Met Opera: O Solo Mio!

SOMEHOW, Saturday afternoons just won't be quite the same. After an astonishing 63-year run sponsoring live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera's performances from New York, the ChevronTexaco Corp. has decided to withdraw its support.

Next season will see the final performances of a remarkable endeavor - the longest continuous commercial sponsorship in broadcast history.

Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) has set a fine example of corporate philanthropy. It currently spends about $7 million a year on the broadcasts, which today reach 10 million listeners tuned to radio stations in 42 countries.

But like other oil and opera companies today, both ChevronTexaco and the Met have each had tough times. A post-9/11 drop in tourism factored into a $10 million deficit facing the Met. ChevronTexaco saw the biggest drop in its share prices in 20 years last year.

Still, it's hard to fathom why ChevronTexaco - the fourth-largest publicly traded company in the world - would pull the plug on a relatively inexpensive way to bring widespread goodwill toward its brand name. The broadcasts introduced millions to opera, influenced singing careers, and helped other opera companies work to achieve the Met's high standards.

Opera remains one of the finest art forms, with audiences that cut cross generations, races, incomes, and continents. While it's an acquired taste for some, it offers the world's finest voices; some of the best orchestral works ever written and performed; stunning stage sets; and theatric tales of intrigue, tragedy, and romance.

Perhaps corporate philanthropy has become more demanding in quantifying the payback to a company. A ChevronTexaco representative says "It's important to focus more of our resources directly with the countries and markets where we do business." ExxonMobil just announced the end of its sponsorship of "Masterpiece Theatre" for similar reasons.

Unless a new sponsor comes to the rescue, this oil-for-opera program will indeed be missed.

The final performance is set for April 24, 2004. Fittingly, the opera is Wagner's "Götterdämmerung" - German for "Twilight of the Gods."

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