One hundred years ago today, two operas--Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci--were broadcast live over the radio for the first time.
The Dictograph Company invited reporters to hear the two operas, and provided them with microphones to report with. The press invitation said the beautiful voices would be "trapped and magnified by the dictograph directly from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, and borne by wireless Hertzian waves over the turbulent waters of the sea to transcontinental and coastwise ships, and over the mountainous peaks and undulating valleys of the country."
January 12, 1910 marked the first day that opera was experimentally broadcast live over the radio. Acts II and III of Tosca were sent by a transmitter at the Met, via an antenna strung between two masts on the roof, to a handful of receiving stations in the New York area. The broadcast worked: there was reportedly shipboard reception on a vessel docked at a Manhattan pier, and The New York Times estimated the broadcast was heard at a 50-mile radius of the station.
The broadcasts occurred thanks to the efforts of radio pioneer and opera lover Lee De Forest.
The May 1907 prospectus of his Radio Telephone Company said, "It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity." De Forest hired opera singers to sing into his microphones and also transmitted opera-music records, even from the Eiffel Tower.
De Forest couldn't get Met general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza to agree to a live radio broadcast until De Forest pointed out that a stage microphone would also allow Gatti-Casazza to hear from his office what was happening on stage. Finally, an experimental broadcast was authorized.
SOURCE: The Metropolitan Opera