For greater than a half-century, practically each distinguished 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 the efficiency in a raspy Brooklyn accent.
This was Lois Kirschenbaum, one in every of New York’s greatest and longest-standing opera buffs and a nightly staple on the opera because the late 1950s, earlier than Lincoln Center was constructed, when the Met was positioned in Midtown.
Few operatic performances came about on the Met with out being noticed by way of Ms. Kirschenbaum’s massive binoculars (she was legally blind from delivery), 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 distinguished singers went residence with out signing quite a few objects for Ms. Kirschenbaum, whose fixed need to get backstage helped her befriend among 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 stated. She was 88.
Such was Ms. Kirschenbaum’s fame on the Met, in addition to at New York City Opera, that singers half-joked that that they had really arrived on the New York opera scene solely after being approached by Ms. Kirschenbaum after a efficiency.
“It was like getting a special type of approval,” the mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade stated. “I never met anyone who didn’t welcome her backstage and want to hang out with her.”
She added, “We’d always look out for her and bring her in early if we could, because everyone loved her, and she’d have a hundred things to sign.”
The bass singer Samuel Ramey stated he was first approached by Ms. Kirschenbaum in his dressing room instantly after his first main function, as Don Basilio in “The Barber of Seville” with City Opera in late 1973.
“I was told, ‘You’ve made it now — Lois has asked you for your autograph,’” he recalled, including that Ms. Kirschenbaum turned a relentless presence backstage after his performances and that the 2 turned good pals.
“She was something else — she always got on the backstage list,” he stated.
Ms. Kirschenbaum, a wisecracking native of Flatbush, defied the stereotype of a highfalutin opera aficionado. She labored as a switchboard operator for the International Rescue Committee, the humanitarian help group, till retiring in 2004. She lived practically her total grownup life in a rent-controlled residence within the East Village, from which she would journey by subway and metropolis bus to Lincoln Center whereas lugging an enormous purse stuffed with photographs, packages 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.
“Everyone knew her, from the workers who cleaned the bathrooms, to ticket takers, to the administration and of course the singers,” stated one other longtime pal, Carl Halperin. “All you had to say was ‘Lois’ and everybody knew who you meant.”
Ms. Kirschenbaum was the grande dame of a bunch of hard-core followers who would flock to the backstage door for autographs and chats.
With the assistance of her formidable purse, she would rapidly discover her solution to the entrance of the road and method singers with complimentary and detailed critiques of their performances — from that evening or from years earlier.
“She could tell you anything going on in your performances on any given night — this or that particular phrase and what it meant,” the soprano Aprile Millo recalled. “For a singer, it gave you the feeling that you were being heard.”
“She was so much part of the opera lore of New York, like the aficionados at La Scala,” the opera home in Milan, Ms. Millo stated.
Working the switchboard allowed Ms. Kirschenbaum to name singers and opera insiders for updates on information like solid modifications or present cancellations, info she would then relay to fellow opera buffs.
“For opera, she really was the internet before there was the internet,” stated Ken Benson, a supervisor of opera singers and one other longtime pal.
And earlier than the Met started placing out detailed schedules months upfront, Ms. Kirschenbaum turned recognized 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.
“People would say that Lois’s list was more precise than what you’d get from the press,” Ms. Millo stated.
Ms. Kirschenbaum gleaned a lot of her info whereas soliciting singers’ autographs.
“She’d ask them, ‘When are you coming back and what are singing next year?,’” Mr. Halperin recalled. “And while Luciano Pavarotti was signing something for her, he’d say he’d be singing ‘La Bohème’ and ‘Tosca’ next season. And she’d collect all this.”
Ms. Millo stated Ms. Kirschenbaum might need her signal as much as 20 items of memorabilia at a time. “It was a way to keep you engaged — it was clever of her,” she stated.
Lois Kirschenbaum was born in New York City 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 High School in Brooklyn.
Ms. Kirschenbaum was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan, however when the Dodgers left 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 75th 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 gained a raffle to see Beverly Sills’s farewell efficiency gala at City Opera, after having seen each function Ms. Sills sang in New York, besides one, for 25 years.
“Beverly saw me after that and said, ‘Lois, it was fixed,’” Ms. Kirschenbaum laughingly informed The New York Times in 2012.
In latest years, 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.
Friends stated she by no means married and by no means spoke of any surviving relations.
It was unclear what would develop into of the trove of autographs, packages and images left behind in Ms. Kirschenbaum’s residence.
“There was no one more devoted to opera and the artists she loved than Lois,” Ms. Fleming stated. “She was a beloved member of the Metropolitan Opera family, like a favorite aunt. I will miss knowing she is watching from the balcony and seeing her afterward at the stage door.”