On Sunday, February 3rd, a few of us students here at New York Arts had the rare and exciting opportunity to tour the Metropolitan Opera House. Walking into the foyer felt like stepping into another world, knowing that it contained so much culture and history. Our tour guide, Julie, informed us that the grand staircase, as well as much of the floor that it leads up to, are all carved from the same piece of concrete. Also, the chandelier hanging above us was a smaller version of the iconic, 18-foot-wide starburst chandelier that hangs in the actual theater. The foyer’s chandelier, like the theater’s, is made entirely of Swarovski crystal.
We were fortunate enough to go inside the theater, where the curtains were raised to reveal a gorgeous set that had been put in place for a dress rehearsal later that day. (No, I wasn’t aware that pictures of the stage were allowed. Yes, I am still kicking myself over it.) We sat in the fourth row of the orchestra section as Julie imparted more of the Met’s history, all of us hyper-aware that we would be unlikely to enjoy such prime seating again any time in the near future.
Julie directed our attention to the large sculpture that hangs on top of the stage’s proscenium arch. The untitled, abstract bronze piece was created by artist Mary Callery, and is sometimes affectionately referred to as “the car wreck.” According to Julie, it’s rumored that the sculpture conceals a hidden sniper’s nest. Highly unlikely, but it makes for a fun story, and one can’t help but wonder how these rumors come to be in the first place!
Finally, we ventured into the bowels of the opera house--places that aren’t readily open to the visiting public, and where pictures are definitely NOT allowed. We went through corridors lined with priceless portraits of the Met’s most famous performers, as well as blown-up photographs documenting the Met’s history and a few of its iconic performances. Devastatingly, the costume shop was closed, but we walked down a hallway where many already-made costumes were hanging on racks to the side. Costumes constructed for operas at the Met cost upwards of $1,000 to make, and they’re built to last. They can also be adjusted to fit different sizes, both in height and weight, so that any number of performers can don the outfit over the course of about 25 years.
The scene shop was one of the most impressive aspects of the tour. We were able to see and feel how the Met’s master set designers construct monolithic statues and grand stone structures from deceptively lightweight materials. Walking further inside, we saw a massive dragon’s head hanging above one of the work tables, glaring down at us with its teeth bared. The piece was being constructed for the Met’s production of the Ring cycle, the famous four-part opera series composed by Richard Wagner.
Our final stop on the tour was the dressing rooms for primary performers. The walls of this corridor were adorned with costume designs from various shows, maintaining pieces of the Met’s history in all parts of the house. We stepped inside one of the dressing rooms, which had a vanity, a bathroom (with a shower), and a piano for accompanists to help performers warm up. It was easy to imagine a prima donna flexing her vocal cords while being laced up in a ten-pound costume. Julie explained that understudies are contractually required to be within a short distance of the opera house during performances, so that they can be contacted to step in at any time. I couldn’t help but picture a poor understudy having just curled up with coffee and a book at Starbucks, only to receive that urgent call.
Touring the Met Opera House was an absolute thrill, one that’s sparked my own interest in the opera. I hope to see one of their upcoming performances, although it definitely won’t be from the fourth row. Either way, I’m so glad that New York Arts gave us this wonderful opportunity. It’s yet another that I won’t soon forget!
Written by: Sarah Beard