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Television & Opera: A 140-Year Collaboration by Mark Schubin

December 5th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special

Recorded on November 4, 2016 as a National Opera Week event at All Mobile Video Chelsea Studios, 221 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001.

Sarah Fischer as Carmen for 1934 BBC TVDid you think television was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939? The BBC telecast the opera Carmen in 1934, and the first television program with an original script was an operetta broadcast in Chicago in 1931.

Did you think the idea of television came from Philo Farnsworth in 1927? Fifty years earlier, in 1877, the New York newspaper The Sun carried a proposal for transmitting live opera (both video images and sound) to theaters around the world (like the current series The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD).

amahlDid you think PBS has always been the home of opera on television? CBS commissioned 14 operas for television, NBC 13. In addition to commissioning its own television operas, ABC also developed new technology for televising opera from the stage, involving cameras using dry ice and infra-red lamps.

Join multiple-Emmy-award-winning engineer and historian Mark Schubin for a National Opera Week illustrated talk about the extraordinary combined history (and possible futures) of opera and television. Did you know that for half a century starting in 1885 people went to opera houses to watch live remote baseball games? Did you know that laboratories around the world have been discussing sub-atomic particles in the service of televised opera?

Watch and be amazed!

Download Link: Television & Opera: A 140-Year Collaboration (TRT: 36:16 / 68 MB)

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The Impresario Who Invented the Movie Theatre

November 18th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings


A long time ago, I worked on a television show featuring opera star Luciano Pavarotti singing at the Spectrum arena, home of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. The concert was performed between games, so flooring was laid over the ice, and the stage and seats over that. It wasn’t the first time opera had been performed in a hockey arena.

Manru, a relatively obscure opera written by the famous Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, had its world premiere in Germany in May of 1901. Less than a year later, it was performed by the Metropolitan Opera at Pittsburg’s Duquesne Garden hockey arena, one of only eight performances in the company’s history [officially, Pittsburgh had no h 1890-1911]. The Met performed five different operas at the Garden that year and another four the next. But that wasn’t Pittsburgh’s first opera at an indoor hockey arena.

schenley-casino-ice-rinkThe first indoor ice rink in Pittsburgh was at the Schenley Park Casino, where the Casino Comic Opera Company performed. The company was created by Harry Davis, who had previously hosted the Met at his Grand Opera House in Pittsburg, one of several theatres he ran in the city.

In 1896, Davis presented the first projected movies in Pittsburg at his Avenue Theatre, using the Lumières’ Cinematographe (the same day movies were also projected at the nearby Bijou Theatre using the Edison-promoted Vitagraph). By the end of the year, Davis had created his own Zinematographe movie system and used it to shoot a reentactment in Pittsburg of the boxing match between Peter Maher and Joe Choynski in New York (the fact that the same contenders were only acting got around questions of legality of fights).


nickeodeon-trimmedOne of Davis’s employees, Richard A. Rowland, who started as an assistant spotlight operator at age 12, suggested showing movies at the Grand Opera House, too. Davis eventually dedicated a room to projected movies at an arcade he ran next to one of his theatres. After the arcade burned down, he, and his partner and brother-in-law John Harris, opened a storefront theatre in 1905, with 96 “opera seats,” dedicated to nothing but projected movies. It was open almost 16 hours a day, but employees (in nice uniforms) worked eight-hour shifts. The admission fee was five cents, so it was called the Nickelodeon.

It was neither the first dedicated movie theatre nor the first place called a nickelodeon, but it was the first long-lasting one, and it was amazingly successful and influential. A Polish visitor who saw it brought the dedicated movie-theatre concept to Europe.  Carl Laemmle, co-founder of Universal Studios, opened his White Front Theatre in Chicago based on the Pittsburgh Nickelodeon. A Pittsburg suit salesperson, Harry Warner, opened a movie theatre in nearby New Castle with his brothers. A jeweler across the street, Lewis Seleznick, went into movie production; his son, David O. Selznick, is probably best known as the producer of Gone with the Wind.

1906-4-28-ny-clipperRowland took over his father’s theatrical supply company and added a film exchange. In 1910, he sold it for “more money than I thought existed” and went on to found companies that became important parts of MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bros. and to run Fox and have executive positions at such other studios as Republic and RKO.  Inspired by Rowland’s success, the Warner brothers opened their own Pittsburg film exchange before moving to Hollywood.

As for Davis, Musical America called him the “impresario of the hour” in 1918 and recommended him for a national “hero medal” for bringing opera to the masses outside New York, Chicago, and Boston and for ticket prices starting at 25 cents.  “I believe in opera,” he said.  “Its medium is a great education for the people.”


