David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Mishaps

• Conductor Sir Georg Solti once accidentally stabbed his hand with his baton and had to leave a performance because he was bleeding so much. Fortunately, the orchestra and singers performed well as the opera continued without him. By the way, Sir Georg once played a practical joke on a singer who did not know Hebrew. Just before a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, he had a rabbi go over to the singer and thank him for agreeing to sing — in Hebrew.

• During Tosca, a fire started on stage while Geraldine Farrar was performing. The prompter started to throw a fire extinguisher to Ms. Farrar, but she motioned to him not to do it. Instead, she acted shocked, then beat out the fire with her hands. Later, she explained that a modern fire extinguisher did not belong in Toscaand she preferred to injure her hands rather than to do violence to the opera.

• While on tour in Manchester in the 1950s, the London Philharmonic Orchestra played in an orchestra pit that was so small that the musicians were forced to open the door under the stage so they would have room for the overflow. On stage, Radames called, “Aïda, where art thou?” Immediately afterward, from the door under the stage was heard the loud flushing of a toilet.

• Tenor Ben Davies enjoyed telling about a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanniin which a very fat baritone played Don Giovanni. In the scene in which Don Giovanni descends into Hell, the baritone was supposed to go down below the stage through a trapdoor, but he was so fat that he got stuck. A member of the audience called out, “Hurrah, boys! Hell’s full!”

• At a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrinat the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Leo Slezak was supposed to exit the stage in a swan-boat, but unfortunately, the swan-boat left before he was able to get in, leaving him stranded on stage like any ordinary person who has missed the bus. Mr. Slezak ad-libbed, “What time’s the next swan?”

• In 1916, a heavyweight bout held in the Manhattan Opera House in New York City featured Charley Weinert hitting Andre Anderson and knocking him through the ropes. Mr. Anderson fell into a pile of musical instruments and his rear end got stuck in the mouth of a tuba. As Mr. Anderson struggled to free himself, the referee counted to 10.

• Herbert von Karajan sometimes did the lighting for the operas he conducted. Sir Rudolf Bing felt that frequently his lighting was murky, and after Mr. Karajan once told him that the lighting for a certain opera had required “eight full-length lighting rehearsals,” Sir Rudolf replied, “I could have got it that dark with one.”

• Early in her career, Geraldine Farrar wrote Lilli Lehmann, asking to be permitted to become a pupil of hers. No reply came back, so her mother wrote Ms. Lehmann. A reply immediately came back — Ms. Lehmann explained that she had received Geraldine’s letter, but she had been unable to read her handwriting.

• During a performance of Electrawith Birgit Nielsen at the Paris Opera, the lights went out due to a power failure. When the lights came on again, Richard Lewis picked up the performance where it had ended by singing his next lines: “Lights. Lights. Is there no one here to light them?”

• Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, aka La Stupenda, enjoyed the music of Tchaikovsky, although for a while she liked his music less well than usual — as she was getting her teeth capped, her dentist played the music of Tchaikovsky in the background.

• Sir John Gielgud was producing a Mozart opera at Covent Garden when something went wrong during a dress rehearsal. This upset Sir John, who shouted, “Oh, stop, stop, stop! Do stop that dreadfulmusic!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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