The Metropolitan Opera is one of the most famous stages in the world. In its 135 years, the opera has showcased the commanding voices of Luciano Pavarotti, Elīna Garanča and Leontyne Price—who, in 1961, became its first African American lead.
The Met Opera has moved several times since its 1883 founding; Lincoln Center has been its home since 1966. The current Metropolitan Opera House also happens to be the largest opera house in the world, with 3,800 seats.
In keeping with the immensity of its home, the Met hosts elaborate performances of timeless classics (the popular Madama Butterfly, La Bohème and Aida have appeared frequently over the years) as well as notable new works that feature the world’s foremost talents in their fields. If you have any interest in opera, it’s something you have to see and hear for yourself. Read on for our guide to doing the Metropolitan Opera right.
Check the Schedule
The Metropolitan Opera season runs from September through May. There are seven total performances per week, typically divided among four different operas. The schedule includes shows on Monday through Saturday evenings, plus matinee shows on Saturday and Sunday. The season usually comprises 23 to 26 works—including new productions, premieres and revivals.
Get Your Tickets
Tickets for individual performances can be purchased online, by mail or by calling 212-362-6000. The coming year’s schedule is announced sometime in mid-February, and individual tickets go on sale in June.
Those looking for last-minute or reduced-price tickets for a show can try for rush tickets, available for $25. There are also tickets available for the Family Circle Standing Room ($20–25) when seating for that section is sold out, as well as tickets for Orchestra Standing Room ($25–40) that go on sale the day of the performance.
Choose What to Wear
Going to the opera should be a treat and a reason to dress up. While there is no official dress code, you may want to dress more formally for the special evening ahead. If you do so, you may end up on the @lastnightatthemet Instagram feed.
Most performances began at 7:30 or 8pm, and run as long as three and half hours (though three of the operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, coming in the 2018–19 season, run upward of five hours), so it’s best to eat beforehand. If you’re making a reservation, 5:30pm should work well for a prix-fixe dinner. For a more modest meal, 6pm will do. Popular nearby restaurants include Boulud Sud, Rosa Mexicano and The Leopard at des Artistes; you can also eat at the in-house Met Opera restaurant, the Grand Tier, which has a pre-theater prix fixe.
There Will Be Lines
It’s best to arrive well ahead of time to get in—latecomers can’t enter the main theater until the intermission (though there are screens on which you can watch the performance). If you’re finishing dinner at 7pm and rushing to get to a 7:30pm performance, you’ll likely encounter long lines. Have your ticket ready, and line up at one of the two entrances.
Find Your Seat
All seats are good: the Met makes the most of its six levels and has walls made from an African rosewood tree, which is known for its acoustic properties. (Some even say the acoustics are the best at the top.) There are 3,800 seats in total, all equipped with translation titles on their backs for those who have trouble understanding Italian, Spanish or German. If you are unable to see the actors clearly, you may want to rent binoculars for $5 at the South Concourse level near the coat check.
The length of the intermission varies for each production—in fact, there are productions that have no intermission and some that have two—but it usually runs between 30 and 40 minutes. That’s enough time to use the restroom or grab a refreshment. Light bites, such as chocolate bars, as well as sandwiches, wine, champagne, soda and water are available at one of the intermission bars on the concourse level. During this time, many operagoers mill about people-watching and waiting for the show to resume.
If you can’t get enough of the Metropolitan Opera, try the Metropolitan Opera Guild Backstage Tour. The 75-minute-long tour, which runs weekday afternoons and twice on Sundays, takes you behind the scenes of the opera. Among the areas you’ll typically see are stars’ dressing rooms, the wig room (there are about 5,000 in supply) and the costume room—home to the “costume bible.” The Met makes around 1,600 costumes every season, and the bible documents them all with swatches, fabrics and info on every costume worn on its stage over the past 25 years. Note that not all theater sections are available to view on every tour.
Seeing a bent nail before a performance is considered good luck for opera performers. If you tour the Metropolitan Opera House, you’ll visit the woodshop, where there are many bent nails strewn about. The old Italian superstition is so powerful that, before a performance of La Boheme in 1983, Luciano Pavarotti was nowhere to be found. The tenor was backstage (at the San Franciscso Opera) searching for a bent nail. The tradition has made its way to the Met Opera, where to this day performers will still find bent nails backstage. You’ll be able to find one on the tour as well.