The Metropolitan Opera Association of New York City, founded in April 1880, is a major presenter of all types of opera including Grand Opera. Peter Gelb is the company's general manager. The music director is James Levine.
The Metropolitan Opera is America's largest classical music organization, and annually presents some 220 opera performances. The home of the company, the Metropolitan Opera House, is considered by many to be one of the premier opera stages in the world, and is among the largest in the world. The Met, as it is commonly called, is one of the twelve resident organizations at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The Met presents a wide array of about 27 operas each year in a season which lasts from mid-September through May. The operas are presented in a rotating repertory schedule with seven performances of four different works presented each week. Performances are given in the evening Monday through Saturday with a matinée on Saturday. Several new opera productions are offered each season. Sometimes these are borrowed from or shared with other major opera houses. The rest are given in revivals of productions from previous seasons.
The Met's huge 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 is drawn from the ranks of the world's most famous artists. Some of its singers' careers have been developed by the Met itself through its young artists programs. Others have been engaged from companies around the world. Many, such as Luciano Pavarotti, have achieved world fame while singing at the Met, and a number, such as Renée Fleming and Plácido Domingo, are longtime regular members of the Met's roster (Domingo has sung at the Met since the late 1960s).
The Met's artistic standards are considered to be among the highest in the world. The company's stage facilities and technical staff offer leading directors and designers a state of the art environment in which to create any kind of production. The Met's production designs range from elegant and traditional to highly innovative and avant-garde.
Beyond performing in the opera house in New York, the Met has gradually expanded its audience as new technologies have become available. It has broadcast live weekly on radio since 1931 and has regularly presented performances on television since 1977. In 2006, the Met further introduced the innovations of live satellite radio broadcasts four times a week and live high-definition video transmissions presented to audiences in cinemas throughout the world.
The Metropolitan Opera Association was founded in 1880 to create an alternative to the Academy of Music. The Academy represented the highest social circle in New York society, and the board of directors were loath to admit members of new wealthy families into their circle. The initial group of subscribers included the Morgan, Roosevelt, Astor and Vanderbilt families. Their creation, The Metropolitan Opera, has long outlasted the Academy. Henry Abbey served as manager for the inaugural season 1883/84 which opened with a performance of Charles Gounod's Faust on October 22, 1883 starring the Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson. Faust, and all other operas during the first season, including those written in French and German, were performed in Italian.
Following Abbey's inaugural season, which had resulted in very large deficits, operas were given by a "pick-up" ensemble of relatively inexpensive German singers (which nevertheless included some of the most celebrated singers in Germany) who performed an international repertory, albeit in German.
This anomalous situation terminated at the time of the Great Fire, following which the Golden Age of Opera arrived at the Metropolitan under the celebrated management of Maurice Grau 1892–1903. The greatest (and most highly paid) operatic artists in the world then graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, notably the brothers Jean and Edouard de Reszke, Lilli Lehmann, Emma Calve, Lillian Nordica, Nellie Melba, Marcella Sembrich, Milka Trnina, Emma Eames, Sofia Scalchi, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Francesco Tamagno, Francisco Vignas, Jean Lassalle, Mario Ancona, Victor Maurel, Antonio Scotti and Pol Plançon.
From 1898 to 1986, the Metropolitan Opera went on a six-week tour following its season in New York. These were cancelled because of financial losses.
Lionel Mapleson (1865–1937), a violinist and librarian of the Metropolitan, made the first recordings of live performances at the Metropolitan. From 1900 to 1904, Lionel Mapleson set up an Edison cylinder machine in the Metropolitan Opera House to record excerpts of performances. These cylinders, known as the Mapleson Cylinders, preserve an early audio glimpse of the Met and are the only known extant recordings of some performers, including the star tenor Jean de Reszke. The recordings were later issued on a series of LPs and, in 2002, were included in the National Recording Registry. While many of the cylinders became greatly worn over the years, some still retain remarkable sound, particularly of choruses such as the waltz and "Soldier's Chorus" from Faust and the triumphal scene from Act 2 of Aida. Mapleson placed his machine in various locations, including the prompter's box, the side of the stage, and in the "flies", which enabled him to record the soloists, chorus, and orchestra, as well as the audience's applause. Many of the original cylinders are preserved in the Rodgers & Hammestein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The administration of Heinrich Conried in 1903–1908, which saw the arrival of Enrico Caruso, unquestionably the most celebrated singer who ever appeared at the Old Metropolitan, was followed by the 25-year reign, 1908–1935 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. 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, including Rosa Ponselle, Elisabeth Rethberg, Maria Jeritza, Frances Alda, Frida Leider, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Lauritz Melchior, Titta Ruffo, Giuseppe De Luca, Pasquale Amato, Lawrence Tibbett, Friedrich Schorr, Feodor Chaliapin, Jose Mardones and Ezio Pinza, among many others. At one point, both Arturo Toscanini and Gustav Mahler were regular Met conductors.
