Ashes at the Met: there will be consequences

Ashes at the Met: there will be consequences


norman lebrecht

October 31, 2016

Musicians in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra have demanded an urgent meeting with Peter Gelb, we hear, over the security breach that allowed a deluded opera fan to scatter his friend’s ashes into their playing space during the second intermission of Saturday’s William Tell.

The fourth act of that opera was cancelled as a result, along with the evening’s Rossini opera.

The musicians are angry and concerned that their space was invaded so easily. Singers who were cancelled at short notice are resentful. And audience members would like to know why a man from Dallas who had told those around him that he planned to scatter human ashes was not reported to house security, and why security did not intervene. The man, Roger Kaiser (pictured), has been a compulsive pseudonymous contributor to an online opera fanzine.

Many operagoers would like to see him prosecuted for the offence and banned from attending opera.

Peter Gelb has questions to answer, as well as the cost of cancellation. His glib response – ‘We appreciate opera lovers coming to the Met. We hope that they will not bring their ashes with them’ – has not gone down well.




  • rita says:

    Obviously getting in quickly before the Vatican ban on scattering ashes takes hold.

  • Richard Gibbs says:

    Apparantly there are plans to do a new Don Carlos at the Met but as of the weekend they are looking at changes as the director (I won’t name him) was planning to end the auto-da-fé scene with the scattering of ashes as the curtain falls.

    • Will says:

      Is this a joke? The fires are just barely lit under the heretics when the curtain descends on the Auto-da-Fe scene. There wouldn’t be ashes to scatter for many hours afterwards.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    I can see how the perpetrator can be held accountable. How exactly he could have been stopped is beyond me.

    • Richard Gibbs says:

      The average weight of human remains after cremation is around 2.7 kilos so on the evidence that the perpetrator performed or was going to perform the same act in several different locations (according to the NYT), he might only have been depositing 250 to 500 grams per venue. If he had the equivalent of a 1lb bag of sugar in his overcoat pocket, it would be most unlikley to have been found during any cursory entry searches. It says in the press reports that he concentrated on the tympani and conductor’s podium but maybe we need a bit more flesh on the bones to understand this properly.

      • Rich Patina says:

        ” Flesh on the bones…”? I have some grave concerns that your cryptic comments will urn you some condemnation.

        Happy Halloween!

      • Una says:

        It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many experts on this site, and people who know all the facts and figures, and to whom the ‘gun’ should then be pointed! 🙂

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Thanks to this asshole, entering the opera house may soon become equivalent to boarding an airline.

    • John Kelly says:

      Right. As a regular at the Met (and a New Yorker) it’s unbelievable to me that the people he told prior didn’t report this. Or maybe the did and told an usher…………..we don’t really know. However, since my wife’s “handbag” is regularly searched upon entry to the house I have no idea how anyone could smuggle in someone’s ashes (1lb bag of sugar is maybe only some of a person’s remains).

      The whole thing is bizarre and unpleasant in every aspect. Gelb should treat this as a serious security breach, and it’s certainly cost a lot of money in tickets and otherwise, not to mention pissing off the audience for both Saturday performances.

      Utter insanity.

      • Arthur Serating says:

        Last Friday’s New York Philharmonic concert began with ladies bags being searched, men and women being ‘wanded’ and several explosive-sniffing dogs watching (and smelling) as we handed over our tickets.

  • Sanford Schimel says:

    “The man, Roger Kaiser (pictured), has been a compulsive pseudonymous contributor to an online opera fanzine.” As opposed to the person who runs a fanzine blog? And why is that relevant? Also, he hasn’t posted to Parterre Box since 2009 so your info is dated.

  • Rosina says:

    All this seems like a massive overreaction.

