Cher Public

All Sills final

You can tell a lot about someone from their garage sale. You can tell what’s important to them. You can tell where they’ve been and who they are., what their priorities are and the kind of people they associate with: all sorts of things.

I learned a lot about the New York City Opera from their online auction a few weeks ago.  

Near the end of last year, the New York City Opera, grappling with various debts, made the choice that instead of continuing to pay for storage of their productions-some of which date back to the 1970’s or before- they would hold an online auction of the items to raise money Things older than the famous Three Queens throne used by Beverly Sills in the NYCO productions of Bolena, Stuarda and Devereux, to items like the row boat from Cosi fan Tutte produced just last year. Many an opera fan would have been able to identify at least one of the over 3,050 items for sale.

In the end, almost everything sold. Even things like trailers sold as well as complete productions of various operas. My bet would be that this auction was a success for NYCO, but whether this auction was a success for the buyer… we,, the jury’s still out on that one.

My opera obsession wasn’t in full swing until around 2010. By that time, I was getting to one opera a year at best, and the Met was the focal point of my operatic excursions. I went to my first NYCO production in the winter of last year (Prima Donna) and despite what most critics said, I really enjoyed it.

I was long aware of the uphill fight to keep NYCO in Lincoln Center, then to keep it open, but I was a little late to reap the benefits of the company. Now that they’re producing part of their season in Brooklyn, it’s even more inaccessible for me as that I don’t live in New York City, and most of my trips are to Manhattan.

These items were like a final remembrance of what NYCO must have been, so I threw my hat into the ring for a few items to see what I could win.

Of the two lots I won, one were some props from the famous Manon with Sills (because, let’s be honest, it would be pretty cool to own something she used onstage), and the other were a lot of vocal scores.

Last Saturday, I finally brought the items home, which was an uphill battle in itself for a few reasons.

To begin, the auction house that organized the event was less than easy to deal with. On the website, each lot of props (which were what I was mostly interested in) were listed as something like “Assorted bottles, books, knives, jewelry and more” from whatever the opera was. When I placed by bid on the props from Manon seen below featuring “Assorted Small Props, Including Baskets, Glassware, Bottles, and More”, I thought more meant another glass or another basket. This is what I thought I won:

What I actually won was easily twice this amount in garbage bags, trays and other things. More, did not just mean another glass or another basket.Now I know that more is the caveat emptor for the items and I understand that it would take years to catalogue all the various items sold, but the more I got was absolutely horrendous.

Not only did I get all the items seen in the above photo, but I got easily two times that in filthy, dirty linens, trays with travel shampoo bottles glued to them, prop books and entire bolts of dirty fabric that required a separate box themselves. The basket of fake flowers you can partially see, must have given someone an allergy attack because they were riddled with used tissues.  I’m sure that even the most sentimental and discerning opera buff would agree that the majority of what I was given belonged in the trash.

Now, not only is there not enough room in my house for most of the junk (we already threw away most of the unusable items), but I feel totally duped and taken advantage of by Tiger Remarketing Services as well as NYCO. Also, Tiger didn’t tell me weight or dimensions of the items I won, so when I got an email from the third party shipper telling me that not only did I win over 100 lbs of stuff, but also that it would take “hundreds of dollars to pack and ship it all”, I was confused and angry.

So, opting not to spend the hundreds of dollars I didn’t think I would need to spend, I spent part of the day last weekend in Paramus, New Jersey, picking up the items and bringing them back home. It would have been easier to pick up the items straight from the auction house without paying for the pickup and storage fee. If they had told me more about what I had won, then maybe I could have planned more effectively. There were just too many loose ends for this auction. There was a lot to be desired with the organization. This was acutely felt as I was rooting through disjointed fabrics that appear to have been used to clean up after incontinent choristers.

There were more things that looked like this than not.

As I said, most of the fabric items I got were stained or soiled, along with items that were falling apart as it was. New York City Opera didn’t want to hire a dumpster. So they sold their garbage to me.

There is a fine line between history and junk. I got a little of both.  Amongst the rubble, there were quite a few gems, starting with the wooden swing by Beverly Sills swung on in Act One.

Also amongst the spoils are some packs of oversize cards which are undoubtedly from the Hotel Transylvanie scene…


and a scroll that, at a guess, was not.

Also included in the Manon collection were costume jewelry pieces the little sister has put to good use. Other props I don’t have room for were donated to my school’s drama department..

Finally, the other lot I won was a lot of vocal scores. I’m sure many of you will agree that whether you’re a singer or not, you can never have too many vocal scores. As a fledgling score collector, I thought this might be a cheap and easy way to strengthen my collection. In the end, I ended up with around seven piano-vocal scores of Emmeline (Tobias Picker) and a few copies of the libretto for The Glassblowers. That was it in the “assorted scores” lot. Nothing felt properly curated.

