Mary Jo Heath
While growing up in Norman, Oklahoma, Mary Jo became what she calls a “jack of all musical trades.” She played piano for everybody as well as clarinet in band, orchestra, and pit orchestras, learned to play a little on a lot of different instruments, sang in choir, performed various roles in operas, and worked as Music Director for a small opera company. All that led her to study music theory because she just wanted to understand how music fits together.
While she was at the Eastman School of Music earning a Ph.D. in music theory, she started working in radio. Throughout her 25+ years in the music industry – from a record company to an online music magazine, from researching to writing – the glue of radio kept pulling her back. In 2006 when the Metropolitan Opera was looking for a new Senior Radio Producer, she joined the team that brought live radio broadcasts to SiriusXM. After nine seasons working behind the scenes, she took over as host at the start of the 2015/16 season.
Mary Jo lives in the suburbs of New York City with her husband and tries not to text her daughter (who is away at college) too much.
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.