The history of opera since the mid 20th century is full of surprises, none greater than the international breakthrough of masterpieces by the Czech composers Antonín Dvořák, and Leoš Janáček. Of the many champions who have contributed to this development, none has proved steadier or more stalwart than their compatriot Yveta Synek Graff, coach, translator, resource person, and advocate extraordinaire. The following essay on her novel-worthy life and work was published on the occasion of a Czech liederabend at the Juilliard School on March 29, 2012, honoring her gift of her scores, memorabilia, and other papers to the Juilliard Library, where they form the Yveta Synek Graff Czech Opera Collection. The text is reprinted here by the kind permission of Juilliard.
Welcome to the Yveta Synek Graff Czech Opera Collection at The Juilliard School's Lila Acheson Wallace Library, a matchless resource for the study of masterpieces of Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, and Leoš Janáček. Today, early in the second decade of the 21st century, major opera houses all over the world present these works in the original language, cast with singers from everywhere, to critical and ever-spreading popular acclaim.
Four decades ago, this state of affairs would have seemed an impossibility. Yveta Synek Graff was convinced the time would come. A stylish, cosmopolitan New Yorker born in Prague and raised in Paris, she was much mocked in the beginning, as she told a Czech film maker years later. The resulting TV special on her work ran under the title, Nejdrive Se Mi Smali: First, they laughed at me. It was a quote, of course. She no longer minded, if she ever had.
Her working scores, deposited here, were some of the tools that did the most to change minds. Handwritten on each page are her phonetic transliterations. In many cases, study tapes offer further guidance. For foreign artists more excited by the great characters of Czech opera than daunted by the unfamiliar language, help like this was heaven-sent. Complementing these materials are rare programs, posters, stage photographs, recordings, correspondence, ephemera, and memorabilia that show how the passion of a few emerged as an integral part of a universal operatic heritage. Formerly housed in Yveta Synek Graff's study on a high floor at 1120 Park Avenue on the Upper East Side, these materials have found a permanent repository at Juilliard, where they are sure to be consulted by performers and scholars for generations to come.
Thus the Yveta Synek Graff Czech Opera Collection reflects both a historic movement and the contributions of one extraordinary individual to the success of that movement. Neither elsewhere in the American hemisphere nor in the Czech Republic could performers and scholars hope to find documentation of such depth. Who, though, is Yveta Synek Graff? In the absence of the memoir or roman à clef for which countless friends and associates have begged her, this brochure offers a brief personal and professional biography.
Czech opera back when
The history of an art contains many histories. From what has been said so far, a reader might suppose that Yveta brought her knowledge of Czech opera with her from the old country. Her story might be simpler if she had. To see her work in perspective, we must begin with what may seem a detour.
Since approximately the mid 20th century, the spread of opera has been defined, even more than by the creation of new work, by advocacy. Advocacy, on the one hand, for composers and styles long neglected. Advocacy, on the other, for national schools formerly invisible beyond their own borders. The active repertory has been enhanced immeasurably by the revivals and renaissances of Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi, Gluck, forgotten Mozart and Verdi, bel canto generally and Rossini in particular, not to mention late Romantics like Erich Korngold and Franz Schreker. In a parallel but distinct phenomenon, Russian opera beyond Boris Godunov and Yevgeny Onegin has won an international audience, as has Finnish opera. So has a distinctive group of Czech operas, each so unusual as to be virtually one of a kind.
The principal beneficiary, by a wide margin, has been Janáček, long thought suitable for almost exclusively domestic consumption. True, the writer and composer Max Brod, who also promoted the fiction of Franz Kafka, helped Jenůfa gain an early foothold in Germany. But Brod's heavy hand as translator and editor was by no means to Janáček's liking. "The correspondence has been out of print since the 1930s," says Yveta, whose copy is now at Juilliard. "Janáček hated it when Brod added things. 'That's not what I meant,' he wrote. 'Don't change what I do in my music!' Brod wrote back, 'The opera won't be successful in Germany the way you wrote it. It has to be more exciting.' In the end, Janáček said, 'Go ahead. Just see I'm performed.' It doesn't mean he approved." At the Metropolitan Opera, Jenůfa—the third of Janáček's nine operas—was introduced in 1924 by the glittering Czech soprano Maria Jeritza, a house favorite. After six performances, in German, it disappeared, not to be revived until 1974, this time in English.
