Hitting the High Notes
Reference Librarian, Freeport Memorial Library; Librarian, Metropolitan Opera Library; Music Librarian, Opera Orchestra of New York
Freeport Memorial Library, NY, And Metropolitan Opera Library
MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 2010
Watch “Depuis le jour rehearsal” on YouTube
Photos by Vanessa Nastro, Freeport Memorial Library, Reference and Art Librarian, Adelphi University Archivist
“My original plan was to become a music librarian in an academic setting,” says Tanisha Mitchell. Now, she harmonizes the music collections at three different New York City–area libraries: the Metropolitan Opera Library, Opera Orchestra of New York (a freelance position), and Freeport Memorial Library, where as a teenage page and music major she impressed Mary Robinson, outreach services specialist for the Nassau Library System, NY, with her self-possession and love of music.
In 2010, when Mitchell was studying archival management in graduate school, “the ‘forces of destiny’ changed when I [received] an internship at the Metropolitan Opera Library under Robert Sutherland, chief librarian,” recalls Mitchell. “The materials [there] contain historical music markings and translations by the world’s most prominent international opera musicians.”
The collection was inspiring, but it was also virtually uncataloged. She began research to see if the Met was unusual and discovered that very few opera houses have systems in place to catalog their holdings. “Tanisha moved into action,” says Robinson.
Soon hired to work part-time at the Met, Mitchell began organizing these precious works. Since then, she’s cataloged roughly 170 pieces of sheet music and songbooks, more than 200 manuscripts (scores and parts), and about 1,000 rare piano-vocal scores and full scores.
Now it’s easier for opera company members to conduct research for current and future productions. Because of the detailed metadata she’s assigned to the materials, they can be searched by both foreign and English titles. She also cross-referenced the musical manuscripts with historical New York Times articles so company members know precisely when and where a concert was performed. In 2012, the Opera Orchestra prepared and planned Verdi’s I Lombardi based on the scores and parts she cataloged, providing bowings and orchestra and choral notes.
Mitchell, who reads and interprets music in multiple languages and is familiar with a range of composers, productions, and opera styles, is now developing an automated catalog for both institutions. “I am creating an opportunity for better access to performance collections,” she says. And her cataloging at the Freeport library has boosted the circulation of music CDs there.
“In many respects, what she’s doing can have an impact on opera houses around the world,” says Robinson.