Controversy-Free Met Opera News

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Metropolitan_Opera_ChandelierMaybe it’s the art form of opera that attracts controversy? The Metropolitan Opera grabbed the media spotlight in recent months, first with rancorous labor-management negotiations and recently with uproar about upcoming performances of “The Death of Klinghoffer” – decried by some Jewish groups for endorsing terrorism.

We’re glad the union agreements were reached, so opera lovers in New York City – and around the world via the Met’s “Live in HD” outreach – can enjoy the shows. This week we’ll explore several interesting, controversy-free Met stories:

What’s a Field Worth? Met general manager Peter Gelb, criticized last spring when a poppy field set piece for “Prince Igor” cost $169,000, is tasked with cutting costs while still staging the memorable, lavish productions that Met fans expect. This season 26 operas will be performed – 221 performances in all. Surprisingly, he described the Met’s $300+ million budget as a “disadvantage” (most performing arts groups would like to be similarly burdened!) but claimed the large budget should make minor cuts less noticeable. Personally, we didn’t guess the “Prince Igor” poppy field’s size had been reduced by 20% or that labor costs to assemble the custom artificial flowers reached almost $150,000! (For you NFL fans, an artificial-turf football field cost about 3X as much — $1 million – although its expected lifespan is ten years.)

Shine On! The Met has 32 distinctive “Sputnik” chandeliers in its lobby and auditorium – wood-and-metal spheres resembling starbursts or spacecraft – that debuted when the Met moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. Six years ago, the chandeliers were dismantled and shipped to Vienna, Austria, for refurbishment supervised by Johannes Rath, the 31-year-old grandson of artisan Hans Harald Rath, who designed and installed them. In just 10 weeks, all 49,000 pieces of crystal were replaced with new Swarovski crystal; the rejuvenated chandeliers were re-installed in time for the Met’s 125th-anniversary season. This article from the New York Times also includes an illuminating slide show.

A City Inside. Continuing the space theme, the Met becomes a temporary home for a veritable constellation of world-class performers, technical staff and operations personnel. As many as 1,500 people work there simultaneously in the busy weeks leading up to opening night. Recently, a New York Times reporter toured the labyrinthine rehearsal, production and backstage areas and described the setting as a “light industrial park tucked away on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” An accompanying 3-minute video tour also helps set the scene, when seven different operas were in rehearsal.

Pages of History. A new book about the Met Opera’s history chronicles its founding in 1883 by wealthy industrial and mercantile families — including the Vanderbilts, Morgans and Rockefellers – who were frustrated because the boxes at the Academy of Music opera house were full. The upstart Met quickly trounced its smaller, stately neighbor in head-to-head competition; three years later the Academy staged its last opera season. Vaudeville and labor rallies followed at the Academy, before its 1926 demolition. If you want to read about the Met’s ebbs and flows, including the impact of the general managers who preceded Mr. Gelb, check out “Grand Opera” which was just reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.

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