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Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Gilded Age Opera Wars: The Academy of Music vs. The Metropolitan Opera

One of the major plot points running through the second season of HBO’s The Gilded Age was the clash between the Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Opera.  Although the battle between the two opera houses was historically documented, the conflict was amplified on the show for maximum drama.  The Academy of Music had been New York’s established opera house since the 1850s and only those with “old money” and connections had boxes.[1]  With the influx of “new money” into New York, many families were unable to get a box due to the academy’s exclusivity and lack of space.  As a result, families with “new money” decided to pool their resources and build a brand-new opera house, the Metropolitan Opera.  When the Metropolitan Opera opened its doors for the very first time in 1883, they did so on the same exact night as the opening for the Academy of Music.  This set up the two opera houses for a clash where only one would triumph in the end! But which opera house did Ruth & Ogden Mills choose?  Read on to find out!

Puck Magazine, a publication often using humor or satire to depict current events, showcased the clash in the October 31, 1883 edition, Artist Joseph Keppler, Library of Congress.