Starting its third year of podcast programming, The Metropolitan Opera Guild will add 20 broadcasts this 2017–2018 season to the 79 already in its library.
So far, the guild has received encouraging feedback. A man from Westchester, New York, reported that he listens to them to de-stress during a daily walk. A woman from Skokie, Illinois, said she was happy to be introduced to “William Tell;” prior to the podcast, she’d only known about the opera’s overture, which was used as the theme song for the TV show “The Lone Ranger.”
Something between a lecture studded with audio clips and an interview with an expert, the podcasts are released on Wednesdays, about every two weeks from September through May. (For summer programming, the three to four weeks of new recordings appear in rotation.)
It was guild members outside of the New York area who prompted the idea for the podcasts in the first place, said Stuart Holt, the director of School Programs and Community Engagement for the guild. These members felt they were missing out because they couldn’t attend lectures in person. So it made sense to share the recordings of the lectures online.
What the Podcasts Are About
The podcasts are designed to enrich learning for those on both ends of the spectrum—opera novices who are hearing about these works for the first time, and opera nerds who relish mass quantities of information on the art form.
For a beloved opera like Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” the programming is designed to allow a fresh entry point into the work. In episode 82, released this month, principal bassoonist William Short shares how his instrument contributes to the opera.
For opera novices, or those unfamiliar with a particular opera, the programs present “a digestible amount of information about a single opera in just 50 minutes,” Holt said. The broadcasts typically include information on the composer and something about the opera’s composition, “both from a historical … and structural perspective,” he said. Clips help listeners pay attention to particular themes or passages.
During the summer, the podcasts cover more general themes. One of the most popular has been on voice types, exploring the vocal range and characteristics of each type, and showing the difference between, say, a dramatic mezzo soprano or a lyric one. Voice instructors have said they’ve shared these podcasts with their students and colleagues.
The First of the Season: ‘Norma’
In the first broadcast of the season, No. 80 in the series, F. Paul Driscoll, editor-in-chief of Opera News, and William Berger, an American author, radio music host and MET Radio commentator, introduce The Met season opener, “Norma,” running through Dec. 16.
They demonstrate that the opera is not simply a vehicle for the divas who have played the title role of the Druid high priestess. Each of Bellini’s melodies informs a sensitive listener to the characters and the story—from the most famous aria of the whole work, the spellbinding “Casta Diva,” to the underappreciated moments in the finale, when Norma must ask of her father an unimaginable favor.
There will be another podcast on “Norma” on Oct. 4, before the HD screening on Oct. 7. On Oct. 11, the episode will feature “Magic Flute” in advance of the screening on Oct. 14.