Standing room downstairs in the old Met ran around the sides of the auditorium divided into "holding pens". This circle of enthusiastic, knowledgeable opera buffs, could often guide the seated members of the audience. The standees were the first to cheer, really cheer and if they got going the seated audience members followed. I was still in school and was trying to learn everything about opera. Some weeks I stood through six performances. It was the greatest opera lesson in the world.
You had to line up on Broadway and wait for ticket sales to start. Once the doors opened it was a mad dash to whatever standing spot you wanted. Spots were not assigned. I loved standing in the section closest to the stage, because it was possible to watch the Maestri as well as the stage action. If the performance was "ordinary" there were not many standees. If it was a "hot" performance standing room sold out fast. I didn't know the difference between ordinary or hot. I wanted to witness everything.
March 14, 1964, BOHEME. I didn't know what was going on until I was in it. On this night Renata Tebaldi was the Mimi, her first performance at the Met after a year's. I had not paid attention to the cast. I wanted to hear BOHEME. The first difference was the pack of people. The standing room sections could hold maybe 30 people. Suddenly there had to have been 100 people scrunched into the space. The house staff noticed the scrunch and ordered the ushers to check ticket stubs. "Show me your ticket". And you showed the usher your ticket. When the usher moved on, the ticket stubs got passed behind backs to anyone needing a stub. This was taking on a whole new level of entertainment and the opera hadn't even begun. Seated on the floor in my section in the midst of the crush was a little old lady. I was told that she was a devout Tebaldi fan. She looked to be at least 90 yrs. old. The usher spotted her down on the floor. "Show me your ticket". She smiled. The usher waited. No ticket. What now? The little lady said to the usher, "I'll pray for you." The usher thought for a moment and answered, "I'll pray for you too", and moved on. It was that kind of evening. I have no idea where all the people came from, from cracks in the walls???? It was a glorious evening. Tebaldi made her entrance and was greeted with thunderous welcome. It's a long time from 1964 to 2008 and I'll never forget that evening,- the performance, the audience, the total love.