Music History The Gilded Gentleman

The Opening of the Metropolitan Opera: A Gilded Age Drama, On and Off Stage

The opening of the new Metropolitan Opera at the height of the Gilded Age had perhaps more drama going on in the audience than on the stage.

Carl Raymond, host of The Gilded Gentleman history podcast, revisits one of America’s most famous opening nights.

The original Metropolitan Opera House — nicknamed the Yellow Brick Brewery for its bulky exterior design — was built by the families representing New York’s nouveau riche who felt slighted by Old New York’s upper class.

While it was technically Gounod’s opera Faust which played from the stage, most of the spectacle was actually in the audience — and up in the regal boxes, called the ‘golden horseshoe’ for its extravagant roster of social-climbing elite.

The original program, courtesy the Metropolitan Opera. (Click here for a closer view.)

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Artwork by Harry Grant Dart. Illustration published in book “From The New Metropolis : Memorable Events of Three Centuries, 1600-1900, from the Island of Mana-Hat-Ta to Greater New York at Close of Nineteenth Century. (New York : Appleton, c1899) Zeisloft, E. Idell, Author. New York Public Library
NEW YORK CHARITY BALL, 1884. A charity ball at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Wood engraving, 1884. Library of Congress
A full house, seen from the rear of the stage, at the Metropolitan Opera House for a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann, November 28, 1937. Wikimedia Commons (touch up by Mmxx)
The opera house in the 1960s before demolition. Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)

4 replies on “The Opening of the Metropolitan Opera: A Gilded Age Drama, On and Off Stage”

The Metropolitan Opera gained international status in 1910 with the premiere of Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” starring Caruso snd Emmy Destinn.

At 78 years young, I am old enough to have actually seen the building. Only once, sad to say, and I only saw the interior in photographs and newsreels. I caught my sole glimpse riding in a car with friends. I happened to look out of the window and there it was, soot covered from years of auto exhaust pollution and looking rather nondescript. I believe it may have already been marked for demolition. Lincoln Center opened not long after and all attention fell on the “new Met.”

My grandfather’s family arrived in time for opening season. They got a subscription in the family circle. 50c a seat. At his death in 1956 he gave it to my mom, who moved it to Lincoln center.

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