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Through the Lens of Opera

Disregard what you learned from the history books about the first sound movie, first color TV program, first  stereo broadcast….because opera did it first!

Opera stars listening to radio-phone broadcast while reading opera score (1922)

  • Some of the first synchronized sound movies were of opera arias shown at the Phono-Cinema-Theatre at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.
  • A sound movie of the complete opera Faust was released in Britain in 1907.
  • NBC transmitted Carmen in color in 1953, the year before their “first color television” broadcast.
  •  The first stereo radio broadcast was from the Berlin Opera in 1925.

Back in October, we hosted the lecture: The Fandom of the Opera: How a Four Century Old Art Form Helped Create the Modern Media World lead by the brilliant television engineer and two-time Emmy winner, Mark Schubin. I learned so much in that hour that I feel I am well-prepared to try out for the TV game show Jeopardy. I didn’t just learn about opera, I learned about the global history and development of entertainment and technologies that enhanced the audience experience.

Through the lens of opera, we can better understand the history of technology. During the telephone opera era, from 1880 to 1943, the idea of electronic home entertainment was born. As early as 1885, Mefistofele was transmitted via a subscription service that delivered operas to homes, similar to today’s cable television. Also available was pay-per-event operas delivered over the telephone, resembling the model of our current pay-per-view. During this time opera also influenced the use of headphones and ear buds. If you want to learn more, I urge you to watch Mark’s lecture The Fandom of the Opera  (below) and check out our guide History of Media Technology and Opera.

Since I am on the topic of opera, the Library’s National Jukebox offers early opera recordings and an interactive digital facsimile of the Victrola Book of the Opera, 1919.  You can listen to Enrico Caruso’s Vesti la giubba, the oldest sound recording to sell a million copies, which happens to be from – you guessed it – the opera genre. 🙂

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