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IEEE Proceedings: Fandom of the Opera

March 2nd, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings, Schubin Snacks


1673 Phonurgia Nova trimmed

This one has it all, from toxic candles to quantum entanglement, the story of how opera created the modern media world, with full references. Here’s a free link to the paper, published in the March 2016 issue of the Proceedings of the IEEEThe Fandom of the Opera

Opera-house-based baseball-playing robots? A 200-ton music synthesizer? “No opera, no X-rays!”?  It’s all in there.

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The First Bootleg Recording

February 24th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings, Schubin Snacks


1920 Nellie Melba at Marconi factoryOpera has a long history of bootleg recording. The “Golden Age of Opera” label, begun in the 1950s, used unauthorized off-air recordings from Metropolitan Opera (Met) radio broadcasts. Before that, Wagner-Nichols promoted recorders and recordings of those broadcasts. And Classic Editions issued an opera recording supposedly made in Italy that was, in fact, an off-air recording of a 1947 Met broadcast. The first off-air recording ever was made of opera singer Nellie Melba (right) in 1920 (click to enlarge the images).

1901 Mapleson at the Met trimmedMet librarian Lionel Mapleson (left) has been called “The Father of Bootlegging” for the recordings he made there beginning in 1901, though they were fully known and authorized. But bootleg opera recordings began even earlier.

The following appeared in The Sun in New York on November 1, 1888. The images here are added. The event was also covered in many other newspapers, from the New-York Daily Tribune to the Oakland Tribune as well as Electrical Review. The Casino, incidentally, is where the opera Cavalleria Rusticana had its New York premiere.

The Sun (3)

Yeomen of the GuardAs soon as an opera is produced with any degree of success, especially one by Gilbert and Sullivan, the horseshoe-scarf-pin managers of the never-pay-royalty companies fly to New York and by some trick or device steal the work, and in less than a week astonish our rural cousins with the New York and London success. It is customary for some music publishing firm to arrange with the authors or controllers of successful operas for the publication of a libretto and piano score, and by doing they make it comparatively easy for any one to perform the opera, but in the case of “The Yeomen of the Guard” the libretto only was published, consequently the piratical companies could do nothing with the opera.

The average small opera manager is as full of expedients as an egg is of meat and generally finds some way out of a dilemma, especially if a sheriff is the dilemma; but the latest trick, as performed at the Casino last night, is both unique and interesting. Yesterday afternoon Mr. Pollock, the treasurer of the Casino, received a telegram asking that a box be reserved for a Mr. Frank Wilber. One of the lower boxes was reserved, and at eight o’ clock last evening a commercial looking man entered the lobby, hurriedly called for the box, paid the necessary amount and was ushered in.
CasinoNoticing that the gentleman had a large telescope valise, Mr. Daly, the usher, asked if he should take it to the check room for him, but the gentleman declined to have it checked giving as an excuse that the case contained jewelry, and he preferred to have it remain with him. Very little attention was given to the lone man in the box, and had it not been for the watchfulness of Mr. Daly it is probable that the man and his trickery would have escaped detection. The house was packed to suffocation, and when the finale of the first act was begun Mr. Daly opened some windows in the lobby to give the audience a little fresh air.

As he turned from the windows his eye lighted upon a queer-looking machine lying on a chair near the lone man. Daly’s first thought was of dynamite and anarchy, his next of how to remove the disciple of Herr Most and his death dealing machine, his next thought–but before he thought again he had planted the man and his machine in a chair in Mr. Rudolph Aronson’s office and was standing at a respectful distance from him waiting for either the machine to explode or the man to begin a harangue.

AronsonIn the office at the time were quite a party of gentlemen chatting with Mr. Aronson, among them being Col. Stark, Dr. Nesbit and Albert Aronson, but they very quickly sought other quarters when Mr. Daly and his charge entered so hurriedly. Mr. Aronson, with his usual coolness and presence of mind, remained seated and awaited developments. The mysterious stranger opened the conversation by saying:

“Well, I guess I’m done for. I suppose you want to know who I am and what I’m doing here. I manage a small opera company, and I desired to include ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ in my repertoire. I could not obtain the music so I concluded to come here to-night and take it down by the aid of a phonograph. If your precious usher had not been so inquisitive I’d have had the whole blooming opera, but I only got the first act.”

Edison Perfected Phonograph of 1888He turned the crank of the mysterious box and it emitted the music of the opera as clearly and distinctly as though the artists and an orchestra were performing it. Mr. Aronson confiscated all the cylinders and told Wilber to go, which he did very quickly.

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The Fandom of the Opera at McGill University by Mark Schubin

February 21st, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe
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Let’s Go Mets!

