David Bruce: Audiences Anecdotes

Leontyne_Price_(color)_by_Jack_Mitchell

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Source http://www.jackmitchellphotographer.com/2009-Gallery-04/index.html
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After a performance, Leontyne Price greatly enjoyed hearing praise from members of the audience and she greatly disliked hearing criticism from members of the audience. After one performance, she was speaking to a line of members of the audience and one man near the end of the line started waving at her. Ms. Price thought that here was one man who had greatly enjoyed the performance and was going to tell her how great she was, but when the man finally spoke to her, he asked, “Miss Price, did I detect a slight strain on your B-flat in the aria?” Ms. Price smiled at him and said, “Would you do me a small favor and get quietly out of the line so the other people can tell me beautiful things about my B-flat?” (Actually, she admits that she was “rougher than that” on the man. She told an interviewer, “I’ll never tell what I said to him. It was bad—straight to the jugular vein.”)

Riccardo Martin was hailed as a “second Caruso,” but he adored Enrico Caruso so much that he disliked the comparison. One night at the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Martin was ill and could not sing, so Mr. Caruso took his place. Of course, the audience was delighted with their good luck in being able to hear the great tenor—all except one person, who demanded his money back because the singer who was scheduled to sing was not able to sing that night. When the ticket agent pointed out that he was able to hear the great Caruso instead, he insisted, “I paid my money to hear what you people said I was going to hear, and if I can’t hear what I paid for, I want my money back!” Mr. Caruso took great delight in telling the story of the man who wanted his money back because he was going to sing.

At the 1974 World Championships in Munich, West Germany, Dorothy Hamill was on the ice warming up when the results of another figure skater were announced. The audience members thought that the scores were low, and they booed, making Ms. Hamill cry and skate over to her coach for reassurance because she thought that the boos were meant for her. The audience members realized what had happened and gave her a wondrous ovation when she went back out on the ice, and Ms. Hamill responded by winning a World Championship in Ladies figure skating.

Whenever Enrico Caruso performed, ovations greeted him. Therefore, he decided to perform an experiment to see if the audience would applaud him if they were unaware he was singing. He went to Albert Reiss, who was scheduled to sing an aria offstage in Pagliacci, and he arranged to sing the aria in Mr. Reiss’ place. Unfortunately, Mr. Caruso received no applause, and no music critic noticed that Mr. Reiss had suddenly acquired a glorious voice. Mr. Caruso sadly noted, “It is not Caruso they want—it is only the knowledge that they are hearing Caruso!”

Marie Taglioni was a well-loved ballet dancer. In Russia, her carriage was stopped by robbers who recognized her and told her that she could keep her jewels and money if she danced for them. So on rugs spread over the muddy ground, Ms. Taglioni danced for them. Later, she said, “I never had such an appreciative audience either before or afterwards.” In Paris, after she had danced, the curtain could not be brought down because her adoring fans had thrown such a thick layer of flowers on the stage.

Subscribers to the Metropolitan Opera really do support the Met. On one occasion, an opera had many problems with many cancellations and many substitutions, and the lead soprano who ended up singing on a certain night—at the last minute—gave a very bad performance. Critic Patrick J. Smith was sure that the subscribers would protest, but instead he discovered that they understood the problems that that particular opera faced and so they rallied around the Met and did not complain.

Baritone Antonio Tamburini was a versatile singer. During the carnival season in Palermo in 1822, the audience came armed with noise-makers such as drums and trumpets. The prima donna was frightened by the loudness and rowdiness of the crowd, so Tamburini performed and sang both his part and her part—for the duets, he sang his part with his normal baritone and he sang her part with a falsetto. The audience loved it.

Walter Damrosch once conducted the New York Philharmonic in his own Cyrano de Bergerac. Unfortunately, some audience members started leaving early. Noticing this, Mr. Damrosch addressed the members of the audience after the end of Act 2: “Please don’t go home yet—the best part of the opera is coming.” The audience stayed in their seats, and at the end of the opera applauded vigorously.

In the old opera house, members of the Metropolitan Opera Guild gathered in a box. A rule of silence was imposed in the box during performances, but the rule was ignored in the case of Guild member and retired Met tenor Giovanni Martinelli. While attending the opera, Mr. Martinelli was accustomed to hum throughout the performance—and occasionally to criticize it.

As a young student in Italy, soprano Joan Hammond ran into a problem while attending operas. She could not afford the better seats, so she sat in the gallery. Often, while sitting there, she would feel a pinch from a man behind her. A reprimand worked, but only for a while, then she would feel another pinch. Moving didn’t help, either, for a different man would pinch her.

George Antheil composed an avant-garde musical piece featuring sirens, airplane propellers, automobile horns, etc. When the piece was played in 1927 at Carnegie Hall, a man in the audience, bewildered by the noise, raised his cane. At the cane’s end was tied a white handkerchief, signifying surrender.

Entertainers use different methods to get themselves up for a performance. Comedian Jay Sankey once saw a magician jumping up and down in a bathroom, saying, “I love my audience! I love my audience!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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