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ChevronTexaco to Stop Paying for Radio Opera

Oil firm's sponsorship of the New York Met's broadcasts, which began in 1940, will end in 2004.

May 21, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

ChevronTexaco Corp., the sponsor of Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera, said Tuesday it is pulling the plug on the 63-year relationship.

The decision, which won't take effect until 2004, ends the longest-running corporate sponsorship in the performing arts.

The sponsorship costs ChevronTexaco $7 million a year, according to one source.

The company, which has vowed to help the opera find a new underwriter, still gives money to the Houston and San Francisco operas, though not on such a large scale.

Last season the live broadcasts were carried by more than 360 radio stations in the United States and reached an audience of more than 10 million listeners in 42 countries. In Los Angeles, it airs on KUSC.

But that no longer quite fits ChevronTexaco's needs.

"It's been a great, rewarding association for Texaco and ChevronTexaco," spokesman Chris Gidez said, but the decision not to renew the sponsorship reflects a "different direction philosophically" about funding projects and initiatives.

The company, formed from the October 2001 merger of oil giants Texaco Inc. and Chevron Corp., is active in 180 countries ranging from Nigeria to Kazakhstan.

"It is important to focus more of our resources directly with the countries and markets where we do business, with an additional emphasis on addressing pressing development needs in those communities," said Patricia E. Yarrington, ChevronTexaco's vice president for public and government affairs.

It is not unusual for oil companies to conduct community outreach programs in the U.S. and to fund projects -- such as the construction of hospitals, schools or roads -- in impoverished regions overseas where they operate pipelines or plants.

Joseph Volpe, general manager of the opera, said it has already started seeking new sponsors.

"I am determined these broadcasts will continue," he said.

ChevronTexaco, based in San Ramon, Calif., will fund the broadcasts through next April. The company also stressed that its ties to the Met would not be completely severed, pointing to an initiative called the ChevronTexaco Early Notes program that was "endowed in perpetuity" and will continue "to bring the music of the Metropolitan Opera to New York City public school students."

The company declined to disclose the size of that original endowment, which was made by predecessor company Texaco.

The decision to pull out comes only three months after another energy company, Exxon Mobil Corp., announced it would end its 30-year sponsorship of PBS' popular drama series, "Masterpiece Theatre." That decision takes effect at the end of the 2003-04 season. Exxon said the series no longer fit its marketing goals.

But the ChevronTexaco move ends an even longer chapter in American cultural history.

The first sponsored Saturday matinee broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera was on Dec. 7, 1940, courtesy of Texaco, and featured Ezio Pinza in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

The last sponsored broadcast for the company will be Wagner's "Gotterdammerung" on April 24, 2004.

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