Picture it, 57th Street, the dawn of the millennium. Little Amanda Keil, still finding her way from her French horn diploma, stumbles into the sweltering office of one Herbert Breslin, then in the twilight of his career. I worked in his office for a stormy but memorable six weeks just after new years in 2001. Pavarotti was still on the roster, though busier working for Tibor Rudas and the Three Tenors. We didn’t really need to work the phone to drum up work for him. We made calls for some of the more profitable artists, not really for the others. They still paid the monthly retainer.
“Amber,” he called to me once. I don’t think he ever learned my name. “What business are we in?”
“Well, music, and opera, and opera singers…,” my voice trailed off.
“We’re flesh peddlers,” he told me. And so I learned about opera management.
Herbert died on Thursday, in a hotel in Nice, probably fulfilling a lifelong ambition. After one long day of shouting on the telephone to bargain for more cash for his cows, he mused that he would like to spend a “sabbatical” in Paris in the spring.
As his interview quotes explain post-humously in many obits, he unabashedly marketed art and artists as if they were products. He certainly did know a good product when he heard one, and he pushed ruthlessly for the ones he knew he could profit from. He also didn’t mind accepting that monthly retainer from the not-so-hot ones he allowed to sit on his roster.
Herbert sat by the window overlooking 57th Street, occasionally answering the phone himself with a resonant, staccato, “Herbert Breslin,” as he shuffled photographs of himself around on his desk. My job was to try to book or get media placements for our artists, but I’ll be the first to admit that my accommodating personality was not a good fit for the flesh-peddling business, or for his outsized bravura.
Well, goodnight Herbert. Maybe the angels needed a good agent.