Home builder shores up Met radio


September 11, 2005|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK - The Metropolitan Opera's radio broadcasts, which have spread the gospel of opera for more than seven decades but were threatened by a lack of financing, have won a temporary reprieve.

A home-building company made flush by the housing boom has agreed to sponsor them, the Met said last week. The company, Toll Brothers, is making a rare foray into high-art philanthropy with the hope of adding a classy note to its image.

Started in 1931, the Saturday broadcasts have been teetering on the brink of extinction since Chevron-Texaco withdrew its support in 2003, eliciting grief from opera lovers and singers who received their first taste of the art form from them.

Joseph Volpe, the Met's general manager, said he could not guarantee the broadcasts' survival for more than four years, based on Toll Brothers' initial commitment and other money raised. But he said he hoped the company's support could be extended.

Neither Volpe nor the company would elaborate on the gift, a sign of the home builder's nervousness about what it said was its first act of cultural philanthropy. "They want to be cautious," Volpe suggested.

The broadcasts cost about $6 million a season, Volpe said. When asked if the company was paying a majority share, he responded only, "It's a major portion." He said the support would last for a "limited initial term."

A fund started by Beverly Sills, then the Met's chairwoman, to save the broadcasts has about $14 million, he said. The five-year goal of $150 million has been abandoned, Volpe said. The Annenberg Foundation and the Vincent A. Stabile Foundation are also supporters.

Home-building has less often been associated with support of the arts than finance, energy and pharmaceutical companies. But residential housing, loosely defined, is the American economy's largest slice, accounting for 16 percent of the gross domestic product, or nearly $2 trillion.

Robert I. Toll, Toll Brothers' chairman and chief executive, made it clear that he hoped supporting the Met would burnish the company's image, both with the public and with Wall Street, which, he said, undervalues the company's stock.

"What more perfect marriage for a branding effort than to associate yourself with the Met Opera?" he said.

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