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The Metropolitan Opera (the "Met") is an opera company, located in New York City. Originally founded in 1880, the company gave its first performance on October 22, 1883. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager. The music director is James Levine.
The Met performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, which is located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on Broadway, in New York's Upper West Side. The Met was a founding member of Lincoln Center where it remains one of the center's twelve resident organizations.
The Metropolitan Opera is the largest classical music organization in North America. It presents about 27 different operas each year in a season which lasts from late September through May. The operas are presented in a rotating repertory schedule with up to seven performances of four different works staged each week. Performances are given in the evening Monday through Saturday with a matinée on Saturday. Several operas are presented in new productions each season. Sometimes these are borrowed from or shared with other opera houses. The rest of the year's operas are given in revivals of productions from previous seasons. The 2012/13 season comprises 209 performances of 28 operas.
The operas in the Met's repertoire consist of works written in many different musical genres, from 18th Century Baroque and 19th Century Bel canto, up through the Minimalism of the late 20th Century. These operas are presented in staged productions that range in style from those with elaborate traditional decors to others that feature modern conceptual designs.
The Met's performing company consists of a large symphony-sized orchestra, a chorus, children's choir, ballet company, and many supporting and leading solo singers. The Met's roster of singers includes both international and American artists, some of whose careers have been developed through the Met's young artists programs. While many singers appear as guests with the company, others, such as Renée Fleming and Plácido Domingo, have long maintained a close association with the Met, appearing many times each season.
The company's annual operating budget for the 2011/12 season was $325 million, of which $182 million (43%) comes from private donations. The total potential audience across a season is 800,000 seats, but average audience rates for the 3800-seat theater in 2011 were just 79.2%, down from a peak of 88% in 2009.
Beyond performing in the opera house in New York, the Met has gradually expanded its audience through technology. It has broadcast regularly on radio since 1931 and on television since 1977. In 2006, the Met began live satellite radio and internet broadcasts as well as live high-definition video transmissions presented in cinemas throughout the world. In 2011, the total HD audience reached 3 million through 1600 theaters worldwide.
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The Metropolitan Opera Company was founded in 1880 to create an alternative to the old established Academy of Music opera house. The subscribers to the Academy's limited number of private boxes represented the highest stratum in New York society. These "old money" families were loath to admit New York's newly wealthy industrialists into their long-established circle. Tired of being excluded, the Metropolitan Opera's founding subscribers determined to build a new opera house that would outshine the old Academy in every way. Its theater would include three tiers of private boxes in which the scions of New York's powerful new industrial families could display their wealth and establish their social prominence. The first Met subscribers included members of the Morgan, Roosevelt,and Vanderbilt families, all of whom had been excluded from the Academy. Their new opera house was an immediate success. The Academy of Music's opera season folded just three years after the Met opened.
In its early decades the Met did not produce the opera performances itself but hired prominent manager/impresarios to stage a season of opera at the theater. Henry Abbey served as manager for the inaugural season 1883-1884 which opened with a performance of Charles Gounod's Faust on October 22, 1883 starring the brilliant Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson. (Faust was performed in Italian, as were all of the operas staged during the first season, including those written in French and German.)
The Metropolitan Opera began a long history with the city of Philadelphia during its first season, presenting its entire repertoire in the city during January and August, 1884. The company's first Philadelphia performance was of Faust (with Christina Nilsson) on January 14, 1884 at the Chestnut Street Opera House. The Met continued to perform annually in Philadelphia for nearly eighty years, taking the entire company to the city on selected Tuesday nights throughout the opera season. Performances were usually held at the Academy of Music, with close to 900 performances having been given in Philadelphia by 1961 when the Met's regular visits ceased.
On April 26, 1910 the Met bought the Philadelphia Opera House from Oscar Hammerstein I. The company renamed the house the Metropolitan Opera House and performed all of their Philadelphia performances there until 1920, when the company resumed performing at the Academy of Music.
