Sleuthing through Andrea Chénier

During intermission and on Sundays, the MET Orchestra Musicians have taken to their pencils, computer keyboards, and iPhone cameras. The MET Orchestra Blog is a space for musicians to write and curate blog posts about their passion for opera and other related subjects. 

We begin with a story by Mary Hamman, a MET Orchestra violist since 1992, who did some detective work into an unusual comment written on her Chénier part.

   We have started orchestra rehearsals for Andrea Chénier, for the romantic Italian opera by Giordano, which opens on March 24, with Noseda conducting. He’s always an exciting conductor and it’s a fine cast.

Mary Hamman

Mary Hamman

            The viola part I am using has been in use at the Met for at least 55 years, as far as I can determine.  Looking at the markings others have written in the parts, I gain insights to the score: tricky passages, time signatures, key signatures, rubatos, etc. The marked parts also serve as a palimpsest, a layering of the history of the orchestra.

Sometimes old markings references conductors, singers and orchestra players. In this case the handwritten note “whatcha da mice!” (meaning “watch the maestro”) indicates that it’s tricky to know when to play after these rests. And it is identified by the violist who wrote it, Seymour Berman.

The quotation in question from the viola part of Andrea Chénier.

The quotation in question from the viola part of Andrea Chénier.

            A little detective work turned up Berman’s name in a fascinating memoir, titled “Met Opera History,” written by Sandy Balint, a Met violinist who has been in the Orchestra since the 1950s.

            Turns out Seymour Berman was the gifted and pioneering chairman of the Met Orchestra committee for the year 1959-60, instrumental (no pun intended) in organizing the Orchestra and drafting our Constitution and By Laws. As Sandy explains, this was the first time orchestra members had drafted their own proposal and participated tin their own negotiations. Until then, only the Musicians’ Union president, Al Manuti, negotiated the contract with the Met Opera Board President, Tony Bliss, one on one, behind closed doors.

            In addition to his years playing with the Met, I found Berman’s name on a lot of pop recordings, including the original cast recording of the Broadway musical, The Wiz.