Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Opera - And Then Some!

(April 2010 - The view inside the Metropiolitan Opera, as I anxiously waited for Rossini's "Armida" to begin)

They must have known how much I wanted it, because (thanks Mom and Dad!) I got my first FM radio for Christmas when I was 12 years old. I still vividly recall the first cold Saturday afternoon later that winter when, scanning the dial, I stumbled upon a broadcast of classical music with voices unlike anything I'd heard before. They were serene and lyrical and joyous, and sometimes even ferocious. Most of all, regardless of the emotion being expressed, these beautiful voices were passionate.

I was completely captivated and immediately wanted to know more. But I had to wait, as the glorious music went on. And on and on. Later that afternoon I learned I'd been listening to a live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera on my local commercial classical radio station. That was in 1979. I've been a devoted fan ever since.

That seems like a long time, until I consider that Peter Fox Smith has been sharing opera with listeners each Saturday on Vermont Public Radio for more than 30 years. He was among the very first voices heard on the then-nascent VPR. Since 1977 he's continued to be the beloved voice of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, conveying his knowledge and love of the art form with a depth of expression that is matched only by the music and voices themselves.

This weekend VPR Classical takes a bold step forward in continuing its commitment to airing opera with two new programs. Peter will be hosting A Passion for Opera beginning at Noon on Saturdays, followed by the Saturday Matinee at 1pm featuring a wide array of operas recorded live in concert from our colleagues at the WFMT Radio Network.

Peter has said that throughout his career he's seen it happen time and again: people who were certain that opera was not for them become hooked once exposed to its dramatic power and beauty. That is the approach of A Passion for Opera; to make opera a welcoming and accessible experience for aficionados, casual fans, and newcomers alike.

We’ll explore opera together each week with a hand-selected program of operatic arias and scenes. We’ll explore themes, genres, styles, and artists in-depth, and celebrate holidays, special events, and landmarks in musical history. A Passion for Opera will offer much more than only information, it will be fun and a pleasure to listen to. We’ll also feature longstanding favorite features such as the annual American Musical Sampler and tribute to the great Swedish tenor, Jussi Björling, as well as regular opera quizzes.

A Passion for Opera will be followed by Saturday Matinee at 1pm, featuring operas recorded live in concert from various productions.

Highlights include:

  • the opening opera (this Saturday, May 21st), from the Salzburg Festival: Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice
  • American baritone Thomas Hampson in the tormented title role of Verdi’s Macbeth from the Lyric Opera Chicago
  • Plácido Domingo as Pablo Neruda in the LA Opera’s new production of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino (The Postman)
  • Porgy and Bess from the San Francisco Opera
  • The Houston Grand Opera’s productions of Madame Butterfly and Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking
I hope you'll join me and other opera lovers around the region in celebrating Peter Fox Smith's ongoing contribution to the long legacy of opera on Vermont Public Radio, with A Passion for Opera and Saturday Matinee starting this weekend on VPR Classical.

Many things have changed in the last 30 years, but some things remain constant: I'll still be enjoying the opera on Saturday afternoons via good old FM radio.

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