"Just put a smile in your voice" was the advice Margaret Juntwait would give colleagues preparing to join her on air, words she herself followed throughout her extraordinary career as the Met's longtime radio host. Audiences fell in love with the smile they heard in her unmistakable voice, "an elegantly plummy sound," as Music Director James Levine described it. But more than that, it expressed her warmth, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
As news spread of Margaret's death on June 3 at the age of 58, people responded as though they had lost a beloved friend. "The world has lost a beautiful voice and a beautiful person who always made us feel connected to the performance," wrote mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. "What a hero she was to so many of us." To listeners around the world, encountering her in the intimacy of their homes, she was the familiar companion who took them by the hand each week and welcomed them into the Met: for nearly 900 live Saturday and SiriusXM broadcasts. They felt her deep love of opera and her admiration for the people involved in putting it on. With quiet confidence and unflappable grace, she conveyed her understanding of the art form and, in interviews with artists, creative teams, and many others around the opera house, gracefully drew out the countless stories of what is required to present opera at the highest level.
Listeners sensed her excitement about what might unfold on the storied Met stage, a curiosity and non-jadedness that, broadly speaking, mirrored her zest for the experience of life. To even the most familiar operas, she brought a fresh perspec- tive: she said she heard different things in La Bohme each and every time. Fittingly, the Puccini classic, which opens the Met's Saturday matinee broadcast season on December 5, will be dedicated to her memory.
Her Met colleagues recall her sense of humor, her ability to find the positive in everything, and also her remarkable courage. Over more than a decade battling ovarian cancer, she would regularly go from Sloan Kettering treatments to the Met, never pausing to complain, never lowering her high standards for her work.
Margaret felt her job was one of the best in the world. This New Jersey girl, a classically trained lyric soprano, started her broadcast career at WNYC. In 2004, she became only the Met's third regular Saturday radio broadcast host since 1931. "The most rewarding thing is when you speak to someone who was moved by a performance," she once said. "I know I wasn't part of that, but I have served it on a plate. I've gotten out of the way. And I've let this performance become something that the listener might not ever forget." : Elena Park