Metropolitan Opera Company

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Metropolitan Opera Company

Metropolitan Opera Company, term used in referring collectively to the organizations that have produced opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City. The original house, at West 39th Street and Broadway, was built by members of New York society who could not be accommodated with boxes at the Academy of Music. The first presentation, on Oct. 22, 1883, was Gounod's Faust. Among the early managers were Henry E. Abbey, Leopold Damrosch, Edmond Stanton, and Maurice Grau. A devastating fire prevented production of any opera during the season 1892–93, and rebuilding was undertaken by a new company, the Metropolitan Opera and Real Estate Company. The first of the galaxy of great stars to make the house famous had already appeared. There was no resident company in the season 1897–98, but the Maurice Grau Opera Company was active from 1898 to 1903, and the period was brilliant with virtuoso singers. The Conried Metropolitan Opera Company was formed in 1903, with Heinrich Conried as manager.

In Nov., 1903, Enrico Caruso made his debut and by the following season had assumed his place as the dominant figure of the company. Conried retired in 1908, and the following season saw the coming of Giulio Gatti-Casazza as director and Alfred Hertz, Gustav Mahler, and Arturo Toscanini as conductors; the name was now Metropolitan Opera Company. Toscanini's departure in 1915 was a serious artistic loss for the company. In Feb., 1935, during Gatti-Casazza's final season, Kirsten Flagstad made her debut. Herbert Witherspoon was appointed in May, 1935, to succeed Gatti-Casazza but died only a few weeks later. Edward Johnson was appointed in his place. In 1932 the Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc., was formed, and performances were thenceforth underwritten by public subscription. In 1940 the association bought the house from the Metropolitan Opera and Real Estate Company, marking the final step in transference from private to public sponsorship. In June, 1949, Rudolf Bing was appointed to succeed Johnson. A controversial figure, he brought many noted singers to the company, including Marian Anderson, Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Tito Gobbi, and Leontyne Price. Among the many other great stars who have appeared at the Met over its many years are Marcella Sembrich, Dame Nellie Melba, Lilli Lehman, Feodor Chaliapin, Lauritz Melchior and Luciano Pavarotti. Metropolitan Opera concerts have been a regular feature on radio since 1931 and on television since 1977.

The new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1966 with a premier performance of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, written especially for the occasion. The new building featured acoustics superior to those in the old structure and a lobby decorated with murals by Marc Chagall. Bing retired in 1972. He was replaced by Goeran Gentele, who was killed in an automobile accident in July, 1972, a few weeks after he had succeeded Bing. The opera's assistant manager, Schuyler Chapin, was named manager (1972–75). From 1974 to 1981, John Dexter was director of production and Anthony Bliss executive director. Bliss then served as general manager (1981–85) and was succeeded by Bruce Crawford (1985–89), Joseph Volpe (1990–2006), and Peter Gelb (2006–). James Levine, who joined the Met as principal conductor in 1973, has been artistic director since 1986. Today's Metropolitan Opera produces an average of 23 different operas in six languages each season, and in addition to producing works from the traditional operatic repertoire it has been a pioneer in premiering works by such contemporary composers as Philip Glass, John Corigliano, William Hoffman, and John Harbison.

See D. Hamilton, ed., The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia (1987).

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