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Christine Nilsson as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust at the Metropolitan Opera

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was
singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan
distances “above the Forties,” of a new Opera House which should
compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European
capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every
winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy.
Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus
keeping out the “new people” whom New York was beginning to dread and
yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic
associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so
problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music. 

These are the opening lines of Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1920), and the “new Opera House” to which she refers is the Metropolitan Opera, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary season this year. We’ve written here about the opening of the building on October 22, 1883, which featured a performance of Faust with Nilsson singing the role of Marguerite.

But let’s say you were interested in following up Nilsson’s subsequent career at the Met. It used to be quite difficult. As the current issue of the Metropolitan Opera’s Playbill puts it, “If somone called with a perfectly valid inquiry — how many times did Enrico Caurso and Geraldine Farrar sing together at the Met? — we would go to the performer cards faithfully prepared over the years by the first first Archivist, Mrs. John DeWitt Peltz, and try to remember the operas Caruso and Farrar sang together. We would pull out Boh