The former Canadian operatic tenor, Edward Johnson, was general manager between 1935 and 1950, successfully guiding the company through the dark years of the Great Depression and World War II. Zinka Milanov, Jussi Björling, Alexander Kipnis, Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill were first heard at the Met under his management, while Kirsten Flagstad was the dominant Wagnerian soprano of the era. Sir Thomas Beecham, George Szell and Bruno Walter were among the great conductors of the Johnson era.
The Austrian-born Rudolf Bing, was the one of the Met's most influential leaders. His tenure as general manager from 1950 to 1972 was, so far, the longest in Met history. Bing modernized the administration of the company, ended an archaic ticket sales system, and terminated the company's weekly one-night stands in Philadelphia. He presided over an era of great singing and glittering new productions, and guided the company's move to a new home in Lincoln Center. While many outstanding singers performed 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 achievements of Bing's tenure was the integration of the Met's artistic roster. Marian Anderson's historic 1955 debut was followed by the introduction of a whole generation of fine African-American artists led by Leontyne Price (who inaugurated the new house in Lincoln Center), Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, George Shirley, and a number of others. A host of celebrated sopranos and tenors from around the world performed at the Met during Bing's tenure, including (as well as Price): Maria Callas, who had a bitter falling out with Bing over repertoire, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Franco Corelli, Carlo Bergonzi, Nicolai Gedda and Jon Vickers.
Following Bing's retirement in 1972, the Met's management was overseen by a succession of executives. 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, in order, Schuyler Chapin, Anthony Bliss, Bruce Crawford and Hugh Southern. All of these men led the Met in partnership with the Music Director James Levine, the Met's guiding artistic force through the last third of the 20th century.
Joseph Volpe was the Met's second-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. Volpe expanded the Met's international touring activities and inaugurated the orchestra's Carnegie Hall series. During his tenure 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 new production of Madama Butterfly by the English director Anthony Minghella. 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.
Until the late 1990s, the Metropolitan Opera was rather traditional in its new production designs. Recently, following the influence originating from Patrice Chéreau and trends already established in many other opera houses around the world (particularly those in Europe), that tradition seems to be changing and traditionally-designed operas are becoming rarer at the Met.
In the 1990s, only limited productions used a symbolic type of scenery (starting from Der Fliegende Holländer in 1989; then Samson et Dalila in 1998; and Tristan und Isolde). For The Rake's Progress in 1999 and Mefistofele in 2000, contemporary style business-like suits were used for the main characters (in operas which were supposed to be set centuries before). Similar things occurred in La Juive (2003) and Salome (2004).
The trend towards "modernization" continued further under the new management in 2007 when a flushing toilet was used during the new production of Gianni Schicchi (for a work which is supposed to take place in the year 1299). Victorian era costumes and surroundings were adopted as the scenery for 17th century Scotland in Lucia di Lammermoor. Even greater contrast was created when the original mediaeval Scottish dress was replaced by such twentieth-century clothing as tuxedos in a new production of Macbeth, or historically appropriate costume and actions yielded to uniforms of the First World War and a character's angrily punching a piano keyboard during the production in 2008 of La fille du régiment. |
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.
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 longer 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 Depresson 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. Many televised performances were broadcast, 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, which often airs the high-definition video performances produced by the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD cinema series.
In addition to complete operas, television programs produced at the opera house 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 archived video and audio of hundreds of complete operas and excerpts are available via the Met Player. Hundreds of archived audio operas and selections are also available year-round 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 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. Located at 1411 Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets, it was designed by J. Cleaveland Cady. Gutted by fire on August 27, 1892, the theater was immediately rebuilt and then in 1903 its interior was extensively renovated again by the architects Carrère and Hastings. The familiar red and gold interior associated with the house dates from this time.
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, but it was only with the development of Lincoln Center that the Met was able to build 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, with approximately 3,800 seats, is located in Lincoln Center at Lincoln Square in the Upper West Side and was designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison. After numerous revisions to its design, the new building opened September 16, 1966 with the world premiere of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.
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 no one was officially titled "Music Director" until Rafael Kubelík, a number of principal conductors have assumed a strong leadership role at different times in the Met'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.
On February 10, 1897, 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 was not stopped, and in fact resumed with Giuseppe Cernusco substituting for Castelmary in the role of Sir Tristram for the remaining three acts.
On 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.