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Introduction 1: Secret Rooms
There are secret rooms at the Metropolitan Opera.
There are secret rooms at the Metropolitan Opera. Perhaps, if you have been to the Met you have felt instinctively that this is true — to move through the Met is to find oneself continually in darkened corners. Ostentatiously grand, the Met Opera house, designed in the early 1960’s by Wallace K. Harrison to replace the old (c. 1883) Met, is also curiously organic-looking, with the cantilevered white terrazzo staircases curving through the massive open lobby like a Joshua Tree rock formation.
The staircases snake up and around into a series of white marble, gilt leaf, and red velvet terraces, gently rounding around a cavernous open center, into which the crystal Sputnik chandeliers drop like glittering pendulums in an enormous grandfather clock.
With the exception of four squared-off columns that stand erect from basement to ceiling, the Met has no straight lines, no hard corners. Rather, everything is sets of parallel curves — the bottom of one terrace is the gilded ceiling of the terrace below, the side staircases high velvet walls spiral in tandem. The organic lines of the staircases seem designed to channel opera-goers, the way rock formations once channeled water or lava, into snaking, circuitous routes with no possibility for a straight-shot march from ticket-taker to seat.
So, perhaps the “secret rooms” of the Met are not secret so much as they are off-stream, little gaps in the smooth expanse of red velvet and white marble, a short flight of stairs down to a door marked “employees only,” a little hallway running quietly parallel to a main concourse that unobtrusively dips away behind the elevator bank, a door, two doors, a reception room, a bar. They are not “secret” inasmuch as a conspiracy keeps them hidden, but they are not gaps that announce themselves. You could flow endlessly past them at intermission, in search of a bathroom or a glass of champagne, before you even realize that they are doors. Really, they are not even “secret”, as in, “inaccessible.” Many of the Met’s secret rooms are for donors, Guild-members, events-attenders. Many of the Met’s secret rooms are unlocked, actually, even during performances.
I call them secret rooms, however, because there is no publicly accessible floor plan of the Met opera that would make the work of locating and labeling each of these little hidey-holes easy. I had to try to draw one myself.