From its opening in 1883, the Metropolitan Opera has been one of the world's leading opera companies. Today, the Met's preeminent position rests on the elements that established its reputation: high quality performances with many of the world's most renowned artists, a superior company of orchestral and choral musicians, a large repertory of works, and the resources to make performances available to the public.
The first Metropolitan Opera House was built on Broadway and 39th Street by a group of wealthy businessmen who wanted their own opera house. In the company's early years, the management changed course several times, first performing everything in Italian (even Carmen and Lohengrin), then everything in German (even Aida and Faust), before finally settling into a policy of performing most works in their original language - with some notable exceptions.
The Metropolitan Opera has always engaged many of the world's most important artists. Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich shared leading roles during the opening season. In the German seasons that followed, Lilli Lehmann dominated the Wagnerian repertory and anything else she chose to sing. In the 1890s, Nellie Melba and Emma Calv? shared the spotlight with the De Reszkes (Jean and Edouard), and two American sopranos, Emma Eames and Lillian Nordica. Enrico Caruso arrived in 1903 and before his death had performed more times with the Met than with all other opera companies combined. American singers acquired even greater prominence. Geraldine Farrar returned from Germany in 1906 and Rosa Ponselle made her operatic debut in 1918 opposite Caruso. In the 1920s, Lawrence Tibbett became the first of a distinguished line of American baritones for whom the Met was home. Today, the Metropolitan continues to present the best available talent from around the world, and also concentrates on training artists through its Lindemann Young Artists Development Program and National Council Auditions.
Great conductors have helped shape the Metropolitan, from Wagner's disciple Anton Seidl in the 1880s and 1890s to Arturo Toscanini who made his debut in 1908. There were two seasons with both Toscanini and Gustav Mahler on the conducting roster. Later, Artur Bodanzky, Bruno Walter, Fritz Reiner, George Szell, and Dimitri Mitropoulos contributed powerful musical direction. James Levine made his debut in 1971 and has been Artistic Director since 1986.
The Metropolitan Opera has given the American premieres of some of the most important works in the repertory. Among Wagner's masterpieces, Die Meistersinger, Das Rheingold, Siegfried, G?tterd?mmerung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were first performed in this country by the Met. Other American premieres have included Boris Godunov, Turandot, Simon Boccanegra, and Arabella. The Met's twenty-nine world premieres include Puccini's La Fanciulla del West and Il Trittico, and three recent works, John Corigliano's and William Hoffman's The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991, Philip Glass's The Voyage in 1992, and John Harbison's The Great Gatsby in 1999. The Met has also commissioned new works from Tobias Picker and Tan Dun for future seasons. In a further expansion of the repertory, thirty operas have had their Met premieres since 1976. In addition, Busoni's Doktor Faust and Prokofiev's The Gambler have their premieres in the 2000-01 season.
Hansel und Gretel was the first complete opera broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera on Christmas Day 1931. Regular Saturday afternoon live radio broadcasts from December to April quickly made the Metropolitan Opera a permanent presence in communities throughout the United States and Canada. Sponsored by Texaco for sixty years, the radio broadcasts are now heard not only across North America but throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Mexico.
In 1977, the Metropolitan began a regular series of televised productions with a performance of La Boh?me viewed by more than four million people. "The Metropolitan Opera Presents" televises three or four performances each season, and has made more than eighty-nine complete Met performances available to a huge audience around the world. Many of these performances have been issued on videotape and disc. Telecasts for the 2000-01 season include Don Giovanni on December 27, 2000 and Tristan und Isolde on March 21, 2001.
Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the opera house on 39th Street did not have adequate stage facilities. However, it was not until the Metropolitan Opera joined with other New York institutions in forming Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts that a new home became possible. The new Metropolitan Opera House which opened at Lincoln Center in September of 1966 is equipped with the finest of technical facilities.
In 1995, the Metropolitan introduced "Met Titles," a unique system of simultaneous translation. "Met Titles" appear on individual computerized screens mounted in specially built railings at the back of each row of seats, for those members of the audience who wish to utilize them, but with a minimum distraction for those who do not. "Met Titles" are provided for all Metropolitan Opera performances.
Each season the Metropolitan stages more than two hundred performances of opera in New York. More than 800,000 people attend the performances in the opera house during the season. Millions more, throughout the world, experience the Metropolitan Opera on television, radio, on tour and recordings.