David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Clothing


• Ruggero Leoncavallo, composer of Pagliacci, once was asked by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany to compose an opera. He composed Der Roland von Berlin, and he went to the German court to deliver the score. Because the Kaiser was busy, Mr. Leoncavallo was asked to wait with a number of other people, all of whom were wearing full-dress military uniforms, while he was wearing his usual somber black clothing. Of course, he stood out, and many chamberlains who saw him and thought that he did not belong in the company of those officers asked if he was supposed to be there. Mr. Leoncavallo said, “I found in the end that it saved time to keep my invitation card constantly in my hand, as no sooner had I put it back in than I had to take it out again to satisfy some other bespangled official that the right place for me was not the servants’ hall.” Of course, this was annoying, but soon Mr. Leoncavallo got satisfaction. The Kaiser arrived, complimented his score, and invited him to lunch. Mr. Leoncavallo says about the officials, “As soon as the Kaiser had gone, they all crowded around me smiling, smirking, scraping, bowing, as if I had suddenly become a second God the Father Almighty.”

• When the Metropolitan Opera moved to Lincoln Center, Leontyne Price starred in a Franco Zeffirelli production of Antony and Cleopatra that was plagued by mishaps. This cooled her relationship with the Met, and she devoted her gifts to the San Francisco Opera and other venues. However, when Schuyler Chapin became the Met’s general manager, he wanted Ms. Price to sing at the Met, so he set up a luncheon with her at La Cote Basque, a fancy New York restaurant. Ms. Price wore elegant black pants and a mink coat, but when the manager of the La Cote Basque, Madame Henriette, saw her, she told Mr. Chapin to tell Ms. Price that women in pants could not eat there. Mr. Chapin pleaded, “Madame, if you deny Leontyne Price, I’ll never be able to persuade her to return to the Metropolitan Opera. She asked to lunch at your restaurant. Please! We need her back on the Met stage. New York misses her. Help me!” Madame Henriette relented, saying, “Never let it be said that La Cote Basque has denied our city a great artist. I say rules can be bent!”

• While singing for the troops in her native Australia during World War II (despite having contracted polio), opera soprano Marjorie Lawrence always wore lovely gowns. Keeping them pressed was not as much of a problem as it would seem because there was always a soldier or nurse who was willing to iron them. Once, a nurse took a gown to press it, but with the beginning of the concert approaching, the gown had not been returned, so Ms. Lawrence sent her husband after it. He found the nurse wearing it — and a half-dozen other nurses waiting for a chance to try it on. The nurse explained, “We’ve been out here in the wilderness nearly two years, and this is the first lovely dress we’ve seen since leaving home. I simply had to put it on.”

• During World War II, British civilians were trained to be members of the Home Guard. Soprano Joan Hammond was out for a walk one evening when a well-dressed man wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella pointed his umbrella at her and said, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Ms. Hammond thought that he was harmless, so she said, “I’m dead.” The well-dressed man raised his bowler hat and said politely, “I beg your pardon, Madam, but there is a Home Guard exercise here this evening, and I thought you were one of the enemy.” Ms. Hammond writes, “I was delighted with this bit of whimsy as there was an air raid in progress at the time, and here we were preparing for the invasion of Eaton Square, bowler hats and all.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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