How Opera-Going at the Metropolitan Opera Has Changed

The Third in a Four-Part Post-Season Analysis of The Met

Friday, May 30, 2014 - 04:00 PM

The Metropolitan Opera House: Opening Night of the 2011-12 Season The Metropolitan Opera House: Opening Night of the 2011-12 Season (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

One of the indisputable highlights in the life of any opera lover comes with attending your first performance at the Metropolitan Opera House. The pulse quickens in even the most frequent operagoer with the anticipation of what will soon take place. Or so it used to be.

The excitement began with the walk across the plaza of the Travertine acropolis that is Lincoln Center. The main square, with three buildings configured like those atop the Capitoline hill in Rome, makes the Met the focus of one’s attention. The central fountain shot water to dazzling heights and then briefly receded, revealing architect Wallace K. Harrison’s opera house façade with its five arches, said to have been inspired by the five cupolas of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. 

One sees (or saw) some of the dazzling Lobmeyr crystal chandeliers that were a gift from the people of Vienna as an expression of thanks for help Met subscribers gave for the reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera house after the Second World War. Looking up, right or left, one saw the world famous paintings (30 feet wide; 36 feet high) that Marc Chagall made specifically for the places they hang. “The Sources of Music’ (the yellow painting) stood above the Grand Tier restaurant while "The Triumph of Music" (the red one) was above the Serpentine Bar. 

One entered the crowded but animated lobby either from the left or right sides and then, going past the ticket takers, would go up or down the grand staircase to see and be seen. Then, when the doors to the auditorium opened, one would enter and behold the orchestra level and five tiers of red velvet seats, walls of African rosewood, and twelve more crystal chandeliers in a horseshoe configuration at the level of the Grand Tier that would rise and dim as they approached the 23 carat gold-covered ceiling. They made a gentle tinkling sound as they rose, which was discernible because the auditorium has fabulous acoustics.

At intermission, one took refreshment at bars on several levels or went downstairs to Founders Hall to admire paintings and sculptures of illustrious figures from Met history or special exhibitions in display cases. Historic costumes were on show on the Dress Circle and Parterre, where there were also two small vitrines with possessions belonging to Caruso, Toscanini and larger-than-life divas of the past 130 years. 

Wherever one went, in or outside the auditorium, there was electricity and magic in the air. I am not being unrealistically nostalgic. Even when the performances were routine, the experience of being at the Met was a thrill unto itself and made one want to come back in the hopes that the next performance would be better.

While many of these pleasures remain to some degree, much of the magic is gone. Somewhere along the way, the Metropolitan Opera House went from being a temple of art to becoming a facility. In contrast, no matter what Teatro alla Scala or the Vienna State Opera put on their stages (and I have seen plenty that is not memorable), the experience of attending a performance in these theaters is still an unforgettable thrill.

You might have noticed that, emulating Broadway theaters, the Met now charges a $2.50 “facility fee for the ongoing maintenance of the opera house” on every ticket.  The opera company is responsible for its own building and decides for itself how income for maintenance is spent. Certainly the marvelous stage and its equipment need constant care. 

I am not saying that the auditorium has become tatty. In most ways it is unchanged, apart from the troubling addition of technology used for HD broadcasts and certain productions. Also, about 25 years ago the creamy-colored façades of the boxes and the gold ropes that adorned them were replaced by paneling a bit darker than the gorgeous African rosewood that is part of what makes the auditorium so special. The older version was so much more elegant and I miss that. Most seats are comfortable, especially in comparison to other opera houses. Sight lines are good, apart from certain places in side boxes. Met Titles are projected on small screens on seat backs and are unobtrusive for those who don’t wish to consult them.

However, most of the Met’s public areas have been invaded by all manner of visual (and sometimes acoustical) ugliness. Space seems to be considered usable for revenue-generation or marketing opportunities. Starting with the approach on the plaza, one now sees gauzy promotional banners that obscure the view of the Chagalls and the chandeliers. Because the left entrance now has an art gallery with exhibitions inspired by operas, arriving audience members veer to the already overcrowded right entrance where the box office and gift shop are. The gallery is a good idea but is in the wrong place. It has become dead space that requires something that many or all arriving patrons will want to go to. This will make traffic flow more comfortable throughout the cramped outer lobbies.