During the Met's early years, the company annually presented a dozen or more opera performances in Philadelphia throughout the season. Over the years the number of performances was gradually reduced until the final Philadelphia season in 1961 consisted of only four operas. The last performance was on March 21, 1961 with Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli in Turandot. After the Tuesday night visits were ended, the Met returned to Philadelphia on its spring tour in 1967, 1968, 1978, and 1979.
Following Abbey's inaugural season which had resulted in very large deficits, the Met's directors turned to Leopold Damrosch as General Manager for its second season. The revered conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra was engaged to lead the opera company in an all German language repertory and serve as its chief conductor. Under Damrosch, the company consisted of some the most celebrated singers from Europe's German-language opera houses. The new German Met found great popular and critical success in the works of Wagner and other German composers as well as in Italian and French operas sung in German. Sadly Damrosch died only months into his first season at the Met. Edmund Stanton replaced Damrosch the following year and served as General Manager through the 1890-1891 season, the last of the all German repertory. The Met's six German seasons were especially noted for performances by the celebrated conductor Anton Seidl whose Wagner interpretations were noted for their almost mystical intensity. The conductor Walter Damrosch, Leopold's son, also initiated a long relationship with the Met during this period.
Italian opera returned to the Met in 1891 in a glittering season of stars organized by the returning Henry E. Abbey along with co-manager Maurice Grau. After missing a season to rebuild the opera house following a fire in August 1892 which destroyed most of the theater, Abbey and Grau continued as co-managers along with John B. Schoeffel, initiating the so-called "Golden Age of Opera". Most of the greatest operatic artists in the world then graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in Italian as well as German and French repertory. Notable among them were the brothers Jean and Edouard de Reszke, Lilli Lehmann, Emma Calvé, Lillian Nordica, Nellie Melba, Marcella Sembrich, Milka Ternina, Emma Eames, Sofia Scalchi, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Francesco Tamagno, Francisco Vignas, Jean Lassalle, Mario Ancona, Victor Maurel, Antonio Scotti and Pol Plançon. Maurice Grau continued as sole manager of the Met from 1898 to 1903.
The early 1900s saw the development of distinct Italian, German and later French 'wings' within the Met's roster of artists including separate German and Italian choruses. This division of the company's forces faded after World War II when solo artists spent less time engaged at any one company.
From 1900 to 1904 a remarkable series of early sound recordings were made at the Met by Lionel Mapleson (1865–1937). Mapleson was employed by the Met as a violinist and music librarian. He used an Edison cylinder phonograph that he set up near the stage to capture short, one to five minute recordings of the soloists, chorus and orchestra during performances. These unique acoustic documents, known as the Mapleson Cylinders, preserve a unique audio picture of the early Met, and are the only known extant recordings of some renowned performers including the tenor Jean de Reszke and the dramatic soprano Milka Ternina. The recordings were later issued on a series of LPs and, in 2002, were included in the National Recording Registry.
Beginning in 1898, the Metropolitan Opera company of singers and musicians undertook a six-week tour of American cities following its season in New York. These annual spring tours brought the company and its stars to cities throughout the U.S., most of which had no opera company of their own. The Met's national tours continued until 1986. After 88 years the cost of touring had resulted in growing financial losses, and by this time many American cities now had companies of their own to present opera locally.
The administration of Heinrich Conried in 1903–1908 was distinguished especially by the arrival of the Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso, the most celebrated singer who ever appeared at the old Metropolitan. Conried was followed by the 27-year tenure, from 1908 to 1935, of the magisterial Giulio Gatti-Casazza, whose model planning, authoritative organizational skills and brilliant casts raised the level of Metropolitan Opera to a prolonged and unforgettable Silver Age. Gatti-Casazza brought with him Arturo Toscanini, the fiery and brilliant conductor who had led La Scala during Gatti's years there as manager. The prominent lawyer Paul Cravath became Chairman of the Met in 1931.
