Man scatters ‘friend’s ashes’ in NYC Met Opera prompting evacuation

The Metropolitan Opera House is pictured at Lincoln Center in New York © Carlo Allegri
New York City's Metropolitan Opera was forced to cancel its Saturday afternoon performance after unidentified powder, allegedly human ashes, was sprinkled into the orchestra pit.

Investigators said the man, whose name has not been disclosed, was in front of the first row of seats when he scattered a dust-like substance into the orchestra pit during the second intermission of Rossini's William Tell opera on Saturday. Luckily, no musicians were in the pit at the time. 

New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Miller said witnesses heard the man say he came to the opera to honor the death of his friend and mentor – by spreading his ashes inside.

An individual from out of town... indicated that he was [there] to sprinkle ashes of a friend, his mentor in opera, during the performance,” Commissioner Miller  a press conference. He said the performance did not resume after the incident as the man’s actions were perceived as a threat.

As a safety precaution, the Met canceled the remainder of the performance to err on the side of appropriate caution,” Met spokesman Sam Neuman said in a statement. 

Police were called and the audience was told to go home.

Apart from some , no disturbances were reported while spectators were evacuating the opera house. The evening performance of L'Italiana in Algeri was also cancelled. 

Police took the substance for lab tests, but there has not been any information yet whether it proved to be cremation ashes.

The man behind the bizarre action has been identified, but fled the scene shortly after the incident. Police are currently trying to contact him. 

Commissioner Miller said that the disposal of ashes at an opera house may violate city codes, but added that he does not “believe at this point that we see any criminal intent here.

Two people who may have had contact with the substance have been examined by medics, but no one was injured.

At the news conference following the incident, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb stressed that the theater’s concern for the safety of its patrons and performers is the organization’s top priority, adding that the Met would appreciate it if opera lovers refrained from bringing their ashes with them.