David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Auditions and Autographs


• A lucky break helped soprano Leslie Garrett get a job with the English National Opera. She was singing the part of Susanna in The Marriage of Figarowhen she received word that English National Opera managing director Lord Harewood would be present at a performance. Normally, Ms. Garrett paced herself so that she could get through all four acts. However, since Lord Harewood would be present, she decided to sing all-out from the very beginning and trust that some extra strength would providentially arrive to help her get through the end of the opera. She did sing all out from the very beginning, performing brilliantly in the first two acts, but unfortunately extra strength did not arrive, so she sang poorly in the last two acts. She thought that she blown her chances of ever singing in the English National Opera, but luck was with her. Lord Harewood had left after the first two acts, and shortly afterward she got a job singing with the English National Opera.

• Throughout her career, soprano Helen Traubel was compared to another great soprano: Kirsten Flagstad. Early in her career, Ms. Traubel auditioned for a radio program, although she had broken out in fiery spots because of an allergy to a kitten she had cuddled. In the middle of the audition, she noticed the radio engineers in the control room laughing, and she assumed that they were laughing at her appearance, so she threatened to leave. However, they convinced her to stay, explaining that they were laughing because the radio bigwigs, who were listening in an upstairs room, had called to tell them, “Stop your kidding. Turn off that Flagstad record and let that kid you’re going to audition start singing.”

• Soprano Beverly Sills felt that she was too tall to sing the title role in The Ballad of Baby Doe, but eventually she agreed to audition for the role. She wore high spiked heels that made her even taller, and before she began to sing, she said, “This is how big I am before I sing, and I’m going to be just as big when I finish. So if I’m too big for your Baby Doe, you can save my energy and your time by saying so right now.” The composer of the opera, Douglas Moore, told her she looked “just fine,” and after she had sung, he was awed and told her, “Oh, Miss Sills, you are Baby Doe.”

• In June of 1897, Enrico Caruso, then an unknown, auditioned for Giacomo Puccini and made an immediate impact. After Mr. Caruso had sung “Che gelida manina,” Mr. Puccini turned from the piano he was playing as accompaniment, looked at Mr. Caruso, and asked, “Who has sent you to me — God?”


• American soprano Grace Moore became famous in opera, musical comedy, and movies — in opera, she is best known for her Louise, which she studied under Gustave Charpentier. One day, Garbo visited her and her husband at their house in Connecticut in response to an invitation to stay for the weekend. Before Sunday lunch, Ms. Moore asked Garbo and her other guests to sign their names in her guest-book. Garbo disliked giving autographs, so she declined to sign the guest-book. Ms. Moore told her, “If my house is not good enough for you to let others know you have been here, I think you had better leave immediately. I shall have the car ready to take you back to New York in 15 minutes.” Within 15 minutes, Garbo was in the car and headed for New York.

• Following a recital in Boston, Massachusetts, by soprano Marilyn Horne, a woman with a seeing-eye dog asked Ms. Horne to autograph her program. First, however, Ms. Horne asked about the seeing-eye dog and whether she could pat him. The blind woman replied, “It’s a her. Her name is Gloria, and sure, you can pat her.” Ms. Horne patted Gloria, and then she signed the program. A little later, the blind woman and a friend came back, and the friend asked Ms. Horne to re-sign the program. Ms. Horne looked at the program and saw that she had written, “Dear Gloria, Many thanks for being with me today. Sincerely, Marilyn Horne.” Ms. Horne commented, “It may be the only time a dog has received an autograph.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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