Great Performances: The Opera House

Air date: 05/25/2018

Great Performances: The Opera House

Premieres Friday, May 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream the following day on pbs.org/gperf and PBS apps.

 

Synopsis:

Great Performances: The Opera House, the new documentary by multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Froemke (Grey Gardens; Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton) surveys a remarkable period of the Metropolitan Opera’s rich history and a time of great change for New York City. Drawing on rarely seen archival footage, stills and recent interviews, the film chronicles the creation of the Met’s storied Lincoln Center home of the last 50 years, set against a backdrop of the artists, architects and politicians who shaped the cultural life of New York City in the 1950s and 60s. Amongst the notable figures featured in the film are famed soprano Leontyne Price, who opened the Met’s present Opera House in 1966 with a starring role in Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra; Rudolf Bing, the Met’s imperious general manager who engineered the move from the old house to the new one; Robert Moses, the unstoppable city planner who bulldozed an entire neighborhood to make room for Lincoln Center; and Wallace Harrison, whose quest for architectural glory was never fully realized.

Short TV Listing:

Explore the history of the Met Opera’s Lincoln Center home and life in 1950s-60s New York City.

Long TV Listing:

Explore the rich history of the Met Opera’s Lincoln Center home and the cultural life of 1950s-60s New York City. Features famed soprano Leontyne Price, the Met’s general manager Rudolf Bing, city planner Robert Moses and architect Wallace Harrison.

Runtime: 120 minutes

Notable Talent:

  • Leontyne Price, American soprano
  • Rudolf Bing, Austrian-born opera impresario
  • Robert Moses, former New York public official
  • Wallace K. Harrison, American architect
  • Samuel Barber, American composer (Antony and Cleopatra, 1966)
  • Franco Zeffirelli, Italian director and producer of operas
  • Susan Froemke, multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker (Grey Gardens; Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton)
  • Peter Gelb, General Manager, The Metropolitan Opera
  • David Horn, Great Performances executive producer

Noteworthy Facts:

  • The Metropolitan Opera began planning for a new home in the mid-1950s to provide the company with a cutting-edge, modern theater to complement the golden era of its storied history.
  • The perfect political and cultural storm allowed for the construction of the Opera House. City planner Robert Moses cleared the way by removing the slums of the Upper West Side; John D. Rockefeller III had the money to make his vision of the first modern American cultural campus a reality; and architectural talent Wallace K. Harrison (Rockefeller Center, United Nations) was commissioned for the project.
  • The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center opened in 1966 with Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, featuring famed American soprano Leontyne Price. The A-list audience included First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and her guests Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, as well as leading statesmen: the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys and the Astors.

Great Performances executive producer David Horn on The Opera House:

“This film was a natural for us, given our long-standing partnership with the Metropolitan Opera on Great Performances at the Met, which brings opera performances into homes across the country. This fascinating documentary captures not only the epic drama of building a new opera house, but the creative challenges of commissioning and staging the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra.”

Production Credits:

Great Performances: The Opera House is directed and produced by Susan Froemke. Peter R. Livingston Jr. is editor and co-director. Peter Gelb is producer. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.

Underwriters:

Major funding for The Opera House was provided by the Lloyd E. Rigler-Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation.  Great Performances is funded by The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Irene Diamond Fund, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter and PBS.

Series Overview:

Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. Throughout its more than 40-year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming.

Now in its twelfth season on PBS (check local listings), Great Performances at The Met presents nine Metropolitan Opera productions featuring the world’s leading stars. Upcoming broadcasts include Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (April 29), Puccini’s La Bohème (May 20) and Tosca (June 15), Rossini’s Semiramide (July 8), Mozart’s Così fan tutte (July 29), Verdi’s Luisa Miller (August 12), and Massenet’s Cendrillon (Sept 9).

Websites:

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About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Theater Close-Up, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: www.thirteen.org/passport.

Photos
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John D. Rockefeller III, right, hands a check to Mayor Robert Wagner to purchase the land for Lincoln Center, with city planner Robert Moses looking on. Credit: Queens library, Archives, New York Herald Tribune, Photo Collection

Architects work on a clay model for Lincoln Center (1958). Credit: Dan Weiner provided by Lincoln Center Archives © John Broderick

Architects (left to right: Wallace K. Harrison, Philip Johnson, Pietro Belluschi, Eero Saarinen, Max Abramovitz, Gordon Bunshaft) scrutinize a white-paper model for Lincoln Center (November 17, 1958). Credit: Dan Weiner provided by Lincoln Center Archives © John Broderick

A preliminary Wallace K. Harrison design for the new opera house at Lincoln Center. Rendering by Hugh Ferriss (1955). Credit: Courtesy Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

An early Wallace K. Harrison design for the new opera house at Lincoln Center. Rendering by Hugh Ferriss (1956–57). Credit: Courtesy Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

Met General Manager Rudolf Bing in his office at the old Met Credit: Sedge LeBlang / Metropolitan Opera Archives

Stagehands load scenery and props into a truck on Seventh Avenue outside the old Met. Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives

City planner Robert Moses Credit: Douglas Kirkland / LOOK Photograph Magazine Collection

President Dwight D. Eisenhower breaking ground for Lincoln Center (1959) Credit: Courtesy of Lincoln Center Archives

Topping-Out Ceremony, January 20, 1964: Soprano Leontyne Price and tenor Robert Merrill perform and autograph the new Met’s highest steel beam. Credit: Courtesy of Lincoln Center Archives

Soprano Leontyne Price with composer Samuel Barber Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives

The new Met under construction in May 1964 Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives

Soprano Leontyne Price and director Franco Zeffirelli in rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra (1966) Credit: Frank Dunand / Metropolitan Opera Archives

Soprano Leontyne Price as Cleopatra (1966) Credit: Louis Mélançon / Metropolitan Opera Archives

Leontyne Price in a 2017 interview Photo: Roger Phenix / Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera House (2017) Credit: Metropolitan Opera

The Opera House: Main Title Artwork Design: Molly Schwartz / Metropolitan Opera