There are now two screens in the outer lobby that create a promotional blare. Few people look at them, whether before curtain or during the day. It is unbecoming of an important theater and is more like the departure gate at an airport. There is a screen in the gift shop that shows opera videos and a direct feed from the stage. That is fine.

In the opera house lobbies, there has been a frightful undoing of what things looked and felt like. When the Met opened its doors in 1966, the modern building did not appeal to everyone. There was nostalgia for the grandeur of the old Met, a place where doing valid opera productions was never possible because the stage had little surrounding space where scenery could be mounted or moved. The lobbies of the new Met had harmony and many new works of art along with treasures from the old building. The broad windows (like those of other Lincoln Center theaters) suggested accessibility and openness and afforded wonderful views, inside and out.

Someone who attended the opening would be disoriented now. Famous sculptures have been removed, as have many of the paintings in Founders Hall. They are in storage or adorn hallways out of public view, according to Met archivist Robert Tuggle. Many of the precious items from the displays on the Parterre are no longer there. The vitrines were cleared to use as part of a special exhibition on Die Walküre. A few pieces are again on display. Mr.Tuggle added that some of the artifacts are now in storage or loaned for exhibitions elsewhere.

Founders Hall (Flickr/carlmikoy)

The portraits in Founders Hall were an integral and gracious evocation of the company’s history since 1883. Recent paintings, including those of Leontyne Price and Regina Resnik (by her artist husband Arbit Blatas) are gone. Curiously, a new portrait of Renée Fleming has been added and she is still in an active career. The past is now represented by floor-to-ceiling walls of poor resolution black-and-white photos that bring to mind pictures one sees tacked on walls in delicatessens and pizza parlors in the Broadway theater district. This look is meant to evoke the lobby of the old Met, but that is lost on almost everyone who sees it now. It is nearly impossible to identify most of these faces and the overall impact is ugly as sin.

Worse still, the plaques (also called tiles) with the names of donors—the Founders who give the hall its name—are falling off and glue stains glare at anyone who notices. This wall of honor is now behind stanchions and ropes and no one seems to care. It dishonors those who helped make the performing arts center, including the new Met, possible. I am told that, although the plaques are inside the Metropolitan Opera house, their maintenance is the responsibility of Lincoln Center. Eileen McMahon, Senior Director for Publicity and Publications, said in an e-mail that "Lincoln Center is evaluating how best to handle the situation."

Upstairs, restaurant tables, as well as those selling gift shop items or used for package inspection, now block key areas, so the audience of nearly 4000 (when all tickets are sold) is constricted. Traffic flows terribly and many areas are cramped and dark. Most doors to the lovely outdoor terrace are locked, in part due to the expansion of the number of tables at the Grand Tier restaurant. Getting in and out is not easy.

As for the restaurant, and food services to the public in general: most major opera houses outdo the Met, serving delicious food that lends excitement and a frisson of pleasure to the experience, all at lower prices than the Met. To name just a few: Amsterdam, Chicago, Munich and Stockholm. Dining at the Grand Tier restaurant brings to mind suburban country clubs of three decades ago. On some nights, the preparation and presentation of dishes are a disgrace. This should not happen at the iconic opera house in New York, one of the world’s capitals of food and wine. 

At bars in the building, prices of dreary sandwiches and pastries are very high. Coffee is mediocre and costs more than the better one served at Avery Fisher Hall. Wine is plonk, to use a term of the trade. I recall a New York Times profile that depicted Peter Gelb as a wine connoisseur. If that is so, he needs to get on the case. And, at more than $20 a serving, the premium Champagne served on the Parterre should come in glass, not plastic.

Everything described in this article impoverishes the experience of a night at the Met and undoes the bond between the company and its core audience. I will address the situation of ticket pricing and the impact of HD transmissions in my next article and offer ideas for how the Met (which I revere, which is why I feel it important to raise these issues) might get back on track.

