A Met Opera Documentary

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lennygoran
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A Met Opera Documentary

Post by lennygoran » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:03 am

This Met documentary definitely interests me! The article has links to video clips. Regards, Len

A Starburst Is Born: Watch the Building of the Metropolitan Opera

By MICHAEL COOPER SEPT. 15, 2017


There was no shortage of operatic-scale drama in the building of the Metropolitan Opera House, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last season.

There was the sheer scope of the artistic megaproject that was the Met and Lincoln Center, muscled through by mid-20th-century power brokers, including Robert Moses and John D. Rockefeller III, who wanted an American cultural acropolis. There was the human cost: the poor and working-class families uprooted from their homes on the West Side of Manhattan in the name of slum clearance.

There were odd flashes of serendipity — as when an errant paint splotch on an artist’s rendering inspired the Met’s crystal “sputnik” chandeliers, which still rise before each performance. And for the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” on opening night in 1966, after the giant stage’s turntable broke and the star soprano was trapped inside the pyramidal set at a late rehearsal, a labor strike threatened to silence the music entirely.


The whole saga is being told in a new documentary, “The Opera House,” which will have its premiere on Oct. 1 at the New York Film Festival. In an unusual bit of site-specific cinema, the screening will be held at the Met.

The film, directed by Susan Froemke (who also made “The Audition,” about the Met’s annual young-singers competition, and other documentaries about the company), tells its story to a soundtrack of Verdi, Wagner and Puccini. Watch some of its highlights.


The Met had been searching for a replacement for its grand but cramped old home on Broadway near 39th Street since as early as 1908. It initially intended to anchor what eventually became Rockefeller Center, but the plan fell through after the 1929 stock market crash. The company flirted with Washington Square Park and Columbus Circle, and finally found a new home when city planners decided to raze acres of West Side tenements, plotting urban renewal.

The people who lived in the neighborhood were not keen on being cleared out, though. One resident of the old neighborhood, Michael Meehan, told the filmmakers how he and his friends used to play ball on West 62d Street with a Spaldeen, using sewers as bases. Another, Joe Sanchez, spoke of the happiness his family had found in the railroad apartment on 62d Street and Amsterdam Avenue that they moved into when he was nine. Both Mr. Meehan and Mr. Sanchez were driven out.

“We were there for about three years,” Mr. Sanchez recalls in the film, “until we were forced to move out because they were building the Lincoln Center and we were kind of forced to move to the South Bronx. I wasn’t too happy about moving. I liked where I was.”


The film contains archival footage of an interview with Moses, the imperious master builder who shaped modern New York City and the Lincoln Center project. “People say that you ride roughshod,” the interviewer asks, “that the reason you get things done is that you step on people without consideration of individual rights and individual wishes.”

“You don’t, of course, mean that we’re sadistic about it do you?” Mr. Moses responds. “That isn’t your implication is it? Deliberately jump on people for the sake of doing it? You don’t mean that, do you?”



In some old CBS footage of the Lincoln Center groundbreaking that the filmmakers unearthed, Leonard Bernstein is seen conducting the New York Philharmonic in Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers a speech underscoring the extent to which the project was seen as an American move in a Cold War cultural competition.



The Met’s crystal chandeliers, which have come to be called “sputniks” for their space-age starburst design, are among the most popular features of the theater. Operagoers relish watching them ascend to the ceiling before each performance. The gift shop sells scarves with their image. And, for $73,924 each, replicas are available for home use.

And they came about by accident.

Tad Leski, an architect who worked with Wallace K. Harrison — who was designing the new Met after his successes planning Rockefeller Center and the United Nations — was preparing a sketch on deadline to show Rockefeller and Rudolf Bing, the company’s general manager. Then a splat of paint fell onto the drawing. With no time to start over, Mr. Leski added some lines to the splatter, to make it look like refracted light.

“And when I brought this,” he recalls in archival footage, “Rockefeller looked, and Bing also said, ‘Well it looks very nice.’ Harrison said, ‘But it isn’t this way, don’t look at these white spots, look only at the drawing behind!’

“And they said, ‘No, no, we are talking about: Is it possible to do something like that?’

“Harrison looked at me, and I said, ‘Yes, of course we could do something.’”



The great soprano Leontyne Price is the star of the documentary, just as she was the star of new house’s opening more than half a century ago. In an interview filmed this year, shortly before she celebrated her 90th birthday, she recounts, with flashes of humor and in great detail, what it was like to open the new Met — and even breaks into song a couple of times.

At one point Ms. Price recalls being entombed when the pyramid that was supposed to enfold her at the end of a scene got stuck in rehearsal. “The tomb wouldn’t open and the next cue was coming,” she recalls. “And I was locked inside. Fortunately, I’m not claustrophobic.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Froemke, who does not script her films, said that when the interview ended, she was so elated that she texted her colleagues: “We have a film now.”



The run-up to opening night was anything but smooth. Mr. Bing came to regret his hubris at trying to introduce four big new productions within the theater’s first nine days. Disaster struck when a supposedly state-of-the-art turntable on the Met’s stage, which the director Franco Zeffirelli had planned to use to rotate the sets and the armies of choristers in his production of “Antony and Cleopatra,” broke down in rehearsal.

“Throw everything in the river!” Mr. Zeffirelli fumes in archival footage originally captured for “Countdown to Curtain,” a television documentary for the Bell Telephone Hour. “Take it and throw it! We can’t use it! It’s no use for anybody.”

The scene bears more than a passing resemblance to another of Ms. Froemke’s Met documentaries, “Wagner’s Dream,” her 2012 behind-the-scenes chronicle of the creation of Robert Lepage’s production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, built around a giant set that had a habit of breaking down at inopportune moments, including on opening night.

Asked about the historical echoes, Peter Gelb, the Met’s current general manager, said in a telephone interview that it was somewhat reassuring to see that there were antecedents for such mishaps. “A modest side benefit is it shows that the tech troubles that face the Met sometimes when we try to push the envelope and take on new technologies are not new,” he said. “It’s not the first time it has happened.”

The Rise of the Opera Documentary

In recent years there has been an explosion of opera documentaries, as filmmakers have discovered the drama that often heats up backstage when divas, maestros, impresarios and strong-willed directors are all brought together in the pressure-cooker of creating high-stakes, large-scale live performances. A few weeks after the new Met documentary appears, “The Paris Opera,” Jean-Stéphane Bron’s film about that company’s 2015 season, will open in New York and more than 20 other American markets.

The Met, in particular, has become something of a documentary factory in recent years. Mr. Gelb is the rare impresario with a background in producing music films, and he has been collaborating on them with Ms. Froemke for more than three decades, beginning with their 1985 film “Ozawa,” about the conductor Seiji Ozawa.

It is a different landscape than the one Mr. Gelb recalled confronting early in his career, when he labored to cajole the pianist Vladimir Horowitz into appearing in a documentary. “They kept saying to me, ‘Nobody cares about what goes on in the kitchen,’” Mr. Gelb said. “I tried to explain that, in fact, the opposite was the case.”



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/arts ... collection

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