  • bratschegirl says:

    Of course, both musicians and management have an interest in making sure this isn’t repeated. But calling it a “security breach” is a bit overheated. Audience members standing at the pit rail and peering in during intermission is a customary part of every performance where there’s an orchestra in the pit, whether it’s Broadway, opera, ballet, etc. It’s practically required for Nutcracker ballet shows in the US, and in fact the theaters where I regularly play Nutcracker usually have ushers stationed at each end of the rail to prevent enthusiastic youngsters from climbing on it (or their doting parents from sitting them atop it). That it had never occurred to anyone that someone deliberately sprinkling a potentially hazardous substance into the pit would be a thing, is not exactly evidence of laxity. From now on, of course, we’ll all have to be on the lookout for those inspired to do likewise, whether in earnest or for the amusement of causing disruption.

    • John Kelly says:

      Would you consider it a security breach if the substance were highly toxic? It’s only not a security breach if there’s no security in place. At the Met there is…………bags are searched upon entry,

      • bratschegirl says:

        That was really precisely my point; I doubt that anyone had ever imagined that the Met or any other similar venue needed to be on guard against someone bringing in a potentially hazardous substance with the intent of spreading it in the pit, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have failed to anticipate that. So not a security breach in the sense that there were no specific measures to prevent it that the perp evaded; they were probably more focused on looking for guns and/or rotten tomatoes. Searching bags won’t find something that’s not being carried in a bag; all he would have needed was a small ziploc bag in a pocket.

        Of course it was a stupid and thoughtless thing for that guy to do, and thank heavens it wasn’t toxic; never meant to suggest that it wasn’t a serious situation, only that the Met probably hadn’t anticipated the need to protect against that particular sort of threat.

  • Will says:

    Why is anyone discussing a one-pound bag of sugar. He had a small plastic envelope with a small amount of ashes. Nothing even a good pat down would discover.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    And….we go full circle. Now it is Peter Gelb’s fault. Of course.

  • Peter says:

    Nothing short of letting people fully undress in security screenings can be done to prevent people from smuggling a few hundred grams of ashes into an opera house.
    Not even if Trump grabbed all visitors personally by their pussies.

  • Ken says:

    And audience members would like to know why a man from Dallas who had told those around him that he planned to scatter human ashes was not reported to house security, and why security did not intervene. . . . Peter Gelb has questions to answer

    It’s Gelb’s fault that audience members didn’t report the guy??

  • Seth Chodosh says:

    The creepy nastiness I am reading here, concerning a heart-felt ( if somewhat not really totally thought-out ) action by someone honoring a dead friend’s wishes, is UNBELIEVABLY MIND-BLOWING…..

    Just y’all wait until you are grief -stricken at the loss of someone…. act out in a way you might not , under normal circumstances…and see what sympathy YOU receive… hopefully NONE…

    No one was physically injured… Life, ( and The MET) will go on… and this is yesterday’s SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT IT, ALREADY……

    • Sanford Schimel says:

      I’m with you, Seth. I was initially shocked that it was Roger. But when I stopped to think about it, I found it hard to stay mad. I got to thinking about the stupid choices I’ve made, like smoking crack, so I can’t really throw shade on Roger. This doesn’t change his being a very sweet, very nice man. And if all of us were judged for one stupid mistake…

      • Brian B says:

        A very nice, sweet man who happens to be a completely selfish lunkhead completely inconsiderate of others. The fact that he’s been dumping human remains in other operas houses is outrageous. This act possibly cost the Met over a million when all is said and done. I hope a lawsuit is filed.

        • Seth Chodosh says:

          I am POSITIVE that The MET has insurance, which will cover just about EVERY penny of this… don’t worry… it’s not coming out of YOUR pocket…….

          • Brian B says:

            Insurance that covers nuts scattering human remains in the Metropolitan Opera House? Not likely.
            If you flew in from across the country specifically to hear and see William Tell and spent thousands in hotel and plane fares, as I did, you wouldn’t think this was cute and funny. If you knew about his intentions and didn’t advise someone, you are complicit.

          • Seth Chodosh says:

            Brian B.

            Don’t make yourself out to be more of a pompous ass then you already sound like…
            I meant…and you KNOW IT… tthat The MET has insurance that covers missed/cancelled performances


          • Ilio says:

            Hey as Brian says if you flew in from out of town only to have the performance cancelled I’d be pissed off as hell. The inconsiderate asshat should be held liable. Has he been living in a pit with no knowledge of 9/11 and all of the events involving suspicious substances? He should be charged and taken to court to recover travel costs of those who were from out of town.