And what of the iconic Chagall paintings? They are very hard to see from within and many newcomers do not have the pleasure—and form the bond—that is part of a night at the Met (everyone at Paris’s Opéra Garnier can admire its beloved Chagall ceiling). A chill coursed through the veins of those of us who love the Met when the company disclosed, in March 2009, that it had put its Chagalls up as collateral against a loan of $35 million. The issue was not just about how bad finances might have been but, more revealingly, that nothing at the Met was sacred. 

And that, my friends, is the most alarming message of all. 

Photos: 1) The Chagall painting 'The Sources of Music' (Flickr/NiallKennedy) 3) Opera Gateau with coffee crema and cocoa nib coulis at the Metropolitan Opera's Grand Tier restaurant (Flickr/ralphandjenny).


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Comments [30]

David Etherington from UK

May I be permitted to chip in with a comment from London (I have not attended a production at the Met)about modern dress productions?
I have just seen a Dress Rehearsal of the latest Tristan and Isolde at Covent Garden with the fabulous Nina Stemme, and needless to say all we got on stage was a large blank moving wall and a room behind a large curtain , the latter used to depict respectively a ship,a castle, an island and another castle.
The cast were dressed throughout mainly in shabby black modern dress ( as they were for Idomeneo a few weeks back)and after a performance of 5 hours including intervals I found it most tiresome. I know Wagner isn't meant to be a barrel of laughs, but at least some visual variety helps.
It seems to be a lost cause moaning about these so called modern productions now.

Dec. 03 2014 04:24 AM
Irwin Yablans from palm desert ca

Looked forward to Carmen on 10/13..The entire experience was so disappointing.
The theater looks shopworn and a tad dirty The personnel and ushers are shameful in both dress and decorum.I would compare them to subway employees. But what should one expect? They are reflecting the dress of the patrons who come outfitted in the latest jeans shorts and flip-flops..Not a shred of elegance.
I live in Palm Desert Ca. now but I remember paying a buck at the old met to see Richard Tucker,Ferruccio Tagliavini
Licia albanese...I stood thru the entire performance but gazed in wonder at the beautifully dressed audience in the orchestra and soaring balconies. What a shame.The venerable institution has allowed itself to become shabby .
I will not return until a dress code is implemented..

Oct. 21 2014 01:50 PM
Elizabeth Steffen from Old Saybrook

I remember the Old house on 39th and Broadway. I went there for the first time as a twelve year old to hear Rise Stevens as Carmen. It was an experience I will never forget. I had all new clothes and my parents were also appropriately attired. Needless to say it was a fabulous evening even though my Father fell asleep during the final act as Richard Tucker, as Don Jose,was trying to kill Carmen.
I have also been to Lincoln Center's opera house. Unfortunately, these days I live too far away to get tickets to the opera and so I go to the simulcasts at my local theater. Sometimes I find all the close-ups take away from the scope of the productions. However, I do enjoy the back stage interviews between acts.
I do wish that a four act opera was presented as a four act opera. I find the condensation of the acts disconcerting as they no longer follow the librettos or the concept of the composer.

Jun. 09 2014 10:07 AM
anna from New Jersey

I have had a subscription to the Met for the past 40 years and used to enjoy most performances. Going to se an opera at the Met was a festive occasion. NOT ANYMORE. The modern productions and sex exhibited in stage are a BIG turnoff. Most operas represent a certain era of the past centuries. One does not throw away history for the sake of the dollar.
I don't see that many "Young" opera goers either. The way the public dresses in abominable. You will not see this in any other country
So after 40 years I dropped my subscription
I certainly agree with the writer and the comments below

Jun. 07 2014 09:16 AM
beachsiggy from NYC

Great article, Fred! But you forgot to mention the toilets that leak all over the floor, and the fact that the only place in the building where the air conditioning actually works is the ladies room on the left side of the orchestra level, where you need a winter coat to use the facilities.

Most places that lack substance seek to cover it by sprucing up the face of the facility. Not so at the new Met. The decay is visible through and through. Sad to think we may wind up doing a San Diego on the company. It may be our only hope.

