Saturday Afternoon at the Opera

Saturday Afternoon at the Opera — SATO — is one of the wonderful things about CBC Radio: passion, dramatic music, and the glory of the human voice in song while you drive around in the rain on a weekend afternoon, crossing chores off your list. Rich baritones, deeper than you would imagine possible, dripping with menace; the soaring beauty of the great tenors. Heroines singing in the realm of angels or pouring like syrup in the lower ranges. The chorus: the power of massed voices making you shiver.

And the quiz! Love the well-bred laughter of the host, the panel, and the studio audience. Love the way panel members act a little confused in that “oh, how silly of me!” way (the forehead-slapping, “doh!” moment is the lower class equivalent) when they fail to get the correct answer to some obscure piece of esoteric trivia. Love the willingness of the radio audience to join in the fun by sending in their quizzes (how many operas can you think of where the action turns upon the fall of a handkerchief?).

This weekend, the feature was “Daphne,” one of Strauss’s later works, replete with all the usual motifs: love, villainy, miscommunication, disguises, and the interference of the gods. Introductions were by Bill Richardson, a perfect person for the role. He has that light, amused intelligence that doesn’t take itself too seriously: you feel his delight in the delicious absurdity of the plot, and it’s hard to resist his obvious enjoyment of the music. You feel he and Stuart Hamilton, the quizmaster, would have a wonderful time chatting about opera and making bad puns over a bottle of wine. Listening to SATO gives you a hint of what it would be like to be there sharing the conversation and the wine.

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