For long-time fans of the Metropolitan Opera Saturday broadcasts, the names Alberta Masiello, Robert Jacobson, Boris Goldovsky, and Edward Downes could only spell one thing: the beloved Texaco Opera Quiz. Their astute, quick-witted, and entertaining banter as they successfully answered trivial and esoteric operatic questions became the stuff of lore in the annals of radio broadcasting. Alas, the Texaco-sponsored broadcasts are now a thing of the past, and the great panelists mentioned have all gone to their great operatic rewards. Lately, the Opera Quiz has been a mere shadow of its former self. Neither the quality of the questions nor the caliber of the current crop of panelists have gotten even close to rivaling the quiz's Golden-Age era.
There was a ray of light from Across the Pond during the last intermission of the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro on February 12, 2005. The venerable Opera Quiz was given a well-needed shot in the arm by having the very first broadcast from Covent Garden, London. It was a rare experiment gone right.
The British version of the quiz, featuring panelists that included singer Robert Tear and conductor Mark Elder was pure joy. The answers were correct, and they came in with quick-lightning speed. The panelists were sure of their knowledge of opera, and their answers were witty and entertaining. The speed with which conductor Mark Elder recognized musical selections, for instance, was fascinating and ultimately impressive.
Let us hope that this was not merely a flash in the pan, and that the Powers That Be at the MET decide that this kind of great entertainment needs to be encored often.