American Opera: The History of the Metropolitan Opera

9:54 am  |  06.05.2021

The theater started with Wagner’s works. The theater whose building is decorated with Mark Chagall frescoes. It’s a theater where Fedor Shalyapin and Luciano Pavarotti sang. It’s the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

From Broadway to Manhattan


The history of the Metropolitan Opera, or, as the local theater is abbreviated, Meta, began in 1880 when the company «Metropolitan Opera» was created. The company was located in the building of the Broadway Opera House, and in 1883 the premiere took place – the opera «Faust» by Charles Gono was performed on the stage. However, things did not go smoothly for long: there was a fire, and in 1892 it severely damaged the building. The theater was rebuilt and used until 1966 when the Metropolitan Opera moved to the Lincoln Center Building in Manhattan.

This is what the Metropolitan Opera building on Broadway looked like.

From Wagner to Tchaikovsky

At the beginning of the work, the theatre was primarily composed of Wagner’s plays. Meth is primarily responsible to this conductor Damrosch, the head of the German theatre company from 1984 to 1991. Later, in 1908-1910, Gustav Mahler worked here. He put on the stage Meta the first Russian opera – «The Queen of Spades» of Tchaikovsky. In 1908, the famous Arturo Toscanini was appointed artistic director of the theatre. After the Metropolitan Opera, he went to the Teatro La Scala in Milan, one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It was at Toscanini’s time that the New York opera began the tradition of producing works in the original language. The teachings of the Italian conductor are still performed in the theatre.

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Famous conductor Arturo Toscanini.

African Americans on stage at the Metropolitan Opera

In the 20th century, Met was considered one of the world’s leading operas along with La Scala and the Vienna Opera. A special page in the history of the theatre was opened by the arrival of the conductor Bing. The Metropolitan Opera became increasingly popular. Bing was the first who was interested in African-American soloists.

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Marina Anderson, a famous American opera singer who performs the music of Bach, Schubert, Verdi, and spiritual music in the style of Spirituals. On the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, she appeared in 1995 as Ulriki in the opera «Masquerade Ball» by Verdi.

Caruso Theatre

Enrico Caruso.

By that time many famous artists had already performed at the Metropolitan Opera: Lotte Lehman, famous for her sopranos all over the world, Nellie Melba, a native of Australia, Lilian Nordica, Olive Fremstad, Jacques Urloux, and many others. In 1903 on the stage, Meta Enrico Caruso debuted in the opera «Rigoletto»! The Italian tenor worked in the New York theater until 1920. He was so fond of the audience that in 1929, after his burial in a stone tomb, a huge wax candle was created in Caruso’s honor with funds collected by his fans. They light the candle once a year in front of Madonna’s face. It’s supposed to last 500 years.

Metropolitan Opera Stars: Maria Callas

Maria Callas.


A little later, Zinka Milanova (Croatian opera singer), Kirsten Flagstad (Wagner’s famous Norwegian singer), Astrid Varnai (Wagner and Beethoven’s Swedish singer), Martha Medl (opera singer from Germany), Teresa Berganza (singer from Spain) appeared on the stage of MetaLauritz Melchior. Leonard Warren, Adam Didur and the golden voice of Fedor Shalyapin! Maria Kallas appeared as a leader singer in 1948 in the opera «Aida»! Then a famous singer once again performed on the stage Meta. She had time to perform as Norma from the opera Bellini, and Brunnhilde from «Valkyrie» by Wagner, and Elvira from «Puritan» by Bellini.

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New House: Lincoln Center

1966 was a turning point for the Metropolitan Opera. The old Broadway building was demolished and the theater moved to Lincoln Center. The Theater celebrated its move with the world premiere of the opera «Antony and Cleopatra» by Samuel Barber. Meta’s new home, Lincoln Center, is an island of culture and the arts. Apart from Meta, there is also the New York Ballet Company, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Jazz Center, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts.

Mark Chagall sponsored the Rockefeller Center, and he spent some of the money out of his pocket. And he did not doubt: for example, the lobby of the theater building is decorated with the frescoes of Mark Chagall! The luxurious curtain, weighing several hundred kilograms, is decorated with clean silk and sequins.

On the stage of Meta, the world’s most famous operas were staged. Among them there were works of Russian classics. For example, in 1913, Toscanini put «Boris Godunov» Modesta Mugsky. There was also «Sorochinskaya fair». In 1925 the opera «Nightingale» of Stravinsky was performed.

A special feature of the Metropolitan Opera was the live broadcast of performances on the radio. From 1931 every Saturday citizens of the United States could enjoy opera singing without leaving their homes. The premiere production was the opera «Hansel and Gretel» by Gumperdinka.

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