On a Related Note

Along with the Met’s renewed focus to reach new audiences and present new works that engage with the issues of our time, the company has expanded its offerings of public events and partnerships that spread the artistic conversation throughout New York City and beyond. By Matt Dobkin

“This is a sacred community, and we are going to create beauty today.” So said Sister Helen Prejean to a gathering of cast members of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, the composer himself, Met staff members—and about a dozen men incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where the group had come together last October to perform a special version of the opera for the prison population. A collaboration of the Met and Carnegie Hall, the event was the most ambitious of a series of efforts to spread the word about the Dead Man Walking production and to share the power of opera with a community that is ordinarily not exposed to the Met.

“As we do more and more new and recent work,” says General Manager Peter Gelb, “it is essential that we find creative ways to share the stories on our stage with new audiences. Contemporary masterpieces like Dead Man Walking or X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X give us the chance to engage people who may not be aware of what’s going on at the opera house—but should be.”

Another case in point: the marathon reading of the Autobiography of Malcolm X, as Told to Alex Haley, which invited New Yorkers into the opera house for a free landmark event pegged to the Met premiere of Anthony Davis’s opera about the slain civil rights icon. On October 29, from 6AM to just after midnight—18 hours and eight minutes total—actors like Courtney B. Vance, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Tonya Pinkins were joined by a mix of theatrical luminaries, elected officials, X cast members, local students, and even Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz (pictured above), one of Malcolm X’s daughters, to read the book, cover to cover, in the first-ever public reading of the Autobiography.

“I thought the idea was fantastic,” said Dr. Shabazz, who, about a week earlier, had hosted X director Robert O’Hara and star Will Liverman for a panel discussion on Afrofuturism at the Shabazz Center in Washington Heights. The idea was for the themes of the opera to be explored all over New York City; other venues for discussion of X included National Sawdust in Brooklyn, the offices of The Paris Review, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Apollo Theater, where the Live in HD presentation of X was streamed for a local Harlem audience, for free, with Angela Bassett as host.

MET_UN_11_21_23_EVAN_ZIMMERMAN_0369.jpgAilyn Pérez at the United Nations

These kinds of endeavors also extended to the recent Met premiere of Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, the first opera by a Mexican composer in Met history, which saw related events at National Sawdust, the American Museum of Natural History, and the United Nations, where the Mexican mission hosted a performance and conversation with soprano Ailyn Pérez and Catán’s widow, Andrea Puente-Catán.

As the Met approaches the second half of the season, look out for similar projects around the company premiere of John Adams’s El Niño, an imaginative retelling of the Nativity story, with a libretto that blends the Bible with a number of important Latin American texts. It’s a piece that should lend itself to equally stimulating and surprising collaborations.

Matt Dobkin is the Met’s Creative Director.