The Metropolitan Opera, now in its 129th season, is a vibrant home for the most creative and talented artists, including singers, conductors, composers, orchestra musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers, and dancers from around the world. Known as the venue for the world’s greatest voices, the Met has been under the musical direction of James Levine since 1976. Maestro Levine is credited with having created one of opera’s finest orchestras and choruses.
In the summer of 2006, Peter Gelb became the Met’s 16th General Manager. Under the leadership of Gelb and Levine, the Met has been elevating the company’s theatrical standards by significantly increasing the number of new productions, staged by the most imaginative directors working in theater and opera. The company is also securing increased commitments from the world’s greatest singers. The Met has launched a series of initiatives to broaden its audience internationally; efforts have ranged from transmitting operas live in high definition to movie theaters around the world to hosting free Open Dress Rehearsals for the general public. To revitalize the company’s repertory, the Met has pledged to present modern masterpieces alongside the classic repertory.
The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883, with its first opera house built on Broadway and 39th Street by a group of wealthy businessmen who wanted their own theater. In the company’s early years, the management changed course several times, first performing everything in Italian (even Carmen and Lohengrin), then everything in German (even Aida and Faust), before finally settling into a policy of performing most works in their original language, with some notable exceptions.
The Metropolitan Opera has always engaged many of the world’s most important artists. Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich shared leading roles during the opening season. In the German seasons that followed, Lilli Lehmann dominated the Wagnerian repertory and anything else she chose to sing. In the 1890s, Nellie Melba and Emma Calvé shared the spotlight with the De Reszke brothers, Jean and Edouard, and two American sopranos, Emma Eames and Lillian Nordica. Enrico Caruso arrived in 1903, and by the time of his death 18 years later had sung more performances with the Met than with all the world’s other opera companies combined. American singers acquired even greater prominence with Geraldine Farrar and Rosa Ponselle becoming important members of the company. In the 1920s, Lawrence Tibbett became the first in a distinguished line of American baritones for whom the Met was home. Today, the Met continues to present the best available talent from around the world and also discovers and trains artists through its National Council Auditions and Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.
Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the opera house on 39th Street did not have adequate stage facilities. However, it was not until the Metropolitan Opera joined with other New York institutions in forming Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts that a new home became possible. The new Metropolitan Opera House, which opened at Lincoln Center in September of 1966, was equipped with the finest technical facilities.
Many great conductors have helped shape the Met, beginning with Wagner’s disciple Anton Seidl in the 1880s and 1890s and Arturo Toscanini who made his debut in 1908. There were two seasons with both Toscanini and Gustav Mahler on the conducting roster. Later, Artur Bodanzky, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, and Dimitri Mitropoulos contributed powerful musical direction. James Levine made his debut in 1971, celebrating his 40th anniversary in the 2010–11 season, and has been Music Director since 1976. (He held the title of Artistic Director between 1986 and 2004.) Fabio Luisi, Principal Guest Conductor since the beginning of the 2010–11 season, was named the Met's Principal Conductor in September 2011.
The Met has given the U.S. premieres of some of the most important operas in the repertory. Among Wagner’s works, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were first performed in this country by the Met. Other American premieres have included Boris Godunov, Der Rosenkavalier, Turandot, Simon Boccanegra, and Arabella. The Met’s 32 world premieres include Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and Il Trittico, Humperdinck’s Königskinder, and five recent works—John Corigliano and William Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), Philip Glass’s The Voyage (1992), John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (1999), Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy (2005), Tan Dun’s The First Emperor (2006), and the Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island (2011), devised and written by Jeremy Sams, with music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, and others. An additional 45 operas have had their Met premieres since 1976.
Hänsel und Gretel was the first complete opera broadcast from the Met on Christmas Day 1931. Regular Saturday afternoon live broadcasts quickly made the Met a permanent presence in communities throughout the United States and Canada.
In 1977, the Met began a regular series of televised productions with a performance of La Bohème, viewed by more than four million people on public television. Over the following decades, more than 70 complete Met performances have been made available to a huge audience around the world. Many of these performances have been issued on video, laserdisc, and DVD.
In 1995, the Met introduced Met Titles, a unique system of simultaneous translation. Met Titles appear on individual screens mounted on the back of each row of seats, for those members of the audience who wish to utilize them, but with minimum distraction for those who do not. Titles are provided for all Met performances in English, Spanish, and German. Titles are also provided in Italian for Italian-language operas.
Each season the Met stages more than 200 opera performances in New York. More than 800,000 people attend the performances in the opera house during the season, and millions more experience the Met through new media distribution initiatives and state-of-the-art technology.
The Met continues its hugely successful radio broadcast series—now in its 82nd year—the longest-running classical music series in American broadcast history. It is heard around the world on the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.
In December 2006, the company launched The Met: Live in HD, a series of performance transmissions shown live in high definition in movie theaters around the world. The series expanded from an initial six transmissions to 12 in the 2012–13 season and today reaches more than 1,700 venues in 54 countries. The Live in HD performances are later also shown on public television, and a number of them have been released on DVD. In partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the Met has developed a nationwide program for students to attend Live in HD transmissions for free in their schools.
Other media offerings include Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio, a subscription-based audio service broadcasting both live and historical performances, commercial-free and round the clock. Met Opera on Demand (formerly called Met Player), a subscription-based online streaming service available at metoperaondemand.org, was launched in November 2008. It offers almost 400 Met performances, including Live in HD productions, classic telecasts, and archival broadcast recordings, for high-quality viewing and listening on your computer or iPad. The Met also provides free live audio streaming of performances on its website once every week during the opera season.
In 2006, the Met launched a groundbreaking commissioning program in partnership with New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, which provides renowned composers and playwrights with the resources to create and develop new works at the Met and at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.
Other initiatives include the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met, which displays the work of top contemporary visual artists; annual holiday entertainment offerings; a Rush Ticket Program offering discounted orchestra seats for $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends; expanded editorial offerings in Met publications, on the web, and through broadcasts; and new public programs that provide greater access to the Met, including the series of Open Dress Rehearsals, which are free to the public.