David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Competition


• In 1934, at the Opera of Chicago, tenor Joseph Benton, aka Giuseppe Bentonelli, sang the part of Mario Cavaradossi to the leading Tosca of his time. (Unfortunately, Mr. Benton doesn’t reveal the name of the soprano playing Tosca.) During the first act, Mr. Benton was surprised by how tightly the Tosca was squeezing his rib cage. With a shock, he realized that she was trying to cut short his breath so that he couldn’t hit an important high note. Having been raised a strong Oklahoma farm boy, he drew a deep breath despite her best efforts to prevent him, and he blasted the high note four inches from her right ear. She winced, but the audience applauded.

• Lauritz Melchior and Maria Jeritza sang together in Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. In the opera, Ms. Jeritza finished singing, and then she lay at Mr. Melchior’s feet as he sang a solo. However, Ms. Jeritza didn’t like all the audience’s attention being directed at Mr. Melchior, so she moved her skirt and revealed a long expanse of leg. Mr. Melchior saw what she was doing, so as he sang, he moved her skirt back over her legs. Again, Ms. Jeritza showed her legs, and again Mr. Melchior covered her legs. For the rest of the scene, the audience was treated to the sight of the two opera singers competing for their attention.

• Early in his career, Farinelli sang an aria with a trumpet obbligato. Each night, there was a contest between Farinelli and the trumpet player. They would each take a deep breath, then Farinelli would sing a note accompanied by the trumpet player. Each night, the audience waited to see who would run out of breath first and lose the contest: Farinelli or the trumpet player. Each night, Farinelli won the contest.

• Singers of opera can hate other singers. Mario Lanza, who sang opera in movies such as The Great Caruso, used to break the records of singers he didn’t like in music stores. (If he was caught, he paid for the records he had broken.)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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