• Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797-1848) wrote 75 operas and influenced Giuseppe Verdi. When he died, he was given an autopsy during which the top of his skull was removed. When his body was dug up in 1875 so that it could be moved to another location, the top of his skull was discovered to be missing. It turned out that an Austrian military physician named Gerolamo Carchen, who had watched the autopsy, had taken the piece of skull as a souvenir. For several years, the piece of skull was exhibited in a Bergamo museum dedicated to Donizetti, and then in 1951 it was buried with the rest of his bones.
• On November 29, 1924, Giacomo Puccini died. However, he left behind him one last musical masterpiece. On April 25, 1926, in Milan, Arturo Toscanini conducted the world premiere of Turandot. When the last note of the opera was finished, Maestro Toscanini told the audience, “Here the master laid down his pen.”
• This anecdote is touching. After Enrico Caruso died, his widow, Dorothy, played one of his recordings. Their young daughter, Gloria, heard the recording and toddled into the room, holding her arms up and saying, “Daddy! Daddy!”
• Alexander Woollcott was seldom abashed by the great personalities of the arts, but when Grace Moore and he, along with other notables such as Harpo Marx, were invited to a luncheon with the great soprano Mary Garden, he was quiet at the luncheon — something very unusual for him. Ms. Garden, annoyed at Mr. Woollcott, did all the talking, telling the story of how she became famous by singing the role of Louise after the original soprano suffered from laryngitis. On that night, Albert Carré, the director of the Opéra Comique, came looking for her, telling her, “You have to go on as Louise. I’ve been told you’ve learned the role.” As she prepared to go on, she told herself, “Mary Garden, this is your moment. Tomorrow Paris will be at your feet!” All happened as she had predicted. She scored a major success, and all the opera lovers of Paris adored her. After Ms. Garden had told this tale, Mr. Woollcott, thinking that it would make a wonderful magazine article, said, “My God, what a story — what a beginning!” Ms. Garden looked at him and said, “But that, my dear Woollcott, is a story which you cannot use in Cosmopolitanor any other magazine.” As Mr. Woollcott and Ms. Moore drove away after the luncheon, he told her, “Well, regardless of my apparent lack of success, there is the most charming and eloquent b*tch I have ever met.”
• Once a diva, always a diva. When soprano Nellie Melba appeared for the last time at Covent Garden, she gave a remarkable performance, and she seemed overwhelmed at the applause she received at the end of La Bohéme. The stagehands were worried that she would collapse because of all her emotion, so they drew the curtains. Ms. Melba immediately recovered completely and snapped at the stagehands, “Pull back those bloody curtains at once!” They did so, and in front of the audience she once again seemed overwhelmed by emotion and about to collapse.
• Maria Callas once appeared at the Chicago Lyric Theater in Madama Butterfly. Backstage, while she was still dressed in her kimono costume, a law official served her with a subpoena regarding a breach of contract. Aghast, she stormed at the law official, “How dare you! I am a goddess!” Of course, many members of the media were present, and of course, as anyone familiar with the work of theatrical guru Danny Newman would guess, it was Mr. Newman who had alerted the media to be present at the diva’s display of fireworks.
• Opera is known for its divas. For example, soprano Kathleen Battle of the Metropolitan Opera of New York once rode in a limousine in which the air conditioning was set too high. She telephoned her manager to request that she telephone the chauffeur and order that the air conditioning be turned down.
• Italian diva Angelica Catalani once complained about a rug that had been placed on stage, saying that it was not good enough for her to place her feet on. After her complaints, the rug was taken away and thereafter she placed her feet on a rare Italian scarf.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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