Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera House (MOH) is a historic opera house located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 858 North Broad Street. Built over the course of just a few months in 1908, it was the ninth opera house built by impresario Oscar Hammerstein I. It was initially the home of Hammerstein's Philadelphia Opera Company, and was originally called the Philadelphia Opera House. Hammerstein sold the house to the Metropolitan Opera of New York City in 1910, when it was renamed. The Met used the MOH through 1920, after which various opera companies used the house through 1934. For over five more decades it remained in constant use in turn as a cinema venue, a ballroom, a sports venue, and a church. The MOH then fell into serious disrepair and was vacated from 1988 until 1995, when it was bought by its current owners and became the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center at the Met. The church has stabilized much of the building and is currently attempting to raise the funds necessary for further historic renovation of the opera house. The MOH has been included in the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.

History

The Metropolitan Opera House was built by Hammerstein to be the home of his then new opera company, the Philadelphia Opera Company (POC). Hammerstein hired architect William H. McElfatrick of the firm J.B. McElfatrick & Son to design the opera house in 1907, and construction began the following year. When it opened as the Philadelphia Opera House in 1908, it was the largest theater of its kind in the world, seating more than 4,000 people.

The opera house officially opened on November 17, 1908 with a production of Georges Bizet's Carmen for the opening of the POC's first season. The cast included Maria Labia in the title role, Charles Dalmorès as Don José, Andrés de Segurola as Escamillo, Alice Zeppilli as Micaëla, and Cleofonte Campanini conducting. The POC continued to use the house for its productions through March of 1910. The company's last performance at the house was of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto on March 23, 1910 with Giovanni Polese in the title role, Lalla Miranda as Gilda, Orville Harrold as the Duke of Mantua, and Giuseppe Sturani conducting.

On April 26, 1910, Arthur Hammerstein, with his father’s power of attorney, sold the Philadelphia Opera House to the New York Metropolitan Opera. The theater was then renamed the Metropolitan Opera House. The Met, which had annually toured to Philadelphia with performances at the Academy of Music, had been the POC's biggest competition for opera audiences. In spite of two sold-out seasons of grand opera for the POC, Hammerstein ran into debt and had to sell his highly popular opera house to his competitor. The Met's first production at the re-titled house was on December 13, 1910. They performed regularly at the MOH for the next decade, giving well over a hundred performances at the house. The Metropolitan Opera's last performance at the MOH was Eugene Onegin on April 20, 1920 with Giuseppe de Luca in the title role and Claudia Muzio as Tatyana.

While the Met owned the MOH, they let other opera companies use the house for their performances. The MOH was the home of the Philadelphia-Chicago Grand Opera Company between 1911 and 1914. The Philadelphia Operatic Society also used the house during and after the Met's tenure, through 1924. After the Met returned to performing at the Academy of Music for the 1920-1921 opera season, the MOH became the home of the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company until 1928. It was also used occasionally during the 1920s and 1930s by the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company and the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company, two companies that primarily worked out of the Academy of Music. The MOH was also host to many traveling productions by opera companies from other cities. The last opera production mounted at the MOH was a double billing of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci under the baton of Aldo Franchetti, presented by the Chicago Grand Opera Company on May 5, 1934.

In 1928, while still being used as a performing venue for operas, the house began presenting silent films to the public. It remained a cinema venue after the MOH stopped presenting operas. In the late 1930s the MOH was turned into a ballroom and in the 1940s a sports promoter bought the venue, covering the orchestra pit with flooring so basketball, wrestling, and boxing could take place. This venture closed after attendance waned following a decline in the quality of the opera house's neighborhood.

In 1954 the MOH was sold to the Reverend Thea Jones, who used it for a huge church congregation, the Philadelphia Evangelistic Center, which filled the building. However, the congregation eventually decreased in size and was unable to afford maintenance costs on the rapidly deteriorating building. The plaster began to fall and the second level was eventually sealed off with a tarp. The church vacated the building in 1988 and it remained unused for the next six years. In 1994, the city of Philadelphia declared the building imminently dangerous and plans to demolish it were made. However, the building was saved from demolition by Reverend Mark Hatcher and his church, the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center at the Met, which purchased the building in 1996 and made significant repairs to stabilize it. In partnership with the North Philadelphia Community Development Corporation, the church plans to continue with further historic restoration in the future. In 2009 the opera house was the focal point of the Hidden City Festival, a festival dedicated to promoting less known historical sites in the Philadelphia area. The festival notably featured performances by the Group Motion Dance Company at the MOH from June 24 through June 27.

Building Activity

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