Climate Activists Disrupt Met Opera’s Opening Night

Climate activists interrupted a performance at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House on Thursday evening, November 30, to call attention to the environmental degradation of Earth’s water resources. The demonstration by the New York chapter of the climate emergency group Extinction Rebellion (XR) took place during the opening night revival of Tannhäuser, an 1845 German opera by Richard Wagner that is set to run through December 23. 

The disruption to the four-and-a-half-hour production came during the second act in the middle of a performance by the protagonist Heinrich Tannhäuser, portrayed by Andreas Schager. At around 9:30 pm, as the characters began singing about a natural spring, three protesters seated in the third-level balconies on either side of the theater immediately responded by unfurling two banners that read “No Opera on a Dead Planet” and chanting that the spring had been tainted due to climate change.

“Our oceans are dying. We must end fossil fuels,” yelled one of the activists stationed in the left balcony. “There is no opera on a dead planet, no food on a dead planet, no art on a dead planet.”

“Our oceans are dying,” yelled two of the protesters stationed in one of the balconies as some crowd members booed and others applauded.

The action was immediately met with mixed reactions from operagoers, with many audience members booing the disruption while others applauded the demonstration. One attendee, a blonde woman in her 30s who did not want to be identified, told Hyperallergic that she thought the action was a “beautiful performance in itself.” 

“They’re not desecrating anything. They’re not destroying anything,” she said to the agreement of another, who found the demonstration to be “a valid form of protest.” Others disagreed, with one attendee, a White middle-aged man who did not provide his name, opining that the venue was in “no way appropriate” and pointing to the work of the performers and musicians.

Crew members quickly closed the stage curtains. The performance was stalled for only several minutes before shortly resuming by 9:45 pm. Video taken from one of the balconies by Hyperallergic shows Met Opera staff forcibly escorting two of the demonstrators away.

Hyperallergic followed the activists out to the lobby, where a member of Met Opera’s security team approached during an interview with one of the protesters. The security member instructed Hyperallergic to leave the building, despite having a ticket and press pass.

Police officers arrived at the scene shortly after 10pm; no arrests had been made as of this publication. The Met Opera House has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

The activists were escorted out of the theater and police arrived shortly after.

One of the three protesters was John Mark Rozendaal, a New York-based classical musician. “We’re acting like insane people because the society we live in is acting insane,” Rozendaal told Hyperallergic outside the theater.

“Today’s action highlights government and corporate neglect of climate and ecological breakdown,” XR stated in a press release, adding that “this crisis is due to the failure of large institutions to recognize the severity of the situation; responsibility does not rest with individuals, but with organizations and systems.”

The action succeeds a demonstration earlier this month in which activists crashed a Christie’s auction in Midtown Manhattan. Another protest by the climate advocacy group that was planned to take place at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in September led the institution to close for the day.

Hyperallergic has contacted the New York City Police Department for comment. This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.

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