The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager. The company's music director-designate is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The Met was founded in 1880 as an alternative to the previously established Academy of Music opera house, and debuted in 1883 in a new building on 39th and Broadway (now known as the "Old Met"). It moved to the new Lincoln Center location in 1966.
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 2015-16 season comprised 227 performances of 25 operas.
The operas in the Met's repertoire consist of a wide range of works, from 18th-century Baroque and 19th-century Bel canto to 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, and many supporting and leading solo singers. The company also employs numerous free-lance dancers, actors, musicians and other performers throughout the season. 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 periodically 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.
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The Metropolitan Opera Company was founded in 1880 to create an alternative to New York's 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. By 1880, these "old money" families were loath to admit New York's newly wealthy industrialists into their long-established social circle. Frustrated with being excluded, the Metropolitan Opera's founding subscribers determined to build a new opera house that would outshine the old Academy in every way. A group of 22 men assembled at Delmonico's restaurant on April 28, 1880. They elected officers and established subscriptions for ownership in the new company. The new theater, built at 39th and Broadway, 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. The new Metropolitan Opera House opened on October 22, 1883, and was an immediate success, both socially and artistically. 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 new Metropolitan Opera House. Henry Abbey served as manager for the inaugural season, 1883–84, which opened with a performance of Charles Gounod's Faust starring the brilliant Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson. Abbey's company that first season featured an ensemble of artists led by sopranos Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich; mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi; tenors Italo Campanini and Roberto Stagno; baritone Giuseppe Del Puente; and bass Franco Novara. They gave 150 performances of 20 different operas by Gounod, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Mozart, Thomas, Bizet, Flotow, and Ponchielli. All performances were sung in Italian and were conducted either by music director Auguste Vianesi or Cleofonte Campanini (the tenor Italo's brother).
The company performed not only in the new Manhattan opera house, but also started a long tradition of touring throughout the country. In the winter and spring of 1884 the Met presented opera in theaters in Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia (see below), Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Back in New York, the last night of the season featured a long gala performance to benefit Mr. Abbey. The special program consisted not only of various scenes from opera, but also offered Mme. Sembrich playing the violin and the piano, as well as the famed stage actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in a scene from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
The Metropolitan Opera began a long history of performing in Philadelphia during its first season, presenting its entire repertoire in the city during January and April 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 Philadelphia's Academy of Music, with the company presenting close to 900 performances in the city by 1961 when the Met's regular visits ceased.
On April 26, 1910, the Met purchased 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 sold the theater and 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 final performance of that last season was on March 21, 1961, with Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli in Turandot. After the Tuesday night visits were ended, the Met still returned to Philadelphia on its spring tours in 1967, 1968, 1978, and 1979.
Henry Abbey's inaugural season was a brilliant artistic and popular success but it had resulted in very large financial deficits. The following year 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 1890-91 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, John B. Schoeffel and Maurice Grau as Abbey, Schoeffel and 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 Schoeffel as the business partner, 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 Édouard 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. Henry Abbey died in 1896, and Maurice Grau continued as sole manager of the Met from 1896 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, Lionel Mapleson (1865–1937) made a series of sound recordings at the Met. Mapleson was employed by the Met as a violinist and music librarian. He used an Edison cylinder phonograph 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 an audio picture of the early Met, and are the only known extant recordings of some 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.[Note 1]
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.
The administration of Heinrich Conried in 1903–08 was distinguished especially by the arrival of the Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso, the most celebrated singer who ever appeared at the old Metropolitan. He was also instrumental in hiring conductor Arturo Vigna. Conried was followed by the 27-year tenure, from 1908 to 1935, of the magisterial Giulio Gatti-Casazza. Gatti-Casazza had been lured by the Met from a celebrated tenure as director of Milan's La Scala Opera House. His model planning, authoritative organizational skills and brilliant casts raised the Metropolitan Opera to a prolonged era of artistic innovation and musical excellence. Gatti-Casazza brought with him the fiery and brilliant conductor Arturo Toscanini, the music director from his seasons at La Scala.
