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How the Metropolitan Opera Works

Metropolitan Opera House
This undated image shows the Old Metropolitan Opera, on Broadway between 39th and 40th streets, in New York City.
This undated image shows the Old Metropolitan Opera, on Broadway between 39th and 40th streets, in New York City.
AP Photo

Over the years, the Metropolitan Opera has had several homes, although each building's foundation has always been poured in New York City. The first opera house built for the Met was in 1883 on Broadway and 39th Street. A design competition was held for the construction of the first building, a designer hired and the building completed in just three years.

The original building included box seats on every tier except for the highest level. Opera goers who couldn't afford the more expensive tickets, could purchase seats at the top level of the theater for only $5, but had to enter the seating area (called the Family Circle) from a different entrance. These seats didn't have access to the main part of the building, so socializing with the other attendees was nearly impossible [source: The Metropolitan Opera]. In 1892, a fire broke out in the paint shop of the theater and spread to the backstage area and the main auditorium. The remaining performances for that year were canceled while the opera house was rebuilt.

During the 1890s the opera house was owned entirely by 35 box-holders who made up the Metropolitan Opera and Real Estate Company. Through the purchase of permanent box seats, the owners were able to attend any performances at any time and were guaranteed seats. The ownership of the opera house allowed the Metropolitan Opera to focus solely on the opera performances, without having to manage the operations of the building. In 1903, the auditorium was redecorated in red and gold, the now-signature look of the Metropolitan Opera House.

In 1940, after 50 years of box holders owning the opera house, the Met bought back the building from the box holders and managed both the performing arts and the building for the first time. The auditorium was rebuilt again during this year, and the Grand Tier box seats were removed and replaced with seating for the Metropolitan Opera Guild Members -- members who contributed to the opera company regularly through dues. The renovation also made room for a radio booth to be built.

The opera house made its final move in 1966 when the Met opened at the Lincoln Center in New York City. The opera company opened its world premiere of the new building with Samuel Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra," and introduced nine new performances that season. The opera house currently attracts about 800,000 attendees each year and offers free access through a series of open house dress rehearsals. Through its performances, the opera house continues its focus on art and high quality performances today.

Up next, learn how the Metropolitan Opera got its start and eventually became one of the best-known performing arts communities.