Once the curtains lifted and the explosive, starburst chandeliers had risen to the ceiling, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky brought cheers and tears at the Met’s fiftieth anniversary gala at Lincoln Center this year. Baritone Hvorostovsky in a surprise return, despite a brain tumor, sang “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” from Verdi’s Rigoletto.

In September 1966, architect Tadeusz “Tad” Leski joined a similar crowd of 3,800 for the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra for the Met’s opening night.

The backstory, however, was hardly so glamorous, according to his architect daughter Kyna. A Pole who fought heroically in the French Resistance during WWII, Tad Leski was used to improvising under pressure. But as the designer for…

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