Music, people say, is a universal language. But operas are written for the most part in languages that are not universal, and that can be a problem. Common knowledge has it that no non-native can learn to speak Czech or even to pronounce it, what with its consonant clusters that break the jaw. In translation, Smetana's Bartered Bride (1866)—the second of his nine operas—quickly leapt the language barrier and caught on everywhere. Dvořák had no such luck with Rusalka—the ninth of his ten—any more than Janáček did with Jenůfa, Kát'a Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Makropulos Case, and From the House of the Dead—all international fixtures today.
But even when Janáček's stock was at its lowest, his maverick mystique very occasionally attracted an intrepid nonconformist. From the House of the Dead got a showing in Berlin in 1931, "a suicidal gesture" on the part of the financially strapped Kroll Opera, in the scathing view of Herbert F. Peyser of The New York Times. Jenůfa arrived at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1950 but seems not to have caught on. On a happier note, audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan cheered Walter Felsenstein's production of the pantheistic fable Cunning Little Vixen in 1958. In the 1960s, Grischa Barfuss took over as Generalintendant of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, where he mounted the Janáček operas as a cycle, in German. In 1964, the scorching Kát'a came to Juilliard. In 1969, NET televised From the House of the Dead, live, on 185 stations. In 1970, the New York City Opera scored a succès d'estime with Makropulos, starring the redoubtable Maralin Niska. Yet none of these efforts consolidated Janáček's position.
Which brings us back, by Joyce's commodius vicus of recirculation, to Yveta, who landed in New York on August 10, 1956. Czech and proud of it, though no ally of the Soviets' puppet regime, and an ardent opera fan, to boot, Yveta could hardly have been entirely unaware of these developments, but her conversion to the cause was yet to come.
Postwar, a charmed life
Yveta Synek was born in Prague around the onset of World War II. When, exactly?
"I'm Emilia Marty, let's put it that way," Yveta offers, insisting that calendar age is a family matter. Her reference is to the 337-year-old diva in The Makropulos Case, née Elina Makropulos, who under many names has had successive careers over the centuries, yet never aged beyond 37. Her secret is a formula concocted by her alchemist father for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, who did not dare use it.
Fantasy aside, Yveta has a pedigree of no mean distinction. Her father, Emil Synek, a doctor of jurisprudence, made his debut as a playwright at the National Theater in Prague when he was just 24; some two dozen plays followed. A man of letters and professional intellectual, he published biographies and prize-winning novels, shot films. As a political journalist, he showed courage, foresight, and conviction, qualities likewise in evidence when he took over as editor of Svobodné Česke Slovo, Prague's answer to The Washington Post. Yveta's mother, Eugenia Budlovska, played Shakespeare at the National Theatre but gave up acting at her fiancé's behest. Really, there would have been no time. Before Yveta came along, the newlyweds circled the globe three times.
Synek spent the war years chiefly in England serving under President Edvard Beneš in the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, which was recognized by the Allies and headquartered in London. "My father was ahead of the curve in so many ways," Yveta says. "From the first, he was very anti-Nazi and very anti-Bolshevik. He wanted to fight. How my mother managed with me in German-occupied Prague, I will never know. She sold her jewelry, everything. When the war ended, my father took the first plane home, not even knowing whether we were still alive."
Two years later, in 1947, Synek took part, as an official delegate, in a peace conference in Paris. Harboring no illusions about what lay ahead for the Eastern bloc, he took the precaution of bringing his wife and little girl along. They packed as if for a flying visit, boarded the plane in Prague, and never returned. "I didn't know we weren't coming back," Yveta says. "It would have been much too dangerous to tell a child. I don't even know if my mother knew. My father later said that he didn't know what would have happened if he had gone back. They might have hanged him or they might have made him a minister."
Yveta was to spend a formative decade in Paris. "When I was 18, I had three lives," Yveta has said cryptically, declining to elaborate. At home among themselves, mostly on the Left Bank at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères (where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were fellow guests), Dr. and Mrs. Synek spoke Czech exclusively and home-schooled Yveta in Czech culture. "My parents insisted that I speak and write the language perfectly," she says. "It was very important to them that I remain Czech."
Overpowered by recordings of Maria Callas, Yveta enrolled in voice at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. "I wanted to be Callas," she says. "But I knew I couldn't be. Let's face it, French schooling for voices was not good at the time. The great French singers like Régine Crespin and Gabriel Bacquier came from the south, where the traditions were completely different." Irony of ironies, she learned The Bartered Bride in French.
