Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA

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.

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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 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. 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.

History

Inaugural season

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, Astor 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.)

Technological innovations

Met Titles

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.

fountain-Metropolitan Opera, New York

Tessitura software

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.

Opera houses

The Metropolitan Opera House is an opera house located on Broadway at Lincoln Square in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the theater opened in 1966. It replaced the former Metropolitan Opera House at Broadway and 39th St. and is the current home of the Metropolitan Opera Company.

History

Although the house would not officially open for several more months, the first public performance at the new Metropolitan Opera House was a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West on April 11, 1966 with Beverly Bower as Minnie, Gaetano Bardini as Dick Johnson, and Cesare Bardelli as Jack Rance. The production was attended by 3,000 high school students and was followed by a series of sound tests that included a loud chord from the orchestra and a blast from a pistol.The new building officially opened on September 16, 1966, with the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. While the Met Opera Company is on hiatus, the Metropolitan Opera House is home to the annual Spring season of American Ballet Theatre (ABT). It regularly hosts touring opera and ballet companies including the Kirov, Bolshoi, and the La Scala companies. In addition, the Met has presented recitals by Vladimir Horowitz, Kathleen Battle and others. Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach was staged independently at the Met in 1976. Several notable non-operatic performances occurred in 1986. On July 8, a gala fund raiser performance to benefit ABT and Paris Opera Ballet saw the first joint performance in over ten years of ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov and Paris Opera Ballet Director Rudolf Nureyev.[2] On August 9 and 10, comedian Robin Williams recorded performances that were shown on HBO and released on compact disc under the title Robin Williams Live at the Met. On October 19, 1986, the Opera House hosted Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic during their North American tour. In addition to regular Metropolitan Opera radio and television broadcasts, several other television programs have been produced at the Metropolitan Opera House including Danny Kaye’s Look-In at the Metropolitan Opera (CBS, 1975) and Sills and Burnett at the Met (CBS, 1976). In 1999 and 2001, the Opera House was the venue for the MTV Video Music Awards.

Architecture

The Metropolitan Opera House contains 3,800 seats and 195 standing room places and was designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison. Although west-east roads do not run through Lincoln Center itself, the Metropolitan Opera House is parallel to the block from West 63rd Street to West 64th Street. The rear of the House meets Amsterdam Avenue and the entrance to the Opera House is at Lincoln Center Plaza which begins at Columbus Avenue. The building is clad in white travertine and the east facade is graced with a distinctive series of five arches.

On display in the lobby, and visible to the outside plaza, are two murals created for the space by Marc Chagall. The murals are approximately 30 ft (9.1 m) by 36 ft (11 m). The south wall holds the work entitled The Triumph of Music while the north wall contains The Sources of Music. In 2009, the opera’s board of directors decided to use the paintings as collateral for a long-term loan which previously relied on cash for backing. Some sources estimate the value of the paintings at $20 million. The lobby is dominated by a cantilevered stairway that connects the main level with the lower level lounge and upper floors. Suspended in the lobby are 11 crystal chandeliers resembling constellations or starbursts. The auditorium contains 21 matching chandeliers, the largest of which measures 18 ft (5.5 m) in diameter. These were a gift of the Austrian government and designed by Dr. Hans Rath of J & L Lobmyer of Vienna. The chandeliers in the auditorium are raised to the ceiling prior to performances so as not to obstruct sightlines of the audience in the upper levels. In 2008, the chandeliers were dismantled and sent to the Lobmyer workshops to be refurbished prior to the Met’s 125th anniversary season. Workers re-wired the pieces and replaced any of the 49,000 crystals that were broken or missing. The lobby also contains sculptures by Aristide Maillol and Wilhelm Lehmbruck as well as portraits of of notable performers and members of the Met company. The auditorium is fan-shaped and decorated in gold and white with five levels above the orchestra. The square gold proscenium is 54 ft (16 m) wide and 54 ft (16 m) high. The main curtain of custom-woven gold damask is the largest tab curtain in the world. Above the proscenium is an untitled bronze sculpture by Mary Callery.

The stage is 80 ft (24 m) deep from the curtain line to the rear wall. The overall dimensions of the stage with wing space are 90 ft (27 m) deep and 103 ft (31 m) wide. The stage contains 7 full elevators that are 60 ft (18 m) wide, with double decks; three slipstages (large spaces on either side of and behind the main stage, each capable of holding a complete stage setting), the upstage one containing a 60 ft (18 m) diameter turntable; 103 motorized battens (linesets) for overhead lifting; and two 100 ft (30 m)-tall fully-enveloping cycloramas. The large and highly mechanized stage and support space smoothly facilitates the rotating presentation of up to four different opera productions each week.

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