There's been a nasty thread on a list- serv about the hosts of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. It got me thinking. Here are some excerpts of my response:
Yes I'm sure everything is scripted. Scripted with the admonition to "sound spontaneous and friendly".
On a live broadcast I never, ever use a script. If I don't know the material and don't know how to communicate with an audience, I shouldn't be there. That said, I do always write a script and have it handy. We are all human and mental blank outs happen. These shouldn't be at the expense of the listeners.
It is very difficult to find the balance between friendly and informative. I think you are born with this ability. I don't mind telling you I have it. I am not a good script reader but I'm fine talking to the audience about what they are going to hear...briefly and with a touch of humor.
Ms. Juntwait and Mr Siff were hired because they approach this balance. The Met has resolutely moved from the opera -reverence to opera as entertainment. This is not a bad thing. Broadcast media has been around nearly 100 years...it has made everything available and made the previously formal...informal.
It's been said that the old Metropolitan Opera was a carpenter's theater. The "new" Metropolitan Opera is an electrician's theater. And the current Metropolitan Opera is a media theater. It's directorate comes from the media, not from opera management. It's marketing and broadcast producer staffs seem to have "new younger cooler audience" audience mandate. Stage directors and designers come from the theater. Robert Lepage's production of The Ring Cycle was nothing like what's ever been seen at the Met. Many people hated it, and the box office reportedly suffered. I wish there was one certain formula to attract this elusive new core audience. There isn't. But the Met is being re-branded as a cool/downtown kind of destination. Sometimes that doesn't translate into quality. The stories and the music are perfect starting points in selling-and they are often neglected.
One thing you can't fake on air is a genuine love for the material. Ira Siff clearly loves opera and knows a great deal about it. Margaret Juntwait also loves opera and both retain a sense of wonder that is a great way of involving and audience.
I find the current tone of the Met broadcast hosts to be informative and fun. That's my opinion. I find the quiz an absolute disaster. I made one "gong show" reference too many and that's why I'm no longer there. Sour grapes, whatever.
Alberta Masiello has been invoked. She was a brilliant and very kind woman who did not suffer fools...at all. She'd have no patience with today's broadcasts, but I'm convinced a Masiello hosted Met broadcast series would have a huge audience...and bodies for miles.
The word is Ms Juntwait has battled serious illness for years. That she's does so well is a tribute to her guts and professionalism. Don't blame her or Ira Siff if you dislike the broadcast hosts. They are doing as they are told. Sigh.
Greetings to all.
PS Edward Downes used to write scripts for Milton Cross. Cross was once asked how much he knew about opera, and he replied, "Not a god damned thing!"