Again, many of the greatest singers in the world appeared at the Met under Gatti-Casazza's leadership, including Rosa Ponselle, Elisabeth Rethberg, Maria Jeritza, Frances Alda, Frida Leider, Amelita Galli-Curci, Lily Pons, Jacques Urlus, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Lauritz Melchior, Titta Ruffo, Giuseppe De Luca, Pasquale Amato, Lawrence Tibbett, Friedrich Schorr, Feodor Chaliapin, Jose Mardones, Tancredi Pasero and Ezio Pinza—among many others.
Toscanini served as the Met's principal conductor (but with no official title) from 1908 to 1915, leading the company in performances of Verdi, Wagner and others that set standards for the company for decades to come. The Viennese composer Gustav Mahler also was a Met conductor during Gatti-Casazza's first two seasons and in later years conductors Tullio Serafin and Artur Bodanzky led the company in the Italian and German repertories respectively.
Gatti-Casazza's successor as General Manager was the former Met bass Herbert Witherspoon, but barely six weeks into his term he collapsed dead at his desk from a heart attack. The former Canadian operatic tenor, Edward Johnson, was then appointed and served as General Manager between 1935 and 1950. Johnson successfully guided the Met through the dark years of the Great Depression and World War II, although the depth of the company's singing talent was reduced due to the effects of these twin upheavals.
During the Depression's worst years the Met's season was curtailed and its very existence was threatened by the financial difficulties of the wealthy families that had supported it since its founding. Ticket sales were down, but on given nights the brilliant Wagner pairing of the Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad with the great heldentenor Lauritz Melchior proved irresistible to audiences even in such troubled times. To expand the Met's support to its national radio audience, the Met board's Eleanor Robson Belmont, the former actress and wife to industrialist August Belmont, founded the Metropolitan Opera Guild. The Guild recruited members through subscriptions to its magazine, Opera News, and through Mrs. Belmont's weekly appeals on the Met's radio broadcasts it raised money to help keep the struggling company afloat. In 1940 ownership of the opera company and the opera house was transferred to the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association from the company's original partnership of New York society families.
Zinka Milanov, Jussi Björling, and Alexander Kipnis were first heard at the Met under Johnson's management. During World War II when many European artists were unavailable, the Met recruited American singers as never before. Eleanor Steber, Dorothy Kirsten, Helen Traubel (Flagstad's successor as Wagner's heroines), Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker, Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill were among the many home grown artists to become stars at the Met in the 1940s. Sir Thomas Beecham, George Szell and Bruno Walter were among the leading conductors engaged during Johnson's tenure. Kurt Adler began his long tenure as Chorus Master and staff conductor.
Succeeding Johnson in 1950 was the Austrian-born Rudolf Bing who had most recently created and served as director of the Edinburgh Festival. Serving from 1950 to 1972, Bing became one of the Met's most influential and reformist leaders. Bing modernized the administration of the company, ended an archaic ticket sales system, and brought an end to the company's weekly one-night stands in Philadelphia. He presided over an era of fine singing and glittering new productions, and guided the company's move to a new home in Lincoln Center. While many outstanding singers debuted at the Met under Bing's guiding hand, music critics complained of a lack of great conducting during his regime, even though such eminent conductors as Fritz Stiedry, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Erich Leinsdorf, Fritz Reiner, and Karl Böhm appeared frequently in the 1950s and '60s.
Among the most significant achievements of Bing's tenure was the opening of the Met's artistic roster to singers of color. Marian Anderson's historic 1955 debut was followed by the introduction of a whole generation of outstanding African-American artists led by Leontyne Price (who inaugurated the new house in Lincoln Center), Reri Grist, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, George Shirley, Robert McFerrin, and others. Other celebrated singers who debuted at the Met during Bing's tenure include: Maria Callas, who had a bitter falling out with Bing over repertoire, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballe, Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Placido Domingo, Nicolai Gedda, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, Sherrill Milnes, and Cesare Siepi.
