October 14, 2013
Facebook is a strange, algorhythmic companion. Today it invited me to wish a happy birthday to my friend Patricia Scimeca. The reminder brought me up short. You see, Tricia died three weeks ago. She was in that special category of beloved-friend-of-friend. I met her through Amy Burton and John Musto, and we had many sweet encounters over the decades. I coached her some in the 1980s—she was a Wagnerian soprano, a Sieglinde type. After she married Michael Scimeca, who was on the NYFOS board for a number of years, I was regularly at their house for holiday parties and after-concert events—unforgettable banquets. For a few seasons they threw a summer fund-raiser for us. And I recently recalled that I not only attended their engagement party, but I was somehow persuaded to play the piano and sing at the reception. This is a very rare event; once every decade I pretend I’m Michael Feinstein for three minutes, if I’ve been unwise enough to indulge in too much alcohol. Somewhere there is a videotape of me belting out “Makin’ Whoopee” at an electric piano. Whoever has the cassette: erase it.
I gradually lost touch with Patricia when her husband stepped off the NYFOS board, and I regret it. Michael is an irresistible, larger-than-life New York character, and Tricia was a dear human being, as generous and bright as they come. She fought cancer valiantly—and was winning until the all-too-ingenious illness figured out a way to conquer her. She was in hospice from April until September, and I was unaware of it until Amy posted something about Tricia on—what else?—Facebook. I realized that my beloved, distant friend was dying.
I remember thinking as I rolled over to her funeral at St. John the Divine, “Well, Ben Franklin had it right. In this world nothing is certain—except death and taxes.” Friday I wept bitterly for Patricia—I think her death echoed those of my sister-in-law Liz and my cousin-in-law Nan, both recent and painful losses. And Saturday, I worked on my 2012 income tax figures. (Yes, I always file at the last minute.)
There was still more sadness to come, of a different nature. On Monday, New York City Opera shut down operations for good. The decline had been even more drawn out than Tricia’s slow descent. I’d been a regular attendee since the mid-1960s when I saw my first Traviata at their original home at City Center. When George Steel took over as Artistic Director, he hired me as a casting consultant. It was my first job with a full-scale, adult opera company—perhaps my last as well, though I’d welcome a similar post with a more solvent operation. I was somewhat prepared for the bonfire, but the whole affair is still very painful. I was therefore especially galled to read that the well-fed Carnegie Hall stagehands were demanding still more money, as both City Opera and the Minnesota Orchestra crumble and every other arts organization in the world is on austerity. Perhaps most galling of all was a full-page “think piece” in the New York Times about why we need to take Miley Cyrus seriously as she “bravely” forges a “new path” in popular music. I think Dante wrote about that path…in the Inferno.
As a counterpoint to the poverty and avarice that is running rampant through the world of classical music, Tricia left the world a beautiful legacy: a fund to help young singers, administered by Opera America. It’s not easy to find the Patricia Scimeca Fund for Emerging Singers on the website, but if you contact Sam Snook (firstname.lastname@example.org) he can explain everything.