I assume that I might have had more consistent results if I had bid on one specific item like that terrifying looking Adonis head from Hoffman or the throne I mentioned above. I know that some of my disappointment came from setting my hopes too high, but asking for a glass without sediment still in it isn’t setting the bar too high, isn’t it?

In the end, my biggest complaint was the lack of care. Everything was dusty, dirty and unorganized. There was no love put into the sale of items. And with NYCO being the way it is now, they’re going need that love more than ever.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Congratulations on your bid at the auction! Owning that swing is quite a coup. It was quite famous and served for several sopranos. Back then, putting someone in a swing was as radical as an onstage flame thrower in the Bieito Parsifal. Were the 7 scores of Ermeline xerox copies or printed from the publisher? You can always sell the other 6 on ebay. Did they give you one of the canvas baskets on wheels that held the lot. In some cases, that and the NYCO roadboxes were worth more than many of the contents.

  • phoenix

    You can’t take ’em with you!

  • Camille

    Honey, I just love you.

    Look, it’s the way life is. You mostly get handed a pile of merde but once in a while you’ll come across Bev’s Swing — something unique and rare.

    I remember you trying ro get some help from the parterrians about this mess and I am not sure anyone was able to. I am awfully sorry that you got dumped on in this matter and NYCO is disgusting to me. I’ll never go back again, not if they get a hologram of Maria Callas to sing.

    BUT, you got Bev’s Swing. And no one else has got it but you. You have to go through a pile of schite sometimes to find a nugget of gold.

    With all my heart full of good wishes for a lifetime of opera happiness and
    Once an Operateen, just like you are. It gets easier as you go along.

    And don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Watch “Catfish” on MTV sometime to see what I mean….

    • Camille

      P. S. — I forgot — why don’t you give some scores to Emmeline to Juilliard or the New York Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. Or go online to and see if there are upcoming performances and see if they need scores. Not a whole lot of demand, I expect.

  • bluecabochon

    Operateen, I just wanted to weigh in as I am as shocked as you are about the horrible way this was handled by NYCO. You and others deserved so much better! I hope that you will enjoy what you chose to keep.

    Maybe the powers that may be at NYCO will reach out to you with an apology, and more.

    Bravo to you for writing about your experience and sharing it with us.

  • bassoprofundo

    I suppose the disappointment of NYCO’s misleading info is understandable. What I don’t understand is why in the first place you even you wanted the things you *thought* you were buying.

    For example: what exactly were you planning on doing anyway with “assorted bottles” from an old production of Manon?

  • JoetheThirdPlumber

    Operateen, did you go and look at the items you were planning to buy beforehand?
    Did you read the disclaimer that the online auction placed under every item?

    “All items are sold “as-is, where-is” with no guarantees or representations. Buyers are recommended to inspect items before they bid, as all sales are final.”

    • bassoprofundo

      How dare you inject some common sense into this thread?

      He’s only a child, for Christ’s sake!

  • JoetheThirdPlumber

    Operateen, maybe you should make a $10,000 donation to NYCO so they can afford an archivist to organize all that material if you find it disorganized and dusty.
    Or maybe you can offer to volunteer at NYCO to help organize some of that material.

    Is this a thoughtful commentary about the state of NYCO’s financial situation, its management, and the hundreds of people who work there for a living?

    Or is this a post from a teen with a sense of self entitlement complaining on a opera queen website about how he didn’t check out his items ahead of time?

    • OperaTeen

      “Is this a thoughtful commentary about the state of NYCO’s financial situation, its management, and the hundreds of people who work there for a living?

      Or is this a post from a teen with a sense of self entitlement complaining on a opera queen website about how he didn’t check out his items ahead of time.”

      I think it’s a little of both.

      And if I had the resources to do all those things, I would.

      • manou

        Nil desperandum OperaTeen -- you have shown gravitas confronting cacoethes carpendi and caveat emptor.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Theba peste moritur!

      • derschatzgabber

        OperaTeen, what a gracious reply to less than gracious comments.

        Thanks for sharing your auction experience with us.

    • Evenhanded


      Isn’t there just always a “JoetheThirdPlumber” type lurking and anxious to share a condemning remark? What a ridiculous post.

      I hardly think that Operateen’s remarks were made out of a “sense of entitlement”. Clearly, the auction was handled poorly, despite any disclaimers/waivers in the fine print. Anyone participating in an auction of items from a once famous opera company would rightly expect CLEAN (if worthless) goods at the very minimum.

      And how utterly ridiculous to suggest that Operateen (or anyone) should make a hefty donation so said opera company could “afford” an archivist. The company should have kept its assets well-organized ALL ALONG, or gotten rid of them in a timely fashion before they fell into total ruin.

