Sputnik Chandeliers Ascend at Met

NEW YORK, NY.- Pity the Met Opera’s chandeliers, which have been in and out of commission for years. There was the cleaning in 2008 when the lobby lights were totally dismantled and shipped to Europe, and more recently, a mechanical failure that left the 12 auditorium lights, known as “sputniks” for their space-agey style, stuck in a stationary position for most of last season.

The glitch has been fixed, and the lights will resume their nightly ascent—during which they rise dramatically just before the curtain does—in September.

For Met lovers who desire a more consistent lighting experience, though, the Met Opera shop sells exact replicas of the chandeliers for prices ranging from $19,000 for a 24-inch chandelier to $83,000 for a 63-inch chandelier.

Being a Met member pays off: Membership costs $85 a year, but with an automatic 10 percent member discount at the Met store, you can shave more than $8,000 off the list price.

The lights were designed for the Met Opera by Hans Harald Rath, the owner of venerated Viennese glassmaker J.&L. Lobmeyr. Made with Swarovski crystals and finished in either gold or silver, a total of 23 of these chandeliers were gifted to the Met in 1966 by the Austrian government.

The lights were a token of thanks for implementing the Marshall Plan, a massive economic stimulus that helped to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

While the price of the chandeliers surpasses the usual gift shop fare, in the context of other fine crystal chandeliers, they are priced relatively modestly. Chandeliers comparable to the sputniks are hard to come by—they are, after all, prized for their singularity—yet other, similarly sized chandeliers from august crystal companies can cost much more.

A 22-inch-wide spray of crystal leaves from Lalique called the Champs-Élysées chandelier sells for $19,500. (Six tiers of leaves from the same line costs $103,500.) Even the smallest wall sconce from Baccarat costs more than $2,000.

The Met won't disclose how many of their chandeliers have sold, but does note that the lights can be customized. So, while anyone who can afford one of these lights knows that past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, it might be instructive to learn from the Met's past mistakes: Install the chandelier at one height, and keep it that way.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video shows the Met chandeliers rising once again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_29WdwyU8wA&sns=em