New York City is a long way from Youngstown, Ohio, but Millard Altman knew from the early age of nine years old, listening to opera broadcasts on the radio, that Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House would one day be called home. After graduating from high school early, he went on to study at Juilliard at only 15 years old. His musical career began in earnest, first at the famed Liederkranz Society as the music director, then later at the Met Opera House, where in 1963, a job opened up for a coach-pianist-assistant conductor. After an audition with the legendary General Manager Rudolf Bing, Millard was hired. For that season and scores more, Millard would serve as Assistant Conductor, Coach, and Prompter, in charge of preparing singers musically for their roles and ensuring each singer is given their opening words.
Maestro Millard’s contributions to the Met are a thing of legend—he was called “one of the most unheard but most important voices at the MET” by the New York Times in 1975 and enjoyed his job thoroughly, calling his seat “the best seat in the house.” The article’s author, Richard M. Braun, went on to credit Millard for “single-handedly ... keeping the proceedings from disintegrating into confusion and chaos.”
But, like for many, a life fully dedicated to following one’s professional dreams was not without its price: Millard never married or had children. His family became his loving neighbors and friends, who—during the pandemic—regularly checked up on him, went grocery shopping, and cooked for him. He also had his beloved dog, Mitzvah, his basset hound of 14 years, with whom he was exceptionally close. Denizens and neighbors of his Upper West Side community recall Millard and Mitzvah being inseparable, whether walking down Broadway together, greeting passersby, or talking to locals.
After his retirement, Millard enjoyed a quiet life, spending his time listening to music and reading at home, as well as pursuing his lifelong love for collecting African art. Last year, he had a fall, unfortunately, and broke his hip. With friends and neighbors concerned for his safety and worried by the thought of him living alone, they encouraged him to consider moving to a senior living community. The things that topped the list of their priorities included a place that fostered social interaction, a plethora of interesting activities, attentive staff to check in on him, and the luxury of having his meals prepared.
We spoke to Millard recently to take a closer look at why he ultimately chose Inspīr.
Why did you choose to move to Inspīr?
After I fell and broke my hip, I knew that I couldn’t return home alone. Since I don’t have any family living nearby and I didn’t want to place a burden on my friends and neighbors, I decided to look into senior living options. The care managers at the rehab facility I was at after my fall recommended Inspīr, and I immediately felt like it would be a great fit. After touring the property, I was taken aback by the amazing amenities and the level of hospitality offered. My dear friends helped me make the move.
How wonderful to have caring friends help you navigate such hard decisions. How do you like to spend your time here?
I’m on the quieter side but enjoy dining with my new neighbors and talking with them; they are a wonderful group of people with fascinating pasts. I also love the amenities here—they are simply wonderful.
Which amenities are you particularly fond of?
I love the convenience of having on-site physical therapy because this means I don’t have to go far for the care I need. I also like that they have a fitness center and saltwater therapy pool. Inspīr is unique on so many levels, but I also love that it’s in a beautiful location in New York City and not too far from where I had been living for over 70 years.
How about the food?
The food is amazing everywhere here—regardless of which restaurant you dine at, there is always something delicious to satisfy your appetite. My only complaint is that although it is undeniably delicious, they give me so much that I feel guilty not being able to finish it all. Meals are my favorite way to connect with other residents and chat about common interests.
What has surprised you most since living at Inspīr?
The aides are wonderful and caring people and have made this entire experience very pleasant. Also, I’m still surprised at just what a small world it is! I recently found out that my new friend Bernice, another resident here who shares my love for opera, actually studied with my colleague over 50 years ago! I was able to tell her that he only took on students who showed great potential. This news made her ecstatic, as she did not know this prior to our meeting.
Speaking of your work with the opera in those early years, what is one of your favorite memories?
One of my first opening nights was an experience like no other. We performed Verdi’s Aida with Leontyne Price, where I was in charge of conducting the timing cues to singers and chorus, monitoring the conductor through a mirror outside of the prompter’s box, and also playing bells backstage for some performances. It was a big responsibility since the singers often were extremely dependent on me. I even participated in Luciano Pavarotti’s debut of La Bohème!
Wow, that sounds like an amazing experience!
It was a transformational decade for opera when I started, a time of marvelously inventive stage directors. I look forward to seeing Bernice later and comparing notes on our favorite conductors!
LEARN ABOUT THE LIFESTYLE AT INSPĪR
From the moment we’re born, new experiences are key to our growth as individuals. That’s why they’re intrinsic to life and the continued well-being of our residents at Inspīr Carnegie Hill. We bring fresh programs and perspectives from a variety of engagement partners to support our philosophy of caring for the whole self. Engage in therapeutic programs, educational workshops, music, film, entertainment, and more at Inspīr.