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

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

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

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

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

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors.  New landscaping in Battery Park At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

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

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his