Thanks to an old friendship, Americans will get a special treat today when National Public Radio broadcasts an exclusive performance featuring tenor Luciano Pavarotti, soprano Joan Sutherland and conductor Richard Bonynge. "In early December, I ran into Patrick Veitch, general director of Australian Opera," recalls John Bos, NPR's director of arts and performance programs. "We are old friends from our days in New York where he was with the Metropolitan Opera and I was with the New York State Council on the Arts. We discussed the possibility of getting some of the Australian opera season onto NPR." What they quickly settled on was the gala concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the prestigious Sydney Opera House and its 10-year association with the acclaimed Australian Opera. Thanks to the quirks of the International Dateline, listeners along the Eastern Seaboard will hear the program today at noon; it occurs at 8 p.m. in Australia.

The broadcast will be delivered in stereo starting at 4 a.m. to the port of entry (New York). "That's where we pick it up through a complicated technical setup," Bos says, adding that it's the first live-though-delayed broadcast from Australia. "It's all paid for by the Australian folks, with the exception of the orchestra, which we pay; the artists are donating their services" for the concert, which will be simulcast on television in Australia and New Zealand.

With Bonynge (who is Sutherland's husband) conducting the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, the program will feature a variety of famous arias and duets, including "Sulla tomba che rinserra" from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." What Bos rightfully describes as "a coup" will be 1983's only joint appearance of Pavarotti and Sutherland. It will constitute the first two hours of NPR's "Sunday Show" (heard locally over WETA-FM and WAMU-FM).

"The satellite makes it as live as possible, considering not many people are listening at four in the morning," Bos laughs. "But it's also a cliffhanger because everything is dependent on the quality of the transmission: There's a lot of links in that chain where it could go wrong. If it works it'll be gorgeous; if it doesn't, we'll have egg on our face." Bos seems to think it'll be the former.