        • Ken says:

          “Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?” – Hamlet

    • Emil Archambault says:

      One has to be pretty seriously incapacitated (or suffering from severe mental illness) to think that dumping human remains on people would be acceptable, under any circumstances.

      • Seth Chodosh says:

        Who died and made you Dr. Freud……???

        It’s people like YOU who throw about terms like “suffering from severe mental illness” without knowing the person, who need to be swept off t he streets

        • Peter says:

          Get a therapy, even though psychosis level narcissism has one of the worst chances of treatments. People like you will keep thinking it is their right to be self-indulged arses.

        • Emil Archambault says:

          Read what I wrote. Now read it again.
          As you well know, the criterion applied in courts of law, for instance, is whether they have the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It is my contention that no amount of grief can reasonably make one forget that dumping human remains on people is wrong, to the point of not holding that person liable. Now, if you actually read what I wrote, you’ll notice I didn’t say this person was mentally ill, but hey, feel free to read what you pretend I wrote and not what I actually wrote.

      • Yes Addison says:

        Has anyone claimed to have had human remains dumped ON him or her?

        The issue here is that the guy had the bad judgment to take a small plastic bag of a powdery substance and empty it into the orchestra pit during an intermission, and he was seen doing so and it was alarming, and leading to one and a third performances being canceled. Let’s keep it on that. It certainly is enough for people to get upset about, especially if they were attending one of the performances.

        A lot of the rest going around — musicians had ashes dumped on their heads, priceless instruments were ruined, audience members were coughing and gagging as the air of the 3,800-seat auditorium was clouded with fumes, and the guy was not even there to hear the performance and just left after making his mischief — is not true.

    • MacroV says:

      While I agree that one is never too old to make an ass of oneself, I don’t have much sympathy for this guy. His friend has been dead for several years, enough time for grief not to impair his good judgment. I tend to roll my eyes at a lot of post-9/11-inspired security paranoia, but there are just so many ways that spreading ashes or something similar in a public place is a bad idea; a child of four could plainly see that.

      All he had to do was ask the MET if there was some way he could honor his friend. I agree he shouldn’t be charged criminally, and I assume he doesn’t have the means to cover any financial liability, but he should be dealt with somehow.

      • Seth Chodosh says:

        …and what is the maximum time someone is allowed…by your yard-stick, to be in deep grief???…my lover died 18 years ago , and not ONE day goes by that I still will think of him, and shed a lot of tears…and miss him as if it were yesterday……..

        Perhaps you have no one you were close to , whose loss you still mourn… I feel bad for you, if that’s the case……..

  • Sanford Schimel says:

    I have to say that it’s a painful fall from such a high horse that some of you are riding.

  • Fred says:

    strange that the only ones who defend this complete selfish nudnik, idiot, sicko in fact downright criminal all come from that sick webzine this terrorist belongs/ed too : parterrebox run by another complete psycho

  • Nick says:

    I have zero sympathy for this nutcase (and I use that word carefully). Surprisingly, too, as a long-time critic of Peter Gelb, I have sympathy for him and his staff. Anyone could smuggle a small packet of any substance into the Met – or any other place of public entertainment, for that matter. Hidden in a shoe heel, tucked into underwear, sewn into the lining of a small bag etc. If reports about the small size of the packet are correct, not even airport security staff could have picked this one up.

    As for the perpetrator, he could easily have emptied it into a toilet and flushed the ashes away. That would still have been at the Met. Instead, he gives absolutely no consideration to anyone involved in that and the following performance. And for those who have expressed sympathy with him in this thread, what I wonder would you do had you seen someone empty a small packet of powder over the orchestra pit. Assume these were someone’s ashes? Pull the other one! Instantly you’d recall the envelopes containing anthrax sent to government offices some years ago and run out of the House as fast as you possibly could.

