It was my greatest pleasure to play for Maestro George Manahan at New York City Opera. In his 14 years as music director, he developed our ensemble and taught us to trust his every move. He used to say that conducting the NYC Opera Orchestra was like driving a fine sports car. We could start, stop, accelerate and slow down with the slightest indication from him. George never needed to talk much in rehearsals as he communicated so beautifully with the baton. He had a perfect balance of impeccable technique and respect for orchestra members, which brought out the very best in each of us. He often enjoyed an espresso during intermissions, courtesy of the bass section. I miss playing opera with him and my wonderful colleagues in the orchestra.
It has been a privilege to make music with all the wonderful musicians, singers and conductors of the New York City Opera Company, the greatest repertory opera company in the world, and to work under the leadership of conductors such as Chris Keene and Julius Rudel. It seems impossible and heartbreaking to contemplate that the New York City Opera may no longer exist. I wish all of my colleagues blessings and love in the future at this incredible time in our history and hope that there will be a solution to saving the extraordinary New York City Opera Company so that the world can experience 70 more years of great music with our company.
I joined the trumpet section of New York City Opera in 2005 after a seven-year stint with the Navy Band in Washington, D.C. Looking back at the past eight years, the most enduring memory I have would be the family feeling I got from day one. Everyone was extremely welcoming and made my adjustment into the life of the pits an easy one. I will miss sitting in the pit night after night, listening to some of the world’s greatest music being performed beautifully. (It is the best seat in the house, after all.) But most of all, I will miss the close bonds that were made with my colleagues. We were a group of musicians who came together seven times a week. We knew the names of each other’s kids, we shared our problems, we attended family functions, we were a family. To my colleagues, the members of the New York City Opera Orchestra: thank you for your friendship and your musicianship. I wish you all the best, and I hope to gig with you all soon!
I am so thankful to be a member of the NYCO orchestra. Some of my many inspiring recollections are performances of “Mephistopheles” with Samuel Ramey, “Turn of the Screw” with Lauren Flanigan, and “Xerxes” with Lorraine Hunt. I will never forget those nights. I also can still hear Christopher Keene bounding into the pit, seemingly giving us the downbeat to “Bohème” before he even reached the podium, smiling at us with such appreciation and exuberance. And I know all of us are so honored to have had George Manahan as our music director for 14 years. He took us to heights we will always remember. I feel true gratitude to have been able to share so much with my amazing colleagues in our orchestra over the years, even to our last “Anna Nicole.” Despite all that has transpired, these memories will never fade.
My first season as a violist in the NYCO orchestra was Beverly Sills’ last season as a performer. She was ending with an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti about the tragic Spanish queen Juana La Loca, and aside from Beverly’s chance smile at me during a rehearsal, I imagined myself to be invisible to such a star. I wasn’t prepared for my personal reaction to her performances as Juana. She was a riveting actress and commanded every musical phrase – and her voice spoke to me deeply, perhaps as deep as you can go. So I instead of leaving the orchestra pit before the bows, I stayed at my seat in the in the viola section after each performance pretty much by myself, just for the chance to applaud her and pay respect. Imagine my astonishment when, during her very last bow of the production, she came out, smiled down into the pit directly at me and then tossed me a long-stemmed rose which I caught in my left hand. She had actually noticed or – more likely – felt my response and wanted me to know it. That was one of many great lessons I learned from her about the relationship between performer and audience. By the way, the thorns had not been stripped from the rose. The orchestra was planning to go out on strike and I often wonder if Beverly wasn’t creating a complex metaphor with her gesture – she later creamed us!
–Donald Dal Maso
It was a privilege to know Christopher Keene since 1972, when I first met him in in Spoleto, Italy. Brilliant, intense, very focused and efficient in rehearsals, he was especially so in our rehearsals of “Die Soldaten” of Bernd Alois Zimmerman, a difficult piece not only because of the rhythms but also the use of new forms of making sounds. Because we had about one third of the time that was needed, the concentration of everyone in the room was at a palpable intensity, and Chris was razor sharp in the use of time – not a second to lose! Suddenly, in the midst of going over, for the third time, a particularly difficult passage of squeaks, squawks, battering of bows on strings, and slides into the tonal stratosphere, Chris giggled. Then we giggled, and then it began, in tides, until Chris helplessly waved his arms, and through peals of his own continued laughter, managed to get out the word “break” and had to tearfully walk off the podium. The performances were brilliant, moving, and memorable.
–Helen Strilec Schatiloff
We invited all musicians of the New York City Opera to share anecdotes, reminiscences and memories. Musicians who didn’t get a chance to respond in time for this issue can still e-mail Allegro@Local802afm.org.