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How the Metropolitan Opera Works


History of the Metropolitan Opera
In this April 9, 2010 photo, Renee Fleming, center, performs the title role during the final dress rehearsal of Gioachino Rossini's "Armida" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
In this April 9, 2010 photo, Renee Fleming, center, performs the title role during the final dress rehearsal of Gioachino Rossini's "Armida" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The Metropolitan Opera got its start after a group of New York City millionaires had a difficult time trying to secure box seat tickets at New York's Academy of Music. The millionaires, wanting good seats to the latest theater and performing arts, decided to start their own opera house in New York City. Their intention was to make a bigger and better performing arts alternative than what was already offered at the Academy of Music. During a time when America was growing and full of innovation, the group of millionaire entrepreneurs started what would become one of the most well-known opera houses in the world.

The Met first purchased land in 1880 and within three years, singers and an orchestra had been hired, sets were built, costumes were designed and the general management and building designers had been hired. In 1883, the opening night performance was Gounod's "Faust," an Italian opera performed by an entirely Italian opera company, with the exception of two Americans. Everything was performed that night in Italian. All the music was sung in Italian, costumes were imported from the country and even the two American singers used Italian stage names. In its first season, the Met faced stiff competition from the Academy of Music and lost almost half a million dollars. However, after being open for only three years, the Metropolitan Opera put the New York Academy of Music out of business in 1886.

The Met faced additional competition from 1906 to 1910 during Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera performances. To combat Hammerstein, the Met formed two companies and performed 361 performances in just seven months, successfully eliminating the competition [source: The Metropolitan Opera]. During the early years of the 20th century, the Met went through a number of changes, including several transitions between Italian, German and French operas, before finally settling on performing operas in its own native language. In 1910, the Metropolitan Opera was the first opera house to debut an American opera, "The Pipe of Desire," and this marked the first time an opera was performed in English at the Met [source: The Metropolitan Opera].

Before America's Great Depression, the Metropolitan Opera had established itself as a focus of art and talent among New York City's high society. Although the Met weathered a few economic challenges, its innovation has helped keep it alive for more than 100 years.

Go on to the next page to read how the Metropolitan Opera has used broadcast radio, television and even the Internet to keep the performing arts alive.