A tribute to Millard Altman

Volume 123, No. 7July, 2023

Millard Altman, 94, a conductor and pianist and a member of Local 802 since 1949, died on May 17, 2023. The following was posted in 2022 on a web page published by Inspīr, the senior living facility where Mr. Altman had been living. 

New York City is a long way from Youngstown, Ohio, but Millard Altman knew from the early age of nine years old, listening to opera broadcasts on the radio, that Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House would one day be called home. After graduating from high school early, he went on to study at Juilliard at only 15 years old. His musical career began in earnest, first at the famed Liederkranz Society as the music director, then later at the Met Opera House, where in 1963, a job opened up for a coach-pianist-assistant conductor. After an audition with the legendary General Manager Rudolf Bing, Millard was hired. For that season and scores more, Millard would serve as Assistant Conductor, Coach, and Prompter, in charge of preparing singers musically for their roles and ensuring each singer is given their opening words.

Maestro Millard’s contributions to the Met are a thing of legend — he was called “one of the most unheard but most important voices at the MET” by the New York Times in 1975 and enjoyed his job thoroughly, calling his seat “the best seat in the house.” The article’s author, Richard M. Braun, went on to credit Millard for “single-handedly…keeping the proceedings from disintegrating into confusion and chaos.”

But, like for many, a life fully dedicated to following one’s professional dreams was not without its price: Millard never married or had children. His family became his loving neighbors and friends, who — during the pandemic — regularly checked up on him, went grocery shopping, and cooked for him. He also had his beloved dog, Mitzvah, his basset hound of 14 years, with whom he was exceptionally close. Denizens and neighbors of his Upper West Side community recall Millard and Mitzvah being inseparable, whether walking down Broadway together, greeting passersby, or talking to locals.

After his retirement, Millard enjoyed a quiet life, spending his time listening to music and reading at home, as well as pursuing his lifelong love for collecting African art. Last year, he had a fall, unfortunately, and broke his hip. With friends and neighbors concerned for his safety and worried by the thought of him living alone, they encouraged him to consider moving to a senior living community.

Millard told Inspīr, “One of my first opening nights was an experience like no other. We performed Verdi’s Aida with Leontyne Price, where I was in charge of conducting the timing cues to singers and chorus, monitoring the conductor through a mirror outside of the prompter’s box, and also playing bells backstage for some performances. It was a big responsibility since the singers often were extremely dependent on me. I even participated in Luciano Pavarotti’s debut of La Bohème!”

Read the full interview here.