Following Bing's retirement in 1972, the Met's management was overseen by a succession of executives and artists in shared authority. Bing's intended successor, the Swedish opera manager Göran Gentele, died in an auto accident before the start of his first season. Following Gentele's tragic loss came Schuyler Chapin who served as General Manager for three seasons. From 1974 to 1981 the Met was guided by a triumvirate of directors: the General Manager (Anthony A. Bliss), Artistic Director (James Levine), and Director of Production (the English stage director John Dexter). Bliss was followed by Bruce Crawford and Hugh Southern. Through this period the constant figure was Levine. Engaged by Bing in 1971, Levine became Principal Conductor in 1973 and the Met's dominant artistic force through the last third of the 20th century.
During the 1983-84 season the Met celebrated its 100th anniversary with an opening night revival of Berlioz's mammoth opera Les Troyens and with an eight-hour Centennial Gala concert that unfolded in two parts on October 22, 1983 and was broadcast on national television. The gala featured all of the Met's current stars as well as appearances by 26 of the Met's veteran stars of the past. Among the artists, Leonard Bernstein and Birgit Nilsson gave their last performances with the company at the concert.
The model of General Manager as the leading authority in the company returned in 1990 with the appointment of Joseph Volpe. Volpe was the Met's third-longest serving manager, 1990–2006. He was the first head of the Met to advance from within the ranks of the company, having started his career there as a carpenter in 1964. During his tenure the Met's international touring activities were expanded and Levine focused on expanding and building the Met's orchestra into a world-class symphonic ensemble with its own Carnegie Hall concert series. Under Volpe the Met considerably expanded its repertory, offering four world premiers and 22 Met premiers, more new works than under any manager since Gatti-Casazza. Volpe named Valery Gergiev as Principal Guest Conductor in 1997 and broadened the Met's Russian repertory. Marcelo Álvarez, Cecilia Bartoli, José Cura, Diana Damrau, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Marcello Giordani, Angela Gheorghiu, Susan Graham, Ben Heppner, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Salvatore Licitra, Anna Netrebko, René Pape, Bryn Terfel, and Deborah Voigt were among the artists first heard at the Met under his management.
The current General Manager is Peter Gelb. He began outlining his plans for the future in April 2006; these included more new productions each year, ideas for shaving staging costs and attracting new audiences without deterring existing opera-lovers. Gelb saw these issues as crucial for an organization which, to a far greater extent than any of the other great opera theatres of the world, is dependent on private financing.
Gelb began his tenure by opening the 2006-2007 season with a colorful and highly stylized production of Madama Butterfly by the English director Anthony Minghella originally staged for English National Opera. Minghella's highly theatrical concept featured vividly colored banners on a spare stage allowing the focus to be on the detailed acting of the singers. The abstract concept included casting the son of Cio-Cio San as a bunraku-style puppet, operated in plain sight by three puppeteers clothed in black.
Gelb has focused on expanding the Met's audience through a number of fronts. Increasing the number of new productions every season to keep the Met's stagings fresh and noteworthy, Gelb has partnered with other opera companies to import productions and he has engaged directors from the realms of theater, circus and film to produce the Met's own original productions. Theater directors Bartlett Sher, Mary Zimmerman, and Jack O'Brien have joined the list of the Met's directors along with Stephen Wadsworth, Laurent Pelly, Luc Bondy and other opera directors to create innovative new stagings for the company. Robert Lepage, the Canadian director of Cirque du Soleil has been engaged by the Met to produce a new technically ground-breaking production of Wagner's four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen using hydraulic stage platforms and projected 3D imagery.
To further engage new audiences Gelb has initiated live high-definition video transmissions to cinemas worldwide and regular live satellite radio broadcasts on the Met's own SiriusXM radio channel.
