Only rarely in its history has the Metropolitan Opera canceled a performance partway through, and the reason is always death.
In 1960, Leonard Warren finished his aria “Morir! Tremenda cosa” (To die! a huge thing) in “La Forza del destino,” suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and died on stage. In 1988, a elderly man in the audience jumped from the Family Circle to his death during an intermission in “Macbeth.” In 1996, the tenor Richard Versalle sang a high B and the words “You can only live so long” at the very start of “The Makropulos Case,” had a heart attack and plummeted from the top of a high ladder to the stage floor.
On Saturday, the Met had to cancel the final act of its performance of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell.” This time, no one actually died in the house. It was simply that a man in the audience chose to memorialize a friend and mentor by scattering his ashes in the orchestra pit.
Perhaps it says something about opera that anyone should think an opera house is a suitable repository for one’s mortal remains. The man, evidently, told other patrons what he had come to do; no one acted to prevent him. The authorities, alas, take a different view; the Met had to cancel the evening’s performance of “L’Italiana in Algeri” while the situation was investigated and cleaned up.
Margaret Shannon, a local music fan and singer, pointed out to me the parallels to the Chicago Cubs, who during the current World Series have repeated their oft-voiced prohibition on the spreading of loved ones’ ashes at Wrigley Field. These proscriptions, evidently, are ignored by many passionate fans.
“There are pounds and pounds of cremated remains at Wrigley,” a funeral director named Brooke Benjamin told the Chicago Sun-Times, and some fans even confessed to the paper that they had released a bit of Dad at the ballpark.
It is fervently to be hoped that such traditions do not take hold at the Metropolitan Opera, or in any other opera house. The traditional repertoire is dusty enough – or at least, this story will only reinforce that stereotype in the minds of those who haven’t yet ventured in to see it for themselves.