If you’ve ever wondered just what happens behind the scenes of an opera company, especially one as grand as the Metropolitan, check out Judith H. Dobrzynski’s article in the Wall Street Journal. A sample:
If you have never understood why an old saying calls opera “the most expensive human endeavor, with the possible exception of war,” a day at the Metropolitan Opera explains it. The divas, maestro, managers and orchestra are just part of the equation. So much else goes into the productions, made more complicated by the Met’s tradition of staging operas in repertory. The Met is often a 24-hour operation. Make that a 24/6 operation, and occasionally 24/7.
In the past 24-hour cycle, the night gang had “struck”—that is, broken down—the “Don Giovanni” set, holding it in-house for its next performance, so that by 8 this morning, when the day crew arrived, it was gone. They set up “Götterdämmerung,” and they’ll take it down, allowing assembly of “Il Trovatore.”
And in this highly complicated logistical puzzle, what’s happening on the main stage—which isn’t a monolith, by the way, but rather a series of “lifts,” each strip six- to eight-feet-wide, that rise and decline hydraulically, as needed, for effect—is only a fraction of what’s happening in the house. Elsewhere—in halls, studios and an underground stage—other rehearsals are taking place, though only a few use scenery and usually not much. Upstairs, in “shops” built around the stage well (which rises nine stories), employees are making costumes, wigs, scenery and other operatic necessities. And don’t forget white-collar functions such as finance and marketing. Everyone hears what’s happening on the main stage via a PA system, because everyone needs to know.