I’m a pretty girl
Yet I suffer from acne
Why should anyone?
• Before George Cehanovsky started singing with the Metropolitan Opera, he sang the title role in Eugene Onegin. During the scene where he was supposed to shoot and kill the poet Lensky in a duel, his gun would not fire. (Later, he discovered that he and the singer playing Lensky had picked up the wrong guns — the singer playing Lensky had the gun with the blank in it.) The singer playing Lensky decided to fall over “dead” anyway, and when he hit the floor, the blank in his gun went off. Mr. Cehanovsky asked Eugene’s second, “Is he killed!” The second replied, “He died of a heart attack.”
• Early in her career, soprano Leslie Garrett appeared as Cupid in Oronteafor Musica nel Chiostro (Music in the Cloisters) in Batignano, Italy. Little money was available for costumes, and as Cupid Ms. Garrett wore only some silver cycling shorts and a strategically placed towel. At a dress rehearsal attended by local villagers, the towel somehow flew off, angering the local matrons but gladdening their unmarried sons. After that near-riot dress rehearsal, Ms. Garrett glued the towel to her chest.
• German contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink once wore a train on a formal gown while singing in a concert. Unfortunately, while walking on stage, her train caught on a steel tack and pulled loose. She responded well to a situation that would have embarrassed many singers. Ms. Schumann-Heink simply picked up the train, draped it across the piano, and said to the audience, “Vell! unt vhat doo you teenk off dot!” This endeared her to the audience even before she had sang a note.
• When Richard Burton was starring at the old Vic in Hamlet, John Gielgud stopped by his dressing room after a performance so that they could go out and have supper together. However, Mr. Burton took a long time changing out of his costume so Mr. Gielgud said, “I’ll go on ahead. Come when you’re better — I mean, when you’re ready!” In his book Acting Shakespeare, Mr. Gielgud calls this one of his favorite theatrical gaffes.
• While singing Siegmund to Birgit Nilsson’s Sieglinda in the first two performances of Die Walküreduring the 1974-1975 season at the New York Metropolitan Opera, Jon Vickers withdrew the sword from the tree with such force that the sword flew from the handle and into the safety net protecting the orchestra. Afterward, Ms. Nilsson said that if she hadn’t stepped back, she would have lost part of her nose.
• Bluesman Robert Lockwood once went into a town to look for himself. He played in Elaine, Arkansas, then went back home, where he heard that fellow bluesman Robert Johnson was in Elaine. Mr. Lockwood wanted to see Mr. Johnson, so he went back to Elaine, where he discovered that a mistake had been made. A man had seen Mr. Lockwood playing and had thought that Mr. Lockwood was Mr. Johnson.
• Rita Thunderbird performed as a human cannonball throughout the United Kingdom while wearing a gold lamé bikini. On one occasion in 1977, however, she remained in the cannon after it was fired although she was supposed to fly across the River Thames. However, this didn’t stop the show — flying across the River Thames without her was her gold lamé bra.
• In Washington DC, the stagehands let the curtain down right in the middle of a pas de deuxby Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky, leaving Ms. Tallchief in front of the curtain and Mr. Eglevsky behind the curtain. Mr. Eglevsky remained calm and simply rejoined Ms. Tallchief on stage, where they bowed to the audience and called the dance finis.
• While singing in Tosca, Plácido Domingo has had bad luck crying out “Vittoria! Vittoria!” Once, he fell flat on his nose, creating a pool of blood; fortunately, he managed to finish the opera. On another occasion, he threw his head back as he cried “Vittoria! Vittoria!” — and broke the nose of the supernumerary standing behind him.
• Tenor Franco Corelli takes music seriously. At home, Mr. Corelli became so frustrated while trying unsuccessfully to play a certain phrase that he jumped up from the piano then smashed his fist through a closet door. He and his wife were unsuccessful at freeing his arm, so they were forced to call a carpenter for help.
• The Grant food chain once attempted to create a hot dog without cancer-causing nitrates. It sent a package of the healthy hot dogs to the United States Department of Agriculture so they could be tested, but an official there thought that they were a gift, so he took them home and had a weenie roast.
• During a performance of Macbethon a very hot evening, Sarah Siddons ordered a beer. A boy went out, bought the beer, and carried it back to the theater. However, Mrs. Siddons was not where she had been. Looking around, the boy saw her acting on stage, so he walked on stage and delivered the beer to her.
• During a performance of Electrawith Birgit Nielsen at the Paris Opera, the lights went out due to a power failure. When the lights came on again, Richard Lewis picked up the performance where it had ended by singing his next lines: “Lights. Lights. Is there no one here to light them?”
• In the mid-1950s, Gene Bozzacco, who was a musician with the Metropolitan Opera, remembered a funny performance of Forzain Brooklyn. Both men about to have a duel forgot their pistols, and they were forced to run off the stage in different directions to get them.
• Filming The Texas Chain Saw Massacrewas dangerous. In one scene, Gunnar Hansen (playing Leatherface) was running with a whirling chain saw when he slipped. The whirling chain saw flew in the air and landed a few inches from Ms. Hansen’s body.
• At her all-female college, Katherine Hepburn played men’s roles in the plays the theater department put on. During one play, she put a hand in her pants pocket, sat down, and couldn’t get her hand out again.
