October 3, 2013

New York City Opera Archives (what's left anyway) Going To Columbia University

New York City Opera at Lincoln Center 

The New York City Opera declared bankruptcy which the Wall Street Journal reported on today. The article (which you can find here) reveals information about NYCO's archive which had been damaged by flooding via hurricane Sandy. The court filing states that the archive will be transported to Columbia University. 

The opera’s historical archives and music library – which include recordings, playbills and musical scores with conductors’ markings—are being moved to the Columbia University Library’s Rare Book and Manuscript Division for safekeeping. The collection, damaged by floodwater during superstorm Sandy, will be restored with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the filing. Ownership of the collection could be transferred to Columbia if the court and the state attorney general approve.

It should be noted that the amount of damage to the archive is not known. However, it is doubtful that NYCO's archive has survived intact when one considers what happens to paper once it has been submerged in water even for a short time. (FYI: it turns to mush.) Photographs are especially vulnerable. Since the filing states that the archive will be "restored," rather then "has been in the process of restoration," it is reasonable to assume that what remains is in a very sorry state. Picture it. Boxes of soggy paper sitting around for months, getting moldy. What do you think happens to that material? It's being restored only now—whenever that is? If you are like me, you are shaking your head in disbelief.


  1. When I heard about the bankruptcy, almost my first thought was of the archives: surely the restoration would not be a priority. (Setting aside whether it ever was.) At least now we know where they'll go, and I'm hopeful they'll be cared for responsibly. Certainly worse outcomes were possible.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Bill! I share you thoughts, and fear that the worse outcome has already taken place.


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