He was born in Moscow to a well established Jewish musical family. His father was a lawyer, his mother the well-known concert violinist Lea Luboshutz, and several relatives were accomplished musicians, including his pianist uncle, Pierre Luboshutz, his first teacher. After the Russian Revolution, his family lost their wealth and he became, at the age of nine, his mother's accompanist, to secure more food for the family.
In the Bolshevik era, he and his mother travelled to Europe, leaving the Soviet Union. Goldovsky studied with Artur Schnabel in Berlin beginning in 1924 and then with Ernő Dohnányi in Budapest beginning in 1924. He gained fluency in several languages, a gift that served him well as a translator of opera in his later career. He moved to Philadelphia in 1930 where his mother taught at the Curtis Institute and where he became a conducting student of Fritz Reiner and later Reiner's assistant. It was under Reiner that his love and training in opera began. According to U.S. immigration records, he was inspected and detained at Ellis Island twice: once in October 1925 for an irregularity with his visa and once in late July 1932 on suspicion that he might be an illegally contracted labourer; both situations were rather quickly resolved and he was permitted to continue by rail to Pennsylvania. Goldovsky moved to Cleveland in 1936 to become assistant to Artur Rodziński, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Then he moved again to Boston in 1942, where he became director of the opera department at the New England Conservatory of Music. The same year, he was named director of the opera department at the Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires by Serge Koussevitsky, a position he held through 1962. Koussevitsky had become well acquainted with the Goldovsky family in Russia long before their immigration to the USA. . Sarah Caldwell became Goldovsky's assistant at Tanglewood and in Boston, and worked with him for several years.
In January 1945, Goldovsky began the New England Opera Theater (later known as the "Goldovsky Opera Theater") under the sponsorship of the New England Conservatory. The operation became independent and moved to New York in the 1950s and enjoyed four decades of touring during which young singers were trained for operatic careers. Many of them went on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera and other leading houses. He disbanded the company upon his retirement in 1985.
During the New York Metropolitan Opera's tour visit to Boston in around 1946, Goldovsky participated in a promotional opera quiz event. His encyclopedic knowledge led Texaco to offer him a weekend job as master of ceremonies covering the intermission periods of the Texaco-sponsored Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. The sponsor agreed to pay for weekly travel to New York. He quickly became known across the United States for his Saturday radio commentary.
In 1953 he wrote Accents on Opera, a series of essays, sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild and published in New York by Farrar, Straus & Young. In 1954 he received a Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Music. His most popular book, My Road to Opera, is an anecdote-filled autobiography.
In the late 1970s, he began again to teach at the Curtis Institute, from where he retired in 1985.
He has been credited in several recordings, including a Boston Symphony Orchestra recording of Wagner's "Lohengrin", conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. Famous associates include Mario Lanza, Leonard Bernstein and Mary Beth Peil.
He died in Brookline, Massachusetts, aged 92, in 2001.
Goldovsky documented a kind of error that is sometimes known as a "Goldovsky error". Whilst teaching, he stopped a pupil who was sight-reading Brahms Op 76 No. 2, and asked her to correct a mistake. The pupil insisted that she had played the music as written, and this proved to be correct - not only Goldovsky's score but all available scores proved to have an error. Moreover, when Goldovsky asked skilled sight-readers to find the mistake, they could not. The mistake is in bar 78, where a G-natural was shown instead of a G-sharp. The significance is that a G-natural would be musically illogical at that point. Experienced sight-readers were automatically inferring the missing sharp symbol, and so failing to see the error in the printed score. By contrast, Goldovsky's pupil, a less experienced sight-reader, had followed the score more literally. Hence a "Goldovsky error" is one that only a novice is likely to spot.Bringing Opera to Life (1968), about operatic acting and stage direction. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Bringing Soprano Arias to Life (1973) (with Arthur Schoep). New York: G. Schirmer.
Touring Opera: a Manual for Small Companies (1975) (with Thomas Wolf, foreword by Sherrill Milnes). National Opera Association.
My Road to Opera: the Recollections of Boris Goldovsky (1979) Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27760-4 OCLC: 4516063
The Indiana University published transcripts of his intermission commentary from the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts in 1984.
Some intermission commentary transcripts can be found at https://web.archive.org/web/20090112035213/http://www.operainfo.org/intermissions/