David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Mishaps


• Opera singer Nellie Melba once toured the back-blocks — the remotest part of Australia. In one town, her concert was sold out. Some of the leading citizens neglected to buy tickets, thinking that they had discovered a way to hear Ms. Melba’s concert for free. They used a ladder at the back of the hall to climb to the roof of the concert hall, where indeed they heard the concert for free. Unfortunately, the gardener discovered the ladder leading against the wall. Not wanting anyone to steal the ladder, he removed it and locked it up. After the concert, the town’s leading free-loaders waited for everyone to leave, and then they discovered that they were stuck on the roof. Fortunately, about 5 a.m. a police officer happened by and rescued them. Ms. Melba wrote in her autobiography, Melodies and Memories, “I can well believe that that policeman lived comfortably on blackmail for the rest of his life.” Another incident in the back-blocks involved a bill for some furniture. In honor of Ms. Melba, the hotel landlady ordered some fine furniture, which touched Ms. Melba. However, Ms. Melba was surprised to find the cost of the furniture added to her bill. Fortunately, her manager, John Lemmone, handled the situation. He said to the hotel landlady, “We shall be delighted to pay for the furniture, only of course if we do that, we shall take it away with us.” The hotel landlady replied, “But I want it myself.” Eventually, the hotel landlady concluded that if she wanted to keep the furniture she would have to pay for it.

• Very early in his career, in the late 1920s in Italy, tenor Joseph Benton, aka Giuseppe Bentonelli, had costumes made up for the part of Faust. He had his housekeeper sew buttons on each pair of tights so he could use them for his suspenders. (He did notice that the housekeeper looked surprised at the request, but he didn’t figure out why she looked surprised until he performed in the costume.) All went well during the performance — at first. Unfortunately, one suspender broke in two, and then the other suspender strap broke loose, too. Just as Faust took the lovely Marguerite in his arms at the conclusion of the opera, his tights fell down! The audience loved the mishap, and during the curtain calls the audience brought Mr. Benton back on stage for many bows. The headline in the local newspaper’s review the next day stated, “FAUST TENOR LOSES PANTS ON STAGE.” Following the debacle, Mr. Benton stopped using suspenders and learned how to tie his tights with bias tape so that they wouldn’t fall down.

• Early in her career, while making her first debuts on the operatic stage, Emma Calvé worried about her thin legs. Her mother didn’t help, as she referred to them as “spider’s legs.” Therefore, while singing the role of Cherubin in Noces de Figaro, young Emma decided to do something about her thin legs and stuffed her tights with cotton so that she appeared to have calves instead of sticks. While singing, she was gratified to notice that the old gentlemen in the audience were looking at her calves through their opera glasses. However, during intermission the director told her, “What are those hideous lumps, I’d like to know! I am tempted to stick pins into them! Stupid child! Don’t you know that everyone is laughing at you? Do you expect anyone to believe that those fat excrescences belong to you! Take them off instantly!” In the second act, she appeared without enormous calves, a fact the audience noticed immediately and applauded uproariously.

• While singing opera on a South American tour, Lucrezia Bori sometimes wore a dress that had a bell-shaped skirt. The bell shape of the skirt was created by a crinoline, which had to be tied tightly, for if it became undone the crinoline would raise the skirt much too high, thus revealing very much more than a lady wishes to reveal in public. Unfortunately, the fastening broke one day while Ms. Bori was singing on stage, the crinoline ballooned upward, carrying Ms. Bori’s skirt with it, and a thoroughly embarrassed but thoroughly professional Ms. Bori continued to sing. Fortunately, Grassi, the tenor on stage, put a screen in front of Ms. Bori, and when Ms. Bori, still singing, came out from behind the screen, her skirt, now that she had removed the crinoline, was no longer bell-like and instead was modest.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


250 Anecdotes About Opera  (Kindle eBook: 99 cents):


Buy the Paperback:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: