One of the most spectacular things about living in New York is the access to world-class theatrical events, right outside your door. I am about 10 blocks from the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, one of the world’s premier Opera Houses, and I decided to head down there yesterday to do a Backstage Tour.
For those of you who went to high school with me, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since I did a similar tour at the Kennedy Center during a school choral trip to everyone’s amusement. However, this tour was much much better. The Met is a continuously operating opera house and we are currently in high-season, meaning backstage was full of stagehands setting up for the next performance, costumes neatly lining the hallways and performers warming up in their rehearsal rooms. Each season the Met gives over 200 performances of 25 to 30 operas and it is the only opera house in the world that operates 32 weeks out of the year. The size and demands of each opera are different, but the productions are assisted by the Met’s seven different elevator banks and 50 trap doors that allow the sets to be set-up hours before showtime.
The Met Opera House auditorium is gorgeous. The ceiling is covered in more than one million 2.5-inch square sheets of 23-carat gold leaf that were placed by hand. The Met’s signature “starburst chandeliers” are made of Swarovski Crystals from Austria, a gift from the Austrian government. Both are acoustical aids and the crystal is actually calibrated for sound. African rosewood, cut from a single tree trunk nearly 100 feet long, lines the walls. All in all, it is simply stunning.
While I am not hugely into opera, it is hard not to appreciate getting to see the workshops. The carpentry shop is constantly constructing new sets or repairing/replacing old ones. It smelled of sawdust and paint and there were supplies everywhere, but you got the sense that it was a scene of organized chaos rather than complete disarray. The costume shop was spray-painting dresses for one of the Met’s current productions The Enchanted Island. Phyllis the tour guide said she called this area the “destruction area” because they take something that is seemingly beautiful and re-fashion it to ensure historical accuracy and to create visual effect. We also saw where costumes are designed and fashioned and laid out for the performers.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, it is not something I would ever take my dad too. It is $20 a ticket ($10 if you are a student! Hooray for me!). And you do have to strain to hear the tour guide because it is noisy in certain areas, which is another thing to consider. But I loved hearing the stories, seeing the wigs and costumes, and getting glimpses into an entirely different world than what I am used to. We were not allowed to take photos while on the tour, so I mixed in a few flickr photos with the few I could take.
See You in the City!
Crystal chandeliers that hang from the ceiling, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/genista/3491661640/
Inside the auditorium before a show. From the Met’s archives.
This picture is all over the city, promoting the Met with the tagline “At Any Moment, A Great Moment.” Image from the Met’s website: “Anna Netrebko sings the title role of Manon, opening March 26, 2012.” Covent Garden production photo: Bill Cooper