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Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Boston Opera House

The Boston Opera House is a grand old building, which I understand has been beautifully and tastefully restored to its' original grandeur at great expense. Today it is a profitable commercial theatre.

When, I first came to Boston, it was another story...

For a period it was owned by a very eccentric woman conductor by the name of Sarah Caldwell. She was not a superb musician, but an ambitious organizer and leader. She founded the Boston Opera Company with $5K of her own money in 1958. She was very eccentric, and famously overweight. As they say, "she fueled herself on hamburgers."

For a number of years in the mid 1970's I remember some amazing performances of unknown works at the the Boston Opera House (which she first rented and then eventually purchased but couldn't afford to maintain). The hall was a very run-down, dreary and musty old building. It was falling apart at its seems, and you had to wonder why the building was not condemned. There are stories about the musicians rehearsing with their winter coats and gloves on in the winter, lights being turned off for lack of utility payment, and the sound of water dripping down into buckets throughout the theatre after a big rain.

The Boston Opera company had no money to pay their bills, taxes, and in the final years the musicians and singers in the ended up working for free. But they put on some amazing American premieres of works - Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Session's Montezuma (which I saw), and Stravinsky (who she knew personally) as well.

There are 'urban myths' that Sarah Caldwell (or "the fat lady" as some would call her) would fall asleep on the floor in-between filthy rolled up carpets in the theatre. She denied this, but the story fits with her personality.


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