by Susan Spector, oboist
For twenty-five seasons, I have played oboe at the Met.
I’ll never forget the day some friends played me at the Met.
The conspiracy was months in planning, and there were several failed attempts, but ultimately the cabal was successful in its treachery.
The plot was hatched in my third season at the Metropolitan Opera and involved the MET Orchestra concertmaster at the time, Raymond Gniewek, and his wife, soprano Judith Blegen.
In August of 1994, a very close personal friend of Ray and Judy’s had travelled from his home in Northern Virginia to visit them at their summer home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This friend, Garry Spector, had recently gone through a painful divorce, and Ray and Judy had taken it upon themselves to try to find someone special for him among their numerous musical acquaintances and colleagues. To that end, Ray had asked members of his section which women in the orchestra were currently single. My name was mentioned, but neither Ray nor Judy knew me very well. Nonetheless, they mentioned this young oboist to Garry and offered to introduce us.
Garry didn’t dismiss the idea outright, but he was not at all certain that he was ready to start dating again. He was also somewhat reluctant to put himself in such a position not knowing what the oboist looked like. The latter was rectified when the Met season opened and he came up to New York for his first scheduled performance of the season, La Bohème. He took that opportunity to see for himself just what this oboist looked like. And so it was that Garry, sitting in the Dress Circle, was “checking me out” through high-powered binoculars…thankfully, without my knowledge.
Apparently pleased with what he saw, Garry gave Ray and Judy the go-ahead, and they conspired to arrange what would appear to be an impromptu meet-up in the Met cafeteria for a performance of Arabella the following week - Garry’s next scheduled Met performance. As instructed by Ray, Garry came backstage to the Met cafeteria at each of that night’s two intermissions. Their plan was a bust, however, because I did not happen to go to the cafeteria at all that evening and, thus, did not fall into the trap that had been set for me.
But the weekend was young. Garry had a ticket in his wallet for the next day’s matinée and would be returning to the Met about twelve hours later.
Le Nozze di Figaro had been a hot ticket that fall. It featured a stellar cast, conducted by James Levine, and it marked the much-anticipated debut of baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role. For all those reasons, plus the fact that the opening night performance had merited a glowing review on the front page of the New York Times, tickets were not easy to come by. Garry had gone straight to the box office upon arriving in New York the day before and, by chance, he had purchased the very last available ticket for the next day’s matinée performance of Figaro.
I played in that matinée performance on October 22nd, 1994. Afterward, I packed up, feeling good to have finished the work week, and was looking forward to a quiet evening in my apartment sitting down to watch my favorite “chick flick” TV show - Sisters - after whipping up a batch of nachos and pouring myself a glass of red wine. But as I approached the security desk near the stage door exit, Judy intercepted me. This seemed quite odd; I had spoken to her before only a few times. When she asked me if I had plans for the evening, that seemed even more incongruous. There was someone she wanted to introduce me to, she explained, ignoring the puzzled expression on my face. As if on cue, Judy’s friend came walking through the stage door before I could blurt out some made-up plans that I had only just remembered.
Judy must have sensed my hesitation because, after a swift introduction, she quickly and very matter-of-factly whisked us off to the Met cafeteria. It didn’t take long for even this naïve Midwesterner to figure out that this had been no chance meeting and that I had been ambushed. I decided to play along.
Cappuccino seemed like less of a commitment than dinner. Besides, I was still going to make those nachos, I reasoned. A brief cup of coffee: how uncomfortable could that be? Ray soon joined the coffee klatsch and, between the day’s remarkable performance and Garry’s encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and opera, there was no shortage of things to talk about.
A quick cappuccino turned into another cappuccino. During our animated conversation, the stagehands had struck the Figaro set, the stage had been set for the evening’s performances of Tosca, and, in what seemed like no time at all, Ray and the rest of the orchestra were called to the pit. Not being scheduled for the evening performance, I stayed, and Judy, Garry, and I talked well into the first act of the performance.
As Garry likes to tell the story, even though we could all hear the performance of Tosca - featuring the remarkable cast of Luciano Pavarotti, Carol Vaness, and Sherrill Milnes - over the monitors in the cafeteria, he was so smitten that he doesn’t remember hearing a note of it.
Garry and I walked Judy home to her apartment on Central Park West, and then Garry walked me to my apartment on West 72nd Street. We exchanged phone numbers, and Garry went to Penn Station to catch the next train back to Washington.
Exactly nine months to the day after we had been introduced, we were married.
Judy and Ray did not attend the wedding, but they met us at the Munich airport, bearing white lilies, to offer their congratulations and to share the beginning of our honeymoon. In a nod to the day we met, we saw Bryn Terfel in Figaro at the Salzburg Festival and then we were treated to a very big wedding ring: Thanks to Maestro Levine, we had the opportunity to purchase tickets to Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Bayreuth Festival.
Since then, Garry has attended hundreds of Met performances. He still sits in the Dress Circle or the Grand Tier - somewhere where he can see the orchestra. And he still watches me through his binoculars. For a period of about six years, his binoculars were trained alternately on me and on our daughter, Melanie, born in 1997, who regularly performed onstage with the Met Children’s Chorus.
Despite Judy’s illustrious operatic career, through which she garnered accolades for her many performances in Europe and America as well as audio and video recordings, to this day she insists that introducing Garry and me was one of her single greatest accomplishments.