The foremost opera house in the United States and one of the most renowned in the world, New York City's Metropolitan Opera has launched the careers of many singers, conductors, and instrumentalists. Often mentioned in the same breath as the great opera houses of Europe, such as Milan's La Scala, the grand performances at the Metropolitan Opera have reached opera lovers the world over via televised performances, radio broadcasts, CDs, and DVDs.
The idea for an opera house in New York City was initiated in 1883 and the first one was built shortly thereafter at a location on the corner of 39th Street and Broadway. Founded by a group of wealthy business owners, The Met - as it is usually called - first performed everything in Italian, even non-Italian operas. When Wagner became popular, all operas at The Met were performed in German. Eventually, however, the importance of performing these works in their native language eventually became apparent and The Met has adhered to that policy ever since.
Early performers at the Metropolitan Opera included Christine Nilsson, Marcella Sembrich, Lilli Lehmann, Nellie Melba, Emma Earnes, Lillian Nordica, and the great Enrico Caruso, the latter of whom performed more times at The Met than at all the world's opera companies combined, despite his world-wide popularity.
In 1931, the Metropolitan Opera first introduced its Saturday afternoon radio performances, with live broadcasts aired each weekend from December through April. The first broadcasts were heard throughout the U.S. and Canada. They continue today, now reaching millions of listeners worldwide.
In the 1960s, the Metropolitan Opera - which had already outgrown its facilities - joined several other New York cultural institutions to form the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the building of a new facility was now deemed a possibility. The new Metropolitan Opera opened as the centerpiece of Lincoln Center in 1966, boasting world-class acoustics and a highly-mechanized stage with multiple elevators. It quickly earned fame as a premiere opera venue.
Designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison, the outside of the building is clad in white travertine and features 5 graceful glass arches which allow visitors to take a peek inside at the grand red-carpeted spiral staircases that lead to the 3,800-seat theater, decorated in deep red and gold. The lobby also features ornate Austrian crystal chandeliers, and enormous works of art by modernist Belarusian-French artist Marc Chagall sit on either side of the staircase.
In 1995, The Met added yet another technical innovation to its theater with the addition of "Met Titles'', a simultaneous translation system that allows viewers to read the English translation of foreign operas while watching the production. This is done by means of computerized screens mounted in small railings at the back of each row of seats.
Under the direction of James Levine since 1976, today's Metropolitan Opera continues to expand its influence through televised productions and, more recently, "Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD,'' a series of performances that are shown live in high definition (HD) in movie theaters around the world. The Met also has its own channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.