Sputnik Chandeliers at The Met
I ended up in New York over the weekend and attended two productions at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center. The operas I saw were William Tell and Italian Girl in Algiers. Both are by Rossini. Nevermind that I’ll also be seeing Rossini’s Cenerentola later this week at San Diego Opera.
I’m not sure what I’ve done to warrant this triumvirate of Rossini operas. I was tempted to assign an existential meaning to this occurrence but sometimes mere coincidence is sufficient.
I will say that the experience of seeing an opera at the Met and at San Diego Opera was more similar than I was expecting.
Inside the Metropolitan Opera House
...New York City
Former San Diego Opera general director, Ian Campbell — a former Met administrator as well — received criticism at the end of his tenure for creating an unsustainable “mimi-Met.” I think it’s safe to say that the comparison is fair. I’m not sure about the unsustainable part with the Met. Their $300+ million budget appears sound at the moment.
For starters, both theaters were built at the same time. The Civic Center in San Diego opened in 1965 with the Met hard on its heels in 1966. The current Met curtain is an exact match to the original golden curtain in the Civic before it was switched to crimson.
Both houses have tiered salons around a soaring, chandelier-filled entry lobby. Well, the Civic entry is low ceilinged but as soon as you go up one level the atmosphere has the same feel.
The Met has the famous sputnik chandeliers which were a gift from Austria and a dramatic central staircase, which is an ideal opportunity for elegant women in fabulous gowns to sweep down into the main room during intermission. It’s true, I watched it happen — repeatedly — and I’ve got to admit it was kind of awesome.
Some were better than others. [Grimace-face-emoji.]
In William Tell even some of the staging was eerily familiar as bad-guy soldiers armed with pointy sticks menaced the noble people of the town who were forced to grovel on the floor. In Italian Girl the set had that “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel that so many sets have had at San Diego Opera over the years.
There was a significant difference in the sonic experience. The Met is 1000 seats larger than the Civic, but it is shaped more like a shoe box. The shoe box is tough to beat when it comes to unplugged acoustics.
I saw one of the Met shows in the orchestra seating and another in the Family Circle — aka Family Nosebleed. The experience of the voices was impressively uniform. The difference in legroom? Only a toddler would have legroom in the Family Circle.