It seems that the long-standing two-letter preposition at has been dismissed as irrelevant by these two superstars and thousands of lesser lights throughout the English-speaking world. No longer does Beyoncé play at the Rose Bowl; she merely plays the Rose Bowl, a phrase that suggests an uneven contest in the extreme. Similarly Maestro Pavarotti has ceased to perform at the Met in preference to playing the Met, which hints at a battle leading to discord rather than harmony.
These days the Rolling Stones play Hyde Park, Justin Beiber plays the O2 Arena (heaven help it) and the Royal Ballet plays Covent Garden in a hint of a right royal clash of cultures. There is not an “at” in sight.
Only the sporting world has so far refused to obliterate this most essential of words. Chelsea still plays Man United at Stamford Bridge but one wonders how long it will be before we are informed that Chelsea will be playing Old Trafford – an uneven match of eleven millionaires against a baying mob of thousands of working class battlers.
What is gained by obliterating a tiny word that has also served us well, its meaning and purpose never in doubt? Admittedly English is a language that is forever changing; but change has to have reason and purpose.
To have performers playing venues instead of playing at achieves neither. It is an unsustainable and meaningless nonsense.