      Yes, it is the buyer’s responsibility to check items before purchasing, but in this age of online auctioning, that is seldom the case anymore, let’s be honest. We all have to make assumptions (and take the associated risks). So, I can certainly understand Operateen’s disappointment. I’m sure I would have been furious. NYCO has become an embarrassment from top to bottom, and a mere stain on the luxurious fabric of what was a very excellent company.

      Thanks for sharing, Operateen. Don’t let your enthusiasm be dimmed by this experience. And certainly don’t ever let yourself start listening to the likes of Plumber’s comments above. There will always be people like that lurking about. Better to avoid them and keep smiling!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I hope Operateen will have a great career and make a ton of money to own a huge home, in which the NYCO swing can be hung with pride. Geoge Steel showed blatant disrespect for the archival value of so many years of material. Vergogna!

    • OperaTeen


  • RDaggle

    Gosh, what a lot of fuss about very little.

    Obviously this was a housecleaning project dressed up as an auction. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Storage Wars, anyone?

    And a company that practically went out of business and into Chapter 11 should have paid a salary to an archivist? I wonder what the singers, musicians, stagehands, et al. would have to say about that.

    It’s too bad there was a ton of disgusting rags bundled in with the memorabilia, but it’s a reality check about “the glamorous life”. (What was that famous Diva remark about “the indescribable filth” backstage? And she was undoubtedly speaking about a nicer venue than the New York State Theater that was.)

    Oh, that picture of the filthy handkerchief — for my own mental health I have decided those smudges are makeup. Makeup, I say!!!

    • JoetheThirdPlumber

      A company that practically went out of business and into Chapter 11 shouldn’t and couldn’t have paid a salary to an archivist.
      They need financial and volunteer help that they currently don’t have.
      NYCO has recently moved out of Lincoln Center, reduced the number of productions, and had its archives damaged during Sandy.
      It has made a number of poor decisions.

      What I found irritating about Operateen’s post was that this was just another post/complaint about the financial inadequacies and problems facing NYCO without really offering any solutions or help to the problem.
      Operateen is stating the obvious. The post doesn’t really offer anything new.
      I can basically summarize the post as “NYCO ran a poor auction and I got a lot of lousy stuff”.

      If people on this site really valued the cultural offerings that NYCO supposedly offered, why haven’t they done anything about it or tried to help NYCO more?
      If they really believe that there are leadership and financial problems facing NYCO, why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?

      Operateen, do you think the future GM of a
      major opera house should act like the Parterrians on this website, incessantly extorting the virtues of their favorite divas and lamenting the demise of opera culture in NY?

      Or do you think they would have a vision and try to come up with solutions and courses of action to resolve those problems?

      How would you try to turn the NYCO opera house around? THAT would be something I would actually want to read. Not some post with a picture of a dirty handkerchief.

      The other reason that your post irritated, or rather, bored me, was because the post was like complaining about high rent prices, crooked politicians, or bad food in your high school.
      People are going to try to take advantage of you in this life. Landlords are going to raise rents, politicians are going to lie to you, and lunchladies are going to serve you slop.
      It’s up to you to protect yourself. Next time, if you are in a situation where you feel you don’t have enough information, make sure you get enough information. Don’t expect everything to be handed to you.

      NYCO/Tiger Auctions screwed you. Chalk it up as a learning experience.

      • Ilka Saro

        [with much pulling out of hair and deep desparation for all that is truly important] Why don’t they UNDERSTAND?!?!?! Oh here. Let me explain life to you. NYCO tanked because of catty queens on parterre. Don’t be one of them. Or something. Let me go on a while more about it. And a bit more.

      • If people on this site really valued the cultural offerings that NYCO supposedly offered, why haven’t they done anything about it or tried to help NYCO more?

        Like what? Attend the season of performances that never happened? Throw donation money at a company being run as the fiefdom of a delusional failed investment banker? Pay for tickets to see uninteresting boutique repertoire so unpopular the company gave away twice as many tickets as it sold?

        It’s not the job of operagoers to run the opera companies any more than it is the job of patients to administer the finances and medical standards of a hospital. And the consumer has every right to be angry when the service deliverer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Uh, yeah, we realize you’ve been treated like crap, but, hey, we’re poooooor!”

  • Bosah

    Here we have a teenager interested in opera, so interested, in fact, that he spent not a small sum at an auction of NYCO artifacts. So interested that he wrote about it -- in prose, by the way, better than a lot of adults could do nowadays.

    What do a few here do to this teen who will be the foundation of opera’s audience in the future? Criticize his efforts, naturally.

    May I echo the comments of the majority here and say how much I enjoyed OperaTeen’s post and how much I appreciate his love of opera.