New stars that have emerged during Gelb's tenure include Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, Piotr Beczala, Joseph Calleja, Lawrence Brownlee, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Eric Owens. Debuting conductors have included Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Andris Nelsons, and Fabio Luisi. Luisi was named Principal Guest Conductor in 2010 and Principal Conductor in 2011, filling a void created by James Levine's absences in recent seasons due to illness.
In 1995, under general manager Joseph Volpe, the Met installed its own system of simultaneous translations of opera texts designed for the particular needs of the Met and its audiences. Called "Met Titles", the $2.7 million electronic libretto system provides the audience with a translation of the opera's text in English on individual screens mounted in front of each seat. This system was the first in the world to be placed in an opera house with "each screen (having) a switch to turn it off, a filter to prevent the dim, yellow dot-matrix characters from disturbing nearby viewers and the option to display texts in multiple languages for newer productions (currently Spanish and German). Custom-designed, the system features rails of different heights for various sections of the house, individually designed displays for some box seats and commissioned translations costing up to $10,000 apiece." Due to the height of the Met's proscenium, it was not feasible to have titles displayed above the stage, as is done in most other opera houses. The idea of above-stage titles had been vehemently opposed by music director James Levine, but the "Met Titles" system has since been acknowledged as an ideal solution, offering texts to only those members of the Met audience that desire them.
In 1998, Volpe initiated the development of a new software application, now called Tessitura. Tessitura uses a single database of information to record, track and manage all contacts with the Met's constituents, conduct targeted marketing and fund raising appeals, handle all ticketing and membership transactions, and provide detailed and flexible performance reports. Beginning in 2000, Tessitura was offered to other arts organizations under license, and it is now used by a cooperative network of more than 200 opera companies, symphony orchestras, ballet companies, theater companies, performing arts centers, and museums in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
Outside of New York the Met has been known to audiences in large measure through its many years of live radio broadcasts. The Met's broadcast history goes back to January 1910 when radio pioneer Lee De Forest broadcast experimentally, with erratic signal, two live performances from the stage of the Met that were reportedly heard as far away as Newark, New Jersey. Today the annual Met broadcast season typically begins the first week of December and offers twenty live Saturday matinée performances through May.
The first network broadcast was heard on December 25, 1931, a performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. The series came about as the Met, financially endangered in the early years of the Great Depression, sought to enlarge its audience and support through national exposure on network radio. Initially, those broadcasts featured only parts of operas, being limited to selected acts. Regular broadcasts of complete operas began March 11, 1933, with the transmission of Tristan und Isolde with Frida Leider and Lauritz Melchior.
The live broadcasts were originally heard on NBC Radio's Blue Network and continued on the Blue Network's successor, ABC, into the 1960s. As network radio waned, the Met founded its own Metropolitan Opera Radio Network which is now heard on radio stations around the world. In Canada the live broadcasts have been heard since December 1933 first on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and, since 1934, on its successor, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where they are currently heard on CBC Radio 2.
Technical quality of the broadcasts steadily improved over the years. FM broadcasts were added in the 1950s, transmitted to stations via telephone lines. With the arrival of 1973/74 broadcasting season (December 1973), all broadcasts were offered in FM stereo. Satellite technology later allowed uniformly excellent broadcast sound to be sent live worldwide.
Financing the Met broadcasts during the Depression years of the 1930s was difficult, moving between NBC, the American Tobacco Company, the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, and RCA (NBC’s parent company). Sponsorship of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts by The Texas Company (Texaco) began on December 7, 1940 with Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Texaco's support continued for 63 years, the longest continuous sponsorship in broadcast history and included the first PBS television broadcasts. After its merger with Chevron, however, the combined company ChevronTexaco ended its sponsorship of the Met's radio network in April 2004. Emergency grants allowed the broadcasts to continue through 2005 when the home building company Toll Brothers stepped in to become primary sponsor.
