Backstage at the Met

On our recent visit to Lucas at college, the Martin Guitar Factory, and New York City, we were fortunate enough to get a backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House, where friend Rochelle is a scenic artist. After a regular ole visit to the MOMA, we made our way uptown to Lincoln Center. Rochelle met us at the backstage door outside, which began our trip through the maze that is behind the scenes of the opera house.

It was very exciting for me since I had spent a significant amount of time at the Opera Company of Boston both on stage in various capacities from electrical to gridrat to stage-sweeper (and even master carpenter) and in the shop building sets. The Met is a much bigger operation than OCB ever was, plus it’s a union house. They also run in repertory, which means they run 5-6 operas on a rotating schedule. On Saturdays, they run 2 different operas! The only way to pull this off is to have all the sets around and handy, to put up and pull down almost at will. Add in rehearsal schedules, and you have a very full schedule.
If you want to skip straight to the pictures I took follow this link.
We arrived at 4:30, when they had just finished a rehearsal of Die Walkure and were in the midst of changing over to Il Capriccio for that night’s performance. Die Walkure set is a big unwieldy sloped apron in white that moves around during the show. It’s not like it folds up to be put away. The upstage part actually needed to be put on electronic carts and hauled stage left for storage. The downstage apron gets stored below the stage.
Rochelle gave us a very thorough 2 hour tour around the place. We watched from the side until they move the set off the stage, then got to walk around. The backstage area is huge and there is stuff everywhere! By stuff, I mean sets, wires, instruments, monitors, people, props, and who knows what else. We went up an elevator to galleries 1 and 4, high above the stage; we went below stage to see the trapdoors, not mention more storage of sets. Costumes and the scene shop were also part of the tour. Oh yeah, we also visited the pit, where I got to leave James Levine a note on his podium. Not really, but I wanted to tell him to come back to Boston!!
Here are a few pictures from the collection that give you an idea of what it’s like.

Here’s one part of a set backstage, way upstage.
This is below the stage, where you can store sets and the trapdoors end up on a catwalk here.
View of the stage below. That big white apron, part of Die Walkure, will end up below the stage.
The main stage literally rises so they can wheel the apron onto it, then lower it into the depths.
Putting down the raked floor for Il Capriccio. It was like a choreographed dance.
Rochelle shows how to make that tiny model into the “real” fake set. I think this set is not due out until next season or the year after.
Tools of the trade in the scenic shop.
Always gotta have fabric handy. This was in the costume shop.
The set almost ready for the show! What a transformation!
That was a fun time. It’s really hard work; there was a quiet professionalism that happened in the changeover – no yelling, no confusion over what to do – it just happened and no one in the audience really understands what goes on backstage. I suppose they shouldn’t be aware of it – after all, they are there to suspend reality for a bit and enjoy a show.
Finally, the soprano took the stage – 🙂 – Chris

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