He’s No Singer, but He’s Onstage at the Metropolitan Opera
Good morning. We’ll meet someone who’s appearing onstage in an unusual place — for a pianist, anyway. We’ll also find out how skateboarding figured in Mayor Eric Adams’s State of the City address.
Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Bryan Wagorn will appear onstage at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday.
If he were a singer, this might not be worth noting, but he is not. “No one would pay to hear me sing, let’s put it that way,” he told me.
He is a pianist who has been on the Met staff since 2011, accompanying singers in rehearsals and recitals. Then the Met assigned him to an unusually visible role in “Fedora,” the Umberto Giordano confection that opened on New Year’s Eve. Our critic Zachary Woolfe called it a “lovably preposterous potboiler.”
The Met cast Wagorn as the character Lazinski because Lazinski plays the piano at a party in Act II. The libretto uses the word “Lisztian” to describe him, though not in a way that refers to Liszt’s talent as a pianist but as a “hopeless fop with Lisztian blond hair.”
The Met gave Wagorn, who has short brown hair, a long blond wig. And the opera company found a piano for Wagorn to play that also matched the look of the production, a Steinway with a rosewood case and elaborately styled legs that the Met said was made in the early 1880s.
The role gave Wagorn an unusual claim: Few other pianists have played onstage at the Met as many times as he has — eight, after Saturday’s performance, the last for this run of “Fedora.” The pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, an opera buff since he was a teenager, played Lazinski the last time the Met staged “Fedora,” in the 1990s.
Only a few other pianists have appeared on the Met stage at Lincoln Center — only a few other operas give a pianist the audience visibility that “Fedora” affords. And only a few other pianists have appeared at the Met under nonoperatic circumstances — notably Vladimir Horowitz, who gave four solo recitals there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Daniel Barenboim, who played a recital in 2008 that Wagorn, 39, attended.
And the piano he plays in “Fedora?” It’s a Steinway that the Met said was manufactured in 1881. Steinway has made more than 575,000 pianos since.
The Met said it was originally sold to John Rogers Hegeman, the president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, at the turn of the 20th century. Somehow it had ended up in a house in Great Neck, N.Y., on Long Island, where AC Pianocraft, a restoration firm, discovered it about 15 years ago. AC rebuilt it, replacing the action, pin block and soundboard, said Alexander Kostakis, the company’s owner.
He did not see it as a piano that would have a place on a stage. “We voiced this more for a large living room or a small hall or a lobby of a hotel,” Kostakis said. “We did not voice it to go 500 seats back because you’d never see something that ornate on a stage. Ordinarily you’d see something with the traditional straight legs and an ebony finish.”
Still, it’s a nine-foot-long piano, so it can generate a big sound. Wagorn said that playing it “gives you a visceral connection to a different time period, to when the opera was really taking place” — about the time the piano was manufactured.
“In those days, the pianists were such rock stars,” he said. “People like Liszt would have women throwing flowers and people fainting.”
Wagorn said the wig gave him “the 19th-century rock star look.”
But it took some getting used to. He learned just how much he can fling his head while playing the six-minute piece in “Fedora.”
Otherwise, he said, “the hair ends up so messy that I’m not able to see my hands anymore.”
It’s a mostly sunny day in the low 40s. At night, it’s mostly cloudy, with wind gusts. Temps will drop to the mid-30s.
In effect until Feb. 13 (Lincoln’s Birthday).
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Skateboarding and the State of the City
Years ago, a gritty spot under the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan was the epicenter for skateboarding in the city. Right now, it’s a construction site. But Mayor Eric Adams just announced plans that could bring it back to life.
The mayor, in his State of the City address on Thursday, promised to create more open spaces across the city — and City Hall said one of them would be Brooklyn Banks, as the skateboarding hot spot was known. It is a part of a plan for a $160 million, nine-acre area to be called Gotham Park. The plan is being spearheaded by a nonprofit group in Lower Manhattan and by the skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and his organization, the Skatepark Project, which has helped build more than 660 skate parks around the country. Two are in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan.
City Hall said that a working group would evaluate “concepts” for the space under the bridge. Gov. Kathy Hochul recently provided support for the proposed park with $4 million to improve pedestrian connections along Park Row, which leads into where Gotham Park would be.
Adams’s plan for open spaces came as he outlined a “working people’s agenda” for his second year in office. Our colleagues Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Jeffery C. Mays write that he appeared to be leaving behind the crisis-response mode that largely defined his first year, indicating that he believes that New York has mostly moved beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
A year ago, he highlighted public safety and economic recovery from the pandemic. On Thursday, he said that the recovery was well underway. As evidence, he pointed to more than 200,000 jobs that have been added over the last year.
But New York continues to adjust to the economic and social turbulence created by the virus. Many New Yorkers continue to work from home at least a couple of days a week, leaving Midtown offices less than fully occupied. The city also faces big budget deficits in the coming years.
Perhaps the most ambitious proposal that Adams mentioned involves rezoning in Midtown Manhattan to bring affordable housing to an area now zoned for manufacturing and office space. Details were scant, although Adams said that community engagement would begin in the next few weeks.
My friend Mindy and I were standing at a red light at Prince and Lafayette Streets in the pouring rain. A young girl standing nearby let go of a pink balloon. We grabbed for it, but it bounced off into traffic.
The balloon ended up under a car. We thought it was doomed, but miraculously it survived. It bounced up behind the car and was retrieved by a man who caught it with the underside of his umbrella.
He passed it to me. I passed it to someone else and they passed it to the girl’s mother.
— Cathy Strauss
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you on Monday. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Winnie Hu and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]