The music director of a nonprofit North Carolina classical radio station said on Thursday that the station would reverse course and air several contemporary operas being performed by the Metropolitan Opera this season that the station had originally said were unsuitable for broadcast, citing their “adult themes and harsh language.”
“It was a very hard decision,” Emily Moss, the music director of WCPE, a nonprofit station based in Wake Forest, said in an interview. “It’s been a hard day and a hard week.”
The reversal came after the station faced widespread criticism.
The Met, the nation’s leading opera company, has been staging more contemporary work in recent seasons as part of a push to attract new and more diverse audiences; the company has found that these newer works draw more first-time ticket buyers than the classics do.
But Deborah S. Proctor, the general manager of WCPE, took issue with new works planned for the current season in a survey she sent to listeners on Aug. 31.
“This coming season, the Metropolitan Opera has chosen several operas which are written in a nonclassical music style, have adult themes and language, and are in English,” she wrote. “I feel they aren’t suitable for broadcast on our station.”
In the survey, Proctor cited her problems with several of the Met’s offerings this season.
She described the violence in Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” the death row opera that opened the season. She cited the “non-Biblical” sources of the libretto of John Adams’s “El Niño,” and the suicidal themes in Kevin Puts’s “The Hours,” which is based on the Michael Cunningham novel and the Oscar-winning film it inspired. She wrote that “Florencia en el Amazona,” by the Mexican composer Daniel Catán, was “simply outside of the bounds of our musical format guidelines.” And she said that both Anthony Davis’s “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” and Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” contain “offensive language plainly audible to everyone.”
“We want parents to know that they can leave our station playing for their children because our broadcasts are without mature themes or foul language,” she wrote in the letter. “We must maintain the trust of listeners.”
The station decided last season not to broadcast Blanchard’s “Champion.”
The Met, which has said it follows Federal Communications Commission guidelines regarding profanity and language, said it was happy with the change of course. “We’re pleased that opera fans in North Carolina will be able to hear all 27 of our scheduled broadcasts this season,” the Met said in a statement.
The station’s letter, and the survey attached to it, received scant attention before reaching social media last week. Rhiannon Giddens, a North Carolina native who shared the Pulitzer Prize this year with Michael Abels for their opera “Omar,” wrote an open letter voicing her displeasure over the station’s stance and noted that challenging adult themes are staples of many of the most popular operas of the past.
“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,” Giddens wrote. “Radio is supposed to be egalitarian and an equalizer, not used as a weapon, as you are doing.”
The station reversed course after receiving feedback from the public and holding internal conversations.
“We really value being safe for a general audience, especially children,” Moss said in the interview. “But one of our core values is that we are a refuge from the political and troubles of the world and we are returning to that value.”