A powdery substance a man sprinkled into the orchestra pit at New York’s Metropolitan Opera may have been an opera lover’s ashes, police say.
The freakish incident during an afternoon performance of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell forced Met officials to cancel the rest of the show as well as an evening performance of a second opera.
John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner in charge of intelligence and counterterrorism, said several audience members said a man told them he was there to sprinkle the ashes of a friend, his mentor in the opera.
Mr Miller said 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.
He said the powder would be tested, but the possibility that it was in fact human ashes was “certainly an area that we are pursuing.”
Police know who the man is and are reaching out to him, Mr Miller said, adding that the man did not live in New York.
Mr Miller said the disposal of ashes at an opera house may violate city codes but, “I don’t believe at this point that we see any criminal intent here”.
Met general manager Peter Gelb said: “We appreciate opera lovers coming to the Met.
“We hope that they will not bring their ashes with them.”
Police initially said one person at the opera house requested medical attention. Mr Miller said no one was injured.
Audience demand money back
The Met cancelled Saturday night’s performance of L’Italiana in Algeri, another Rossini opera, because of the investigation.
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.
“We appreciate opera lovers coming to the Met. We hope that they will not bring their ashes with them.”
Met general manager Peter Gelb
“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.”
Mr Hayden, who was seated in the 11th row, 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 cancellation was announced and one man chanted, “I want my money back, I want my money back”.