How is that possible, you ask? Radio as a public medium hasn’t been around for 100 years yet. Ah, but early experiments included live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. So, the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network is getting ready for a 100 year celebration next month.
Here is the history provided to RBR-TVBR by the Metropolitan Opera:
Radio pioneer Lee De Forest was an opera lover. The May 1907 prospectus of his Radio Telephone Company said, “It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity.” He hired opera singers to sing into his microphones and also transmitted opera-music records, even from the Eiffel Tower.
He couldn’t get Met general manager Giulio Gatti-Gasazza to agree to allow a live radio broadcast, however, until De Forest pointed out that a stage microphone would also allow Gatti-Casazza to hear from his office what was happening on stage. Finally, an experimental broadcast was authorized.
On January 12, 1910, Acts II & III of Tosca were sent by a transmitter at the Met, via an antenna strung between two masts on the roof, to a handful of receiving stations in the New York area. The New York Times accurately reported, “This will only be an experiment and perfect results are not expected immediately.” Those singing or talking into a microphone offstage were heard much better than those singing on the stage. Memory and imagination probably helped listeners.
Still, the world’s first live opera broadcast went fairly well. But, as is so often the case immediately after a reasonably successful experiment, the idea was exploited. Reporters were invited by the Dictograph Company, which provided the microphones, to hear two operas broadcast the next day, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, with superstars Emmy Destinn and Enrico Caruso.
The press invitation said the beautiful voices would be “trapped and magnified by the dictograph directly from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, and borne by wireless Hertzian waves over the turbulent waters of the sea to transcontinental and coastwise ships, and over the mountainous peaks and undulating valleys of the country.” In fact, on the 12th, there was shipboard reception, on a vessel docked at a Manhattan pier. As for the peaks and valleys, The Times had estimated a radius of perhaps 50 miles, given the low height of the opera-house roof.
On the 12th, others respectfully refrained from interfering with the broadcast. On the 13th, a report in Telephony said, “deliberate and studied interference from the operator of the Manhattan Beach station of the United Wireless Company” caused “some interruption.” “But,” according to The Times, “the reporters could hear only a ticking which the operator finally translated as follows, the person quoted being the interrupting operator: ‘I took a beer just now, and now I take my seat.'”
Oscar Hammerstein, whose Manhattan Opera House competed with the Met, installed a wireless station in his new London Opera House the next year. But it wasn’t for broadcasting; it was for selling tickets to “passengers in the great liners 500 miles out at sea,” according to The Times.
-Source: The Metropolitan Opera
The Met’s current series of live network opera broadcasts dates back to 1931, laying claim to being the longest running series of live broadcasts. It also claims a sponsorship record, with Texaco as sponsor from 1940 through 2004. By our tally, Toll Brothers can tie that record in 2069.