Mike Harrah

Program Host

Mike Harrah is host of The Lyric Stage, which airs Sundays at 8 pm.

Mike doesn't know if he saw The Great Caruso 14 times when he was 13 or 13 times when he was 14, but hearing Mario Lanza and all of the other great singers in that movie jump-started an already nascent love of opera. This later led him to study voice and was followed by several seasons singing in the New York City Opera Chorus during the great Beverly Sills/Norman Treigle era in the late 60's and early 70's. He also appeared in regional opera performances in small roles and in the chorus on the same stage as Robert Merrill, James McCracken, Blanche Thebom, Roberta Peters and Placido Domingo – who sang the big roles. To have done this still dazzles him with a "is it really true?" feeling. Chance and fate were smiling.

Mike has thirty years of radio experience include several years of full-time hosting evening and afternoon classical music shows at the public radio station in Toledo, Ohio, and many years here at WWFM on a part-time basis and now hosting The Lyric Stage.

Along the way he has acted in stock, small regional theaters, television industrials and commercials, and made appearances on various network shows.  In a parallel life he has taught writing in Ohio and at Temple and Drexel Universities in Philadelphia. He published a young adult novel in the 1980's that HBO turned into a one-hour film. 

His favorite non-operatic musical works include lots of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Mahler's Third Symphony. He still loves to hear Mario Lanza sing. His gift of song and his sound make him forget about any flaws in phrasing and technique.

Ways to Connect

  Luciano Pavarotti's legacy as one of the finest and most affecting singers of the twentieth century is on display this week on The Lyric Stage, as he sings arias, Italian art songs, Neapolitan songs, and the duet from Madame Butterfly with his childhood friend Mirella Freni, who said Pavarotti was "like a brother" to her. The recordings are mostly from the 1970's and 1980's when he was at his vocal peak.

This week on The Lyric Stage, selections from Ferdinando Paer's 1805 opera, Sofonisba, about an early third century Princess of Carthage trapped in a life or death situation between her country and the Roman empire. Jennifer Larmore heads the cast.

Paer was a noted composer in his day, and a special favorite of Napoleon, just as he had been a special favorite of Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution. He composed in many genres, and his works contain elements of both classical and romantic styles, making him a transitional figure in Opera's history.

This week on the Lyric Stage selections from Act 3 of Richard Wagner's Die Walkure from a 1988 studio recording with Hildegarde Berhrens as Brunnhilde, Jessye Norman as Sieglinde and James Morris as Wotan. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Jessye Norman will also sing  "In the Still of the Night" by Cole Porter and "Spring is Here" by Rodgers and Hart. Her versions of these standards are idiosyncratic - she sings them much like she sang Wagner - but very enjoyable.

You are in love with one who does not return your love, so to prove how much you love her, you serve her your beloved pet cat for dinner  because there is nothing else in the house. She is impressed by the gesture, and agrees to marry you. Basically that is the story of La Colombe, Charles Gounod's one act comic opera he wrote only a year after setting Faust to music with its triumph of God over Mephistopheles, and its cosmic backdrop. Horace does not serve Sylvie a cat, but he does have an adored dove he tells Sophie he has sacrificed for her dinner.

This week on the Lyric Stage we have highlights from Maria Callas' Carmen. Callas never performed Carmen on stage, but many consider her 1964 recording of Bizet's opera among the best recorded versions of Carmen. To paraphrase one critic, "Callas isn't Carmen, Carmen is Callas."

This week we have selections from Giordano's Madame Sans-Gens, with Mirella Freni in a live performance of  Giordano's version of Victorien Sardou's comedy drama.

In 1792, the very lovable Caterina, Madame Sans-Gens - Madame Carefree - is a Parisian laundress who is happy, carefree, engaged to be married, completely at ease.  One of her customers is a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Swiss soprano Lisa della Casa was a major presence on the international opera scene from the late 1940's to the mid 1970's, particularly at the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden in London and for 15 seasons at the Metropolitan in New York.  Mozart and Strauss dominated her repertoire, but not always by choice. She asked Rudolf Bing, the General Manager at the Met, for the opportunity to sing more Italian and French roles, but he insisted that he had a surplus of sopranos for those roles, and that she was indispensible for Mozart and Strauss.

Antonio Vivaldi claimed to have written 94 operas but only about 50 have been identified and only 16 of those are complete. They were influential and popular during his lifetime but to an audience 300 years later the poetry and stories often appear stilted and artificial, almost alien, and in spite of the music they were mostly neglected. But recent revivals have been well received and there is much reward in accepting the operas on their own terms.

Verdi held back from writing Otello for years, only finally agreeing to take a look at Arrigo Boito's libretto with no promises that he would ever do any more than that. The lives of great composers are full of stories about how weak opera librettos have ill served great music - Schubert and Beethoven are just two examples. But Boito's brilliant libretto brought out the best of Verdi's music, and the result is one of the outstanding operas of the repertory.

This week on The Lyric Stage (7/25 at 8 pm) we present Maurice Ravel’s opera, L’enfant et les Sortileges, the Child and the Spells, a "lyric fantasy" in one act, with a libretto by Colette.

The Paris  Opera asked Colette  to write the scenario for a fairy ballet during WW1, and her choice to compose the music was Ravel.  Progress was slow due to Ravel’s health and his other work, but he turned his full attention to it in 1924, and finally completed it in early 1925 with the premiere in Monte Carlo conducted by Victor de Sabata and choreographed by George Ballanchine.

This Sunday night, May 13, we have highlights from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Simon Boccanegra is produced frequently enough, but considering its music, why isn't it more popular? The answer is the libretto, a gloomy convoluted story with various political revenge and love elements that are hard to follow even in live performance.

Baritone William Warfield (1920-2002) combined a wonderful voice and the gift of song with a great range of style. This week he sings a variety of songs and arias showing that range, including an aria from Handel's Messiah, songs by Robert Schumann,  Jerome Kern's Ol' Man River, and the complete set of Copland's Old American Songs.

This week on the Lyric Stage (9/17) , excerpts from Luisa Miller, one of the last operas of Giuseppe Verdi's early period, a time of development that led to his breakthrough with the threesome of Rigoletto, Traviata and Trovatore shortly after the premiere of Luisa Miller.

This week we have selections from Giordano's Madame Sans-Gens. In 1999, near the end of her active singing career, Mirella Freni recorded this live performance of  Giordano's version of Victorien Sardou's comedy drama. In 1792 the very lovable Caterina, Madame Sans-Gens - Madame Carefree - is a Parisian laundress  who is happy, carefree, engaged to be married, completely at ease.  One of her customers is a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte.

Rachmaninov's Francesca da Rimini is one of at least a dozen plays and as many operas  based on Dante's brief episode about Francesca da Rimini and the subsequent enhancements to the story, though only Ricardo Zandonai's version from 1914 has held stage to any extent. While Rachmaninov's music is superb, his version has been called a symphonic tone poem with voices, better heard than seen, because the libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky is not very good. The opera premiered in 1906, two years before the composer's Second Symphony. Gianandrea Noseda conducts an all Russian cast.