haven’t heard a single quiz this season. Although I can appreciate Mr. Goetz’s characterization of the experts competing against each other, the opera quiz has long been my favorite intermission feature. I have, however, lamented the deterioration of the quiz over the past few seasons, during which time they have been little more than showcases for the singer of the moment, who typically is introduced early in the quiz, reads a question, and then becomes the focus for the remainder of the quiz. It was not that long ago that the audience was treated to vocal identification questions, which frequently would stump the experts, while providing the audience with snippets of some of the great voices of recorded operatic history. Frankly, for me they were just pure fun; and I was always excited when it was announced. Perhaps it is therefore fortuitous that despite having listened fairly regularly this season (although not religiously), I have failed to hear a single quiz.

    With regards to the HD inspired interviews, personally I have often found these exchanges to be fairly perfunctory; the replies given are often non-responsive to the question, either due to the fact that English is not the singer’s native language, or perhaps to the singer’s inability to process after having focused so intently on a completely different persona in a different language. More to the point though, as a singer I have always hated these interviews. The last thing a singer wants immediately after coming off stage, yet often hours before his or her work is complete, is to have to stop and speak to anyone. Anyone who understands the vocal process knows that most (though by no means all) singers spend a significant period of time warming the instrument up before singing, and that speaking tends to have the opposite effect on the voice. Moreover, asking the soprano who sings butterfly (one of the hardest working women in Italian opera) to speak at all between the first and last notes of the opera is incredibly inconsiderate and disrespectful of the singer’s process. Not only does it require the singer to speak when her or she wants most to rest the voice, it cuts into the limited break time between acts (when the singer might need something to eat or drink, or God forbid use the restroom), and additionally pulls the singer out of the mindset of the character; and just as there are actors like Daniel Day Lewis who stay in character for months while filming, there are certainly singers who attempt to do the same for the length of an opera performance.

  25. Some people like the quiz; others don’t. Mr. Goetz is entitled to his view. I don’t happen to share it. The “elitist” argument has been used for decades with regard to classical music and gets revived every so often. Much of sports broadcasting – and I listen to and watch a lot of it – is “elitist,” especially if you don’t know what the commentators are talking about. Opera needs to be what it is. Ditto for sports. Both types of broadcasting are art forms that draw in listeners from far away. The Opera Quiz illustrates that more than just the crowd at the Met love opera.

    If memory serves, some years ago they tried a touchy-feely approach on the Opera Quiz and to my ear, it sounded false. Others may have a different recollection.

  26. In 1950 I started listening to the Met Broadcasts. From cereal boxes and other cardboard I even built a mini opera house and made up a fictitious roster of singers and cutouts of singers to perform as I listened to those famous voices via radio. When I got to high school, the typing teacher gave me 5 copies of OPERA NEWS, which I devoured and have since donated to Met Archives along with many clippings of singers who came to Oregon or to college. A high school classmate took voice lessons from a retired opera singer (married to a forest ranger!) in NW Oregon, and before long I was picking berries on her and her husband’s farm to pay for my lessons. At two different times in the 2000’s two of my questions were used for the Met Quiz, and I appreciate the numerous gifts mailed to me. I say support the Met Broadcasts and enjoy the quizzes.

  27. I love the Saturday afternoon broadcasts – in my case, living in California – they are Saturday morning broadcasts. I am also a huge fan of the Opera Quiz. Please bring it back! I have learned so much from it over the years, and absolutely love the ‘guess the singer’ questions. Bravo Mary Jo! Well done Ira and others, too.

  28. I miss Milton Cross and Olin Downes. Now the broadcasts sound like just any other form of entertainment, not a our weekly pilgrimage to the sacred stage of the Metropolitan to seek the glorious art of opera. And let’s not talk about how people dress for the opera these days.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

  29. I like the quiz. Love it, in point of fact.

    I grew up unoperaed. My mother was trained as a concert pianist, and we listened to the spectrum of classical music, except opera. My wife is an operatically trained soprano (now mezzo) who sang in the Seattle Opera chorus. She introduced me to opera, and pitting my growing knowledge and wits against the panel and my wife made the quiz joyful for me. In the beginning, I was rarely right, but I became better. It was, simply, FUN.
    As I feel is also true of Shakespeare, to love opera (particularly Wagner, or, say, Britten) I believe you must see it live. But once you have, you can enjoy it without being there, and without the visuals. You can even enjoy operas you haven’t seen live, though hearing ones you have seen, and have loved, is part of enjoying opera on the radio. As is the knowledge that you are sharing the moment and joy of it with opera lovers across the country, at that moment, all in this together.
    The ability to enjoy things in the mind’s eye has dwindled, I think, with television, and its robbery, from us, of learning to “see” in the mind, especially when our minds were most elastic (the first twenty years). I was very, very LUCKY (though I felt hopelessly underprivileged at the time) to grow up in a home and family whose “parental figures” flatly refused us a television.

  30. I too love/loved the opera quizzes and often listened just for the quiz. I miss the way they used to be.
    I grew up in Syracuse listening to the Met on the radio because my father listened every week. He was the son of a poor farmer so he could hardly be called an elitist. He just loved music. We thought that the quizzes were not elite or boring or show-off but a way to learn about operas. Is Jeopardy elitist because it has categories you don’t know about?
    As for the announcers, I am old enough to have heard Milton Cross- in fact I was at the Saturday matinee of The Italian Girl In Algiers the day his death the day before was announced. (My college graduation present was a trip to New York City with my sister and a trip to the Met was a must.) I think all of his successors have done a good job.

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