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  • Thilo


Updated: Jun 7, 2022

If you love New York like I do, and you're also an opera lover, you've probably been waiting for me to confess my love for the Metropolitan Opera. The wait is over! The Metropolitan Opera - also known as MET - is unique and its history is great!

MET - these three letters are enough to make the heart of every opera fan beat faster. This is true even for the Viennese and the Milanese - even if such praise is heard less often from this corner of the world. At this point, I would also like to settle the matter right away: Espresso and “Sachertorte” are also great things, and no one can do them as well as you two. But for opera I'm going to New York!

The story or saga (both are equally suitable for entertainment) surrounding the creation of the MET is as gripping as the love story from "La Bohème." Spoiler alert: Mimi won't make it. But let's not talk about death, let's talk about birth!

Towards the end of the 19th century, New York was in opera fever. Yet for many - as today - it wasn't even just about the music. Rather, the opera house around 1900 was the catwalk of the illustrious New York society. The credo was to see and be seen. Today's Instagram in black and white.

But it wasn't just the audience that was elitist - only those with a big name were allowed to perform on stage, such as the star soprano Emma Eames (1865 - 1952). The diva had her performance gilded with 1,500 dollars per evening. This seemingly ridiculous sum would be equivalent to around 50,000 dollars per evening today.

Apart from Anna Netrebko, Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón or Jonas Kaufmann, opera singers even today would have to perform in cooking shows for a comparable salary or be locked up in a container for two weeks with the lower class of the entertainment industry, where there are as many spotlights as on a big stage but far less applause.

Emma did not know such worries. If you extrapolate her salary to her more than 400 performances at the MET, she could have easily afforded the best Boxes on her days off. Could have! But the big problem of the opera at that time was that Boxes were rare and therefore exclusively reserved for the old established, for so-called "old money".

And so, it came as it had to come. It was only a matter of time: Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, wife of multimillionaire and railroad tycoon William H. Vanderbilt, was driven in her noble fur to the old opera house (Academy of Music), where she was refused a Box. I think each of us had to make this painful experience already once and has therefore understanding for the fact that she suffered a nervous breakdown at the cash desk and fell with estimated 14 carats to the ground. But successful people get up once more than they fall - Maria Louisa and her Willy also knew that.

As is well known, America is the land of unlimited opportunities -especially when there is unlimited money around. So, the two most influential millionaire families, Rockefeller and Roosevelt, meet the Vanderbilts for a glass of champagne and decide to build their own opera house. A few years and bottles later - on October 22, 1883 - the Metropolitan Opera opened - a privately financed opera house. Great, right? Perhaps Elon Musk also tried unsuccessfully to buy a Nissan Leaf and !!BOOM!! - Nowadays, everyone drives to the opera in a Tesla. Great minds think alike!

Financing and building your own opera house - that deserves great praise, because you could have taken the low-cost shortcut like good old Wagner. "Ludwig, I would like to have my own opera house for my 63rd birthday, but as always, I am totally broke" !!BAM!!: Richard-Wagner-Festspielhaus! No, no... the Americans have made short work of it. Poor view of the first violin? Drafts from the large double doors in the loge? !!POW!!: Let’s build our own opera house!

Admittedly, I could have spent more time with Mahler, Toscanini, Caruso, Pavarotti, Domingo or Callas, since they had a great influence on the success story of the MET, but opera should also be fun behind the scenes or behind the curtain!

I love the MET and its history...and of course I also like good espresso with Sacher cake.




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