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Metropolitan Opera 125th Anniversary Gala

Metropolitan Opera, New York


26 Arias from the last 125 years

After the success of last year’s production of Satyagraha, Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer have once again collaborated with director Phelim McDermott and designer Julian Crouch to create a one night only celebration for the Metropolitan Opera’s 125th Anniversary Gala.

Using a combination of historical material from the Met’s extensive archive and original animation and artwork, the production will recreate 26 arias opera from the last 125 years of Met productions.

The gala will also celebrate Placido Domingo’s 40th anniversary with the company. The evening will feature Marc Chagall’s Die Zauberflote designs (1967); the outlawed first presentation outside Bayreuth of Wagner’s Parsifal (1903); the world premiere of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (1910); the 1883 Opening Night of Faust; and other classic productions from Met history.

For more information and to book tickets, visit The Met’s website

To read a New York Times article about the Gala, click here

Read about the gala in The Economist

Opened March 2009

The Metropolitan Opera, New York

The most modern bit of stagecraft was a witty animation of the Chagall painting “The Triumph of Music,” done in “Fantasia” style to the overture of “Die Zauberflote” — it developed from a line drawing that was then suffused with color. Figures in the picture took flight and found their way on to the sides of the proscenium, and the animation segued into a dizzying, three-dimensional exploration of the Met’s stage machinery.
Fabled past met future promise at a Metropolitan Opera gala like no other — a triple celebration that honored the company’s 125-year history, previewed its current stars in upcoming roles, and found time to pay tribute to Placido Domingo’s 40 years at the house. If that sounds like a jam-packed agenda, it was. With excerpts from 23 different operas, ranging from brief arias to extended scenes, the festivities clocked in at just over four hours Sunday night, including intermission. Much of the evening’s charm was due to the loving recreation of old sets and costumes from productions of the past, some of it through the magic of video projection. So the famous picture of Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson standing on a tree stump about to be hanged at the 1910 world premiere of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” (“The Girl of the Golden West”) came to life before our eyes. Only this time it was Domingo standing there, ready to launch into his aria, “Ch’ela mi creda.” Domingo figured again at the end of the first half in a recreation of the final scene from Wagner’s “Parsifal,” a 1903 depiction of the temple of the Holy Grail, complete with a white dove fluttering over the knights as Wagner intended.
Star power and visual razzle dazzle made for an entertaining evening at the Metropolitan Opera last night as the company celebrated its 125th anniversary with a sold out gala that raised $6.3 million…  Using witty projections and animations, plus a few bits of conventional scenery, designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch pulled together 26 separate highlights evoking the Met’s rich history…. The old Met was evoked through projections of its proscenium arch. There were giant reproductions of original posters: one for the 1903 “Parsifal,” the opera’s first performance outside Bayreuth, was surrounded by advertisements for corsets and tea gowns… Mozart’s overture to “Die Zauberfloete” came with an animated film inspired by the Met’s Marc Chagall mural, “The Triumph of Music”
In “Parsifal,” a dove fluttered down when Amfortas was healed. At the end, a giant photo montage of a vast number of great singers, accompanied Wagner’s entry of the gods into Valhalla. “milestone premieres and historic stagings were evoked through meticulously recreated costumes and an ingenious array of video projections on screens and scrims that morphed from one presentation into another… On this evening more than four hours of music passed by quickly, thanks to the fluid transitions, the video ingenuity and some terrific singing
… The staggering creativity of their work culminated in a visual fantasy set to the overture of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote.” Marc Chagall’s painting “The Triumph of Music” seemed to be created piece by piece on a scrim that spanned the entire proscenium (sometimes spilling beyond the stage). The painting came to animated life, and the angels and spirits flew around in a pool of shifting colors and shapes. This was followed by a montage showing a visual history of the Met stage, with rapidly changing views of the old Met stage being born and then demolished and the new Met rising from tenements. The stage of the new Met was seen reconfiguring itself for dozens of operas including the Chagall “Magic Flute.” In the space of seven or eight minutes, an entire world of fantasy illuminating reality and reality turned into fantasy flashed before our eyes in the very space it celebrated. Even greater poetry, visual and musical, was achieved with the Act III finale of “Parsifal” harking back to the outlawed 1903 Metropolitan premiere production. The Temple of the Grail with its tall romanesque arches and cupola with Moorish decorations was projected onto a scrim at the rear of the stage. The choristers and soloists were arranged on risers before it. During the ecstatic final measures, on a front scrim, another cupola with a skylight revealed the dove, described in Wagner’s stage directions but rarely seen, flying down into the temple and dematerializing into a shaft of light.
