Monday, September 14, 2009

Meeting the Met

In class last week I was asked to find out how many seats are in the Metropolitan Opera House. The answer to this question can vary depending upon the performance. There are approximately 3800 seats and 195 standing room spaces. 35 extra seats can also be added to the front of the house for ballets due to the reduction of the orchestra pit. This got me thinking about the capacities of halls which I have performed in. 

Boston's Symphony Hall: 2600
Kennedy Center (Concert Hall): 2454
Sanders Theatre: 1166

The Met is bigger in size than any of the places I have sung in as a soloist or as a chorus member at this point in my life. It is definitely a place that has been set apart from all of the others. It is considered quite the accomplishment to "make it to the Met" as a singer. When a singer has performed there, it becomes attached to his or her name. Sondra Kelly, for example, is a wonderful opera singer who has come to Longy to give informative lectures on the business, and to conduct master classes with the voice students. She is introduced to us in our syllabus, and in person, as "Metropolitan Opera Singer, Ms. Sondra Kelly." It marks a level of achievement and indicates a certain status. Following along with the reading from "Highbrow/Lowbrow", it separates the performer, a Met singer, from the audience, us lowly students. It establishes that hierarchical continuum on which we are constantly placing ourselves.  

The Met is certainly hailed as a sacred space that one must work up to performing in. It is a high status place for high status singing. The website itself includes phrases such as, "a vibrant home for the most creative and talented artists", and "always engaged many of the world’s most important artists". It is a house for the most creative and most important artists only. How did the Metropolitan Opera obtain this reputation and standard? Is it merely the size of the house? Why is it that house in particular that opera singers strive to perform in? Is an opera diva truly worthy of the term if she has not set foot on the Met stage? These are questions I don't have answers for. For me, it is a learned attitude at this point. The Met has always been discussed as something special and of great importance. It is a place I have never been and am not ready to perform in. 

The development of American Opera discussed in "Highbrow/Lowbrow" was quite interesting. It seems almost unthinkable in this day that opera was considered a part of pop culture, when today is is a musical outcast in typical society. The quote, "It is hard to exaggerate the ubiquity of operatic music in nineteenth century America" is quite striking. The change in popularity came partially because people decided operatic music was supposed to be profound and sophisticated. It was not meant to have folk songs interwoven into the score. Is this why attendance in concert halls today is often so sparse? Why aren't audience inclined to come to the opera? Would the Met be the Met if this element of the elite had never been a requirement? It is hard to say. It is definitely something I will be thinking about.

Here are the websites I used for facts included in this blog post:

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