The City of Lights offered endless distractions. "I was very spoiled in France," Yveta says. "I was very successful doing really nothing. I won a car, I was photographed all the time. As Yva Synková, I was in a tiny role in an awful Marc Allegret film called Futures Vedettes with Jean Marais and Brigitte Bardot." By the measure of an age more innocent than our own, Yveta was for two years a media sensation: the Kodak Girl, her demure, family-friendly persona ubiquitous in magazines and on billboards. "I had a very big life," Yveta says. "We traveled all over Europe. I saw every church, ate at every Michelin-starred restaurant. I was happy and I loved it. I'm surprised I left it."
It was the New World that lured her away. "It wasn't just me," Yveta says. "Everybody wanted to go to the United States. We went to the movies. We saw California, Florida, New York… I was pretty, I was cheeky, and I knew I was the type America liked. But to get a visa was simply impossible."
Impossible without a miracle, that is, and the miracle duly came to pass after a party in Geneva when Yveta met Scott MacLeod, in charge of naturalization and immigration at the U.S. embassy. "He looked me over and asked, 'Why aren't you in America?' There was such a strict quota system, country by country. 'You wouldn't give me a visa,' I answered. The next thing I knew, a telegram arrived with an invitation to the embassy to discuss my visa. I still have that telegram in a safety deposit box. Americans who were born here can't understand what it meant. You have citizenship by being born here. For us, to get a visa was more than we could hope for. And to be invited! I didn't expect to stay forever." In the pungent officialese of the time, she was stateless, and her papers said so.
The year was 1956. For all her worldly sophistication, Yveta had led a sheltered life and was still very young. Her mother was uneasy at the thought of Yveta heading off to the New World on her own, but there were family friends to keep an eye on her in New York, and her father had no qualms. First-class passage was booked on that high-society favorite, the SS Île de France, constantly in the columns. On July 25, the vessel made the news in a more dramatic context, scooping up some 750 of the SS Andrea Doria's 1,706 shipwrecked passengers and crew from the waters off Nantucket.
Delayed by the heroic detour, the Île de France set sail at Le Havre in early August for its next westward crossing, blessedly uneventful, though not for Yveta.
"That boat was my destiny," she says. Someone had got wind that she was a student at the Conservatoire, so she was asked to sing. Perhaps in keeping with an initial mood of loneliness, she chose no brilliant operatic showpiece but rather some introspective Czech folk songs. "But also there were heavy seas," Yveta says. "Everyone was seasick. You can't sing a difficult aria when the boat is pitching."
From that moment on she dined at the captain's table. Among her shipboard companions was John Gutman, right hand to Rudolph Bing, the autocratic general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Having no children, Gutman and his wife Hedy adopted her instantly.
"Maybe I wasn't that shy," Yveta remembers. "I asked John, 'Can I come to the Met?' John said I could come any time. He was as good as his word. The house was open to me. I could drop in on all the rehearsals."
Someone suggested she pursue further vocal training with the eminent Professor William Herman, who taught Patrice Munsel and Roberta Peters, and he took her on with the greatest expectations. But in February 1957, she married Robert Lincoln Love, who had proposed to her at a performance of Tosca at the Met. "Professor Herman got completely hysterical," Yveta recalls. "'You'll be cooking, you'll be changing diapers, you won't have any time for music,' he said. I asked to continue as a paying client, but he refused. 'I don't need your money,' he said. 'I wanted a star.' So he threw me out. I was lost, and I knew it." In short order, young Steven and Brett arrived. "I was very happy, having children," Yveta says.
Yveta's social life with Love—creator of Love Dresses, for the fashionable little girl—continued to revolve around the opera. "I was very young, very chic," Yveta remembers. "I attended every opening night and was photographed all the time, wearing clothes, being elegant." She also orchestrated a personal salon for musicians and other itinerant luminaries. Early regulars were artists like Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, and Justino Díaz. Over the decade of her marriage, there were countless others.
In the early seventies, the Loves reached an amicable separation of the ways. Yveta kept their Park Avenue aerie, which at her insistence remained her home when she remarried, in 1973. Her second husband is F. Malcolm Graff, a banker with Bankers Trust, now retired. (He, too, proposed at the Met—"at Norma," Yveta specifies, a demon with details.) But unlike Love, Graff felt that her talents were wasted on glittering in society and entertaining. Her father, by now a widower, emphatically agreed. On a visit to New York, he told her in no uncertain terms that she was doing nothing worthwhile with her life. As Yveta puts it, "Malcolm and my father put me to work." To begin with, she did some French language coaching for Eve Queler, founder and music director of Opera Orchestra of New York. Plácido Domingo was assigned to Yveta while preparing the title role of Massenet's Le Cid. But really, it was a classic case of coals to Newcastle; there was no shortage of qualified French coaches in New York.
