Human ashes may have been sprinkled into orchestra pit at New York opera

Updated: 

A powdery substance a man sprinkled into the orchestra pit at New York's Metropolitan Opera may have been an opera lover's ashes, police have said.

Met officials were forced to cancel the rest of an afternoon performance of Rossini's Guillaume Tell after the freakish incident. An evening performance of a second opera was also cancelled.

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

Miller said the man, who doesn't live in New York, was in front of the first row of seats when he sprinkled the powder into the orchestra pit during the second intermission. Most of the musicians weren't present at the time.

The powder will be tested but Miller said the possibility that the powder was in fact human ashes "is certainly an area that we are pursuing".

Police know who the man is and are reaching out to him. Miller said the disposal of ashes at an opera house may violate city codes but added: "I don't believe at this point that we see any criminal intent here."

pedestrians walk in front of the Metropolitan Opera house at New York's Lincoln Centre
(John Minchillo/AP)

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."

Police initially said one person at the opera house requested medical attention but Miller said no one was injured.

The Met cancelled Saturday night's performance of L'Italiana in Algeri, another Rossini opera, because of the investigation.

Audience members at Guillaume Tell described confusion as the intermission went on longer than usual.

A Met representative at first announced that a technical issue was causing the delay. They then returned a few minutes later to announce that the fourth act would not be performed and 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 counter-terrorism 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."