Let Sippy Cups Into the Metropolitan Opera

The scrum of opera-goers waiting to get in. The narrow space between the doors and the ushers can create chaos. Photographer: James Tarmy/Bloomberg

Could attending the Metropolitan Opera be made a bit more pleasant?

Not for the first time, I wondered about this possibility the other night when winter winds mowed down frailer ticketholders as they shivered in the narrow strip that passes for a lobby.

The Met is huge. On that rare sold-out night, almost 4000 people squeeze past the “have your tickets ready” phalanx of doormen who funnel us through the ticket-control people.

Why is there no lobby? Because the architect forgot to build one! Yes, that oversight happened some 60 years ago and might have been addressed by now -- after all, Lincoln Center was imaginatively reconceived quite recently at the cost of billions. But no.

It’s not a bad idea to wear a nice hat like Brunnhilde when you go to the Met during a polar vortex.

Or secrete a screw-top split of wine into a muff like Mimi’s, since the Met’s few bars exist to thwart you from drinking. The lines are ridiculous. A friend claims they are really run by a secret outpost of AA.

Feed Me

This is so strange. If the performance is less than wonderful, you might need the solace of a drink. If Jonas Kaufmann has just made you delirious with his rendition of Werther’s ode to nature, you might want to celebrate with a glass of champagne. Why is this difficult to arrange?

The dingiest crush bar in London lets you reserve drinks for intermission.

Hungry folks don’t fare well either. Who makes these huge sandwiches? Godzilla? You need claws to unwrap the cellophane.

Perhaps the Met, which collaborates on productions with the classy Bayerische Staatsoper, could borrow their caterers as well? In Munich, every ticket holder is made to feel special.

The place glitters at intermission. The champagne bar gets pretty crowded, but elegant little sandwich plates are handed over quickly. Those ice-cream ladies ladling raspberry sauce over lovely scoops of smooth vanilla. Heaven!

Back at the Met, you can trudge down to the dismally lit coffee place downstairs near the car park and have a giant cookie. Couldn’t an effort be made to provide something a little less ordinary?

The Bathrooms

And what is that tacky souvenir table doing right smack in the middle of the stairs leading to the orchestra seating? How smart is that? I don’t want a blouse right now, thank you.

En route, the carpet is worn and patched with duct tape.

Money of course would solve a lot of problems, along with a little flair, better lighting and more bathrooms.

How many more years do women have to spend inching toward the bathrooms? Can’t a rich female sponsor associated with promoting women take up the cause? Adrienne Arsht comes to mind.

The Met spent millions on rebuilding the stage to support the “Ring” cycle sets. How about doing some renovations out front?

Ticket sales are down. There are many reasons for that, but changing audiences are surely one. The place needs to get a buzz going and reinvent itself the way the Public Theater recently did with a new lobby, sparkling bathrooms, and a cocktail bar and supper club which stays open outside performance hours.

Looking Ahead

My ideas:

1. Open the Met an hour before, not half an hour, so people can mingle.

2. Morph the useless and unloved gallery into a bar.

3. Turn the souvenir shop into a media center showcasing material from the company’s huge archives and information on new productions. Move the press room from its dim hole by the bathrooms and provide seating for visitors to tweet. There’s hardly any old-style press left anyway.

4. Get rid of the overpriced Grand Tier restaurant, which blights a huge swathe of territory underneath one of the two murals by Chagall. Have designer David Rockwell and Chef Marcus Samuelsson create a casual dining space with bar tables and sofas that flows across to the other Chagall.

5. Drop that pompous “no seating once the performance starts” ukase. This is a place of entertainment. Every act has a moment that is less sacred than others.

Sippy Cup

6. Permit drinks inside like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and most New York theaters. For a long show in cramped seats, a sippy cup can be your friend.

7. Expand and encourage the use of a free coat check. The auditorium often looks like a refugee center.

8. In nice weather, fill that loggia with bars on both ends and students from Juilliard next door playing operatic transcriptions that drift enticingly to pedestrians below.

9. Start performing on Sundays. Is there another opera company or theater that shuts down on Sunday to please unions?

10. Hire a charismatic music director to articulate a vision for the future and excite a new generation. James Levine, here since 1971, has never become a public personality identified with New York. What is wrong with “emeritus”? The Met needs a visible, socially engaged leader to supplement general manager Peter Gelb. We need someone like Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles or Riccardo Muti in Chicago. It’s time for a change.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. All opinions are her own.)

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