Man scattering friend's ashes halts Metropolitan Opera performance

A man who wanted to honor his deceased friend caused the cancelation of two scheduled performances at New York City's renowned Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon.

Investigators said the man was in front of the first row of seats when he sprinkled a powdery substance into the orchestra pit during the second intermission of Rossini's "Guillaume Tell," when most of the musicians were not present.

John Miller, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner in charge of intelligence and counterterrorism, said several audience members said the man told them he was there to sprinkle the ashes of a friend, his mentor in the opera.

Miller said authorities have identified the man, who does not live in New York, and were reaching out to him. He added that 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."

Police were called and the audience was told the show would not go on. 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.

"Everybody kind of slowly walked out," said Dylan Hayden of Toronto. "As we were exiting the building, I noticed the [NYPD] counterterrorism unit going into the building."

Hayden, who was seated in the 11th row back, 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."

The bizarre incident forced officials to cancel the rest of the afternoon performance of "Gillaume Tell" as well as an evening performance of "L'Italiana in Algeri," another Rossini opera.

"Guillaume Tell," Rossini's opera about folk hero William Tell, had not been performed at the Met in more than 80 years before this season. The opera's overture is known to many Americans as the theme music to the 1950s TV show "The Lone Ranger."

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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.