THE MISBIN FAMILY MEMORIAL AWARD
Bernard Misbin and Miriam Wacksman were both opera fans. It was 1946. He had a car. She had a gramophone. Family members used to joke that Bernie married Miriam because he coveted her collection of old 78 rpm opera records. Many of these records were broken by little Bob, who insisted on playing them himself, even at the age of five.
Bernie came from an artistic family. When very young, he appeared in the theatre with his uncle, the famous Yiddish actor, Maurice Schwartz. Bernie’s sister, Judy, was an opera singer. Together, they would sing the Miserere from Il Trovatore, with Bernie’s baritone voice stretching to sing the tenor part. He was not a musician and could not read music. His repertoire was developed from the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons and, later, from Miriam’s records. Bernie’s opera performances were frequent. Almost every day, his baritone voice would resonate from the shower to fill our small house in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. The American baritone, Lawrence Tibbett, was his favorite. Bernie would have been especially happy that the first Misbin Family Memorial Award was given to fellow baritone Norman Garrett.
Miriam did not come from an artistic family. Like many teenage girls, she fell in love with the voice of Nelson Eddy. But it was the voice of Jussi Bjoerling that hooked her on opera. Even near death, her mind so lost that she no longer knew her children, Miriam still found pleasure in listening to opera. Hearing “Che gelida manina” for probably the last time, she smiled, pointed her finger to the ceiling, and whispered “He goes up now” as Bjoerling approached the high note in the word “speranza.”
Bernie and Miriam had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera. Bob rarely accompanied them, preferring instead to line up for standing room with whoever of his high school buddies was willing to be dragged along. One of the friends Bob introduced to opera, Ira Siff, went on to perform opera in cabaret and is now heard every Saturday afternoon as a commentator for the Met. radio broadcasts.
Opera lovers share a secret, something other people know about but do not really understand. It captures the imagination of a five-year-old boy and becomes the sustaining passion of his life. It endures in the brain of an 89-year-old lady, even after she no longer recognizes her children. To honor the memory of my parents and the love of opera that brought them together and they passed on to me, I am pleased to give The Misbin Family Memorial Award in their names.
Robert I. Misbin, MD