In its relatively young life, the Metropolitan Opera has been home to some of the greatest composers, performers, and performances in all of the world. From its architecture, the composers and operas that premiered there, and their constant use of cutting edge technology, there is no doubt that the Metropolitan Opera is one of the finest operas in the world. Here are just a few of the many important dates in the history of this great opera company.
1. James Levine’s Debut
The Met Opera has a long and renowned history, but the company went in a new direction in 1971 when James Levine made his directorial debut with Tosca. At just 28 years old Levine earned praise from one of the most competitive audiences in opera, and he continued to garner praise until 2011 when he took a leave of absence due to declining health.
He soon returned to the Met in 2013, but even if he hadn’t, his career already had been solidified as one of the greatest in American opera. Under his guidance, the Met has staged two acclaimed world premieres, The Ghosts of Versailles and The Great Gatsby. Levine even conducted a marathon 8-hour performance to commemorate his 25th year with the Met.
2. First Televised Opera
In the year 1931, America was in the depths of the Great Depression, which meant cultural institutions like the Met were struggling to pull a sizable audience from a population that was more concerned about where they got their next meal instead of what opera they would attend next. To combat the loss the Great Depression was taking out of contributions and sales, and to spread opera to a wider audience, the Met broadcast the first complete opera on Christmas Day, 1931.
Previous to that event the Met had radio broadcasted parts of their operas but never the complete works and never on television. Hansel and Gretel aired on NBC in its entirety. The host of the program worked out of a Box in the theater, and another moderator ran quizzes for the listening audience during the act breaks. This broadcast would become the start of many Met television broadcasts and be directly succeeded by the Met’s live Saturday broadcast on NBC. Not only was the show and broadcast a success, but these broadcast spread opera all over the Eastern United States and even into Canada.
3. Opera Premieres
Being the most renowned opera house in America has its perks. The Met was where several groundbreaking Wagner operas first premiered in America, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal. The Met’s list of American premieres doesn’t stop at Wagner, they have also premiered notable works liikeTurandot, Arabella, and Simon Boccanegra’s as well. The Met has also had several notable world premieres. Puccini’s Il Trittico and La Fanciulla del West premiered at the Met along with Humperdinck’s Königskinder. In all, 32 operas have had their world premieres at the Met, and you can be sure that that number will grow exponentially in the future.
4. Arturo Toscanini Premieres La Fanciulla Del West
Arturo Toscanini was one of the most admired and successful conductors of the 20th century. Accordingly, he is one of the many talented conductors to have worked with the Met. Toscanini’s career as a conductor began when he was just 19; he was initially a cellist who filled in for the conductor of his opera company. His skill and intimate knowledge of the craft soon launched him to conduct operas like La Scala and the Met.
Toscanini was conducting at La Scala in 1908 when he left to lead the Met opera. Two years later he conducted the world premiere of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West on December 10th, 1910. Arturo was with the Met until 1915 when he returned to Italy, but his career was far from over. After WWI he led the La Scala orchestra on tour through Europe, America, and Canada and also conducted with the New York Philharmonic starting in 1926.
5. The New Metropolitan Opera Opens Its Doors
The original Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1883 by a group of wealthy businessmen who were frustrated with the lack of access to opera in the city. The revered Academy of Music Opera House was filled with established old money families who would not allow the new money wealthy new yorkers into their elite circle of subscribers. These excluded wealthy New Yorkers decided they wanted their own opera theater. The newly built opera house included subscribers like the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, and Morgans, all of whom were not allowed to attend the Academy. Eventually, on October 17th, 1955, The Met Board of Directors and City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses decided to build a new theater at the current Lincoln Square location and ground was broken on May 14th, 1959.
Along the way, The General Manager of the Met, Rudolf Bing, asked if Marc Chagall would paint two murals for the new opera house, and on September 16th, 1996, the new Metropolitan Opera House opened its doors with the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. The old Met Opera House closed its doors on April 16th of the same year with a farewell concert.