Stations’ concerns prompt Metropolitan Opera to sanitize airing of Die Fledermaus

By Mike Janssen

The Metropolitan Opera agreed to tone down indecent language in its Jan. 11 broadcast after radio station leaders warned that they would not risk airing a performance that would violate FCC standards.

Danny Burstein as Frosch in Act 3 of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Danny Burstein plays Frosch, a jailer who utters an expletive in Act 3 of Die Fledermaus. (Photo: Ken Howard/The Met)

Met staffers informed stations in a Jan. 7 email that Saturday’s broadcast of Die Fledermaus would contain profanity. An off-stage tenor, singing in his jail cell, would prompt a jailer to answer, “No opera! That stuff won’t last. Nobody’s gonna pay good money to hear that shit!” The Met planned to advise listeners of the strong language in an announcement at the start of the act.

Alan Chartock, president of WAMC in Albany, N.Y., complained to Met staffers, letting them know that he would not air the program if the profanity remained. He had been “infuriated” when a previous season’s performance of Nixon in China also featured swearing, that time with no warning, he told Current.

“This time, we got an advisory, which in fact made it worse,” he said. “If we were going to be held to FCC standards, we wouldn’t have an excuse — we had been told.”

Colleagues at other stations told Chartock that they wouldn’t air Die Fledermaus either. The next day, the Met informed stations that it would replace the offending word with “crap.”

Read some of the Met’s emails on the opera blog Parterre Box.

Questions, comments, tips? mike@mikejanssen.net

  • LaurenceGlavin

    An English composer named Michael Tippet composed an opera called “The Ice Break” (global warming?) and Boston’s WGBH-FM aired a performance of it live from Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston quite a few years ago. It also used the vulgar phrase as Adams’ “Nixon in China”. There was no repercussion then, and later, Harvard University outlet WHRB (not to be confused with WCRB in the same market) played a commercial recording of “The Ice Break” vulgarity and all, and fairly recently too.

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