Then, one day, the score of Smetana's Dalibor arrived at 1120 Park, a gift from an uncle who had never left Prague. As exciting as the material was to Yveta, it was no less so to her husband. A longtime supporter and board member of Opera Orchestra, Graff knew Queler's appetite for exotic discoveries. Musically, Smetana's variation on the theme of Beethoven's Fidelio would surely intrigue her. But would she mount it? As always, there were casting considerations.
"For Eve, it was always crucial to find a great singer for a starring role," Yveta says. "But what great international singer would learn Czech?" Nicolai Gedda, a Swedish tenor of uncommon range and curiosity, rose to the bait. For convenience, one or two Czech singers were imported from Prague, but the prima-donna part fell to the Polish soprano Teresa Kubiak, while local talent took the balance of the supporting roles. "Gedda never sang the opera again," she says. "He learned it for a single performance. But it got the word out that a great singer was willing to learn Czech." As if she did not have enough to do coaching him, Kubiak, the other soloists, and the chorus, Yveta also marked the bowings in the string parts. "Truly," she says, "the whole thing was a labor of love."
All of a sudden, the ball was rolling.
The Velvet Revolution
Over the next decade, Queler went on to present, always in the closest collaboration with Yveta, Kát'a Kabanová (1977), Smetana's Libuše (1986), Dvořák's Rusalka (1987), and finally Janáček's Jenůfa (1988). For star power in all four operas, there was the soprano Gabriela Beňačková, reigning prima donna of Prague's National Theatre. Beňačková was not the first Czech soprano to achieve stardom on an international scale; Emmy Destinn and Jarmila Novotná preceded her by decades.But in her heyday, Beňačková stood alone.
It was not long before the Met took several pages from Queler's book, showcasing Beňačková in the house premieres of Kát'a Kabanová (1991) and Rusalka (1993). In between came the Met's Czech-language premiere of Jenůfa (1992), an electrifying reunion for Beňačková and her costar from the Queler performance, the legendary Leonie Rysanek as Jenůfa's iron-fisted stepmother.
"Beňačková put the operas across," says Yveta, who had been instrumental in bringing her to New York, "and her voice was simply beautiful." But even then, Yveta was dreaming of the day when roles like Rusalka and the Janáčekheroines would pass to reigning divas from anywhere they happened to come from, singing in Czech, just as Russians and Swedes sing Verdi in Italian or the French and the Welsh sing Wagner in German.
"Do you know anyone with perfect Italian or French?," she asks. "If you want perfect Czech, go to Prague. But you won't be hearing the great voices." Not often, anyway.
She knew full well that it would take time, and that for some steps forward, there might also be steps back. When the Met first broached Makropulos in 1996, the Circean Jessye Norman elected to sing an English translation crafted by herself in collaboration with the director Elijah Moshinsky and the conductor David Robertson. Sidelined on that occasion, Yveta came back for the Met's first revival, in 1998, coaching a cast led by Catherine Malfitano, who sang in Czech and set the house ablaze. Other landmark interpretations of the past decade include Renée Fleming's Rusalka, Karita Mattila's Kát'a, Patricia Racette's Jenůfa, all sung in Czech and seen on many stages. All three sopranos coached with Yveta. And if the high-priced stars can learn to sing their long roles in Czech, so can the supporting casts. In her time, with many companies, Yveta also trained newcomers like Deborah Voigt as the Shepherdess in the last act of Jenůfa, Matthew Polenzani as the callow Janek in Makropulos, and Susan Graham as the Kitchen Boy in Rusalka.
"I did the opposite of Valery Gergiev," Yveta remarks, even as she acknowledges the Ossetian maestro's genius in opening Western ears to the unsuspected glories of Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. On international tour with the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, Gergiev showcased the house ensemble. Conducting Russian opera with leading companies in the West, he imported these same artists in roles large and small. To Yveta's mind, such practice smacks of provincialism. "The great roles need the greatest artists, not just native speakers," she says, "and for small roles, why import Russians when our own young singers are willing and able to learn and need the work?"
