Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lincoln Center: 62nd and Columbus Ave

Metropolitan Opera House Lobby with "Space-Age" J&L Lobmeyr-Swarovski Chandelier
I've been to Lincoln Center for the Metropolitan Opera and the NY Philharmonic (see my prior blog post on the NY Philharmonic), but I had never been here for their guided tours until earlier this week.  They have numerous general tours and one or two art and architecture tours every week, and you can reserve a spot by checking the updated schedule (posted each Saturday) at Lincoln Center Tours and calling 212-875-5350. There are also behind the scenes, backstage tours of the Metropolitan Opera (3:30 weekdays and 10:30 and 1:30 on Sundays) available at Backstage Met Tours if opera is more to your taste.

Buy tickets and meet for the tour in the new David Rubenstein Atrium, located at 62nd and Columbus (just north of Dos Caminos).  It is a beautiful atrium public space with living walls (see photo at left), and you can get day-of  tickets for 25-50% off retail prices for Lincoln Center events there (check on Sat for Mon performances)!  With a 'witchcraft cafe, this is also a great place to grab lunch while you check emails on their free wifi.

I learned a lot of really interesting things about the recently renovated Alice Tully Hall, where they mostly have chamber music.  There is a portrait painting of Alice Tully with her favorite pooch in the lobby, and while the lady's accomplishments as a pilot in WWII were impressive, I was most taken with the story about how her dog peed on the painting to "christen" it for the Hall.  Less than 10' away from the main auditorium, the #1 subway rumbles more quietly past every few minutes due to the special riveting and felt-based sound barriers--it's actually the quietest part of the NYC subway system.  Inside, the auditorium has been fully lined by the wood of 1 special African tree that was thinly sliced into veneer in Japan and reinforced in Colorado. The way the wood lines the performance space is perfect for the acoustics required for chamber music.  However, if they have a vocal performance, they can lower fabric panels around the room to dampen the reverberation and make the space perfect for such performances.  All of this technology and the loving care brought to this place was cool to learn about, but I think I may be spending more time in their "at 65 Cafe" with its soaring all glass walls that make the space open and inviting.

We next walked back to the Avery Fisher Hall, home of the NY Philharmonic and once called Philharmonic Hall.  From the balcony level, we got a great view of the grand promenade level with its Richard Lippold's brass sculpture "Orpheus and Apollo."  I've gazed at this many times during intermissions, but never knew anything about the 5 ton, 190' long sculpture.  I always thought the 190 brass pieces suspended by steel cables were randomly placed bars (perhaps representing piano keys exploding?), but learned on the tour that they are actually very exacting placed, and each piece in Orpheus is mirrored in Apollo.  The sculpture isn't visible from the lobby, but you can enjoy it from the balcony and from outside (see right).

We crossed the courtyard and went to the David H. Koch (pronounced like Coke), home of the NY City Ballet and the NY City Opera.  The art in this building is really striking and you can get a great detailed look at Koch Art Tour.  My favorites are from the set designer Yasuhide Kobashi's 1972 "Ancient Song" (in the western staircase) and "Ancient Dance" (in the eastern staircase).  They look weighty and grand, but are actually light weight pieces from an opera set requested by Balanchine.  Others may make more of the Jasper John's "Numbers," which I will say I could also gaze at for days (looking for meaning in the key placed in one of the 8s and the footprint of dancer Merce Cunningham).  This was commissioned by the NYC Ballet and Opera for $12,000 and is now valued in the millions (they recently declined an offer for purchase).

Due to an opera performance taking place in the Metropolitan on the day of the tour, we couldn't go into the building, but how could I get this far without at least mentioning the amazing 30' x 36' Marc Chagall paintings, titled "The Triumph of Music" (see left) and "The Sources of Music" (right) (sorry for the glare)?  What is a bit alarming is that Peter Gelb, the GM of the Metropolitan has had to use these as collateral to continue to finance the Metropolitan, which apparently is running a $40 million/year deficit.  The endowment of about $300 million/year is down by about a third in this worrisome economy.  Yes, tickets to the Metropolitan can be steep, running up to about $400/pp but please know that there are standing room spots for as low as $75 on the main level and as low as $17 for balcony seats.  This is an unabashed call to support NYC opera--don't worry if you can't understand Italian, they have individual translator screens and, really, this is great theater.

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