SF opera returning to the airwaves 

On the radio, at least, it will be a treat and no tricks on April Fool’s Day when San Francisco Opera audiences here and around the world welcome the return of a 75-year-old tradition.

On April 1, after a hiatus of a quarter century, the opera will resume regular radio broadcasts — locally on KDFC-FM, nationally on the WFMT Network, and on the Internet. Full information will be posted soon at www.sfopera.com/broadcasts.

David Gockley, who promised to re-establish San Francisco’s radio presence when he became the opera’s general director 14 months ago, announced today that past and future performances recorded live in the War Memorial Opera House will be broadcast monthly year-round.

When the opera house opened in 1932, the inaugural Puccini "Tosca" performance was actually heard live around the country. Only Act 1 — on a scratchy, poor-quality broadcast — but it was on the air nevertheless. (Speaking of history, this is the 77th season of live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.)

The April 1 San Francisco broadcast will be Puccini’s "Manon Lescaut," with Karita Mattila in the title role. Other plans for the 8 p.m. broadcasts from the last season call for Verdi’s "Rigoletto" with Paolo Gavanelli (May 6); Tchaikovsky’s "Joan of Arc" with Dolora Zajick (June 3); Wagner’s "Tristan und Isolde" with Christine Brewer and Thomas Moser, Donald Runnicles conducting (July 1); then Verdi’s "A Masked Ball," Bizet’s "Carmen," Mozart’s "Don Giovanni," then the summer 2007 production of Richard Strauss’ "Der Rosenkavalier."

Gockley says broadcast executive producer Shane Gasbarra and Marilyn Mercur, who headed the opera’s radio program from 1972 through 1987, will go "back in time, locating old analog tapes of performances, one by one, and trying to rehabilitate and make broadcast-ready whatever is possible ... even that 1932 ‘Tosca’!"

Asked about the recent ownership change (from Bonneville International to Entercom Communications) and the possibility of a format change away from classical music, KDFC program director Bill Lueth said the new owners told him to go ahead with negotiations about the opera broadcasts.

Except for a handful of occasional local broadcasts in recent years, you have to go back to 1977-82 for the kind of full-season, regular schedule Gockley is planning now.

Four years after the 1932 "Tosca," there were several abridged broadcasts over NBC, using a single microphone by the prompter’s box. Concerts and airchecks followed, until in another wartime, in 1944, the full season of the San Francisco Opera was broadcast over KFRC, sponsored by Safeway.

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