Friday, October 22, 2010

Today's Birthdays

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sir Donald McIntyre (1934)
Elizabeth Connell (1946)


John Reed (1887-1920)
Doris Lessing (1919)

From the Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1883 that the Metropolitan Opera House opened with a performance of Faust. The opera was based on Goethe's German poem, and it was composed in French, but it was sung in Italian. The New Yorkers who designed the opera house wanted it to have an Italian feel, so they had it built with a palazzo on Broadway, and Italian was the language of choice.

There was already an opera house in New York, the Academy of Music, near Union Square. It was one of the main gathering places of the city's high society, who watched each other from the opera boxes as eagerly as they watched the opera itself. But there were only 18 opera boxes at the Academy of Music, and in the 1870s a whole generation of industrial millionaires were emerging in New York. These nouveau riche were not so welcome at the Academy of Music, or in any of the social circles of old money. But they wanted a place to display themselves, so they decided to build their own opera house. Seventy people got together and pooled $1.7 million to buy land and build a concert hall. They put in three levels with 36 box seats in each, more than enough for everyone.

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton wrote:
"On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

"Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances 'above the Forties,' of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the 'new people' whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music."

No comments: