New York Met Opera Shuts Down Show After a Man Reportedly Scatters Ashes Mid-Performance

Met Opera Building - H 2016
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The police confirmed the identity of the man and thwarted any concerns of broken health codes.

New York's Metropolitan Opera halted a matinee performance Saturday after someone sprinkled an unknown powder into the orchestra pit. The New York Police Department said Saturday that the powder may have been an opera lover's ashes.

Met spokesman Sam Neuman said the afternoon's performance of Guillaume Tell was canceled during the second intermission.

"As a safety precaution, the Met canceled the remainder of the performance," Neuman said in a statement.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller verified the identity of the man and confirmed that he was attending the performance in order to sprinkle the ashes of his supposed mentor. The man was in front of the first row of seats when he sprinkled the powder into the orchestra pit during the second intermission when most of the musicians were not present.

Miller said that tests will be conducted on the powder substance that was released, but reiterated that there was no proof that what had occurred was a potential health hazard by city standards or falls into the category of "criminal intent." He noted that the possibility that it was in fact human ashes "is certainly an area that we are pursuing." 

Police know who the man is and are reaching out to him, Miller said, adding that the man does not live in New York.

As a precaution, The Met also canceled Saturday night's performance of L'Italiana in Algeri due to the ongoing investigation.

"We appreciate opera lovers coming to the Met," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said. "We hope that they will not bring their ashes with them."

Police initially said one person at the opera house requested medical attention. Miller said no one was injured.

Audience members at Guillaume Tell described confusion as the intermission went on longer than usual.

A Met representative at first announced that a technical issue was causing the delay, then returned a few minutes later to announce that the fourth act would not be performed. The audience was told to go home.

"Everybody kind of slowly walked out," said Dylan Hayden of Toronto. "As we were exiting the building, I noticed the counterterrorism unit going into the building."

Hayden, who was seated in the 11th row back, added, "The idea that they said that it was a technical error, when I was maybe 15 feet away from a potential dangerous substance, that kind of irks me a little bit. But at no point did I feel an actual threat."

Micaela Baranello, a musicologist at Smith College in Massachusetts, said some audience members booed when the cancelation was announced and one man chanted, "I want my money back, I want my money back."

Gelb said people who had Saturday tickets to either opera should call the Met and make arrangements to see a later performance.

Baranello, who spoke by phone from a train headed back to Massachusetts, said that's not so easy for opera fans who don't live in New York. "It's too bad because most of the best music in Guillaume Tell is in Act 4, in my opinion," she said.

Guillaume Tell, Rossini's opera about folk hero William Tell, had not been performed at the Met in more than 80 years before this season. The opera's overture is known to many Americans as the theme music to the 1950s TV show The Lone Ranger.