• During World War I, opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink was requested to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the American troops. Because she was so eager to help, she agreed, although she did not know the words. (She sang the tune, rather than the words, of the song.) Later, she read this comment in a newspaper article: “The voice of Schumann-Heink is a great inspiration when she sings ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ but we would be very obliged if she would tell us in what language she sings it.” (Quickly thereafter, she learned the words.)
• Very early in his career, Russian bass Feodor Chaliapine got work in the chorus of the French Light Opera Company. Very few of the members of the company were French, and the others did not know French. Fortunately, the members of the Russian audience also did not know French, thus allowing the singers to sing all the foreign words they knew at random — for example, “Colorado, Niagara, Mississippi, Charpentier, and Eau-de-vie ….”
• Because of a lack of knowledge of English, Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi misunderstood what would happen when she agreed to sing Tosca in New York as a benefit for the Milk Fund. Speaking to a reporter, she expressed her opinion that “babies” would enjoy hearing this very emotional opera, and she was surprised to learn that the “babies” would not be attending the benefit.
• French-born soprano Lily Pons learned her first American slang from comedian Jack Oakie — “Scram!” According to Mr. Oakie, Ms. Pons was the Metropolitan Opera’s “Top Line Canary.”
• Chicago Symphony Orchestra flutist Donald Peck was mightily unimpressed by opera singer Maria Callas. Once, the CSO was supposed to record with her. A rehearsal was scheduled, but Ms. Callas did not show up. The CSO waited for her because they were being paid for the time of the rehearsal, and when the rehearsal time was over they stood up to leave. At that exact time, Ms. Callas walked into the rehearsal space. Her agent made sure that the press knew that the CSO had risen out of respect to Ms. Callas, but Mr. Peck writes, “What a manipulation of the truth!”
• Today, many people are amused by sensational stories in the tabloids; however, sensational stories are nothing new in American journalism. Once, several Philadelphia newspapers reported that soprano Adelina Patti had been devoured by mice. Here’s what had really happened: In the early 1880s, hotels were not as sanitary as they are now. Ms. Patti, a tremendously wealthy woman, had rented an expensive apartment in a Philadelphia hotel. When her maid turned down the bedcovers, six mice jumped out. Later that night, a mouse bit the celebrated opera singer’s left ear.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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