In its 100 years New York City's Metropolitan Opera has culturally entertained and educated millions of Americans. More important, it has been a durable source of musical inspiration which has led to the establishment and growing excellence of opera companies across the US.
American musical education has matured with the Met. Today there are splendid opera companies in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Santa Fe, and many other cities.
More and more of the vital young singers now performing in opera in the US are American born and American trained; the days when most singers were Europeans are long gone. Many show great promise, and some - like Jessye Norman, who made her Met debut Monday in its season-opening ''Les Troyens'' - are absolutely first-rank.
And more Americans than ever before are attending opera: at the Met, at top-notch regional opera companies, and at the many small community operas around the nation. For instance, nearly six million people attended US performances by sizeable regional opera companies in the 1981-82 season, the latest for which figures are available. Untold others watched opera on public television stations.
On balance it is a splendid commentary on the American musical system and, indeed, on the American system in general. In a relatively young nation grand opera has gone from performances largely by European musicians before wealthy upperclass Americans, to performances substantially by American musicians before audiences of a broader, more democratic class and financial spectrum.
However, there are strong challenges to be dealt with, as indeed there always have been. Perhaps foremost is the financial one. Mounting opera productions is exceptionally expensive; as costs continue to rise, will opera companies be able to hold their current audience, let alone expand it, if they need to keep boosting ticket prices?
Then, too, there is the musical challenge. For various reasons today's young singers are under enormous pressures to sing often, in varied roles, in difficult large halls (to attract the maximum number of ticket payers). A major challenge is to prevent this schedule from having a negative effect on their voices, as indeed it already has had on some.
Yet this deservedly is a time of celebration. The Met, and all other American opera companies, deserve our congratulations and thanks for their perseverance and for the richness they have contributed to us all.