The Sunday Edition

Librarian to the Maestro

At twenty-to-eight on the evening of September 22nd, Robert Sutherland will knock on James Levine's dressing room door at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He will check to see whether the Maestro needs anything. He will pick up the conductor's music score, slip down to the orchestra pit and place it on the stand. Those are just a few...
At twenty-to-eight on the evening of September 22nd, Robert Sutherland will knock on James Levine's dressing room door at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He will check to see whether the Maestro needs anything. He will pick up the conductor's music score, slip down to the orchestra pit and place it on the stand. Those are just a few of the things a music librarian does.

At precisely 8 p.m., Levine will make his way to the podium, and the curtain will go up on Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" and a new season of 26 operas. Figaro will be seen by four thousand people in the theatre on opening night. 

Later in the run, opera fans will crowd into two thousand movie theatres from Albania to Madagascar - in 66 countries around the world. A million people will be watching the live broadcast. The Metropolitan Opera music library is right next to the orchestra pit - just steps away. Robert Sutherland will be listening to it all over tinny speakers  - poised to remedy any musical emergency. 

For the last 21 years, he has overseen a library of literally millions of sheets of music. He looks after the vocal scores that have been used by prima donnas over the last hundred years. He repairs pages that have been turned quickly by sweaty fingers night after night. And he painstakingly puts together the music for every new variation - every repeat, every cut, for every opera.

Little did Robert Sutherland know when he picked up the trumpet at Laurentian High School in Ottawa in the 60s, that he would end up at the Metropolitan Opera. Late last season, between a matinee and an evening performance, documentry producer Karin Wells joined him in the pit.

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