David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Advertisements, Advice, and Age


• For a while, Pierre Monteux conducted for Serge Diaghilev and his ballet troupe, resulting in a reputation of being a ballet rather than an opera conductor, despite the vast number of operas he had conducted. When Mr. Monteux began conducting for the Metropolitan Opera House, the New York critics made this criticism of him, and a leading arts magazine especially made this criticism of him, but Otto Kahn told him, “Don’t worry, Monteux. I will take care of this.” Mr. Monteux wondered how Mr. Kahn could stop the criticism, but Mr. Kahn easily solved the problem. He simply paid $500 for an advertisement for Mr. Monteux in the leading arts magazine, and the criticism magically stopped.

• Giuseppe di Stefano had pride. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he once announced that he would not sing a concert because he had discovered that the concert programs contained an advertisement for “the world’s greatest opera singer, Franco Corelli.” Mr. di Stefano did sing the concert — but only after the programs had been taken away from the audience and placed in his dressing room.


• Opera singer Lillian Nordica was shocked by a young woman who had been singing with an opera company in England. Ms. Nordica wanted her to audition for the Metropolitan Opera, where she was sure the young singer could get the role of a Page in Romeo and Juliet. However, the young singer replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t sing a secondary role.” Ms. Nordica felt that the singer was making “a great mistake. To sing well one beautiful aria on the same stage with such artists as the two De Reszkes and Madame Melba would do her more good than to sing the first roles in a poor company.”

• Theater director Tyrone Guthrie was a fan of opera — and especially of Verdi’s Requiem. Often, he would sing along with his recording and shout, “Yes! Yes!” His wife, Judy, occasionally asked him, “Tony, can we just listen to it?” Mr. Guthrie always replied by shouting, “No — get involved!”


• At the age of 93, Mary Garden’s mother died, but at the age of 35, she stopped counting how many years she had lived. She once told her daughter, “Mary, I was never 36 and I never shall be.” The two sometimes traveled together, but Mary was sometimes embarrassed because according to her mother’s passport, her mother was one year old when she gave birth to her.

• Cosima Wagner, Richard’s wife and then widow, had a remarkable intelligence, even in her old age. Conductor Karl Muck once argued with her about a passage by a philosopher. Afterward, he went to bed at his hotel, but he was woken by Cosima, who was throwing stones at his window. He went to the window, and Cosima yelled up at him, “I’ve got the book here. Come down. I am right!”

• When Mabel Wagnalls interviewed Lilli Lehmann, she was shocked when Ms. Lehmann mentioned her date of birth, so she said, “The American ladies so seldom give their age that your frankness is a revelation.” Ms. Lehmann smiled, then replied, “Why not? One is thereby no younger.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


Buy the Paperback:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: