THE OLD MET
Long before I ever thought that I would be instrumental in saving Radio City Music Hall, I had a small involvement in trying to save another New York City treasure. Maybe it was my Music Hall dress rehearsal.
My brother Nino Novellino was an artist and theater sculpture, and one of my best friends. He passed away last June and I am the Executrix for his estate. This is, by no means, an easy task for my emotions.
Nino and his wife Mary lived in Goshen, New York in a beautiful old victorian house filled with art, antiques and as it turns out…..memories.
The other day, while attempting to clean and clear out my brother’s home, I came across an interesting piece of our history together. My first attempt at saving a New York City treasure was back in 1967, when the powers that be had decided that they were going to tear down the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 7th Ave and 39th Street. Lincoln Center had replaced her.
I loved that Opera House. It was a true opulent European style theater with red velvet seats and gold leaf adornments. The proscenium was very ornate and lavish and seeing it for the first time, almost took your breath away. Across the top of the proscenium were carved musical lyres with the names of famous composers whose music filled that space night after night. Not to mention, the elaborate textured ceiling with paintings and a huge crystal chandelier. The nickname for the Old Met was the Golden Horseshoe and it truly lived up to that name.
Nino and I had grown up going to the Old Met together as kids. We would save our allowance money to get tickets to ballets and take the bus in from Glen Rock, New Jersey where we lived. This continued on through our teenager years as our interest in ballet and music grew. I even had the golden opportunity to appear on that wonderful stage with the Bolshoi Ballet from Russia when I was a ballet student and still in high school, but that is another story.
When we grew up, New York City was the place we had decided to live. We all wanted to work in the theater and New York was where you had to be. Nino and his wife Mary lived on the Westside, in the seventies and I had a place, with a roommate, on the Eastside of NYC. We were always at each others apartments and did a lot of things together. We were all very close friends.
One night I was at Nino and Mary’s and the conversation turned to how upset we were that New York City had decided to tear down the Met. Our discussion became intense and before we knew it, we had decided to spring into action and do something to try and save the theater.
Nino, being the artist of the threesome, started to pull out sketch pads from their closets and Immediately started drawing beautiful posters. I was always amazed at how fast he could produce stunning sketches in a matter of minutes. Mary and I grabbed some magic markers and made signs with brief, to the point statements. We amused ourselves with things like….”Verdi Won’t Like This” “Mozart Will Be Miffed” & “Puccini Will Be Peaved.” We worked feverishly like three insane machines throughout the entire night. As we saw our progress piling up on the table, we became even more motivated. With every cup of coffee, another poster was produced.
We finished around five in the morning, packed up our posters, tape and a staple gun and headed straight to the Met via the subway. It was January 9, 1967 and it was absolutely freezing outside. We had to take our gloves off to use the tape and it felt like our fingers were going to freeze right off of our hands. It was really, REALLY cold.
As fast as we could, we taped and stapled our posters around the entire structure. They had already erected the scaffolding to make ready for her demolition and our beloved Met looked sad.
When we finished, we walked completely around the whole building which took up an entire city block. We felt like strange Super Heroes lurking in the dark, on that very cold New York City night. Nino’s clever and dramatic drawings helped to dress up this beautiful, cherished Opera House that time and New York City had forgotten.
We reflected on the thoughts that this was the stage where Caruso sang and the most famous ballet dancers from around the world had performed. Where shouts of BRAVOS could be heard and Flowers cascaded down onto the stage after every performance like a waterfall. How we hoped that our small contribution would spur someone with influence to save HER.
The next day in the World Journal Tribune, one of the many NYC Newspapers that no longer exist, this picture appeared on the front page of the second section. Needless to say, we were to the Moon to see our display of love for the Met in the paper. I think we went out for lunch to celebrate.
Unfortunately our efforts were for naught and the gorgeous Old Met didn’t survive. But this article did and when, my husband Bill found it the other day, in Nino’s house, he said,” I think this is something you may want.”
I had wanted very little from his home, only a few pictures and some autographs that we shared an interest in, so my response to Bill was questioning,….. “what did you find?” When he handed me the paper, I just stood there and smiled. The memory of that night came rushing back. These are the kind of memories that I shared with my brother Nino. I miss him so much but it’s rather wonderful that he can still put a smile on my face 56 years later.
Click the picture to see full screen.