Many of the most noted singers of the era appeared at the Met under Gatti-Casazza's leadership, including sopranos Rosa Ponselle, Elisabeth Rethberg, Maria Jeritza, Emmy Destinn, Frances Alda, Frida Leider, Amelita Galli-Curci, and Lily Pons; tenors Jacques Urlus, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and Lauritz Melchior; baritones Titta Ruffo, Giuseppe De Luca, Pasquale Amato, and Lawrence Tibbett; and basses 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.
Following Toscanini's departure, Gatti-Casazza successfully guided the company through the years of World War I into another decade of premieres, new productions and popular success in the 1920s. The 1930s, however, brought new financial and organizational challenges for the company. In 1931, Otto Kahn, the noted financier, resigned as head of the Met's board of directors and president of the Metropolitan Opera Company. He had been responsible for engaging Gatti-Casazza and had held the position of president since the beginning of Gatti-Casazza's term as manager. The new chair, prominent lawyer Paul Cravath, had served as the board's legal counsel. Retaining Gatti-Casazza as manager, Cravath focused his attention on managing the business affairs of the company. It soon became apparent that the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and subsequent depression had resulted in a dangerously large deficit in the company's accounts. Between 1929 and 1931 ticket sales remained robust, but subsidies from the Met's wealthy supporters had significantly declined.
Soon after his appointment, Cravath obtained new revenue through a contract with the National Broadcasting Company for weekly radio broadcasts of Met performances. The first national broadcast took place December 25, 1931, when Hansel and Gretel was aired.[Note 2] With Gatti's support, Cravath also obtained a ten percent reduction in the pay of all salaried employees beginning with the opera season of 1931/32. Cravath also engineered a reorganization of the management company by which it was transformed from a corporation, in which all participants were stockholders, to an association, whose members need not have a financial interest in operations. Apart from this change, the new Metropolitan Opera Association was virtually identical to the old Metropolitan Opera Company. It was hoped the association would be able to save money as it renegotiated contracts which the company had made.
During this period there was no change in the organization of the Metropolitan Real Estate Opera Company which owned the opera house. It remained in the hands of the society families who owned its stock, yet the subsidies that the house and its owners had given the producing company fell off. In March 1932, Cravath found that income resulting from the broadcasts and savings from both salary cuts and reorganization were not sufficient to cover the company's deficits. A plan was floated to move the opera from the building on 39th Street to Rockefeller Center, but it was dropped when it became apparent that it would produce no savings and, instead, representatives of the opera house, the producing company, and the artists formed a committee for fundraising among the public at large. Mainly though appeals made to radio audiences during the weekly broadcasts, the committee was able to obtain enough money to assure continuation of opera for the 1933-34 season. Called the Committee to Save Metropolitan Opera, the group was headed by the well-loved leading soprano, Lucrezia Bori. Bori not only led the committee, but also personally carried out much of its work and within a few months her fundraising efforts produced the $300,000 that were needed for the coming season.
In April 1935, Gatti stepped down after 27 years as general manager. His immediate successor, the former Met bass Herbert Witherspoon, died of a heart attack barely six weeks into his term of office. This opened the way for the Canadian tenor and former Met artist Edward Johnson to be appointed general manager. Johnson served the company for the next 15 years, guiding the Met through the remaining years of the depression and the World War II era.
The producing company's financial difficulties continued in the years immediately following the desperate season of 1933-34. To meet budget shortfalls, fundraising continued and the number of performances was curtailed. Still, 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 among its national radio audience, the Met board's Eleanor Robson Belmont, the former actress and wife to industrialist August Belmont, was appointed head of a new organization—the Metropolitan Opera Guild—as successor to a women's club Belmont had set up. The Guild supported the producing company through subscriptions to its magazine, Opera News, and through Mrs. Belmont's weekly appeals on the Met's radio broadcasts. In 1940 ownership of the performing 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. Ettore Panizza, 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 Tuesday night performances in Philadelphia. He presided over an era of fine singing and glittering new productions, while guiding 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 include singers of color. Marian Anderson's historic 1955 debut was followed by the introduction of a gifted generation of African American artists led by Leontyne Price (who inaugurated the new house at Lincoln Center), Reri Grist, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Martina Arroyo, George Shirley, Robert McFerrin, and many others. Other celebrated singers who debuted at the Met during Bing's tenure include: Roberta Peters, Victoria de los Ángeles, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, who had a bitter falling out with Bing over repertoire,, Birgit Nilsson, Joan Sutherland, Régine Crespin, Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto, Montserrat Caballé, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, James McCracken, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, Nicolai Gedda, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi, Sherrill Milnes, and Cesare Siepi.
