Mr. Coppola said the difference between operas and musicals was that in opera he had the main dressing room and that on Broadway “the stagehands hammer a nail down in the boiler room and say, ‘You can hang your coat there.’”
He was on the conducting faculty of the Manhattan School of Music from 1964 to 1980.
Antonio Coppola was born on March 21, 1917, in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, but grew up mostly in East Harlem. His Italian immigrant father, Agostino, was a toolmaker; his mother, Maria (Zasa) Coppola, was a homemaker. He was the fifth of seven brothers, all of whom were encouraged to study music. Anton took up piano.
As a child, Anton was taken by his mother to see Gounod’s “Faust,” put on by a small touring company. “When the lights came down I saw the figure of a little man walk into the pit and start to wave his hands,” Mr. Coppola recalled. “When all this wonderful music was coming out, I turned to my mom and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
He appeared in the groundbreaking 1926 “Turandot,” conducted by Tullio Serafin and starring Maria Jeritza and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, after auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera’s children’s chorus.
In 1930, an opera-loving uncle introduced him to Gennaro Papi, a Met conductor who was a former rehearsal pianist for Puccini himself. Papi noticed that the boy was carrying a score of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” He was impressed, and took Anton under his wing. Anton would attend Papi’s performances, and the two would dissect them afterward. Papi also passed on Puccini’s own insights about his scores.
Anton attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and entered the Juilliard School at about 16. He left for a job with the orchestra and opera programs of the Depression-era federal Works Progress Administration, conducting his first opera, Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila,” when he was 18.
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