Phantom of the Opera
My grandson recently spent the night with his school group in a science museum. It was, apparently, a very exciting experience.
Well, I may never have slept at a museum, but I did spend several nights as “the phantom of the opera”…at Carnegie Hall.
During the years I served as flutist and company manager of my Uncle Boris’ touring opera company beginning in the early 1970s, a special highlight for me was the final rehearsal week in New York. Goldovsky Opera occupied a studio on an upper floor in the Carnegie Hall Building. Along with many other small companies, performing musicians, and private teachers, Goldovsky Opera rented its studio space from the Carnegie Hall Corporation. At one time, one of the greatest singers of all time – Enrico Caruso – had occupied Boris’ studio. A few years ago, I located a photograph of the studio just prior to Boris occupying it.
The studio eventually became the New York headquarters of Boris’ company. There was an office in one corner, a stage at the other end, but most of the studio was simply a flat floor space with a grand piano in one corner and a couch in another. It was here that last minute coaching sessions and rehearsals took place before we took the company on the road.
Since I lived in Massachusetts and couldn’t go home at night, the unoccupied studio became my home away from home. After rehearsals, I would go out to the Carnegie Deli for a giant corn beef sandwich, then come back to prepare for bed. The transformation of the studio building, from its day-time hustle-and-bustle and constant music to its eerie silence at night was breath-taking. If I opened the windows, I could hear street traffic down below; but otherwise, the feeling was so other-worldly that I would often make a telephone call just to remind myself that I was part of a functioning world. Come the next morning, the adrenaline would start up again as the restless commotion and excitement of hundreds of busy musicians would enliven the building. I loved the fact that I literally lived at Carnegie Hall, a place where five of my relatives had performed on the main stage.
Some years late, Carnegie Hall undertook a major redevelopment project which among other things took all the private studios which had been leased to individual musicians and companies and converted them to expanded spaces for the Hall itself. The move was VERY controversial as this creative enclave had quietly gone about its business for decades and now was unceremoniously being evicted. The Hall offered buy-outs to long-time tenants like my uncle and since he was winding down the operation of his company anyway, Boris eventually accepted the Hall’s offer. Other tenants fought the inevitable…but in the end Carnegie Hall prevailed. My uncle’s studio was to become part of a huge new education wing for Carnegie Hall. And there the story ended for me.
That is, until many years later when my wife and I were engaged as consultants by Carnegie Hall to work for – you guessed it – the Hall’s education division (the Weill Music Institute). Imagine my amazement as I took the old elevator to the floor where Boris’ studio had been to see the very space where I had spent so many happy days and nights. The area was totally transformed from its rather seedy 19th-century appearance to a spanking new and dazzling design. At first, I was sad. But over time I decided I had been lucky to have been part of the space’s history…and now able to participate in its renaissance.