The First Live Opera Transmission

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Sign Off, Feb 2010

Jan. 12, 2010, was the 100th anniversary of the first live transmission of opera via radio. On that date, Acts II and 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. There was even 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.

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.

Although we don't have a photo of this momentous first broadcast of live opera, we did acquire one from the 1930s. In 1931, the Met began its live network opera broadcasts, which continue to this day, said to be the longest-running series of live broadcasts.

Announcer Milton Cross broadcasting from the anteroom of a box at the old Metropolitan Opera House in the 1930s.

Announcer Milton Cross broadcasting from the anteroom of a box at the old Metropolitan Opera House in the 1930s.

Information courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera.

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