David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Christmas


• Conductor Walter Damrosch had four daughters, none of whom liked a Dr. Colton who was also a ladies’ man. At a family dinner, the four daughters criticized Dr. Colton, pointing out his many weaknesses. The daughters’ mother, Margaret Damrosch, told them, “Everyone around the table must say something nice about Dr. Colton.” After a long silence, daughter Anita said, “Dr. Colton had a bath last Tuesday.” Her mother said, “I forbid you to say that!” Anita then said, “Dr. Colton did not have a bath last Tuesday.” Mr. Damrosch laughed. By the way, he used two of his daughters in small roles in the opera The Children of Bethlehem: Gretchen and young Polly. They and other children brought gifts for the infant Jesus. The other children were eight professional actors, including Tina, whose father was a very successful grocer. Gretchen wrote about the children who were professionals and had been taught by adult professionals that “when they acted, they were children imitating middle-aged men and women acting like children.” During the performance, Gretchen gave the infant Jesus a doll that the soprano playing the Virgin Mary indicated should be placed on the lowest of some steps — this was not a position of honor. Tina’s father the grocer really came through for her — she brought a cornucopia of colorful fruits and vegetables all piled high on a straw tray. The soprano playing the Virgin Mary indicated that this tray should be placed on the highest step — the position of honor. Gretchen wrote, “The Virgin had become a little excited over the offerings. She had apparently forgotten the waxen Baby by her side and was accepting the gifts as some sort of personal tribute.” Polly, Gretchen’s sister, had brought as a gift a cauliflower that her mother had bought for eighteen cents. The soprano playing the Virgin Mary did not motion for Polly to come forward, but young Polly walked up the steps and put the cauliflower in the cradle with Baby Jesus. Gretchen wrote, “Somehow she knew that He was nearer her own age and would understand. What she did not know was that she had unconsciously righted a scene and made it Christmas again.”

• Pianist Derek Smith reads music well and can play many different kinds of music, but he was worried when he was booked on almost no notice to accompany opera singer Luciano Pavarotti on the TV show Good Morning America. Opera music can be difficult to play, and Mr. Smith had no idea how difficult the music that Mr. Pavarotti would sing to would be, and no one at the TV studio seemed to know what Mr. Pavarotti was going to sing. Mr. Pavarotti showed up, but he quickly became surrounded by many people, so Mr. Smith could not get near him. Finally, Mr. Smith was able to get close enough to Mr. Pavarotti to ask, “Could I have a look at the sheet music?” He was handed a copy of the sheet music for “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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