    • Ken says:

      You think he’s mentally ill but you have no sympathy for him? You think flushing the ashes down a toilet would have had the same symbolism to him as sprinkling them over the orchestra pit? You think he really knew – as opposed to should have known – how disruptive his actions would be? Why didn’t he leave immediately afterward then?

  • Met Insider says:

    I was working backstage that afternoon doing my usual 16 hour shift. I could not believe the carelessness that was displayed during this crisis. Let me explain.
    Two porters were dispatched to the scene by house management to sweep up the unknown powdery substance while audience members were still in their seats. I don’t even know if the air-conditioning system was shut down to keep the powder from going thru the building.The evacuation of audience members went pretty well. Unfortunately the crew had nobody there to give them direction. My fellow crew members waited back stage for a least an hour before someone told them it might be a good idea to evacuate the building. I strongly believe that this decision by Peter Gelb was driven only by the fear of loosing the night’s performance and having to refund thousands of dollars. He basically put the whole crew 125 crew members most of them with families in danger. Fortunately this was a dumb mistake that someone innocently carried out as an act of respect for his friend. If this was a real terrorist attack the loss would have been horrific knowing how this incident was handled. I believe that the Met has to rethink it’s policies and put their audience members and their employees first.

  • herrera says:

    Cremated ashes are probably less toxic than the car exhaust New Yorkers breathe everyday just right outside the Met on Broadway.

    And probably a lot more sterile than the stuff that have fallen on the stages of the Met, like horse crap, or the stuff under the patrons’ shoes when they walk into the hall, or even the cold virus they spread everytime they cough between arias.

    Cremated ashes are mainly metal oxides and carbonates. Here’s the typical composition:

    Phosphate 47.5%
    Calcium 25.3%
    Sulfate (Sulphate) 11.00%
    Potassium 3.69%
    Sodium 1.12%
    Chloride 1.00%
    Silica 0.9%
    Aluminum Oxide 0.72%
    Magnesium 0.418%
    Iron Oxide 0.118%
    Zinc 0.0342%
    Titanium Oxide 0.0260%
    Barium 0.0066%
    Antimony 0.0035%
    Chromium 0.0018%
    Copper 0.0017%
    Manganese 0.0013%
    Lead 0.0008%
    Tin 0.0005%
    Vanadium 0.0002%
    Beryllium <0.0001%
    Mercury <0.00001%

    • Musician says:

      And your point is? What if it had been anthrax, numbnuts!

      • Peter says:

        Anthrax? Why should it be Anthrax? Only governmental agencies have access to it.
        And as long as the Neocons don’t want to bomb the Met and need to stage false flag attacks to justify them, you have nothing to fear.
        Calm down. Probably the cocaine sniffed by some of the Met musicians during interval is a much bigger health hazard, than a few ounces of ashes raining down into the pit.

  • Met Retiree says:

    I can’t believe that this event was not taken seriously. I have read all of the comments and I’m appalled by the many jokes that were expressed about it. All of you should take a step back and rethink your opinions. We are talking about human lives here not some disposable item that can be replaced. SHAME ON YOU.

    • Sylvia Danburg Volpe says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. The members of 802 were on the frontline of this potentially catastrophic event. Shame on you Peter my father in law Joe Volpe would have fired the head of House Management just like the way he fired the cast member during the performance of War and Peace several years ago. FYI during the battle seen a cast member dressed as a soldier accidentally jumped into the orchestra pit landing on my violin bow and bending it. I’m sure that it was an accident but Joe insisted that he was looking for his 15 minutes of fame. I thought it was a good idea at the time to agree with Joe so I could get on his good side. The cast member got fired and I got to marry his son PJ Volpe. I also got to be the Met’s second violinist. Coincidently Joe also married a Met violinist. Like father like son you can’t make this stuff up.

      • Jason Volpe says:

        So many children no inheritance.

      • PJ Volpe says:

        Sylvia honey forgive me I was home that Saturday afternoon watching the children. I’m sorry I should have been there but chose to take the afternoon on the arm. I finally made my way to work after the phone call and dismissed the crew a few hours after the incident. My Bad forgive me : (