Hastings Opera-Lover Receives 'Strange Inheritance'

Most people expect an inheritance to include basic finances, maybe ownership in a house, perhaps even a baseball card collection of some vintage records. Marlene Piturro’s husband left her a collection of gongs.

Howard Van Hyning was a percussionist with the New York City Orchestra for more than 40 years. During the mid-1970s, Hyning began performing Turnadot, the classic turn-of-the-century opera written by Giacomo Puccini and finished by composer Franco Alfano after Puccini’s death. Hyning was unable to find a collection of gongs acceptably well-suited for the work, until he learned that the thirteen-piece tuned set originally constructed for Puccini precisely for use in Turnadot was sitting in a Queens costume shop. He convinced the shop owner to rent them to him, and eventually convinced the owner to sell them in 1987 for $8,000.

“Howard was no joke,” says Strange Inheritance host Jamie Colby. “He taught at Julliard, he was a member of the New York City Opera back in 1966 — I mean the real heyday!”

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“Imagine if you play gongs, just how important your hands are. It was just so tragic that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.” Though Hyning was diagnosed in 2001, he did not retire until 2006, and continued playing until his death in 2010, whereby he left the gongs to his wife with a request: sell them, and use the profits to commission a new ending to Turnadot, one which the composer would have approved and which more prominently utilizes Puccini’s gongs.

“Nobody is satisfied with the current ending of this very dramatic opera where the woman asks three questions of every suitor,” says Colby. “It’s like your nightmare Tinder date where if the guy doesn’t know the answer he gets his head cut off. The gongs tell the story, and no one has been able to fashion and ending it’s believed Puccini would have been satisfied with.”

Though her husband only paid $8,000 for the gongs in 1987, Piturro believes they may now be worth more than a million dollars.

“I think they belong in a museum,” Colby says, “but she feels that Howard would want them played.”

Piturro’s and Hyning’s story will be featured this Monday, February 5 at 9:30 p.m. on FOX Business Network’s Strange Inheritance. Check out the preview below:

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If any Westchester residents have a strange inheritance they’d like to share, Jamie encourages you to write her at Jamie@strangeinheritance.com. Everybody gets an answer and she says she’d love to come back to Westchester soon.

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