Earlier this afternoon, Triangle classical music station WCPE 89.7 announced that it will air the entirety of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s 2023-24 season—a reversal of the radio station’s contentious decision, announced in August, that it would decline to air six of the season’s Met operas.
The objectionable operas were, according to station director Deborah Proctor, written “in a non-classical music style, [that has] adult themes and language.” Other concerns cited in the letter included suicide, death, and “non-biblical sources.”
Music director Emily Moss told the INDY that following a meeting on Thursday afternoon, the station had decided to reverse course.
“We are a refuge, away from the politics and the mess and the trouble of society and we want to just provide beautiful soothing music,” Moss said, “and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
Moss’s invocation of the station as a “refuge” echoed Proctor’s defense of the station’s decision, earlier this week in an NPR interview. Proctor described the censorship as necessary to preserve WCPE programming as a “safe refuge from the horrors of life.”
The letter, which also contained a 20-question survey, was mailed out to listeners in August and picked up traction in late September when it was posted to Twitter. Over the past few days, a spate of coverage followed, with reports from NPR, CNN, and the New York Post criticizing the listener-supported station for editorial criteria that seemed, at best, arbitrary and inconsistent. (“I have a moral decision to make here,” Proctor told NPR, regarding fears that a minor might encounter explicit operatic content. “What if one child hears this? When I stand before Jesus Christ on Judgement Day, what am I going to say?”).
WCPE’s scrutiny of the season coincides with the Met’s efforts to diversify it and feature more works from outside the white male canon. The list of operas originally rejected by WCPE includes Dead Man Walking, Florence e Amazon, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Fire Shut Up My Bones, El Nino, and The Hours; of these works, three are written by people of color.
Online, critics have pointed out that other Met operas permitted by the station also include explicit content. WCPE plans to air the Puccini tragedy Madame Butterfly, for instance, which tells the story of a 15-year-old’s sexual exploitation and ends in suicide. Romeo et Jiuliette, Turandot, and The Magic Flute were all on the approved list of Met operas the station planned to air.
Founded in 1978, WCPE reaches more than 180,000 listeners across the Piedmont. On social media, many wrote that they planned to cancel their support of the station.
“Your vision describes expanding the community of listeners worldwide, but you are refusing to allow those without financial access to a broadcast to join in appreciation of these recent new works,” listener Caitlin Wells wrote in a letter to the station that CC’d the INDY. “You are also excluding valuable new works about great modern thinkers, artists, and leaders like Malcolm X, Virginia Woolf, and Charles Blow, all of whom happen to be queer and/or black.”Opera_Survey_scan
“The Met broadcasts are the only way many people get to hear the productions, which are situated in New York and priced way out of many people’s budgets. Radio is supposed to be egalitarian and an equalizer, not used as a weapon,” the musician Rhiannon Giddens wrote in an open letter to the station posted on Facebook.
Nevertheless, the station has felt that the backlash was unwarranted. In a link to the survey, as of today, WCPE front-page website copy stated that “Several hundred news articles have been published Nationwide misrepresenting the contents of this document. Please click below and compare the accusations in the news with what was actually published.”
When asked to detail results of the listener survey, or to comment on what the station felt had been misrepresented in media coverage, Moss declined to comment.
“We listen to our listeners, and we value their opinion,” she said, “and we’re listening.”
“Opera is all about these heavy life or death [topics] and wrestling with the ugliness and the beauty of life simultaneously—you don’t have the one without the other,” Caitlin Wells, the letter writer, told the INDY over the phone. “I honestly can’t even think of an opera that doesn’t deal with that.”
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