The New York Metropolitan Opera, the world's most expensive and capacious opera house, has always put emphasis on the great quality of the musical performance, at times to the point of raising eyebrows with some of its archaic production which seem to be caught in a time warp of 19th-century thinking and in which the role of the director must have been limited to explaining the singers their entrance and exit cues. Its schedule of opera premieres - sometimes featuring as few as a single new production in a decade - also used to be unusual for the leading opera companies anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, Metropolitan Opera was known to work with sophisticated masters of opera direction like Franco Zeffirelli and, whenever Zeffirelli created a new opera production, it was fit to run for a quarter of a century - a fact Maestro loved to bring up in his interviews, it was actually true. His stage versions of Puccini's La Bohème and Tosca are true gems of the Met's repertoire. After the first performance of the Metropolitan Opera's Turnadot, Zeffirelli referred to his production as a good investment, stating that the Met was now provided with a proper Turandot which would last them some twenty-five years or so. The lengthy tenure of the Met's principal conductor also speaks of stability and consistency: in 2011, James Levine is marking forty years at the Metropolitan Opera.
The noughties brought certain changes to the Met's policy: the company now tends to engage some of the world's best stage directors, offering its audience contemporary opera productions, modern in their musical interpretation and stage language alike. Admittedly, this transformation came not a day too soon: a genuine crisis had already developed and the super-boat had started to go down. The man appointed the difficult task of saving, General Manager Peter Gelb - son of the legendary Arthur Gelb, the former Managing Editor of The New York Times - chose the strategy of plumping for contemporary stage productions. Under the tenure of Gelb, the new trend, formerly passionately opposed by the patrons of the Metropolitan Opera, seems to have won the right to exist at one of the world's most conservative opera houses. The result of Gelb's first experiment which saw the Oscar-winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella (of The English Patient fame) stage Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Met, mixing kabuki and music video aesthetics, was a success, impressing the conservative opera-goers and those calling for innovation alike.
Since 1966, the New York Met has been residing in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, housed in a stone-colour building which seats 3788, which makes its super-giant scale a fairly recent development. The Metropolitan Opera company itself is a child of the 19th-century: it was inaugurated on 22 October 1883 with a performance of Charles Gounod's Faust. The Metropolitan Opera hosted the first performances of a number of operas by Giacomo Puccini, including La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) and Il Triticco (Triptych).
The early 1900s saw New York Metropolitan Opera, alongside Wiener Staatsoper and Milan's Teatro alla Scala, develop into one of the world's leading opera companies when the post of the principal conductor was held by Gustav Mahler who launched his overseas career with a production of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The company continued its triumph later as Mahler was replaced in his post by Arturo Toscanini.
The golden rule of the opera house has always been featuring the world's greatest singers in its opera productions. In 1956 Maria Callas made her Met debut singing Vincenzo Bellini's Norma.
The Metropolitan Opera was the pioneer of live opera radio broadcasts - at the time when radio itself was still making its first baby steps. The first live radio broadcast from the Met took place on 13 January 1910 with performances of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci starring Enrico Caruso. While the circle of the actual listeners was still quite small, it was said that the broadcast could be enjoyed by opera enthusiasts on a ship located twenty kilometres from the Met.
Keywords: New York City, Opera House