NEW YORK — A new voice will debut at the Metropolitan Opera this weekend, and she probably will never sing a single note.
Margaret Juntwait takes over as host of the company's national radio broadcasts each Saturday, only the third regular announcer since the series began in 1931.
She plans to arrive at her booth on the opera house's grand tier about 60 minutes before she goes on the air for the season's opening broadcast -- Verdi's "I Vespri Siciliani" (The Sicilian Vespers). (The broadcast will air locally on KUSC-FM (91.5) at 10:30 a.m.)
"No use in getting myself there too early and getting myself worked up into a lather," she said.
Milton Cross, with his deep, authoritative voice, was the announcer when broadcasts began on Dec. 25, 1931, with Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel." Peter Allen, with a warm, welcoming style, took over Jan. 4, 1975, a day after Cross' death, beginning with Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri" (The Italian Girl in Algiers).
In 73 years, a fill-in host was needed only twice -- Lloyd Moss took over for two broadcasts in 1973.
The audience that tunes in, estimated by the Met at 11 million, is not used to change. Allen, who retired at the end of last season, will remain a part of this year's radio broadcasts in a new feature, which Juntwait called "A Word or Two From Peter Allen."
Met General Manager Joseph Volpe picked Juntwait, a 47-year-old mother of three, from among three finalists, making the choice in September.
Juntwait, a former lyric soprano who lives in Manhattan, has been a classical music host on a New York City radio station since 1991. She also has recorded tours for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Getty Center in Brentwood and Ellis and Liberty islands.
To prepare for this season's series, which runs through May 7, she'll try to see each opera twice in advance of its broadcast, plus sometimes the dress rehearsal.
"Vespri," presented rarely, required studying, as will Wagner operas.
"I hadn't really approached Wagner yet," she said. "It's sort of a new territory for me. The more I listen, the more I enjoy."
This will be the first season of broadcasts since ChevronTexaco ended its sponsorship, begun by the company in 1940. The Annenberg Foundation and Stabile Foundation donated $3.5 million each to pay for this season's series, and the Met started a $150 million campaign last spring to endow the broadcasts.
Volpe wouldn't say how much has been raised.
"We have been doing quite well with raising money," he said. "This year is secure. I'm sure next year is secure."
Volpe said the Met is talking to foundations, still has hopes to strike a deal for a corporate sponsor and is searching to lower the cost of the broadcasts. Radio has become virtually the sole broadcast exposure for the company in recent years. While the Met televised several operas a year on PBS in the 1980s and '90s, the upcoming April 3 telecast of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg" -- recorded three years ago -- will be the first for the Met since Verdi's "Nabucco" aired in June 2001.
Juntwait, who doesn't know if she'll host the TV broadcast too, has a wide musical exposure; her husband, Jamie Katz, is deputy editor of Vibe magazine.
"We're always leaping between some hip-hop event and the operatic," she said. "The kids who work for Vibe are just the greatest young people, smart and sweet.
"Sometimes, I look at the magazine and see an angry looking guy. And then you see who's putting out the magazine, these lovely kids."