Jun. 04 2014 10:55 AM
Floria from NYC

Great article! True article! I could deal with the disastrous lobby, terrible expensive food and drink, unhelpful, unfriendly personnel, if only the productions were not so ghastly. Rigoletto in Las Vegas, the dreadful Ring Cycle.....if I were a singer I would hate to be in these dreadful productions; how could I concentrate on performing at my best? You know, I might not be in "target audience" of 20's or 30's, but hell, I've supported the opera all my life; loved it for what it was. Now it's beginning to be nothing to me. Gelb just doesn't get it. Thank heaven for my CD's and LP's. The old adage "you can never go back" doesn't apply CAN go back, back to the composer's intent.

Jun. 02 2014 01:36 PM
arden broecking from Connecticut

Dear Mr. Plotkin, I am old enough to remember the first time I walked into the old Met - I was in high school,a very young singer, and I felt almost as though I were in church! Later when the new house was ready, I had a similar
feeling. It took time for all the rather garish gold to quiet down, but it was still an experience that required a certain reverence. When later, I worked with one of the Met coaches at the House, I never forgot where I was, dressed appropriately,and always felt and heard the echoes.
How could anyone walk into the Metropolitan Opera House in jeans and a tee shirt?!? Well, we have Mr. Gelb for denigrating every aspect of this house in his quest for the almighty Bottom Line. What he is doing is the exact opposite. Of course there's financial problems! How dare he foist the smart-aleck "directors" who thinkmthey know better than the composer, and the sort of ugly productions ("Faust," "Parsifal)that he has -(I got used to the new "Ring" because of the brilliance of the lighting director) on audiences? Innovation is fine, when it keeps the composer's intent in mind. As to the singing-the Met has always offered the greatest singers in the world. Maybe they weren't so glamourous, but they could sing. This
obsession with youth and appearance has virtually said"we don't care of they're great,must so they look good." Well some of them aren't great, and
to know this, all you have to do is listen. Yes, there are still great singers on that Met stage, but there are too many that aren't.
Oh, and how about the lack of concern about one singer whose career is likely ruined because of a serious accident on the stage during a performance! I think the best thing that could happen to the met would be to get rid of PG,and replace him with a general manager who cares as as much about the artistic aspects as he or she down about the Bottom Line!
Sorry for the rant.

Jun. 02 2014 08:36 AM
Kuno from New York

Well, Gelb sure 'threw the baby out with the bath water' - didn't he ? Stated that his sole mission was to update the productions and to make opera 'relevant' - even the classic works. The shortage of big voiced / theatrical singers is also most alarming plus those handful of highly touted stars lacking in good diction -- I can't tell if they're singing in Italian, French, or Esperanto ! Let's not even discuss those ugly productions --- I had always wanted to see LA SONNAMBULA but somehow characters dressed in present-day clothes and carrying cell phones does not exactly typify a Bellinian ambience to me. Sorry.
Stands to reason though if Gelb was going to modernize opera then sooner or later he would try to 'sweep out the grand cobwebbed traditions' of the lyric theater. Therefore, the place has become quite tacky in addition to its shabbiness. I do fear the writing is clearly on the wall --- I was an avid operagoer since childhood and I stopped in 2006 - a boring performance of MAZEPPA nearly put me to sleep and with that it was time for me to say Goodbye ! I am rather heartened to know that others have joined me in operatic exile.

Jun. 01 2014 09:39 PM

Spot on,as usual, Fred. You've described, so well, the ingredients that make for the enjoyment of and disenchantment with the entire Met experience. However, I am always a little wistful when I step into the lobby and I think of my opera-going buddies who are gone. Sharing the experience in the good company of friends is the important part of the ambiance for me. I'm with Mr. DD, I am mainly there for the beautiful music and voices, etc., but admit that the glitter is fun too and there is room for improvement in the areas that you mention, Fred.

As for Wallace Harrison's inspiration, I love Mark Twain and his description of la Basilica di San Marco as "a vast warty bug taking a meditative walk." Let's just hope that the Met is a huge hunched caterpillar that will turn into a butterfly sometime soon.

Jun. 01 2014 11:45 AM

Not having seen the "old" Met, I rather like the B&W photos in the lower lobby (though some of the more current ones seem to be run-of-the-mill résumé photos).

Re. $20 champagne in plastic flutes, when I go to the Met I usually buy a standing room ticket. I won't be spending those $$ on champers when I've only spent $27.50 for the ticket. My priorities are the music, cast, performances, and sets/costumes.


