For greater than a half-century, almost each outstanding singer to carry out on the Metropolitan Opera might count on to be approached backstage afterward by a wispy girl in thick glasses, who held piles of memorabilia to be autographed whereas she praised their efficiency in a raspy Brooklyn accent.
This was Lois Kirschenbaum, certainly one of New York’s largest and longest-standing opera buffs and a nightly staple on the opera for the reason that late Fifties, earlier than Lincoln Heart was constructed, when the Met was positioned in Midtown.
Few operatic performances happened on the Met with out being noticed by Ms. Kirschenbaum’s massive binoculars (she was legally blind from start), normally from a seat within the uppermost balcony secured for little or no cash by canvassing operagoers on the entrance simply earlier than the opening curtain.
And few outstanding singers went dwelling with out signing quite a few gadgets for Ms. Kirschenbaum, whose fixed need to get backstage helped her befriend a few of the world’s most well-known opera singers, from Beverly Sills to Plácido Domingo.
Ms. Kirschenbaum died on March 27 at a hospital in Manhattan after affected by pneumonia and renal failure, her longtime pal Sally Jo Sandelin mentioned. She was 88.
Such was Ms. Kirschenbaum’s status on the Met, in addition to at New York Metropolis Opera, that singers half-joked that they’d really arrived on the New York opera scene solely after being approached by Ms. Kirschenbaum after a efficiency.
“It was like getting a particular kind of approval,” the mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade mentioned. “I by no means met anybody who didn’t welcome her backstage and wish to hang around together with her.”
“We’d all the time look out for her and convey her in early if we might,” Ms. von Stade added, “as a result of everybody cherished her and she or he’d have 100 issues to signal.”
The bass singer Samuel Ramey mentioned he was first approached by Ms. Kirschenbaum in his dressing room instantly after his first main position, as Don Basilio in “The Barber of Seville” with Metropolis Opera in late 1973.
“I used to be informed, ‘You’ve made it now — Lois has requested you on your autograph,’” he recalled, including that Ms. Kirschenbaum turned a continuing presence backstage after his performances over time and the 2 turned good mates.
“She was one thing else — she all the time acquired on the backstage record,” he mentioned.
Ms. Kirschenbaum, a wisecracking native of Flatbush, defied the stereotype of a highfalutin opera aficionado. She labored as a switchboard operator till retiring in 2004 and lived almost her complete grownup life in a rent-controlled house within the East Village, from which she would journey by subway and metropolis bus to Lincoln Heart whereas lugging an enormous purse stuffed with pictures, applications and recordings to be signed.
If she was unable to attain a free or low-cost ticket simply earlier than the efficiency, she would typically slip in with the assistance of a pleasant staffer.
“Everybody knew her, from the employees who cleaned the bogs to ticket takers to the administration and naturally the singers,” mentioned one other longtime pal, Carl Halperin. “All you needed to say was ‘Lois’ and all people knew who you meant.”
Ms. Kirschenbaum was the grande dame of a gaggle of hard-core followers who would flock to the backstage door for autographs and chats.
With the assistance of her large purse, she would shortly discover her option to the entrance of the road and method singers with complimentary and detailed critiques of their performances — from that night time, or from years earlier.
“She might inform you something happening in your performances on any given night time — this or that individual phrase and what it meant,” the soprano Aprile Millo recalled. “For a singer, it gave you the sensation that you simply have been being heard.”
“She was a lot a part of the opera lore of New York, just like the aficionados at La Scala,” the well-known opera home in Milan, Ms. Millo mentioned. Ms. Kirschenbaum’s request for an autograph, she added, meant “you bought the blessing.”
Working the switchboard allowed Ms. Kirschenbaum to name singers and opera insiders for updates on information like forged adjustments or present cancellations, info she would then relay to fellow opera buffs.
“For opera, she actually was the web earlier than there was the web,” mentioned Ken Benson, a supervisor of opera singers and one other longtime pal.
And earlier than the Met started placing out detailed schedules months prematurely, Ms. Kirschenbaum turned identified for the selfmade lists she compiled of upcoming performances and featured singers.
She would distribute copies to fellow buffs throughout intermission, whereas having fun with the espresso and sandwiches she routinely smuggled in to keep away from the expense of shopping for meals at Met costs.
“Individuals would say that Lois’s record was extra exact than what you’d get from the press,” Ms. Millo mentioned.
Ms. Kirschenbaum gleaned a lot of her info whereas soliciting singers’ autographs.
“She’d ask them, ‘When are you coming again and what are singing subsequent 12 months?,’” Mr. Halperin recalled. “And whereas Luciano Pavarotti was signing one thing for her, he’d say he’d be singing ‘La Bohème’ and ‘Tosca’ subsequent season. And she or he’d gather all this.”
Ms. Millo mentioned Ms. Kirschenbaum may need her signal as much as 20 items of memorabilia at a time. “It was a option to maintain you engaged — it was intelligent of her,” she mentioned.
Lois Kirschenbaum was born in New York Metropolis on Nov. 21, 1932, to Abraham and Gertrude Kirschenbaum. Her father was an optometrist.
An solely youngster, she grew up in Flatbush and graduated from Thomas Jefferson Excessive College in Brooklyn. She didn’t attend school.
She was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan, however when the Dodgers departed New York for Los Angeles in 1957, her obsession shifted to opera after she heard a recording by the soprano Renata Tebaldi being performed in a file store.
In her later years, Ms. Kirschenbaum alternated between haunting the margins of the Met for tickets and autographs and being honored as a particular visitor at fancy galas held by opera organizations.
For her seventy fifth birthday, in 2007, she was feted at a celebration by singers like Marilyn Horne and Renée Fleming, in addition to the Met’s musical director, James Levine — “Jimmy” to Ms. Kirschenbaum — who gave her a hoop and an autographed operatic rating of “La Bohème.”
In 1980, she received a raffle to see Beverly Sills’s farewell efficiency gala at Metropolis Opera, after having seen each position Ms. Sills sang in New York, besides one, for 25 years.
“Beverly noticed me after that and mentioned, ‘Lois, it was fastened,’” Ms. Kirschenbaum laughingly informed The New York Instances in 2012.
Lately, Ms. Kirschenbaum had begun utilizing a wheelchair and went to the Met solely sporadically. She continued to take heed to opera (and to Yankees video games) on the radio.
Buddies mentioned she by no means married and by no means spoke of any surviving members of the family.
It was unclear what would develop into of the trove of autographs, applications and pictures left behind in Ms. Kirschenbaum’s house.
“There was no yet another dedicated to opera and the artists she cherished than Lois,” Ms. Fleming mentioned. “She was a beloved member of the Metropolitan Opera household, like a favourite aunt. I’ll miss realizing she is watching from the balcony, and seeing her afterward on the stage door.”