Met officials were forced to bring down the curtain halfway through the opera as protesters unfurled banners that read “No Opera On A Dead Planet.” The performance later resumed.
The opening night of a revival of Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was interrupted Thursday night by climate protesters shouting “No Opera” from the balconies on both sides of the opera house.
Protesters with the group Extinction Rebellion NYC unfurled banners that read “No Opera On A Dead Planet,” according to Peter Gelb, the general manager at the Met. Met officials were then forced to bring down the curtain at around 9:30 p.m., halfway through the second act.
About eight minutes passed before security officials ushered out the protesters perched on the balconies, Mr. Gelb said.
The crowd jeered the demonstrators and burst into applause when the curtains again opened, but the elation was short-lived.
A woman sitting in the orchestra section of the audience then stood up and began to shout.
The curtains closed again. While security removed the woman, Mr. Gelb consulted with other officials on how to proceed.
Many audience members shouted back at the protesters, with people screaming “Go away!” “Go home!” and “Shut up!” Some attendees walked out, with one person questioning “is there no security here?”
The show was delayed for 22 minutes, Mr. Gelb said.
Mr. Gelb appeared onstage to inform the audience that the house lights would remain on so security could quickly identify and remove any additional protesters who might pop up during the rest of the four-and-half-hour performance.
The production was scheduled to end shortly after 11 p.m. but will instead end closer to midnight because of the interruptions.
Mr. Gelb said the protesters were removed from the premises and referred to the police.
A New York Police Department spokesman said no arrests were reported.
The return of Otto Schenk’s classic production was eagerly anticipated among opera goers because it marked the Met debut of the highly-sought-after baritone Christian Gerhaher, who sang the role of Wolfram. The Austrian tenor Andreas Schager sang the title role, Elza van den Heever was Elisabeth and the opera was conducted by Donald Runnicles.
In a statement, Extinction Rebellion said the demonstration was timed to “coincide with the main character’s declaration that ‘love is a spring to be drunk from.’”
It added: “contrary to those words spoken on stage, springs are not pure now, because we are in a climate crisis, and our water is contaminated.”
“Everyone was just so startled,” said George Chauncey, a history professor at Columbia University, who was seated in the orchestra section. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Mr. Chauncey said some audience members were concerned about their safety, while others were annoyed that opening night was interrupted.
“I agree there’s a climate emergency and I understand the frustration that leads people to do something like this,” he said. “But I’m not sure it’s very effective.”
Before the show, several demonstrators were at the house protesting the Israel-Hamas war, including Nan Goldin, the photographer and activist.
Thursday’s interruption was just the latest example of climate activists disrupting a classical music concert.
In September, climate activists interrupted a performance in Switzerland. And last year during a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Amsterdam, according to Opera Wire, climate activists shouted: “We are in the middle of a climate crisis and we are like the orchestra on the Titanic that keeps playing quietly while the ship is already sinking.” They were escorted out minutes later.
Climate activists have also targeted museums, sometimes harming paintings, and interrupted sporting events. In September, Extinction Rebellion NYC also interrupted the U.S. Open semifinal match between Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova. Four protesters in the upper levels of Arthur Ashe Stadium called for an end to fossil fuels, and one activist glued his feet to the ground. Their protests delayed the match for 49 minutes.