During Bing's tenure, the officers of the Met joined forces with the officers of the New York Philharmonic to build the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where the new Metropolitan Opera House building opened in 1966.
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. The greatest achievement of his tenure was the Met's first tour to Japan for three weeks in May–June 1975 which was the brainchild of impresario Kazuko Hillyer. The tour played a significant role in popularizing opera in Japan, and boasted an impressive line-up of artists in productions of La traviata, Carmen, and La bohème; including Marilyn Horne as Carmen, Joan Sutherland as Violetta, and tenors Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti alternating as Rodolfo.
From 1975 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 James Levine. Engaged by Bing in 1971, Levine became Principal Conductor in 1973 and emerged as the Met's principal artistic leader 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, with soprano Jessye Norman making her Met debut in the roles of both Cassandra and Dido. An eight-hour Centennial Gala concert in two parts followed on October 22, 1983, broadcast on PBS. The gala featured all of the Met's current stars as well as appearances by 26 veteran stars of the Met's the past. Among the artists, Leonard Bernstein and Birgit Nilsson gave their last performances with the company at the concert.
The immediate post-Bing era saw a continuing addition of African-Americans to the roster of leading artists. Kathleen Battle, who in 1977 made her Met debut as the Shepherd in Wagner's Tannhäuser, became an important star in lyric soprano roles. Bass-baritone Simon Estes began a prominent Met career with his 1982 debut as Hermann, also in Tannhäuser.
The model of General Manager as the leading authority in the company returned in 1990 when the company appointed Joseph Volpe. Volpe was the Met's third-longest serving manager until his retirement in 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, Gabriela Beňačková, 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, Neil Rosenshein, Bryn Terfel, and Deborah Voigt were among the artists first heard at the Met under his management.
The successor to Volpe was 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 is dependent on private financing.
Gelb began his tenure by opening the 2006-07 season with a 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 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 partnered with other opera companies to import productions and engaged directors from theater, circus, and film to produce the Met's own original productions. Theater directors Bartlett Sher, Mary Zimmerman, and Jack O'Brien joined the list of the Met's directors along with Stephen Wadsworth, Laurent Pelly, Luc Bondy and other opera directors to create new stagings for the company. Robert Lepage, the Canadian director of Cirque du Soleil, was engaged by the Met to produce a new 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 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 emerged during Gelb's tenure include Piotr Beczała, Lawrence Brownlee, Joseph Calleja, Elīna Garanča, Jonas Kaufmann, Mariusz Kwiecień. Debuting conductors 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 two-year absence due to illness. In 2013, following the severance of the dancers' contracts, Gelb announced that the resident ballet company at the Met would cease to exist.
In 2014, Gelb and the Met found new controversy with a production of John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer, due to criticism that the work was antisemitic. In response to the controversy Gelb canceled the scheduled worldwide HD video presentation of a performance, but refused demands to cancel the live performances scheduled for October and November 2014. Demonstrators held signs and chanted "Shame on Gelb".
On April 14, 2016, the company announced the conclusion of James Levine's tenure as Music Director at the conclusion of the 2015–16 season. Gelb announced that Levine would also become Music Director Emeritus. On June 2, the Met board announced the appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the company's next music director, as of the 2020–2021 season, conducting five productions each season. He took the title of music director-designate, conducting two productions a year, as of the 2017-2018 season. In February 2018, the company announced that Nézet-Séguin is to take the title of music director as of the 2018-2019 season.
In response to a December 2017 news article, the Met announced that it would investigate James Levine with regard to sexual abuse allegations dating back to the 1980s, suspended its ties with Levine, and canceled all upcoming engagements with him. Gelb had been contacted directly by a police detective in October 2016 about allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by Levine, had been aware of the accuser's abuse allegations since they were made in a 2016 police report and of the attendant police investigation, but did not suspend Levine or launch an investigation until over a year later.