May. 31 2014 11:41 PM


As we out on the middle edge of the cultural abyss of Iowa City, happily eating our pop corn and Subway Sandwiches...and snuck in bottles of average wine, we watch the rich folks in NYC on the HDTV screen......captured by the same cameras, which you find block your view.... This for many out here and there of the middle America and middle world..this is the closest we will get to New York Met at Lincoln Center. Some of us actually dress up for HDTV THE MET Opera Presentations. Sometimes I even shave. Please SAY IT ISN'T SO that we are once again living a dream which does not exist no more, and the chandeliers and Chagails are indeed just memories of a fifth grade school trip from Palisades Park long ago..when the whole place really was new and elegant and UPPER CASE.

May. 31 2014 06:49 PM
David from Flushing

Lincoln Center was not built in the best period of American architecture. The Met tried to be both modern and traditional and pleased neither camp. I used to loathe those fabric swags that originally hung on the balcony fronts on one level. Painting the fronts to imitate the nice wood panelling just looks cheap. One should never place the fake next to the real. Credit is due as this is the only auditorium at Lincoln Center that does not have serious acoustical problems.

In fairness, the lobby was supposed to protrude further into the plaza, but money ran out I understand. This resulted in cramped public spaces. Of course, the travertine is a time bomb---billions of little gaping mouths just waiting for the next freeze-thaw cycle. Eventually, this will all have to be changed as this is not sunny Italy.

May. 31 2014 06:47 PM
Allan Wiederspiel from Manhattan

Useless to lament the altered color scheme. We build an opera house once a century and are stuck with this monument to kitsch. No repainting can disguise the fundamental ugliness of the auditorium, the adjoining spaces or even those vulgar Austrian lights. Deep-pocketed board members, not necessarily gifted with taste, signed on to the design. This house is best enjoyed in the dark during a performance when the focus is on the stage and acoustical assets come into play. The next century may be more fortunate.

May. 31 2014 04:18 PM
Loge from New York City

Fred: Your points are all well taken. I have a couple of comments. First,too many in the audience treat the House with little respect. I know we all live in a more informal world, and most my attendance in on Saturday afternoons, but I am amazed at the number of people who show up wearing the equivalent of tee shirts and jeans --often torn, even at evenign performances. While I am all in favor of casual attire, especially on a Saturday afternoon, there is a difference between what we might call "business casual" and "painting clothes." Perhaps if the audience came dressed as "grown ups," management would be more likley to treat us accordingly. Second, I find it odd that a bank would take the Chagalls as collateral for a loan. Did the lender really expect to foreclose on the collateral in the event of a default on the loan? In my experience when not for profits take out loans it is for cash flow purposes. Money is needed on a current basis and pledges can often be paid over a number of years, and reimbursements from places like the City can often take months, but the collateral is always the money to be received from the pledges or the reimbursements. The pledging of hard assets, like the Chagalls is unusual. Makes you wonder what is really going on with the Met's finances.

May. 31 2014 03:53 PM
Giovanni Affinito from west haven ct

I've often wondered what happened. to the central crystal chandelier in the auditorium and why it was removed.

May. 31 2014 03:50 PM
Annie from NYC

I usually agree with your articles and will always love your love for opera. But while I, too, cherish the Chagalls et al, I can only agree with you on one point: that the coffee is terrible, absolutely horrific under both Gelb and Volpe. Maybe I'm more lenient about the rest because as a mom, I find first hand that the 'new trappings' help engage a new audience, including the two monitors in the foyer. And I want to cheer on the art gallery - wonderful selections all along. The hangings in front are typically by exciting cutting-edge visual artists - as cutting edge as Chagall was, and always will be. But again - love your writing always and also appreciate this article.

May. 31 2014 02:32 PM
The Truth from LES

Exactly, James! How will my string of pearls be seen if the lights are out?

But seriously, this laundry list of cosmetic grievances seems like a low blow to a company that's struggling with financial issues. And who cares about the food in a theater restaurant? You've got Ninth Avenue a few blocks away which has tons of good places to grab a bite before a show. Isn't the Met restaurant mainly used for donor entertaining and the like?

