Posts for:  December 2011

Holiday — behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera

Pete Dorwart with Bob Sutherland in the library of the Metropolitan Opera

This holiday season I had the good fortune of peeking behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Opera as the guest of Pete Dorwart — scientist, master woodworker, amateur cellist, professional music editor/publisher, and good friend of the Met.

Here’s the story: About ten years ago, the chief librarian at the Metropolitan Opera heard through his contacts at the Philadelphia Orchestra that Pete, using up-to-date music notation software, had created a new edition of Franz Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow, which the Met was about to put on. The old Kalmus edition in general use at the time was hard to read and full of errors. Pete offered the Met his corrected, visually appealing, intelligently edited score and parts of The Merry Widow at a reasonable price, and a lifelong friendship was born.

“Many people would see that kind of opportunity and only hear ‘cha-ching’ but not Pete,” Bob Sutherland, the chief librarian, told me. “We’re grateful to him and his work.” Pete’s been invited to the Met library’s annual holiday party ever since.

Pete and I began our day at the opera by attending a final dress rehearsal of Hansel and Gretel, along with selected donors and several hundred lucky schoolchildren. Everything about the production, with its full set, costumes, and cast, appeared as it would on opening night, but with the addition of a large bank of cameras in front of the stage manned by press photographers, and several lighted tables scattered around the house for the assistant conductors and directors who were making their final notes for the production.

For me, the highlight of the 2-hour rehearsal was hearing the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Humperdinck’s lush, Wagnerian score. They are simply one of the world’s warmest, best balanced, and virtuosically precise orchestras, and what a pleasure it was to hear them again.

After the curtain calls, Pete and I made our way to the party. The backstage area of the glamorous opera house is a warren of functional, low-ceilinged hallways, stairways, and cubbyholes, cluttered with electrical equipment, harp cases, and the diverse belongings of an enormous theatrical organization. Staff members wearing headsets hurried here and there. The opera house’s library occupies a lower, windowless floor, and is crowded with orderly shelves and bookcases. High up against a wall sit packages wrapped in brown kraft paper, with the titles of Verdi operas labeled in black marker.

“Those are the original Simrock editions of the operas when the Met premiered them back in the 1800’s,” Robert Willoughby Jones, one of the librarians told me. “We can never get rid of them.”

It made me feel better to know that the Met stores their historical scores in much the same way as I store our family photos.

Four full-time librarians provide the music to all the conductors, directors, orchestral instrumentalists, coaches, rehearsal pianists, soloists, and chorus members of the Met, as well as the subtitle and HD production departments -– a huge undertaking for a huge organization that puts on 28 fully staged operas a season. Even as we were about to enjoy librarian Rosemary Summer’s deliciously prepared appetizers and desserts, a singer rushed in needing a score to practice from.

Guests filtered in — reps from publishing houses and staff members of other libraries, from the New York Philharmonic, the Juilliard School, the New York Public Library.  I found them all to be a genteel, kindly, happy, and learned bunch.

Besides The Merry Widow, Pete has created and published new editions of nearly all the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus, Victor Herbert’s operetta Naughty Marietta, and other works. He is currently working on Cyrano de Bergerac for the Victor Herbert foundation. After we left the party and were crossing Broadway to the Subway station, I asked Pete if he’d ever been to the Volksoper in Vienna, which is, after all, the epicenter of operetta.

“I’d like to go to Vienna,” he said, “But I’m six feet ten and a trans-Atlantic flight isn’t appealing to me.”

No matter. To make a positive contribution to an entity as remarkable as the Metropolitan Opera -– well, it doesn’t get any better than that.


For more information about Pete Dorwart’s publishing company, click on


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