In the seven decades of its Saturday broadcasts, the Met has been introduced by the voices of only three permanent announcers. The legendary Milton Cross served from the inaugural 1931 broadcast until his death in 1975. He was succeeded by Peter Allen, who presided for 29 years through the 2003/2004 season. The present host of the broadcasts, Margaret Juntwait, began her tenure the following season. Since September 2006 she has also served as host for all of the live and recorded broadcasts on the Met's Sirius satellite radio channel. Other announcers have included Lloyd Moss who twice substituted for Cross and Deems Taylor who was heard briefly as co-host during the early years. In recent seasons William Berger and Ira Siff have been heard as co-hosts with Miss Juntwait.
Metropolitan Opera Radio is a 24-hour opera channel on Sirius XM Radio, which presents three to four live opera broadcasts each week during the Met's performing season. During other hours it also offers past broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast archives. The channel was created in September 2006, when the Met initiated a multi-year relationship with Sirius. Margaret Juntwait is the main host and announcer, with William Berger as writer and co-host.
The Met's experiments with television go back to 1948 when a complete performance of Verdi's Otello was broadcast live on ABC-TV with Ramón Vinay, Licia Albanese, and Leonard Warren. The 1949 season opening Rosenkavalier was also telecast and in the early 1950s there was a short-lived experiment with closed circuit telecasts to movie theaters. Beyond these experiments, however, and an occasional gala or special, the Met did not become a regular presence on television until 1977.
In that year the company began a series of live television broadcasts on public television with a wildly successful live telecast of La bohème with Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti. The new series of opera on PBS was called Live from the Metropolitan Opera. This series remained on the air until the early 2000s, although the live broadcasts gave way to taped performances and in 1988 the title was changed to The Metropolitan Opera Presents. Dozens of televised performances were broadcast during the life of the series including an historic complete telecast of Wagner's Ring Cycle in 1989. In 2007 another Met television series debuted on PBS, Great Performances at the Met. This series airs repeat showings of the high-definition video performances produced for the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD cinema series.
In addition to complete operas and gala concerts, television programs produced at the Met have included: an episode of Omnibus with Leonard Bernstein (NBC, 1958); "Danny Kaye's Look-In at the Metropolitan Opera" (CBS, 1975); "Sills and Burnett at the Met" (CBS, 1976); and the MTV Video Music Awards (1999 and 2001).
Beginning on December 30, 2006, as part of the company's effort to build revenues and attract new audiences, the Met (along with NCM Fathom) broadcast a series of six performances live via satellite into movie theaters called "Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD". The first broadcast was the Saturday matinee live performance of the 110-minute version of Julie Taymor's production of The Magic Flute. The series was carried in over 100 movie theaters across North America, Japan, Britain and several other European countries. During the 2006-07 season, the series included live HD transmissions of I puritani, The First Emperor, Eugene Onegin, The Barber of Seville, and Il trittico. In addition, limited repeat showings of the operas were offered in most of the presenting cities. Digital sound for the performances was provided by Sirius Satellite Radio.
These movie transmissions have received wide and generally favorable press coverage. The Met reports that 91% of available seats were sold for the HD performances. According to General Manager Peter Gelb, there were 60, 000 people in cinemas around the world watching the March 24 transmission of The Barber of Seville. The New York Times reported that 324,000 tickets were sold worldwide for the 2006/07 season, while each simulcast cost $850,000 to $1 million to produce.
The 2007/08 season began on December 15, 2007 and featured eight of the Met's productions starting with Roméo et Juliette and ending with La fille du régiment on April 26, 2008. The Met planned to broadcast to double the number of theaters in the US as the previous season, as well as to additional countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The number of participating venues in the US, which includes movie theatre chains as well as independent theatres and some college campus venues, is 343. While "the scope of the series expands to include more than 700 locations across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia".
By the end of the season 920,000 people—exceeding the total number of people who attended live performances at the Met over the entire season—attended the 8 screenings bringing in a gross of $13.3 million from North America and $5 million from overseas.
