Margaret JuntwaitIt was a teacher who first recommended broadcasting to Margaret Juntwait. “You have a beautiful voice,” he told her. “You should consider a career in radio.” She was flattered but quickly forgot his compliment; she had a math test in her sixth grade class that day. As it turned out, music was always a part of Margaret’s life, as was radio. Her father introduced her to the irreverent rantings of legendary storyteller Jean Shepherd on WOR, and later, NPR became a regular part of her day. Margaret attended the Manhattan School of Music as a lyric soprano, studying with Ellen Repp and receiving a Bachelor of Music degree. She sang at many funerals at her church job in New York, but when the world of opera did not pound on her door, Margaret wondered what else she could do with her life.
She remembered: radio. She was fortunate enough to land a part time job at WNYC, New York Public Radio, typing playlists. One thing led to another and soon she was on the air presenting classical music. She also produced radio features and an afternoon live music program called Around New York. In 2001, Margaret received a phone call from the producer of the Metropolitan Opera International Radio Broadcasts asking whether she’d like to be a cover [understudy] announcer for host Peter Allen. When he retired in 2004, Margaret took over as Host of the Met’s live, international Saturday broadcasts. When the Met Opera Radio channel was created Sirius (not Sirius XM) in 2006, she added the duty of hosting the live, weeknight broadcasts to the Saturday shows. She has three grown sons and lives with her husband, Jamie Katz, a writer and editor, in New York City.
William Berger William Berger grew up in Los Angeles in a bilingual (Spanish and English) and multicultural (Mexican, Italian, and Jewish) home where everyone listened to opera and had strong opinions about it. After spending time during his teen years in various places around the U.S. and Europe, he earned degrees in Latin and Italian Literature at University of California at Santa Cruz. During college, he got his first taste working in the opera world at the San Francisco Opera in various capacities, including merchandising and translating for artists who didn’t speak English. In 1984, Will moved to New York, worked in architecture/design, taught Romance Languages at Baruch College and became a constant presence in audience of the Metropolitan Opera.
He can’t remember a time when he didn’t write; he has published on a variety of subjects, including architecture, religion and sports. Will is the author of several books on opera, including Wagner Without Fear, Verdi With a Vengeance, and Puccini Without Excuses, (Vintage Books), and the tribute “Chris De Blasio” in Loss Within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS (University of Minnesota Press). He is a frequent lecturer/speaker on opera at a variety of venues, including the Embassy of Finland, the Italian Cultural Institute (New York), the Smithsonian Institute, the Wagner Society of America (New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Boston), and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as for the opera companies of Seattle, Houston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. He was a frequent contributor to the NPR program At the Opera, and was the host of WNYC’s Overnight Music in 2004-2006, which included the weekly show El Salón, focusing on Hispanic issues in classical music.
Will has worked at the Metropolitan Opera since 2006 as a writer, producer, and on-air commentator with host Margaret Juntwait, for the live, weeknight broadcasts on Met Opera Radio. He is also a writer and producer for the Metropolitan Opera’s famed Quiz, heard as part of its live, international Saturday broadcasts. His recent articles have appeared in the publications of the opera companies of Seattle, Washington D.C., and Barcelona’s Theatre de Liceu. He lives in New York’s East Village with Stephen Miller, his partner of 14 years.
Ira SiffIra Siff is a native New Yorker who grew up on the standing room line at the old Met worshipping the great singers of the time – and, of course, listening to the Met broadcasts. While acquiring a degree in visual arts at Cooper Union, his avid interest in opera led to voice lessons and musical studies, and a debut as a tenor in 1970. Ira performed in many new operas and shows at The New York Shakespeare Festival, Judson Poets’ Theatre, Playwrights Horizons and other off-Broadway venues, as well as in various cabarets where he did a one-man show featuring spoofs of opera. This led to an interest in blending opera with comedy. In 1981 he founded La Gran Scena Opera Co., and the troupe became an instant hit, their musically skilled, hilarious-but-affectionate spoofs of opera divas winning great acclaim from the press, public and music world. Gran Scena toured internationally through 2002 to many of the world’s great opera houses and festivals: Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Edinburgh Festival, Venice Festival, Munich Festival, Covent Garden Festival, and, literally, countless others in the U.S., Great Britain, Europe, South America and Australia.
Ira continued to perform as Gran Scena’s prima “donna,” Madame Vera, in a solo spin-off of Gran Scena, entitled The Annual Farewell Recital, through 2009. It was as Madame Vera that he first teamed up with Margaret Juntwait, for two seasons of hilarious mock diva interviews on WNYC’s Weekend Music. He has also been teaching voice and coaching singers on interpretation and style for 40 years in New York, as well as giving master classes in Israel, Italy, Holland, and the U.S. Ira began stage directing opera 2000, collaborating since then with such conductors as James Levine, Richard Bonynge, and Christoph Von Dohnanyi. Ira also lectures on opera and writes for Opera News. Ira has served as on-air commentator with host Margaret Juntwait, on the Met’s live, international Saturday radio broadcasts since 2007.