October 9th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks


As this is being written, the New York Mets are still contenders for the 2015 baseball championship. They won in 1969 and 1986 after having the worst record in 162-game major-league-season history when they first took the field.

NY_MetropolitansWhen the team was founded, it was the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York, a name that originally belonged to a team that, in 1882, accepted offers to join both the National League and the American Association. The owners got around that problem by buying another team and calling them the New York Gothams. The Gothams became the Giants, and it was their move to San Francisco, in part, that led to the formation of the current Mets. In between the 19th-century Mets and the current team, the Metropolitan Opera’s baseball team was also known as the Metropolitans or Mets.

Mr. Met in 2009Although not often in first place, the Mets have the distinction of having baseball’s first official live human mascot, Mr. Met, who appeared at their first game at their home at Shea Stadium in 1964. The English word was coined when Edmond Audran’s opera La mascotte, which had opened successfully in Paris at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on December 29, 1880, was imported to Boston’s Gaiety Theatre, where it opened in 1881 on April 12 as The Mascot. The root of the French word referred to a witch, but the opera was about a woman who brought luck to a farmer.

The original Mets accepting offers from two major leagues at the same time was an echo of what happened when the opera moved to New York at two opera houses, the Bijou on May 5 and the Park on May 9. At the end of the overture on May 5, a man announced from the stage that at 6 pm an injunction had been served on the tenor, preventing his appearance, and named his replacement. The audience “was good-natured and sympathized with the management,” according to the next day’s positive review in The New York Times, and gave the substitute “favor, it being generally understood that he had never even rehearsed the opera and had thrown himself into the breach to save the piece.”

1881-12-31 Punch MascotteThe very successful opera continued to open in more cities — two different opera houses in Chicago, too. In London, it opened at the New Comedy Theatre on October 15. On December 21, the United Telephone Company Limited threw a dinner party at London’s Bristol Hotel for the purpose of listening to The Mascotte via telephone, an introduction to pay cable. By 1882, the year the first Mets joined major-league baseball, the opera was being transmitted from the Theatre Royal in Preston, England, to Manchester, a distance of some 30 miles.

Let’s go, Mets!


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Where Did The Newscast Come From?

October 7th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe


Where Did The Newscast Come From?
SMPTE DC Bits-by-the-Bay, Chesapeake Beach Resort
May 20, 2015

Direct Link (16 MB / TRT 8:14):
Where Did The Newscast Come From?


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Operatic Media Borrowings, Hybrids, and Commixtion by Mark Schubin

July 31st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Opera-Media Servings, Schubin Cafe


Presented at SID: Sounds, Images, and Data 2015 (, New York University, New York City on July 24, 2015.

Direct Link (69 MB / TRT 35:36):
Operatic Media Borrowings, Hybrids, and Commixtion by Mark Schubin


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The Fandom of the Opera: How the Audience for a Centuries-Old Art Form Helped Create Modern Media Technology

November 20th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Presented as part of National Opera Week at Stevens Institute of Technology, College of Arts & Letters, Hoboken, NJ on October 30, 2014.

Believe it or not, electronic home entertainment was invented for opera audiences. So were consumer headphones, movies, newscasts, and pay-cable. The first sportscasts were in opera houses. The first wireless broadcast? The first commercial digital recording? The first live subtitles? All opera.

The idea of transmitting opera motion pictures and sounds live to theaters worldwide appeared in print in 1877, to homes in 1882. Without opera, there might not be communications satellites. And, according to pioneering radiologist Percy Brown, “No opera, no X-rays!”

The first opera recordings were made 17 years before Edison’s first phonograph, and 76 years before that an automaton played opera music for Marie Antoinette. In the 21st century, labs around the world are working on ultra-high-speed communications systems for opera and have discussed neutrino communications and quantum entanglement.

Galileo, Kepler, Lavoisier, Matisse – all had opera-technology connections. Stereo sound? The laryngoscope? Broadcast rights? All for opera. Really. Watch and be amazed.

Direct Link (151 MB / 1:06:16 TRT): The Fandom of the Opera-Stevens


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Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?

November 6th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded Wednesday, October 29, 2014. A free event for National Opera Week 2014 at GoingGoingGoneSports Gallery at the Atrium at Citigroup Center in New York City (with special thanks to Boston Properties and WorldStage).

Babe Ruth sang in opera houses.  The manager of the Metropolitan Opera House wears a World Series ring.  Baseball fans started watching remote games in opera houses beginning in 1885.  Opera fans went to ballparks to hear their favorites starting in 1916.

Direct Link (78 MB / 44:55  TRT): Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?


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