The Old Met was the Metropolitan Opera’s home in the Big Apple from 1883 to 1966. An elderly gentleman I once knew worked there as a young man. His name was Bob. He wasn’t a singer or musician. I thought perhaps he worked with sets or props or lighting or costumes. But no. He was one of the animal handlers for the productions, including both off and on stage. If on stage, that meant in costume. He dealt with horses, camels, elephants – whatever animal was charted to be in the production.
This made me think about the vastness of staging an opera. And what a job it would have been without the high tech innovations of modern stage production. During The Old Met’s time, it was not an uncommon sight to see set changes leaning against the walls outside. I assume any large animals in the production also waited outside. Being an animal handler back then would have been a cold, hot, or wet proposition.
The last time I was in New York City, I went to Lincoln Center, the home of the Metropolitan Opera since 1966. It was pouring rain when a friend and I left our hotel and flagged a Black Car. That evening we saw Carmen by Georges Bizet. I appreciated the Met Titles on a little individual screen on the back of the seat in front of me.
I wondered what my friend Bob would have thought about the staging and animal handling in this modern production of Carmen. Just how were the horses gotten on and off stage? They weren’t waiting outside. I learned this opera house has what’s called The Horse Door which connects the parking garage to the stage. It’s the door through which any animals that are part of a production come and go.
The last opera I saw was not “live” or in a traditional opera house. No one had to worry about bringing animals on stage. The opera was at my local Cinemark Theater. The production was Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. Presentations such as these are available through The Met’s HD Live Program which makes opera more accessible for people. Reasonable prices. Familiar surroundings. I found myself on a Saturday morning in a comfortable theater seat digging into a huge box of popcorn while the story unfolded on screen.
It’s not quite the same as the excitement of seeing an opera on stage. But, unless you have prime seats at the Met and perhaps deep pockets, you can see the opera better, it’s captioned, and there are interviews with the principals as well as backstage tours.
If you already enjoy the drama and passion, the voices and music, the stories and pageantry of opera, enough said. If not, try on a morning of opera through the Met’s HD Live Program. Or attend a performance of an opera at your town’s Performing Arts Center or those staged at the local college or university. See what you think.
P.S. And writers, I wish I’d talked to Bob more about his experiences at The Old Met. He probably had some wonderful stories to tell. A missed opportunity. And it’s interesting to explore something quirky such as The Horse Door. By extension, it’s fun to build something quirky into a character.