In March 2018, the company announced the conclusions of its investigation, and stated that there was conclusive evidence for "sexually abusive and harassing conduct" by Levine. On 12 March 2018, the company announced the full termination of its relationship with Levine, including the rescinding of his title of music director emeritus and dismissal of him as artistic director of its young artists program. On 15 March 2018, Levine filed suit against the company with the New York State Supreme Court, for breach of contract and defamation, and continued to deny the allegations. In response to the suit, the company has stated:
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." Owing to the height of the Met's proscenium, it was not feasible to have surtitles 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 who desire them. Surtitlers at the Met have included Sonya Haddad, whose 2004 obituary called her "one of the country's leading practitioners of her art", Cori Ellison and Sonya Friedman.
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. At the Opera Conference 2016 in Montreal Gelb announced that the Met had commissioned a new ticketing system that would be made available to other institutions.
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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. Starting with the 1973–74 season, all broadcasts were offered in FM stereo. Satellite technology later allowed uniformly excellent broadcast sound to be sent live worldwide.
Sponsorship of the Met broadcasts during the Depression years of the 1930s was sporadic. Early sponsors included the American Tobacco Company, and the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, but frequently the broadcasts were presented by NBC itself with no commercial sponsor. 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 became primary sponsor.
In the seven decades of its Saturday broadcasts, the Met has been introduced by the voices of only three permanent announcers. Milton Cross served from the inaugural 1931 broadcast until his death in 1975. He was succeeded by Peter Allen, who served for 29 years, through the 2003–04 season. Margaret Juntwait began her tenure as host the following season. From September 2006 through December 2014, Juntwait also served as host for all of the live and recorded broadcasts on the Met's Sirius XM satellite radio channel, Metropolitan Opera Radio. Beginning in January 2015, producer Mary Jo Heath filled in for Juntwait, who was being treated for cancer and died in June 2015. In September 2015 Heath took over as the new permanent host. Opera singer and director Ira Siff has for several years been the commentator along with Juntwait or Heath.
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 night Der Rosenkavalier was also telecast. In the early 1950s the Met tried a short-lived experiment with live closed-circuit television transmissions to movie theaters. The first of these was a performance of Carmen with Risë Stevens which was sent to 31 theaters in 27 US cities on December 11, 1952. 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.[Note 3] 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. Complete operas and selections are also available on the online music service Rhapsody, and for purchase on iTunes.
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. Over the years 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 Met said goodbye to the old house on April 16, 1966, with a lavish farewell gala performance. The theater closed after a short season of ballet later in the spring of 1966 and was demolished in 1967.
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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 annually home to the spring season of American Ballet Theatre. It has also hosted visits from other noted 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 Richard Wagner's 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.
In the Met's inaugural season of 1883–1884, Auguste Vianesi, who conducted most of the performances that season including the opening night, was listed in the playbills as "Musical Director and Conductor"; thereafter, the Met did not have another officially designated "music director" until Rafael Kubelík in 1973. However, a number of the Met's 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, but without any official title. The Met has also had many famed guest conductors who are not listed here.
On 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. On March 4, 1960, leading baritone Leonard Warren died of a stroke onstage after completing the aria "Urna fatale" in act two of Verdi's La forza del destino. On April 30, 1977, Betty Stone, a member of the Met chorus, was killed in an accident offstage during a tour performance of Il trovatore in Cleveland. On July 23, 1980, Helen Hagnes Mintiks, a Canadian-born violinist, was murdered by stagehand Craig Crimmins during a performance of the Berlin Ballet. On January 5, 1996, tenor Richard Versalle died while playing the role of Vitek during the production of 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 most widely known incident was the suicide of operagoer Bantcho Bantchevsky on January 23, 1988, during an intermission of Verdi's Macbeth.
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. The average audience rate for the 3800-seat theater in 2011 was 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 over the years 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. In 2014, according to Wheeler Winston Dixon, high ticket prices are making it difficult for average people to attend performances.
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