An Opera Superfan’s Shock Present: $1.7 Million for the Arts


When Lois Kirschenbaum, a cultural aficionado who was a fixture within the standing room part of the Metropolitan Opera for greater than half a century, died in 2021 at 88, star singers gave tributes and fellow followers supplied remembrances.

However that was not the tip of Kirschenbaum’s relationship with the humanities.

Although even her closest pals didn’t know, Kirschenbaum, a former switchboard operator who lived in a rent-controlled residence within the East Village, had made plans to provide away a big share of her life financial savings — some $1.7 million — to cultural teams upon her loss of life. After years of authorized proceedings, donations of $215,000 apiece have began to reach, shocking teams like New York Metropolis Opera, American Ballet Theater, Carnegie Corridor and the Public Theater.

“I used to be simply astonished,” mentioned John Hauser, the president of the George and Nora London Basis for Singers, one of many recipients. “I had no concept that she had that type of cash.”

Kirschenbaum had no partner, siblings or kids, and lived a no-frills life-style, working as a switchboard operator for the Worldwide Rescue Committee, a humanitarian help group, till her retirement in 2004. On most nights, she traveled by bus and subway to Lincoln Heart, the place she secured free or low-cost tickets simply earlier than performances started.

Elena Villafane, a lawyer for the executor of the property, mentioned that Kirschenbaum had “an extremely frugal, Melancholy-era life-style.” Her father was an optometrist who died in 1990, Villafane mentioned; his first and second wives died earlier than him.

“She didn’t take a cab, her furnishings was outdated, she didn’t spend cash on garments, she wasn’t going to Bloomingdale’s,” Villafane mentioned of Kirschenbaum.

“No matter little cash she spent,” she added, “she spent on the humanities.”

For many years, Kirschenbaum was the doyenne of hard-core opera buffs who populated the standing-room sections on the Met. Legally blind from start, she typically watched performances from the uppermost balcony by means of massive binoculars. After the curtain name, she rushed to the stage door for autographs, bringing a bag filled with memorabilia — photographs, recordings and scores — to be signed.

Susan Jaffe, the inventive director of American Ballet Theater, who was a principal dancer with the corporate from 1983 to 2002, recalled seeing Kirschenbaum steadily after performances.

“On the earth of ballet, Lois Kirschenbaum was not only a devoted fan — she was a silent power, an unwavering presence exterior the stage door,” she mentioned in an announcement. “Little did we all know, behind her humble demeanor, she held the ability to shock us with an exquisite legacy reward.”

Kirschenbaum’s devotion helped her befriend opera stars together with Beverly Sills, Renée Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo. Dutifully signing her belongings grew to become a ceremony of passage for some singers. Whereas they chatted, Kirschenbaum gathered details about their upcoming appearances and compiled it in do-it-yourself lists that she distributed to fellow opera buffs.

She left behind a trove of memorabilia — hundreds of packages, lots of them autographed, and even a couple of pairs of ballet slippers — that she directed to be given to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Heart.

The library has not but acquired her gadgets, however Bob Kosovsky, a uncommon books and manuscripts librarian who knew Kirschenbaum and helped pack up her belongings, known as the fabric the “documentation of the superfan.”

He pointed to her frequent notes within the margins of her packages. In 1978, the New York Philharmonic gave three performances of a program that featured the ultimate scene from Strauss’s opera “Salome.” She wrote in this system from one live performance: “Even higher than 1st perf.”

“You actually get a way of her character,” Kosovsky mentioned.

The overall distribution from Kirschenbaum’s property, about $4 million, is being divided equally amongst 18 nonprofit organizations and one particular person, a girl who helped take care of her and her father. Along with her donations to cultural establishments, she left cash for Jewish teams together with the Simon Wiesenthal Heart, in addition to for nonprofits that help the blind, such because the American Basis for the Blind. And he or she gave to her former employer, the Worldwide Rescue Committee.

Regardless of her enthusiasm for Met performances, Kirschenbaum didn’t depart a present for the opera home. Mates have speculated that she might need been angered by the corporate’s determination within the early Nineties — across the time she created her will — to ban her backstage, relegating her to the stage door.

As an alternative, she gave cash to different opera teams, together with a number of that assist younger singers: the London basis, the Richard Tucker Music Basis and Opera Index.

The London basis, named for the storied bass-baritone George London and his spouse, Nora, introduced this week that it deliberate to provide an award in Kirschenbaum’s honor at its competitors for younger singers subsequent month. Kirschenbaum, who knew the Londons from backstage on the Met, was a frequent visitor on the basis’s occasions.

“She was absolutely the excellent spectator,” mentioned Hauser, from the muse. “I can’t consider anybody who loves opera fairly as voraciously as she did. She was simply an opera superfan. It actually was a very powerful factor in her life.”



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