- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Several hundred opera-loving Washington-area residents are sending letters and making phone calls to public radio station WETA-FM
(90.9) to try to persuade management to broadcast the Metropolitan Opera's live performances from New York City when the season starts in late fall.
"We're very optimistic about WETA. After an initially slow response, they have been very responsive to us," says John Patterson, organizer of Keep the Met Singing in D.C., a group of about 250 opera lovers.
"Devoted listeners will support the station and they want to offer WETA a concrete example of their commitment through donations," says Mr. Patterson, a writer with Voice of America.
Dan DeVany, WETA's vice president and general manager, says his station will decide in the next few weeks whether it can take over the broadcasts in the fall. A meeting was held Thursday between representatives of the station and Mr. Patterson's group.
"We're talking right now to the Metropolitan Opera, and we're considering them," Mr. DeVany says. "But you're making a significant commitment of programming and time. It's a consideration."
WETA usually devotes Saturday afternoons to classical music, but the live opera broadcasts each Saturday would block out other programming for several hours and restrict the station's flexibility, Mr. DeVany says.
The discussions come after WGMS-FM (103.5) silenced the voices of Othello and Desdemona and Don Giovanni and his many angry women in May, saying opera doesn't have enough listeners.
"We do ongoing research, and it consistently shows there is a limited [market] for opera," says Jim Allison, program director for WGMS. "The majority of people prefer instrumental music to opera."
The Saturday-afternoon slot that WGMS devoted to live opera from the Metropolitan Opera for the past four decades now plays movements and snippets of instrumental music by Ludwig van Beethoven and other classical composers.
But opera lovers believe there are enough listeners of their favorite music form. They suspect that WGMS made the decision to cut opera because performances are long and cannot be interrupted by commercials as often as shorter pieces of music can.
"They are a commercial radio station, and they can do that, but there is an effort to inform WGMS that they are participating in the significant dumbing down of fine-arts radio," Mr. Patterson says.
As for WGMS' regular fare — the instrumental music — Mr. Patterson calls it "popular concerts ad nauseam."
While not wanting to broadcast the 20 live performances from the Met, Mr. Allison acknowledges that opera has its place and says his radio station will help the Met find a station that can broadcast its performances.
As for WGMS listener response since the slashing of live-opera programming, "it's been mixed," Mr. Allison says.
For Mr. Patterson, who has recorded more than 1,200 Met broadcasts and telecasts, the live opera broadcasts are not exclusively for opera lovers. He sees them as great exposure to one of the best opera companies — if not the best — in the world.
"This is the way people get exposed to good music," Mr. Patterson says. "The cultural capital ought to have one of the greatest institutions on its roster."
For more information, check the Web site www.metmaniac.com/metindc.html.

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