With imagination, scrupulous archival research, and technical wizardry, the production team made the Met’s history, the performers who made that history, and even the old hall itself, come back to life before our eyes, with a beautiful projection of its famous proscenium arch framing the action…It would have been impossible to assemble such an enterprise with conventional staging. Time and logistics would not have permitted it. Instead, the staging was evocative in character, accomplished through projections on scrims and on screens that moved up and down as requirements dictated. This was not technical wizardry for wizardry’s sake. But it was certainly a tour de force that left the audience alternately dazzled and delighted. And it was also true to history.
…The evening was made infinitely more festive by the way the singers were framed. Projections conjured up the great proscenium of the Old House. Instead of using sets from current productions, the sets were airy evocations of those from productions a century ago with a few nods to some recent great designers, notably Eugene Berman and, of course, Franco Zeffirelli….The second part of the program began with the overture to “The Magic Flute” with dazzling animation recreating the Chagall mural that hangs in the New Met lobby and reproducing newspaper articles about the closing of the Old House and the opening of the New. At the curtain call a team of young designers came out — I assume they were responsible for the visual elan that made everything soar.
The production team of director Phelim McDermott, associate director and set designer Julian Crouch, video designers Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer (Fifty Nine Productions Ltd.), lighting designer Peter Mumford and costume designer Catherine Zuber was quite ingenious in its ability to bring historical productions to life. There’s a famous photo of Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson, about to be hanged, in David Belasco’s 1910 world premiere production of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West”; the Met re-created the scene, complete with tree and surrounding crowd, with Placido Domingo singing Dick’s aria. Another imposing moment was the re-creation, using black-and-white projections, of the vaulted Grail Hall, including the descending dove, for the final scene of “Parsifal,” based on the Met’s 1903 production, the first staged performance outside Bayreuth…. The most modern bit of stagecraft was a witty animation of the Chagall painting “The Triumph of Music,” done in “Fantasia” style to the overture of “Die Zauberflote” — it developed from a line drawing that was then suffused with color. Figures in the picture took flight and found their way on to the sides of the proscenium, and the animation segued into a dizzying, three-dimensional exploration of the Met’s stage machinery.
Proceedings [were] illuminated with clever projections, the ornate proscenium of the original opera house at 39th Street serving as sentimental leitmotif. Isolated excerpts – 26, count ’em, 26 – were performed in historical context, each scene presented amid visual echoes of classic productions. Ancient costumes were revived in facsimile. Images of long lost decors were replicated. Contemporary posters and newspaper clips established zeitgeist, flashing across travelling scrims…The most inventive item of the evening may have been the Zauberflote overture, which [Levine] led most gracefully while animated images of Marc Chagall’s Mozartian painting The Triumph of Music underwent charming deconstruction on the screen.

This animation, set to the Magic Flute overture, and based on the Chagall painting “The Triumph of the Music”, which hangs in the Met’s foyer, opened the beginning of Act 2. Projected over the entire proscenium area of the Met’s main stage, the animation was -a spectacular highlight of the evening.

This is the second part of the animation, which followed a series of newspaper headlines telling the story of the Met through the ages.


Phelim McDermott

Julian Crouch
Leo Warner
Mark Grimmer

Video Design
Fifty Nine Productions

Lighting Design
Peter Mumford

Costume Design
Catherine Zuber

Sound Design
Scott Lehrer

Assistant Designers
Rob Thirtle
Phil Eddolls
Andrew Dawson

59 Team

Leo Warner
Mark Grimmer

Associate Designer
Lysander Ashton

Design Assistant
Henry Broadhurst

Lead Animator
Peter Stenhouse

Sam Kerridge
Chris Gooch
Marco Sandeman
Felipe Canfora

Animation Assistants
Richard Thomas
Bastian Klucker

Graphic Artist
Graham Johnston