Metropolitan Opera House Celebrates 50th Birthday

The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center celebrates its 50th birthday. The opera house opened on September 16, 1966 with the world premier of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, based on the Shakespeare play. Fred Plotkin at WQXR has a nice history of the old Metropolitan Opera House at 7th Avenue and 39th Street:

The relatively confined space in that crowded part of the city meant that the old Met had a glorious auditorium with excellent acoustics and sightlines that often made it easier to see other audience members than the stage. It had very little space surrounding the stage, meaning that scenery sometimes had to be put out on the street. Settings at the old Met were not special and one of the reasons that it became known as a “singer’s house” is that the singers were the main reason one went to a performance at the old Met.

Things were so tight that the chorus often rehearsed in Sherry’s, the restaurant in the old opera house. Because the company did a different opera each evening, in repertory, scenery had to be put in trucks after a performance and transported to a warehouse.

The overall plan for what came to be known as Lincoln Center was done by Wallace K. Harrison, the preferred architect of the Rockefeller family and the man who designed Rockefeller Center and the United Nations building. Harrison would also design the new Metropolitan Opera house to sit in the middle of the main plaza of Lincoln Center, with Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) for the New York Philharmonic (leaving behind Carnegie Hall) and the New York State Theatre (now called the Koch Theatre) for the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera (arriving from City Center on 55th Street).