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WHAT’S UP THERE ON THE MET’S PROSCENIUM ARCH?

DAUGHTER SUZ AND I are regular opera-goers, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD presentations in movie theaters around the world. The view of the Met’s Lincoln Center home is a familiar one, as is its stage’s proscenium arch.

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The Met’s home stage, Lincoln Center, New York City. Photo uploaded by Ser Amantio di Nicolao at English Wikipedia.

But, we’ve often wondered, what’s that sculpture posed at the top of the proscenium arch? I finally got around to doing some research on this and, wouldn’t you know, several other tidbits jumped out too.

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The Metropolitan Opera, as seen looking northward, 1905.

The Met’s original digs were at Broadway and 39th Street in New York City. Opened on October 22, 1883, the house soon earned the nickname of the Yellow Brick Brewery because of its industrial-looking exterior design. A fire gutted the place in 1892, and it was rebuilt along its original lines.

This theater’s curved proscenium was inscribed with the names of composers listed in chronological order: Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Gounod and Verdi.

As early as the mid-1920s, the Yellow Brick Brewery was deemed inadequate. However, what with the 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression, World War II and other distractions, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that a new performing arts complex was seriously contemplated, this one to be in New York City’s Upper West Side. Even this was not without complications: It was architect Wallace K. Harrison’s 43rd proposal that finally led to construction beginning in 1963.

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The Metropolitan Opera House, Broadway at Lincoln Square, part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Photo by Paul Masck.

Though not officially opening until September 1966, its first public performance took place on April 11 of that year. The audience consisted of 3000 high school students who saw Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. The Girl of the West is a grand opera shoot-’em-up with bandit Dick Johnson aka Ramerrez and sheriff Jack Rance competing for the heart, and evidently more, of Minnie, owner of the Polka Saloon.

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Above, the crucial Act 2 partita a poker, in its 1910 production. Saloon owner Minnie, portrayed by Emmy Destinn, cheats sheriff Rance, played by Pasquale Amato, to win the freedom of bandit Johnson, portrayed by Enrico Caruso, below.


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The 1966 performance of the opera, essentially a test of the house, began with the National Anthem and had a series of sonic experiments including a loud chord of the entire orchestra and a blast from a shotgun.

I wonder if the kids stayed after attendance was taken. This would have been in marked contrast to my own experience described here in ”Many Flutes Are Magical.”

Met opera-goers, whether at Lincoln Center or enjoying the Live in HD presentations, also get to admire the proscenium arch sculpture, which is what got me into this in the first place.

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A maquette, or artist’s preliminary model, of the sculpture. Listed as Lot 619 at David Rago Auctions, December 2, 2016.

American sculptor Mary Callery was commissioned to grace the arch with a sculpture. From 1930 to 1940, she had worked in Paris with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger. Returning to the U.S. with “more Picassos than anyone in America,” Callery got to know people in the New York City arts community, including architect Wallace Harrison.

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Mary Callery, 1903–1977, American sculptor.

Officially, Callery’s Met proscenium sculpture is described as “an untitled ensemble of bronze forms creating a bouquet of sculptured arabesques.” Metropolitan Opera insiders know it affectionately as “The Car Wreck” and, less frequently, as “Spaghetti Spoon in Congress with Plumbers Strap.”

I don’t know that I’ll be able to see it again without thinking of these, along with ticker tape and dental equipment. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

2 comments on “WHAT’S UP THERE ON THE MET’S PROSCENIUM ARCH?

  1. Victor Ceicys
    December 22, 2016

    Also loved going to the adjacent New York City Opera managed by Beverly Sills. Dennis, when you were are child and then later a young man, did you ever attend Met performances at the Cleveland Public Auditorium during the Met’s Cleveland Springtime tour?

    • simanaitissays
      December 22, 2016

      No, I wasn’t into opera until Wife Dottie’s good influence years later. I do recall going on school trips to Sevrance Hall for the Cleveland Orchestra.

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