September 15, 2011 How Opera Helped Create the Modern Media World, Oct. 6

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Margaret Clifton (202) 707-7450

Opera is a four-century-old art form combining music and theater. Our modern media world consists of recordings, stereo sound, earphones, movies, newscasts, and electronic home entertainment, including radio and television. The histories of opera and media technology have long been intertwined.

Amazingly, 30 years before Edison’s first lightbulb, the Paris Opera used electric light. Almost 30 years before Bell’s telephone, electronic sound-transmission experiments began at the Havana Opera.

Emmy-Award-winning engineer Mark Schubin will present an illustrated lecture, “The Fandom of the Opera: How a Four-Century-Old Art Form Helped Create the Modern Media World,” at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division, the lecture is free and open to the public; no tickets are needed.

Schubin, who has been writing about the intersecting histories of opera and media technology since 1972, currently serves as engineer-in-charge of the Metropolitan Opera’s Media Department. He has also worked on cinema, radio and television projects as diverse as the Olympic Games, The PBS NewsHour and Sesame Street. He is a fellow of the Society of Motion-Picture and Television Engineers. Schubin writes a blog,, which is archived by the Library.

According to Schubin, the first demonstration of stereo-sound transmission -- in 1881 -- came from an opera house. The first consumer headphones were also used for opera, as part of the first form of subscription electronic home entertainment. In 1910, 10 years before the first licensed commercial radio station, a transmitter in the Metropolitan Opera House broadcast operas, and one form of wireless opera broadcasting is even older, dating to the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.

Edison’s first patent filing for motion pictures said they were intended for opera, and many Americans’ first cinema experience came when movies were used as a scenic backdrop by a touring opera company. American motion-picture and television pioneer Charles Francis Jenkins wrote in 1925 that television could be used to bring opera to homes, and a system for the live transmission of opera images and sound was actually described in a New York newspaper in 1877.

From opera’s role in creating the first newscast -- in 1893 -- to modern satellite transmissions, 3D, and even operas in cyberspace, there are many examples of the intersecting histories of the modern media world and opera.

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PR 11-169
ISSN 0731-3527