• The Reverend Sydney Smith drank some ink by accident, then said, “Bring me all the blotting paper there is in the house.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
250 ANECDOTES ABOUT OPERA — LULU PAPERBACK
I have not always been blear-eyed. My nose did not always touch my chin; nor was I always a servant. You must know that I am the daughter of Pope Urban X, and of the Princess of Palestrina. To the age of fourteen I was brought up in a castle, compared with which all the castles of the German barons would not have been fit for stabling, and one of my robes would have bought half the province of Westphalia. I grew up, and improved in beauty, wit, and every graceful accomplishment; and in the midst of pleasures, homage, and the highest expectations. I already began to inspire the men with love. My breast began to take its right form, and such a breast! white, firm, and formed like that of the Venus de’ Medici; my eyebrows were as black as jet, and as for my eyes, they darted flames and eclipsed the luster of the stars, as I was told by the poets of our part of the world. My maids, when they dressed and undressed me, used to fall into an ecstasy in viewing me before and behind; and all the men longed to be in their places.
“I was contracted in marriage to a sovereign prince of Massa Carrara. Such a prince! as handsome as myself, sweet-tempered, agreeable, witty, and in love with me over head and ears. I loved him, too, as our sex generally do for the first time, with rapture, transport, and idolatry. The nuptials were prepared with surprising pomp and magnificence; the ceremony was attended with feasts, carousals, and burlesques: all Italy composed sonnets in my praise, though not one of them was tolerable.
“I was on the point of reaching the summit of bliss, when an old marchioness, who had been mistress to the Prince, my husband, invited him to drink chocolate. In less than two hours after he returned from the visit, he died of most terrible convulsions.
“But this is a mere trifle. My mother, distracted to the highest degree, and yet less afflicted than I, determined to absent herself for some time from so fatal a place. As she had a very fine estate in the neighborhood of Gaeta, we embarked on board a galley, which was gilded like the high altar of St. Peter’s, at Rome. In our passage we were boarded by a Sallee rover. Our men defended themselves like true Pope’s soldiers; they flung themselves upon their knees, laid down their arms, and begged the corsair to give them absolution in articulo mortis.
“The Moors presently stripped us as bare as ever we were born. My mother, my maids of honor, and myself, were served all in the same manner. It is amazing how quick these gentry are at undressing people. But what surprised me most was, that they made a rude sort of surgical examination of parts of the body which are sacred to the functions of nature. I thought it a very strange kind of ceremony; for thus we are generally apt to judge of things when we have not seen the world. I afterwards learned that it was to discover if we had any diamonds concealed. This practice had been established since time immemorial among those civilized nations that scour the seas. I was informed that the religious Knights of Malta never fail to make this search whenever any Moors of either sex fall into their hands. It is a part of the law of nations, from which they never deviate.
“I need not tell you how great a hardship it was for a young princess and her mother to be made slaves and carried to Morocco. You may easily imagine what we must have suffered on board a corsair. My mother was still extremely handsome, our maids of honor, and even our common waiting-women, had more charms than were to be found in all Africa.
“As to myself, I was enchanting; I was beauty itself, and then I had my virginity. But, alas! I did not retain it long; this precious flower, which had been reserved for the lovely Prince of Massa Carrara, was cropped by the captain of the Moorish vessel, who was a hideous Negro, and thought he did me infinite honor. Indeed, both the Princess of Palestrina and myself must have had very strong constitutions to undergo all the hardships and violences we suffered before our arrival at Morocco. But I will not detain you any longer with such common things; they are hardly worth mentioning.
“Upon our arrival at Morocco we found that kingdom deluged with blood. Fifty sons of the Emperor Muley Ishmael were each at the head of a party. This produced fifty civil wars of blacks against blacks, of tawnies against tawnies, and of mulattoes against mulattoes. In short, the whole empire was one continued scene of carnage.
“No sooner were we landed than a party of blacks, of a contrary faction to that of my captain, came to rob him of his booty. Next to the money and jewels, we were the most valuable things he had. I witnessed on this occasion such a battle as you never beheld in your cold European climates. The northern nations have not that fermentation in their blood, nor that raging lust for women that is so common in Africa. The natives of Europe seem to have their veins filled with milk only; but fire and vitriol circulate in those of the inhabitants of Mount Atlas and the neighboring provinces. They fought with the fury of the lions, tigers, and serpents of their country, to decide who should have us. A Moor seized my mother by the right arm, while my captain’s lieutenant held her by the left; another Moor laid hold of her by the right leg, and one of our corsairs held her by the other. In this manner almost all of our women were dragged by four soldiers.
“My captain kept me concealed behind him, and with his drawn scimitar cut down everyone who opposed him; at length I saw all our Italian women and my mother mangled and torn in pieces by the monsters who contended for them. The captives, my companions, the Moors who took us, the soldiers, the sailors, the blacks, the whites, the mulattoes, and lastly, my captain himself, were all slain, and I remained alone expiring upon a heap of dead bodies. Similar barbarous scenes were transacted every day over the whole country, which is of three hundred leagues in extent, and yet they never missed the five stated times of prayer enjoined by their prophet Mahomet.
“I disengaged myself with great difficulty from such a heap of corpses, and made a shift to crawl to a large orange tree that stood on the bank of a neighboring rivulet, where I fell down exhausted with fatigue, and overwhelmed with horror, despair, and hunger. My senses being overpowered, I fell asleep, or rather seemed to be in a trance. Thus I lay in a state of weakness and insensibility between life and death, when I felt myself pressed by something that moved up and down upon my body. This brought me to myself. I opened my eyes, and saw a pretty fair-faced man, who sighed and muttered these words between his teeth, ‘O che sciagura d’essere senza coglioni!” [“Oh, what a misfortune to be without testicles!”]
three days of beauty
followed by decay and fall
someday you will die