This week the opera world received sad news, the announcement of the death of longtime Metropolitan Opera broadcast host Margaret Juntwait. I don’t suppose anyone was shocked. Things were clearly very serious since the beginning of the season. Mary Jo Heath’s perpetual statement that she was “in for Margaret Juntwait” seemed to ring with less hope and more tribute as time went on.
We all learn opera in different ways. Plenty learn from their opera loving relations or friends. But there are a lot of us in a vacuum with friends and family who think opera is just plain nuts. For years Margaret was our only opera friend, guide and teacher.
I started my business knowing “not enough” about opera (this is an understatement). It was listening to Margaret both live and on the archived broadcasts that gave me basic opera pronunciation skills as well as historical and background information. On her live weeknight broadcasts with William Berger, her knowledge, passion and humor were infectious.
I read an article about the business of jewelry which suggested sending free jewelry to celebrities (The jewelry designer in the article had great success after sending jewelry to Beyonce). In the opera world Margaret was the first person to come to mind. Singers come and go but Margaret was always there and so beloved by all.
For 2-3 years I sent her bracelets to start the season thanking her for all I had learned from her to make my business and opera knowledge grow. She would reply her thanks and tell me how she was wearing the bracelet around the building and showing it off. But of course she couldn’t wear jewelry during broadcast- too jingly!
She asked a few years later if we had approached the Met Opera Shop about carrying bracelets. We told her we had approached them a couple years previously, but did not get any response. She strongly encouraged us to try again. What she knew and we didn’t was that the Met Shop had completely changed management and direction. They were very open to talking to and working with us when we approached them a second time.
Today there are 3-4 of our bracelets available at the Met Opera Shop which would never have been possible without Margaret’s simple straightforward encouragement.
The Met will roll on and someone will step into Margaret’s shoes whom we are bound to also love. But, we’ll all miss and remember Margaret… and while her personal legacy is huge, the small day to day stuff will stay with us too, like when we say Gotterdammerung as simply as we would say the word ice cream. Personally though, I still need help learning to say Die Zauberflote… I hope the Met will keep her as the voice of their archived broadcasts for many years to come, which will warm our hearts as well as teach us much.