A potentially insuperable obstacle to Yveta's Velvet Revolution was the supposed reluctance of choruses to stretch. True, the New York Choral Society had done Dalibor, but that was a concert performance, and they had sung from the book. For an opera-house chorus to memorize Janáček's notoriously tricky rhythms and deliver them in the thick of an unfolding drama would pose challenges of quite another order. In 1980, Kurt Herbert Adler, general manager of the San Francisco Opera, approached Yveta hoping to vindicate Jenůfa, which had fallen flat in 1969 when the company presented it in English. She lobbied for the original language.
No international company had ever mounted a Czech opera in the original before. But with enthusiastic support from the company's chorus master, Richard Bradshaw, San Francisco rose to the bait, and the chorus came through with flying colors. Another barrier shattered, another precedent set. For the next revival, in 1986, Yveta wrote the supertitles, still a novelty at the time. In his later post as general manager of the Canadian Opera Company, always with Yveta's assistance, Bradshaw introduced original-language Czech opera to Toronto.
To Each According to His Needs
For the San Francisco Jenůfa of 1980, Yveta produced the first of her phonetic transliterations. "Adler commissioned me," she says, "and he paid me a lot. It was a very hard job." But the system she contrived was remarkably user-friendly, with a cheat sheet taking up all of two pages. "No rules," Yveta says, "We do things fast." Today's multilingual conservatory graduates, accustomed to the hieroglyphs of the International Phonetic Alphabet, may find the approach quaint, but it would be hard to improve on, as evidenced by numerous artists new to the Czech repertory who have come surprisingly close to mastering the sounds of the language through study on their own.
In addition, Yveta provides literal translations. "I don't give grammar," she says. "The singers don't need it. They do need to know what they're saying, word for word. We have very strange ways of constructing sentences in Czech." As an example, she cites Jenůfa's poignant line, "Já jsem si ten život jinak myslila," which comes out this way: "I to myself that life otherwise thought."
"I thought life would be different."
For singers who learn parrot-fashion, the cryptic version may feel like too much information. For committed interpreters, it yields clues to meaning and musical nuance. Working one-on-one, Yveta would take the lessons further.
When companies not yet ready to go the distance came to Yveta for English translations, she sensibly obliged. John Rockwell, an influential critic at The New York Times and a huge Janáček partisan, disapproved on principle, yet offered guarded praise; the English, he said in one review, "makes sense and seems to fit the music." The complaints of his colleague Donal Henahan targeted not the translations but selected singers' diction. Keeping her audiences in mind, Yveta—in tandem with the editor Robert T. Jones—concerned herself not only with the criteria Rockwell singled out, but also with more elusive questions of tone. Hers were translations for Americans. "There are British translations out there," she remarks, "but why should Americans listen to Czech operas in British English?" Why, indeed? What sounds natural or colloquial on one side of the pond too often sounds stilted, arch, quaint, or stagey on the other. Yet for the record, Sir Simon Rattle used Yveta's English for his Vixen at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in London, passing on Norman Tucker's midcentury British version for Sadler's Wells, also in London, which appears in the Universal Edition score and may be used without an extra royalty.
In their way and for various reasons, the premieres of Yveta's translations were revolutionary, too. In 1981, the New York City Opera mounted Vixen, with signature storybook designs by Maurice Sendak and staging by Frank Corsaro. Janáček's libretto, be it noted, is in Moravian dialect, a far cry from the impeccable cosmopolitan Czech Yveta grew up with. Happily her father was on hand to sort her out. A runaway hit, the show was televised on the PBS series "Live from Lincoln Center" and repeatedly revived.
In 1983 came a more daunting proposition: concert performances of From the House of the Dead with the New York Philharmonic led by the Czech conductor Raphael Kubelik. Like Benjamin Britten, Janáčekis renowned for his fanatical attention to the music inherent in the cadences of speech, which militates against translating his vocal music. (This, essentially, was Rockwell's position.) At the same time, Janáček always took pains to make dialogue immediately comprehensible to a listener's ear, which is an argument for performing in the language of the audience. To Kubelik, the answer was translation at its most exacting, and he would call Yveta at all hours to fine-tune the fit of pitch to vowel sound. For the historic French premiere at the Opéra Comique in Paris—conducted by the Janáček crusader Charles Mackerras, designed by Jennifer Bartlett, and staged by Völker Schlöndorff, the Oscar-winning director of The Tin Drum—Yveta pulled subtitles word for word from Dostoevsky's harrowing prose narrative.
