The Metropolitan Opera cancelled the last act of a matinee of Rossini’s William Tell on Saturday after an audience member was spotted sprinkling a “powdery substance” into the orchestra pit during the second intermission of the show at around 4:30p.m.
NYPD counterterrorism was called to the scene and the entire orchestra pit was considered a crime scene, prompting the cancellation of the Met’s evening performance of Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers. It also prevented the orchestra members from collecting their instruments, which remained in the pit while the investigation was conducted.
Fears of a possible terrorist incident ran high given the recent bombing in Chelsea.
But it turned out to be a man scattering the ashes of his mentor and fellow opera lover, John J. Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said Saturday night in a press conference on Lincoln Center Plaza directly in front of the Metropolitan Opera House.
Miller also stated the NYPD believed there was “no criminal intent” in the actions of the man.
By Sunday morning the man had been identified as Roger Kaiser, a 52-year-old jewelry maker and opera fan from Dallas.
Kaiser left the auditorium after scattering the ashes, but told several audience members of his intentions beforehand.
Kaiser even posted an Instagram photo of himself on July 1st, hashtagged “doubleheader”, holding tickets to the William Tell performance and the later evening performance of The Italian Girl in Algiers, which his actions prompted the cancellation of.
Another Instagram photo of Kaiser dated three days ago has him drinking from a “New York” mug with the caption “Look out #nyc I’m coming for you! Lol”
"We appreciate opera lovers coming to the Met. We hope that they will not bring their ashes with them,” Met General Manager Peter Gelb told reporters at the press conference.
This incident is hardly the first time the NYPD has been called into the Metropolitan Opera.
In fall 2014, before the opening night of the Met’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer, which is based on real life events, hundreds of protestors stood outside Lincoln Center Plaza for hours calling for the show to be cancelled and the sets to be burned down.
The NYPD shut down the Lincoln Center plaza to anyone not holding tickets for the performance and stationed officers at almost every entrance to the auditorium and on either side of every balcony.
Though there were rumors of a bomb threat, the only disruption to the performance was a single audience member chanting “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven,” in reference to the murder of Leon Klinghoffer by members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, over and over until he was escorted out of the theatre.
In January 2015, an audience member jumped onstage with a banner photo of Vladimir Putin during the final curtain calls for a performance of Iolanta at the Met starring Anna Netrebko to protest conductor Valery Gergiev and Ms. Netrebko’s supposed ties to the Putin regime. This caused the NYPD to lock down the backstage area after the show and the Met to increase security.
Far more tragically, in 1988 at the Met an 82-year-old audience member fell to his death from the balcony into the orchestra section of the theatre during a matinee performance of Verdi’s Macbeth.
It occurred during intermission so no one else was injured as the orchestra seats were mostly unoccupied, though a 71-year-old woman was “grazed” by his fall but unhurt. It was unclear whether the fall was accidental; another audience member said she saw the 82-year-old “rocking back and forth” on the balcony railing.
When he was approached by an usher, he fell off the railing into the orchestra section more than 80 feet below. He was pronounced dead at the scene and the rest of the performance was cancelled.
Far more sinister, in 1980 the nude body of a female violinist was discovered in an air shaft at the Metropolitan Opera House. She had been performing in a two week run of the Berlin Ballet at the Met.
A 22-year-old Met stagehand, Craig S. Crimmins, dubbed the “Phantom of the Opera” by the local press of the time, was eventually arrested and confessed to throwing the violinist down the air shaft after attempting to rape her.
The case was a tabloid sensation in its time and inspired a popular true crime book “Murder at the Met” by David Black in 1984.
In 1986 during a performance of the Russian ballet company at the Met, a tear gas canister was thrown from the standing room section into the orchestra seats causing the nearly 4000 audience members to rush from the auditorium.
More than 30 people were treated for eye and respiratory irritation by paramedics on scene and at nearby hospitals and released. In a telephone call to the Associated Press someone claiming to represent “Russian members of the Jewish Defense League Movement” took responsibility for the attack. The JDL officially condemned the attack the next day and denied any involvement.
Although the Met has greatly increased security over the years and even added hand-held metal detection wands waved over every ticket holder entering the theatre since the Paris attacks, some still fear it is just a matter of time before something more sinister and serious then the scattering of ashes happens there. One hopes they are wrong.