The very first National Horse Show opened Monday, 22 October 1883, and that same night was the inaugural performance at the newly built Metropolitan Opera House. Daisy was there, too!

Both events made front page news in New York City, but no one could have predicted the longevity of those institutions, nor the place they would play in American cultural life. And Daisy was there for the both births.

Juliette Gordon Low grew to adulthood during what historians call the Gilded Age. Mark Twain coined that term to refer to the excessive displays of wealth he noticed in urban America. The country was expanding and opportunities for making extraordinary amounts of money were rife. Families like the Vanderbilts, the Harrimans, the Carnegies, and the Morgans accumulated huge sums of capital in the post-Civil War years—so much so that they changed the way America defined its elite. Previously, families whose roots stretched back to before the American Revolution and who owned considerable land and money were society’s leaders. But the overwhelming amounts of wealth created by the nouveau riche meant that the Gilded Age was characterized by a redefinition of who led society.

One battlefield was the opera.

The Metropolitan Opera House was the idea of those wealthy New Yorkers who could not gain the best seats in the older, prestigious Academy of Music. So the nouveau riche took their dollars and built the Met.

They didn’t build just any old opera house. They constructed the largest opera auditorium in the world.  Three years of planning went into it. “Hovels and delivery stables” were torn down to clear a space at 39th and Broadway. Then the new building took shape in Italian Renaissance style of “yellow brick, terra cotta, and iron.” The Metropolitan Opera House held one thousand more people than the Paris Opera House.  The stage was third in size only behind Paris and St. Petersburg. It contained a ballroom, a restaurant, and corridors and a vestibule built for seeing and being seen.

The first Metropolitan Opera House

“The house was superb” Daisy raved, and “the cast was splendid.” The opening night performance was Charles Gounod’s Faust, with what Daisy called “a collection of stars.” Christine Nilsson played Margherita so beautifully that the audience shouted for an encore. An aging Giuseppe del Puente was Valentino; Franco Novara was Mephistopheles; Marta was sung by Emily Lablache; and the title role was played by Italo Campanini. The orchestra was led by Auguste Vianesi.

Unfortunately, there were some birthing pains. Daisy was much more enthusiastic about her experience than the New York Times reviewer, who pointed out a list of problems: the lines of carriages were so long that not everyone could find their seat in time; the sight lines were so poor that some audience members could only see “the expanse of Signor Vianesi’s cranium;” the corridors were too hot and the entrances too cold; and worst of all, the acoustics were terrible.

Daisy didn’t care!  She was there in her “best bib and tucker” to see “everyone arranged in all of their glory,” to experience “excitement over this first performance” and hear “one familiar air after another.”

The Gilded Age excesses were present that first thrilling night, from the size of the audience (over 3,000) to the celebrities in the cast to the length of the show.  Faust, with overlong entre’acts, began at 8:30 p.m. and did not end, Daisy noted, until 1:30 in the morning.  She went home tired, but happy.  What a week it was going to be!

Please email me if you’d like the exact New York Times citations. For Daisy’s letter, see JGL to Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 27 October [1883], George Hyde Clarke Family Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, MS2800/22/4.