Skip to main content

A Curious Day at the Opera

(Updated) The Metropolitan Opera had not staged a production of Gioachino Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" in eight decades. Not in my lifetime. The composer's final opera, though considered one of his great ones (nearly up there with "The Barber of Seville"), is a lengthy and complicated endeavor. While few people have seen the opera in a live production, most everyone knows the famous overture. Members of the post-war generation and Baby boomers associate the William Tell Overture with the Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick, Tonto.

Outside the Metropolitan Opera House before the performance. Saturday, October 29, 2016. 11:34 a.m.

The Met's production is estimated to run about four hours and thirty-six minutes. The first intermission is scheduled for 30 minutes and a second intermission for 40 minutes. The final act wraps up quickly at 26 minutes, but that's when a lot of beautiful music takes place.

Except it didn't quite work out that way for the matinee performance on the afternoon of October 29, 2016.

Outside during 1st intermission. 1:24 p.m.

I enjoy going to the Met at any time, but I thought I would also use the occasion to share with you some of the visual experience of attending a performance there.  

Before the performance, the scene was festive outside the theater. Lincoln Center was hosting a trick-or-treat event for kids, and hundreds of them were running around in their cute little princess and spaceman outfits. The Met crowd, typically older, steadily filed into the theater in their predominantly black opera-going costumes. I located my place on the back row of the orchestra, a new seat for me, but I highly recommend Row EE. You have a straight-on view of the stage, along with the creature comforts of sitting on the back row.

During first intermission. Chandeliers. 1:34 p.m.

I won't go into too much of the performance, other than to say the singers (Gerald Finley, Bryan Hymel, Marina Rebeka) were quite wonderful, the orchestra was excellent (the famous overture rousing!), and the abstract sets were fine with me, although many people didn't care for them. 

Poster for "Guillaume Tell" at the Met Opera

During intermissions at the Met Opera, you are welcome to leave the theater, but you need to acquire a card to show the ushers when you go back in. There's plenty to see inside - the opulent chandeliers in the lobby, the opera shop, several galleries with opera-related art, and well-placed bars with drinks and food (albeit on the expensive side. A chicken sandwich + water  = $20). Outside the theater, wander over to the grove of trees on the north side of the theater or to Damrosch Park on the south side.

2nd intermission Damrosch Park 3:24 p.m.

The only thing I really took exception to in the Met production of the opera was its disparaging portrayal of the flâneur. To contrast the good-hearted and nature-loving peasants of Switzerland, the Met depicted their citified oppressors as mean Viennese snobs in black flâneur outfits. During the tedious ballet segment, they had the flâneurs beat the Swiss into dancing the way of the Austrians. I'm all for raising consciousness about the cultural means of oppression, but going after the boulevardiers offends the sensibility of proud city sophisticates.         

2nd intermission. Met Opera Shop. 3:48 p.m.


2nd intermission. View of upper balcony lobbies. 3:51 p.m.

Settled back in my seat for the final act, anticipating the wonderful music ahead, the intermission grew longer and longer. Rustling of papers. People standing up to stretch.

An official from The Met finally took the stage - always a bad sign - and announced that there would be a delay, thanked us for our patience, and indicated the production would resume shortly.

More time passed. And more time. Two security officers took their places on either side of the stage. A little odd.

The audience started growing restless. Some got up and left. Trains to catch. Dinner reservations. Then many of the well-heeled crowd began the clapping. That's always an ominous sign of trouble (though fun, in its way). Was someone in the cast sick? Did the abstract set fall apart? Was the curtain stuck? Did someone lose control of the dry ice machine? The same official returned to the stage, announced that everyone was healthy and well (applause), but that the remainder of the performance needed to be canceled (no applause).

That was it. No more said. Well, well.

Most everyone reacted fairly politely, considering they paid good money to see the opera and had already sat through four hours of it and needed closure. William Tell had already shot the arrow off his child's head, so that bit of drama was done, but what of the beautiful singing in the final act?

Last act cancelled. Outside the Met. 4:43 p.m.

The audience filed out of the theater. It was bizarre to have the opera end that way.

At trying times such as these, Twitter becomes quite useful.

4:36 p.m.
4:38 pm.

Many people remained outside the theater to speculate on what happened. We didn't know. Better just leave.

Leaving the opera. 4:44 p.m.
Steps of Lincoln Center. 4:48 p.m.

On the train back uptown, as I followed along with Twitter updates on the situation, the mystery of the Met Opera's cancelled last act of "Guillaime Tell" began to unfurl. The plot thickened.

Michael Cooper, a culture reporter with The New York Times, was on it. His tweet from 5:24 p.m.:


"Unidentified white powder"?!! Into the pit? Glad to be away from there.

Within a couple of hours, what transpired had become more clear. What did happen?

THIS - A man from out of town had sprinkled the ashes of his opera-loving mentor into the orchestra pit!

For more on the story, see the October 30, 2016 story from The New York Times - "Powder Tossed at Metropolitan Opera May Have Been Human Ashes, Police Say."

And that was my afternoon at the opera. The Met invited those in attendance to reschedule "Guillaume Tell" for a later date.

See you November 12.

Update, October 31, 2016.  Yes, it appears now that the powder was indeed human ashes. The police have identified an opera fan from Dallas as the perpetrator of this deed. NYT follow-up story, "Opera Fan’s Last Wish Led to Terror Scare at the Met." (Happy Halloween.)

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from October 29, 2016. 









Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Circling the Met: A Springtime Visit to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a double feature of art and nature, the Metropolitan Museum of Art happens to be conveniently situated in Central Park. The front of the museum faces Fifth Avenue, its monumental wings stretching the blocks between E. 80th and E. 84th. The sides and the back of the museum are within easy walking distance of several prominent landmarks within the park.  Cedar Hill in Central Park Before a visit to the Met, consider taking a walk around the museum beginning on the southern side. A walk in the park can serve as a good preparation for a museum visit, because looking at or noticing the shapes and colors of the built and natural environment can enhance the art experience. Cedar Hill in Central Park The path south of the 79 Street Transverse leads to a scene at Cedar Hill very much like a panorama, with a vast wide-angle expanse of green grass and hill. Take the first path that leads back over 79th Street to the southern side of the museum. This path brilliantly disguises the motor traffi

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.* Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries. At MoMA I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I wou

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima