Marty Bloom’s passion for opera has taken him to opera houses around the country and in Europe and inspired him to train and perform as an opera choral singer. But the apogee of his devotion to opera is a world-class collection of opera treasures that fills two rooms in his La Jolla home. They include vinyl records (78, 45, and 33 rpm), biographies of singers and composers, issues of the venerable Opera News dating back to 1939, and posters and photographs signed by opera stars. His most treasured holdings are opera musical scores, and the most precious of those are “piano vocal scores” that singers study to learn their parts. Bloom has one of the largest existing collections of these scores, which has made him something of a legend with opera lovers far and wide.
Q: How did you start collecting opera scores?
A: Shortly after my wife, Sherry, and I moved here from the East, we became subscribers to the San Diego Opera. As time went by, I became fascinated by the fact that opera singers don’t need amplification to fill theaters with their voices. I kept asking Sherry, “How do they do that?” So in 1985, she signed me up for six singing lessons with the late Bob Schmorr, an opera veteran who had sung at the Metropolitan Opera, and he taught me to sing from the diaphragm. I had to learn the music of what I was singing, and piano vocal scores were my homework. In 1989, I sang in the San Diego Opera chorus in Boris Gudonov. After that, I was really bitten.
Q: Where have you found the scores in your collection?
A: Mostly in used bookstores and at library sales. I now have about 1,300 piano vocal scores in about 15 languages. Many of them are duplicates – I have seven or eight Traviatas – and occasionally, I give away extra copies to musicians who stay with us when they’re in town, like the soprano Carter Scott, who has been a frequent guest, and the conductor Gregory Buchalter, who has become like a brother to our son, David.
Q: Do you have any favorites among your scores?
A: I have two scores by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti. They contain handwritten notes in Italian, and I have it on good authority that Menotti wrote those notes himself. I have an autographed 1st –edition score of David Rizzio, a 1930’s opera written by, Mary Carr Moore, and performed for the first and possibly the only time at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. But my sentimental favorite is probably my Ruslan and Ludmila score, because that opera led me to San Francisco in the mid-1990s to hear a then-unknown 23-year-old soprano named Anna Netrebko. Ruslan and Ludmila is rarely performed outside Russia, but I had used one of its arias for my Boris Gudonov audition, so when I learned it was going to be staged in San Francisco, I told my family, “We have to go see it.” Netrebko sang the role of Ludmila, and I knew at once that she was going to be a very big star.
Q: You have two signed posters of Netrebko on display in your home. How did you get them?
A: In 2003, when her star was rising, we traveled to Munich to hear her perform, and we went to a music store where she was signing CDs. After the signing, a store clerk gave us two Netrebko posters that were hanging in the window but were destined to be thrown away. Years later, when she appeared in Los Angeles, we brought the posters and arranged to have her sign them. They are constant and wonderful reminders of the joy of seeing and hearing her perform live.