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

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

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

A Walk in the Forest Primeval

Contemplating the fall of civilizations in Inwood Hill Park At times, it feels like we’re living at the end of civilization. With the arrival of the global pandemic, many governing structures are teetering at a breaking point, one measured in graphs, curves, and waves. Whole systems like mass transit and global trade are fractured as well. Steps leading to a high ridge trail in Inwood Hill Park Most threatened are our social arrangements, the ones in which most of us were socialized. The norms of human interaction are shockingly in tatters these days. Just three months ago, it was normal to hang out with others in person without worrying if being in one another’s presence would cause illness or possibly death. Political and economic structures are teetering, with a critical collapse of what was once known as the public space. A Baltimore Oriole visits a tree near the main entrance of Inwood Hill Park on Seaman Avenue. It’s easy to imagine a swift evacuation of once pr

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

A Walk in NoLita, Sometimes Speaking French

To get to the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery from where I live in the Village I walk through the precious neighborhood of NoLita. I say "precious," because this neighborhood No rth of L ittle Ita ly is home to many attractive small boutiques and stylish bistros, and it feels like it could be bottled and sold for a large price. In fact, that's happening. The prices for several new condos in the neighborhood's attractive renovated Victorian-era buildings start in the six- and seven-million dollar range. And the proximity of the New Museum solidifies NoLita's stature as a hot neighborhood, with galleries, shoe boutiques and other art-friendly places popping up here and there. Walking along Prince or Spring toward the museum, I have several old and new, ecclesiastical and secular, places to note along the way: Buildings: The St. Patrick's Old Cathedral at Mott and Prince, served as the Roman Catholic Cathedral until the big St. Patrick's was