And in 1990, Rusalka entered Yveta's life in a big way. In the wake of Queler's concert performance of 1987, the Seattle Opera took up the tale of the amorous yet lethal water sprite, hastening Renée Fleming and Ben Heppner to stardom. The Met premiere followed in 1993, with a cast built around Beňačková. Yveta has worked on 14 productions of the opera. "Every conductor made different cuts. It's a long opera, and cuts can be a good thing. But nothing is standard." Future interpreters who want to learn from masters like Charles Mackerras, Vaclav Neuman, and Jiří Bělohlávek will want to put in quality study time at Juilliard. But the pages in question will need to be handled with care. "After all that work," Yveta says, "the physical score is falling apart." Yveta ranks Rusalka with Jenůfa as one of her two Czech favorites, but she has never attempted a translation. "I translated only Janáček," she says, "because the texts he set are prose. I wouldn't touch Rusalka, which is great poetry, or even The Bartered Bride, which is in rhyme."
Had there been world enough and time, Yveta might well have diversified her franchise. "The history of Czech opera goes back to the classical period," she says. "Mozart's friend Josef Mysliveček, who was called 'the divine Bohemian,' il divino Boemo… In the 19th century and well into the 20th there were dozens of important Czech composers we might want to investigate: Josef Suk, Oskar Nebdal, Vítězslav Novák, Zdenek Fibich. I know some of their work from recordings. I very much wanted to help produce Bohuslav Martinů , but nobody seemed to want to."
And it seems that she ought to have directed. "Never have I met a director who thinks ahead," she remarks. "Take the little problem of the window and the key in Jenůfa. Jenůfa has to give her stepmother the key to the locked house through the window, but there is never time, and the design is never right. It happened again and again that the company was onstage and the director would say, 'Oh my God! What do we do now?' Why don't they look at the score?" As an old hand, she has earned her impatience.
From Prague to the Pacific
The notion of moving Czech opera from the fringe to the essential core repertory,the notion of attracting international stars to perform them—it all seemed sochimerical four decades ago. Yet everything Yveta dreamed of came true. Thanks toher, the world of opera is a richer place.
The Czechs know it, too. As the Communist bureaucracy in Kafka's castle, which neither forgot nor forgave, must have known full well, her father was an illustrious defector. Yet fully a decade before the Iron Curtain came down, the regime invited her to the Prague Spring International Music Festival, where she was fêted like a princess for her services to Czech culture. And on September 29, 1988, at a ceremony at the Metropolitan Opera Club, in New York, a troika of Czech diplomats including the ambassador to the United Nations and the minister of foreign affairs, conferred on her a lavish assortment of decorations, among them the Smetana Medal and, most precious in her regard, the Janáček Medal.
It's true that Yveta worked mostly in the English-speaking world, and within the English-speaking world, mostly in New York, and in New York, mostly at the Met, where she began in 1985 by providing a new translation for a Jenůfa revival under the baton of Václav Neumann. Apart from the Norman Makropulos, every Met foray into the Czech repertoire bore her personal stamp.
Yet Yveta's influence has been global. Not only because she became a road warrior spending six weeks per production on as many as eight productions as far afield as Gian Carlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds in the Umbrian hill town of Spoleto and Charleston, North Carolina, London, and Paris. Not only because she became a tireless voice for Czech opera, spreading the word in articles and interviews. Ultimately, her legacy is in the example she set. The productions she helped shape or set in motion and the good will and curiosity she awakened in international artists kindled a passion for Czech opera in fans and performers who never heard her name. Once she was the only Czech-language coach in the West. Now there are many, but who comes to the work with her instinct for and knowledge of the culture from which the masterpieces spring? "Everything always came to me," Yveta says now. "I did not have to go and work hard for it." The program books and annotated scores in the Yveta Synek Graff Czech Opera Collection tell another story.
In 2009, Yveta and Malcolm Graff agreed that the time had come to relocate close to family in California. In a skittish real-estate market, the apartment on Park Avenue sold with somewhat dismaying speed. But her study collection was in order, and it has found its home at Juilliard.
"I'll come when I'm needed," Yveta said as she said goodbye to her home of over half a century. She's on call. But others must carry the torch forward now. On March 29, 2012, Juilliard faculty and students are celebrating the official opening of the Yveta Synek Graff Czech Opera Collection with the School's first Czech Liederabend, a hopeful harbinger of future discoveries. At the same time, the Library is mounting an exhibition of personal and musicological highlights of Yveta's collection. In years to come, the Juilliard community and visiting performers and scholars are sure to find inspiration here – and concrete tools to make their work easier and the rewards richer.