Houses & Companies | The Birth of the Metropolitan Opera | Turn of the Century | Opera
In 1880 a meeting was held between a group of wealthy businessmen in New York. Their uniting cause was the limited number of box seats available at the Academy of Music, the city’s primary venue for opera. The solution they posited was to build an entirely new opera house. A design was commissioned from J. Cleaveland Cady that included boxes on every level of the auditorium. Henry Abbey, an impresario from Ohio, was engaged as manager, and an impressive roster of artists drawn up. The power of the Italian repertoire at the time ensured that the orchestra and chorus were formed mostly from Italians – even American singers on the bill during the season changed their names to sound Italian.
On 22 October 1883 the Metropolitan Opera House was spectacularly opened with a performance of Gounod’s Faust that took nearly $15,000 at the box office. This success was not to last, however, and the average takings per night that season levelled out at $3,500. There was no fear when it came to spending. The only recorded contract offers Polish soprano Marcella Sembrich $1,455 per night for a guaranteed 58 performances. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Abbey resigned at the end of the season. This building was demolished and a new uptown location developed at the Lincoln Center near Broadway and 63rd (where the action of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story takes place). Opened in 1966, it can seat up to 4,000.
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