Saturday, July 18, 2009

Free TV ends and small town access to opera goes with it.

Last week the CRTC issued a ruling that will reverberate with many Canadians, although they may not know it yet. They've announced that when analog (antenna) television goes dark, in two years time, they will only be requiring stations to replace the signals with digital ones (like they did in the States earlier this year,) in "major markets:" Cities with populations greater than 300,000.

For people in cities like Kelowna, Red Deer, Brandon, Kingston, Sudbury, and countless others, including the area that I spent time growing up in, Notre-Dame-de Lourdes, MB, it means that they will either need to step up to paying $30+ a month for something that has been free, (well, ad supported) for more than 50 years, or go dark, shutting their TVs off for good. 10% of Canadians still get their TV from analog broadcasts. The rest of you should see your cable bill go up by around $75 a year as local networks will now receive a fee from you that was originally meant to go only to specialty channels that you subscribe to.

How does this affect us? Well, the CBC is one of the stations going dark. I, and a whole host of other singers better known than I, caught some of our first glimpses of staged opera on the CBC, often via antenna. One of the first things that the CBC broadcast on their brand new television station in 1952 was Don Giovanni. Hundreds, if not thousands, of operas have been broadcast by CBC television since. The 70s and 80s saw the COC broadcast around the country, and live Met telecasts have taken place regularly for years. Norma with Joan Sutherland, Hansel and Gretel with Maureen Forrester back in the day, up to Burnt Toast (a personal favourite,) with Jean Stilwell and Benjamin Butterfield a couple of years ago. But before these amazing singers took on roles, they needed to find their passion, seeing, absorbing, and loving opera.

But not all singers come from Toronto or Montreal. Singers no less than Jon Vickers (one in a family of eight children from Prince Albert, SK), Victor Braun (father to Russell, Rabbit Lake, SK), and Ben Heppner (Dawson Creek, BC) all come from small towns and likely all saw their first glimpse of an opera via rabbit ears on a CBC analog trasmission. If any of them were children today, and caught in the group of people who aren't going to be able to afford to make the switch to paying for satellite, I can only imagine how much poorer our country's art would be for it.

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