David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Automobiles, Ballet, and Beauty


• Basso Ferruccio Furianetto took care of his voice over the years, turning down roles that he felt his voice was not ready for. Conductor Herbert von Karajan once asked him to sing the role of Escamillo, which is a role for a baritone. Immediately, Mr. Furianetto changed the subject to something that he knew Mr. Karajan would want to talk about: “Maestro, did you see the new Porsche that just came out?” Later, Mr. Furianetto said, “That Porsche saved me!”

• When Pierre Monteux started working at the Metropolitan Opera, he decided to buy a shiny Ford touring-car. He paid $300 for the car, which he was proud of at first, although it looked modest when parked beside the luxurious cars of the stars of the Met. However, the car did give Mr. Monteux trouble. One day, as he was driving it, the car developed engine trouble and stopped. Mr. Monteux got out of the car, tipped his hat to it, and walked away, never to return.


• Adam Pernell once provided piano accompaniment for David Howard’s class when Rudolf Nureyev was taking it. Mr. Pernell was feeling depressed, so he started playing music that was appropriate to his mood — the death scene of Violetta in La Traviata. Mr. Nureyev danced the appropriate steps, but as he danced he mimed Violetta’s consumptive cough. From that beginning, a game developed between Mr. Pernell and Mr. Nureyev. Mr. Pernell would play music from an opera, and Mr. Nureyev would dance the steps as the character from the opera would dance them. Each time, Mr. Nureyev got the opera and the character right. Afterwards, Mr. Pernell left class in a wonderful mood.

• Richard Wagner brought his opera Tannhäuserto Paris in 1860, and to make it more popular with Parisians, who love ballet, he inserted a ballet in the first act. Unfortunately, Parisians also love to arrive fashionably late and see a ballet in the second act, so Tannhäuserwas forced to close after just three performances.


• Marie Wilt was a 300-pound opera singer. In Vienna, where she was born in 1833, she sang the role of Valentino in The Huguenots. As she walked on stage, the character of the Page said the words the script required him to say and announced that she was the most beautiful lady at court. Of course, the audience started laughing, but they quickly stopped laughing when she sang. And given the way she sang, chances are that by the end of the opera some audience members — judging from their enthusiastic applause — thought that she really was the most beautiful woman at court! Ms. Wilt’s first teacher was most unusual: an echo. Up on a mountain, she used to sing, listen to her echo, and then correct herself. (Nature can be a wonderful teacher!)

• When Canadian figure skater Toller Cranston served as a judge at a Miss USA beauty pageant, the contestant from New York told him that she loved opera. However, in conversation, he found out that she had never been to the Met and that her favorite opera was Phantom of the Opera, so he told her, “My dear, don’t even think about going to La Traviata. You would hate it.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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