The only time I've ever bought something at the Met is a coke or coffee to stay awake through the next act. And then you deal with the highway robbery prices because that comes with the territory.

May. 31 2014 02:30 PM
Marty Heresniak from Ithaca, NY

As a former regional critic who was considered a pariah for voicing things that needed saying, I commend the lack of shirk in this writing. There are values other than monetary and Mr. Plotkin has pointed out several once-held that have passed. I attended a performance at the Met only once: when Resnik retired singing the Old Prioress. The original greatness of the house was missing even then. I have stopped listening to the broadcasts of the Met as the vocalism has lost its yesteryear glory as well. More photos on a wall is not better. Loud in any way possible is not beautiful. Art, please, not artifice.

May. 31 2014 02:26 PM
Chris Ford from UWS

Perhaps in his coming articles, Mr. Plotkin will address the other things that have made the Met experience so dispiriting, beside what he so astutely points out in his article and the shallow “concept” productions on stage.

The first and perhaps foremost is the behavior of audiences. Many dress like they are going to weed the garden and don’t understand the social contract inherent in attending a public performance. They snap pictures of every inch of the place, use electronic equipment long after the lights have gone down, leave shopping bags in the aisles, and carry drinks into the auditorium right past the ushers.

The ushers are sloppy in appearance and don’t bother to escort anyone to their seat, even the elderly who might need assistance. The ushers barely greet audience members, spend most of their time huddled together speaking to each other, and are minimally responsive to any requests for assistance. So, the bad audience behavior goes completely unaddressed. Just last night at the ballet, we saw a small girl spend the entire intermission violently twisting the subtitle unit in her box to the left and right. Throughout, her mother was texting and the ushers chatted away. The users are not only ambassadors of the house, they should realize they are its guardians as well. The Met ushers would well study the ushers at BAM, who are role models in all these areas.

The guards at the gate behave and look like thugs, the ticket sellers are often unfriendly, if not downright rude. Phone sales? You get much more civilized service from Ticketron.

Finally, the house is shabby. I agree the cream colored balconies were more handsome, but at least clean the front of the balconies — they are covered in dust and the gold leaf ceilings are disgraceful and on the right hand side of the auditorium ceiling black mold appears to be growing out of the vents. I believe the Met will be 50 next year, it might be time for a general clean up and a restoration to the house as it once was.

I have often felt that the Met never understood its product. It isn’t only what is revealed by the Golden Curtain, it is the entire experience in the house including that out front.

May. 31 2014 02:19 PM
Siravo from Manhattan

Although we always appreciate Mr. Plotkin's comments. His understanding of the derivation of Max Harrison's design of the Metropolitan Opera is woefully lacking. Particularly as he styles himself as an Italian. There is no questioning that the plaza is inspirited by Michelangelo's design for the Campodoglio in Rome. Although only in that it is a three sided square and not at all by its scale or narrowing of its entrance side. However Mr. Plotkin writes as though he has never been to St. Mark's in Venice. There are not 5 cupolas at the Met, in fact, there are none. I suspect he meant to say the 5 arches of St' Mark's façade, but there are 7 arches there, and of 3 different sizes. Max Harrison's design and proportions are directly copied from Hitler's Hall of Honor in Nuremburg. Please google Ehrenhalle, an it still exists.

May. 31 2014 01:07 PM
Maggie from Manhattan

Excellent article! I agree with the comment above which observes that some of the idiotic productions are even more disturbing than the condition of the house. But Mr. Plotkin's points are well taken; the food available at the bars and in the Belmont Room has been deteriorating steadily over the past several years. A memory that almost brings tears to my eyes: the absolutely divine "fruit tarts" they used to serve. They were actually lemon tarts with fresh berries on top, and they were so fabulous that if the performance was terrible, they more than compensated! Alas, there is nothing that good anymore.

May. 31 2014 01:07 PM
Michael Grimaldi from Kansas City, Mo.

Bravo! I've only had the privilege of attending the Met once in my life, but it goes without saying that the entire experience it what made that special, not just the performance on the stage. Thank you for this insightful commentary on the importance of the bond between a arts organization and its audience.

