November 2, 2012

NYCO Archives Irreparably Damaged

Beverly Sills

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 1st that New York City Opera's musical library and archive, which was housed in a basement in the company's offices in lower Manhattan, was flooded by the 11 foot storm surge that inundated the area earlier this week as a result of hurricane Sandy.

This blog first reported on concern for NYCO's archives a year ago, starting in a series of posts on November 5th, 2011, which you can find here.

From the article in the WSJ...

As the cost of cleaning up and rebuilding after Sandy climbs into the billions of dollars, the cultural community is facing the loss of objects and artifacts that could be considered priceless, from conductors' handwritten notes on orchestral scores to a more than century-old pendent silver linden tree in the Bronx.
New York City Opera's musical library and archives, located 75 Broad St., have been damaged by water that all but filled the basement of the building. Hundreds of boxes were submerged from at least Tuesday until the room was drained Thursday. Although the exact contents are not known, the archive included Playbills, recordings and sheet music that could contain notes by legendary conductors such as Erich Leinsdorf, Juilus Rudel and others.
"Once you play the show, there are conductor's marks and bowing," said City Opera's general manager and artistic director, George Steel, referring to directions given to strings. "There is knowledge that does not exist anywhere else." 
In their preparations for the storm, Mr. Steel and Barbara Wohlsen, the company's director of production, moved about 40 of the boxes to the company's offices on the 10th floor. "I don't know what exactly was in the boxes," Mr. Steel said. "The ones labeled 'Beverly Sills,' I took upstairs. I know that I took some audio and video tapes."
When the basement water has been fully drained, the materials will be transferred to the care of Rapid Refile, a document-reprocessing company based in Allentown, Pa. There, they will be blast frozen, which stops the bleeding of ink and microbial growth. Another step turns the fine ice crystals directly into a gas, so the paper is never re-wetted or wrinkled. The process can cost between $40 and $70 per cubic foot. 
Rapid Refile's director of field services, Joe Perko, said that after the documents are stabilized, the sorting process can begin. "In a controlled environment, the client goes through the material and decides what will receive additional treatment," he said. Attempting that process prior to stabilization would result in further damage. "You can go through every box as it's wet, but it will take a tremendous amount of time, especially if it's paper. It's difficult to separate."
The basement did not house sets or costumes, which are located in a warehouse in North Bergen, N.J. - WSJ, November 1, 2012

Even with conservation efforts, it seems certain that a great deal of  NYCO's history and heritage is now lost, historic photographs, artist's drawings, and audio tapes being especially vulnerable to water damage.

Photo of Beverly Sills as Elisabetta in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, NYCO, c. 1969.

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