David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Embarrassment and Lack of Etiquette


• Kirsten Flagstad once recorded a number of arias in three hours of hard work, then she and Charles O’Connell, the man in charge of the recording, went to lunch. He asked if she were tired, and she explained that she was not tired vocally, but that a certain muscle ached from standing. She then took his hand, put it on her inner thigh, and said, “The muscle is all stiffened up. Can’t you feel that muscle?” Mr. O’Connell could feel the muscle, and he almost died of embarrassment as all the people in the Waldorf dining room stared at them.

• Tenor Franco Corelli could be brutally honest as a voice teacher. During a class, a young woman sang for him for the first time. Unfortunately, she was not good. Mr. Corelli asked her, “You have a singing teacher?” The woman nodded that yes, she did. Mr. Corelli then asked, “And you pay such a teacher?” Embarrassed — as was Mr. Corelli — she started crying and ran back to her seat.

Etiquette, Lack of

• Opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier had an interesting way of handling rude people. Following one of her concerts, a man in the audience met her in the artists’ room and told her, “Miss Ferrier, I wanted to come round to tell you that it is a pity you included Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ in your program this evening; it is a hateful song and I detest it.” Ms. Ferrier simply looked at him and asked, “And?” Of course, the man had nothing to reply to this mild, but effective, rebuff.

• Arturo Toscanini had a policy of allowing no encores, as he felt they interfered with the flow of the operas he conducted. Unfortunately, on the very last night of the 1902-1903 season, the La Scala audience insisted on the encore of a favorite aria from A Masked Ball. Toscanini tried several times to continue, but he was unable. Finally, he ran from the podium in disgust and an assistant conductor finished the opera.

• Even as a young girl, opera singer Maria Callas was assertive. A friend of the family used to come to her home and put his feet up on a table pedestal — something no one else was allowed to do. Young Maria was angered by this and told him, “Please don’t put your feet on our nice furniture.” When her mother told her to be nice, young Maria replied, “If you won’t talk to him, Mother, I will.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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