    Thank you, La Cieca, for providing OperaTeen a platform.

    Is it out of bounds to ask how old you are, OperaTeen? If you prefer not to answer, that is entirely understandable.

    • bassoprofundo

      I had a job at 13. People didn’t baby me.

      And presumably, if he is writing here, he wants to be viewed/treated as an adult. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have license to be rude to people of course, but all posters have done in this thread is state the obvious. He’s a teenager, not a toddler.

      • Bosah

        Well, we have different views on that matter, it seems. I do think it’s important to encourage and support young people interested in opera, perhaps moreso than would be done with other adults.

        Different strokes / different folks.

        • bassoprofundo

          No one is discouraging his interest in opera.

      • operalover9001

        This has nothing to do with babying. Certain reactions on this thread have been “he’s not offering a solution to magically solve all of NYCO’s problems, therefore this article is a waste of space”, which is petty whether the author is 7 or 70.

      • operalover9001

        And as a matter of fact, I don’t think that his article is just a rehash of the usual “NYCO SUCKS” comments. I remember the NYCO auction being cited as an innovative way to not only get money but also to gain a sense of goodwill within the NY community, and Operateen’s article shows that in this case, they clearly haven’t done the latter.

      • I had a job at 13. People didn’t baby me.

        Yes, and look how well you turned out.

        • bassoprofundo

          I would have turned out even worse if I had been babied!!!

          • OperaTeen

            It’s one thing to be “babied”, but a completely different thing to have your perceived strengths appreciated and nurtured by those around you. Thank GOD I’ve found those people, and I’m sorry you presumably missed out on that experience.

          • bassoprofundo

            wow, you’ve made me feel bad now. my apologies OperaTeen.

    • OperaTeen

      Hi Bosah,

      Thank you for your nice comment, and yes, we all owe a lot to LC. And I’m 15, if you’re still wondering.



      • rapt

        I wish I’d been as articulate as you at 15, OT, and as able to come back to an unfair punch. Don’t let go of your inner gyroscope in the years ahead.

  • damekenneth

    I’m still laughing about “All Sills Final.” And feeling touched by Operateen’s wish to own some NYCO memorabilia. (And touched by Camille’s avuncular comments.)

    When I was an opera loving 16 year old growing up in Laguna Beach, California, I read that Beverly Sills’ 50th birthday party was being hosted at the Hotel Del Coronado as a gala for San Diego Opera. I caught a train to San Diego early the day of the event, found my way to Coronado island by bus, and scoped out the hotel. I had, improbably, a California press pass because my high school paper, for which i wrote, had managed to obtain press credentials for us “reporters.” And I had my high school choir tux in a bag. I presented my scruffy, surfer self to the press table and was told that though they had no more dinners available, I was welcome to “cover” the festivities for the article I said I was writing: on the renaissance of opera in America. I happened to be the only person in a long hallway when Sills arrived, wearing a puffy black and white poka dot dress. She walked up to me, laid a hand on my shoulder and rather hoarsely groaned out “I’m going to take three deep breaths now.” She turned the corner and next met Carol Burnett.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      She was a nice person. I met her at an ABA convention party and she was charming and present. I’m not knocking others who are more remote, but she had a gift.

  • laragazza

    I would like to point out something to people who might be avid opera or theater goers, but not acquainted first-hand with the onstage and backstage realities of live theater, or movies, for that fact. Most stage props are designed to look gorgeous from the house but, close-up, are really just pieces of cheap shit. It is part of the magic and illusion of theater. Many, if not most of the items are deliberately “dirtied up” (i.e.the grubby handkerchief)so they will not reflect light onstage, causing a distracting reflection on the set or a visible glare out in the house. Moreover, if the production has been around a long time, the items are passed around from theater to theater if it is in rental, or they might have spent years in storage. Costumes are generally dry-cleaned before being passed along, but I’m pretty sure props are packed away post-haste after the last performance in a given venue and sent off the their next destination within hours after the curtain falls. I don’t think the prop masters are taking time to wash residue out of glasses. Over time, some props can become quite shabby. They might look great from the audience, but up close you might see frayed edges, bald spots, and giant globs of glue leftover from the last repair job. Sets, props and costumes which look dazzling from the 5th ring,when viewed up-close or through the binocs, turn out to be a lot of tinsel and cheap fabric. The idea is to look luxurious without going over budget. A gorgeous crystal chandelier from NYCO’s Traviata was really just half a chandelier. I pity the person who thought that would look really great in their dining room! I think what happened to our young friend here, is that he “bought” the illusion, but sadly, took home the reality. The only real value of these things lies in their association to the famous performers who made use of them, or perhaps the big-name designers who designed them.

  • aronocity

    Does anyone know what other scores were in the auction? Any full scores?