Year-round, online video and audio of hundreds of complete operas and excerpts are available to viewers via Met Player, the Met Opera's own online archive of recorded performances. Hundreds of complete operas and selections are also available on Rhapsody, a service which is free for online listening, and downloadable with payment.
The Met's official site also provides complete composer and background information, detailed plot summaries, and cast and characters for all current and upcoming opera broadcasts, as well as for every opera broadcast since 2000. In addition, the Met's online archive database provides links to all Rhapsody, Sirius XM, and Met Player operas, with complete program and cast information. The online archive also provides an exhaustive searchable list of every performance and performer in the Metropolitan Opera's history.
The first Metropolitan Opera House opened on October 22, 1883, with a performance of Faust. It was located at 1411 Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets and was designed by J. Cleaveland Cady. Gutted by fire on August 27, 1892, the theater was immediately rebuilt, reopening in the fall of 1893. Another major renovation was completed in 1903. The theater's interior was extensively redesigned by the architects Carrère and Hastings. The familiar red and gold interior associated with the house dates from this time. The old Met had a seating capacity of 3,625 with an additional 224 standing room places.
The theater was noted for its elegance and excellent acoustics and it provided a glamorous home for the company. Its stage facilities, however, were found to be severely inadequate from its earliest days. Many plans for a new opera house were explored and abandoned, including a proposal to make a new Metropolitan Opera House the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center. It was only with the development of Lincoln Center that the Met was able to build itself a new home. The original Metropolitan Opera House closed April 16, 1966 with a lavish farewell gala performance. It was demolished in 1967.
The present Metropolitan Opera House is located in Lincoln Center at Lincoln Square in the Upper West Side and was designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison. It has a seating capacity of approximately 3800 with an additional 195 standing room places at the rear of the main floor and the top balcony. As needed, the size of the orchestra pit can be decreased and another row of 35 seats added at the front of the auditorium. The lobby is adorned with two famous murals by Marc Chagall, The Triumph of Music and The Sources of Music. Each of these gigantic paintings measures 30 by 36 feet.
The theater, while large, is noted for its excellent acoustics. The stage facilities, state of the art when the theater was built, continue to be updated technically and are capable of handling multiple large complex opera productions simultaneously. When the opera company is on hiatus, the Opera House is home to performances of American Ballet Theatre and touring opera and ballet companies.
To provide a home for its regular Tuesday night performances in Philadelphia, the Met purchased an opera house originally built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein I, the Philadelphia Opera House at North Broad and Poplar Streets. Renamed the Metropolitan Opera House, the theater was operated by the Met from 1910 until it sold the house in April 1920. The Met debuted at its new Philadelphia home on December 13, 1910 with a performance of Tannhäuser starring Leo Slezak and Olive Fremstad.
The Philadelphia Met was designed by noted theater architect William H. McElfatrick and had a seating capacity of approximately 4,000. The theater still stands and currently functions as a church and community arts center.
Although the Met did not have an officially designated "Music Director" until Rafael Kubelík in 1973, a number of principal conductors have assumed a strong leadership role at different times in the company's history. They set artistic standards and influenced the quality and performance style of the orchestra. The Met has also had a great many celebrated guest conductors who are not listed here.
February 10, 1897. French bass Armand Castelmary suffered a heart attack onstage in the finale of act one of Flotow's Martha. He died in the arms of his friend, tenor Jean de Reszke after the curtain was brought down. The performance resumed with Giuseppe Cernusco substituting in the role of Sir Tristram.
January 5, 1996. Tenor Richard Versalle died while playing the role of Vitek in Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Case. Versalle was climbing a 20-foot (6.1 m) ladder in the opening scene when he suffered a heart attack and fell to the stage.
In addition, several audience members have died at the Met. The best-known incident was the suicide of operagoer Bantcho Bantchevsky on January 23, 1988 during an intermission of Verdi's Macbeth.
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