A New Documentary Charts a Momentous Period of Change for The Met and New York City in the 50s and 60s
Gala World Premiere is a Special Event of the 55th New York Film Festival
New York, NY (August 28, 2017)- As the Metropolitan Opera launches its 133rd season this fall, a new film by multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Froemke surveys a remarkable period of the company’s rich history and a time of great change for New York. Drawing on rarely seen archival footage, stills, and recent interviews, The Opera House chronicles the creation of the Metropolitan Opera’s storied home of the last 50 years, against the backdrop of the artists, architects, and politicians who shaped the cultural life of New York City in the 50’s and 60’s. Amongst the notable figures in the film are famed soprano Leontyne Price, who opened the new Met in 1966 in Samuel Barber’s Anthony and Cleopatra; Rudolf Bing, the Met’s imperious General Manager who engineered the move from the old house to the new one; Robert Moses, the unstoppable city planner who bulldozed an entire neighborhood to make room for Lincoln Center; and Wallace Harrison, whose quest for architectural glory was never fully realized.
Background to the film
Fifty years ago on September 16, 1966, the Metropolitan Opera opened the doors to its new home at Lincoln Center. Met General Manager Rudolf Bing presided over the most anticipated date on the New York cultural calendar with the Met’s world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. Leontyne Price commanded the stage and the city’s luminaries and powerbrokers mingled beneath multi-story murals painted for the new house by Marc Chagall. John D. Rockefeller III welcomed an illustrious audience that included former First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and her guests Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, as well as leading statesmen: Vanderbilts, Whitneys, and Astors. As the headline of the New York Times read the next morning, “New Metropolitan Opera House Opens in a Crescendo of Splendor.”
As early as 1908, the Metropolitan Opera began planning for a new home that would provide the company with a cutting-edge modern theater to compliment the golden era of singers appearing on its stage. The momentous opening of the Met at Lincoln Center nearly half a century later owed its success to a perfect storm of cultural and political forces. Robert Moses, the most powerful figure shaping the landscape of 20th century New York City, wanted the slums of the Upper West Side cleared as part of Title 1 urban renewal. Rockefeller envisioned the first modern American cultural campus and had the money to fund it. All that was needed was a lead institution to anchor the development and secure its success. Star architect Wallace K. Harrison, who cut his teeth on Rockefeller Center and oversaw the design of the United Nations, was tapped for the project. The Metropolitan Opera would finally have a new home.
The film draws on the rich archival resources of the city of New York, Lincoln Center, news organizations, and private libraries for footage of the planning and construction of the new Met. The film also looks to cultural programming of the day such as the Bell Telephone Hour network special “Countdown to Curtain,” which documented the planning and production of the Met’s historic opening night.