Richard Fawkes

Live from New York | April’s broadcasting

6:33, 28th March 2013

It would once have belonged in the realms of science fiction: man in Orpington sits at home listening to an opera taking place live in New York. And yet that’s what has been happening on Radio 3, week in week out, for the past 20 or so years.

Live from the Met, which first began broadcasting in the United States in the 1930s, and was first sent to Europe via satellite in 1990, forms an integral part of Radio 3’s operatic scheduling. ‘We do take almost everything from the Met,’ says editor Tony Cheevers.

With Verdi, Wagner and Britten all having important anniversaries this year, every one of their operas, even the most obscure ones, will be getting an airing. So how does Cheevers start his schedules? ‘We look first at what we can get live: that’s why there’s quite a bit from the Met this season. Live is very important to us because it’s happening there and then, both for the audience in the house and for the audience at home. It adds an extra frisson to the relay, and the fact we’re able to give the audience here part of the musical experience of an audience sitting several thousand miles away is quite a unique selling point.’

Having picked what he wants from the live schedules, Cheevers then does a trawl of who’s doing what. ‘Obviously we look at what is being done in the UK opera houses and what we’d like to record from those houses. We look at which of our EBU [European Broadcasting Union] colleagues might be recording something. For example, with some of the rarer Wagner operas, we know there are going to be concert performances of Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot at Bayreuth, not in the opera house but in the concert hall, which will be made available to us by the EBU. And, quite excitingly, we’ve got our own recording of Rienzi, first aired in 1976 with Edward Downes, one of the great Verdi and Wagner conductors. He’s conducting the BBC Northern Orchestra [later renamed the BBC Philharmonic]. The cast, including John Mitchinson as Rienzi, Lois McDonall, Lorna Haywood and Michael Langdon, were all in great voice, the chorus and orchestra sound fantastic. We’re looking to play that on 6 July.’

Radio 3’s big Wagner celebration takes place in the week beginning 18 May (the actual anniversary being 22 May). Building a Library will feature Tannhäuser while the distinguished bass Robert Lloyd presents two weeks of Saturday Classics looking at power relationships in Verdi and Wagner operas from the point of view of the singer. On 19 May, in the drama slot, there’s One Winter’s Afternoon by Guy Meredith, an imaginary piece about Verdi and Wagner meeting (which of course they never did). There will also be appropriate Sunday essays.

Opera on 3 is also providing seven-to-eight-minute introductions to all the Verdi, Wagner and Britten operas. ‘These will first be transmitted when we broadcast the particular opera and will immediately be available as free downloads from the Radio 3 website.’

BBC Four joins in the celebrations too with, in May, Rolando Villazon presenting a documentary about Verdi and Antonio Pappano exploring the musician’s approach to Wagner’s Ring cycle, much of it filmed backstage at Covent Garden.

And good news if you happen to miss a Live from the Met performance: all the Met’s productions are now available to Listen Again on iPlayer.

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