May. 31 2014 12:45 PM
Madison from Manhattan

All good points,especially that unused "art gallery" at the entrance and those annoying banners. What keeps me away from the Met more and more,however,are not the over priced sandwiches(which I've never eaten)and the crowded lobby but idiocies such as a Rigoletto in Las Vegas, the King of Sweden joining a Broadway chorus line, a video game Ringcycle, Faust working on the atom bomb and a red sofa, huge clock Traviata.

May. 31 2014 10:14 AM
James Jorden from Penthouse, The Knickerbocker Hotel

My biggest problem right now at the Met is that they insist on turning out the lights in the auditorium during the performance. Even with my lorgnette, I can't see what new Worth creation Mrs. Astor is wearing, or which members of the Prussian aristocracy Mrs. Vanderbilt is entertaining in her loge. I ask you, what's the point of going to the opera if one can't admire the toilettes of the Four Hundred? If wanted to hear opera singing, I could just stay home with my gramophone and Melba discs!

May. 31 2014 10:08 AM
William Madison from New York City

An elegant assessment -- and in several instances remarkably tactful, too, when you touch quite lightly on the evident motivation behind many of the changes. I miss the Novotná portrait, the Resnik portrait (with its reminders of Blatas and his ebullience), the Albanese portrait. I miss the Chagalls, since I have yet to find any place to stand where I can admire them. I've been going to the Met only since 1984, and I've never found its public areas well-planned or adequate, yet they're even less navigable (or endurable) now. Yet there *was* a sense of excitement, as you say, that I miss most of all.

May. 31 2014 09:14 AM
Bluecabochon from NYC

I like the portraits on the lower level and adore the theatricality of the turn of the century photos.

I agree about the dead space in the southern end of the lobby - it's a mystery to me why it has been allowed to exist for so long. I remember when there was a working box office on that side. A restroom or bar would be a great idea for that sad, neglected area. The exhibits that I have forced myself to look at are sadly designed.

The outside banners to my eye are often hideous, tragic examples of poor graphic design, and when the Ring Cycle was playing, one of them was shorter than the other three, which looked silly.

To me, the most egregious object in the house is the phallic white throne on the Grand Tier or Parterre level that seems to be a photo op space. Whose idea was that? At least that awful portrait of Placido, when it lived there, fit the environment but I have no idea what that thing is supposed to be.

The food and the restroom situations will probably always be with us, as well as the plastic champagne flutes, but the Met really needs to join the 21st century as far as the lobby goes. The gift shop reno imnsho was unnecessary - better to fix the lobby situation so that it's safe and attractive.

May. 31 2014 12:34 AM
David from Flushing

One thing that has not changed is the female pantomime group that regularly appears on the Family Circle lobby level. At intermission, they give an impression of the Great Wall of China. At the sound of the first warning bell, this shrinks to half its size with the same number persons. This long standing act does provoke a sense of tradition at the Met.

May. 30 2014 08:18 PM
Sandy from Peterborough, NH

I have so many happy memories there, it's distressing to hear how things are deteriorating. Even before I left I disliked those banners, which block the views from inside as well as out. And the "art gallery" is a joke. They have to employ someone to guard it and hardly anyone goes there. Someone told me it would be made into more restrooms, which would be much more useful. I think all of the things you mention influence the behavior of ticket holders as well. Now they dress and behave more like tourists and Broadway ticket holders - not as well-mannered and dressed as if they just came in from the beach or the hiking trail. Where is the respect that should be due to the art form and the artists who realize it?

May. 30 2014 05:32 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Thank you, Fred, for publishing this post.

May. 30 2014 05:04 PM
Paul Pelkonen from Brooklyn NY

To quote my absolute favorite among Rossini's operas:

"Bravo, ben: così si fa."

The price and poor quality of snack bar food at the Met is a running joke among regular opera-goers and not just critics. The company charges $13 for a smaller version of the same damn sandwiches that they have served for years. The banners are hideous and an insult to Mr. Chagall and to the very idea of Lincoln Center. There are too many televisions and they are blaring and annoying. And I miss the old portraits and sense of history although I like the photo wall too.

Fred, you hit it on the head.


May. 30 2014 04:33 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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