David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Money and Anecdotes


• According to Lotte Lehmann, in Vienna the singer playing the role of the elder Des Grieux in Manon used to have a running joke whenever he named the sum that the younger Des Grieux would receive as an inheritance. Sometimes the amount would be pitifully small; at other times it would be extravagant. This is something that singers on stage looked forward to hearing, and musicians in the orchestra made bets about the amount.

• In Vienna, while rehearsing Tristan, Birgit Nilsson suffered the misfortune of having her pearl necklace break. Everyone present helped her pick up the pearls. Pausing briefly, conductor Herbert von Karajan asked her, “Tell me, is this stage jewelry, or are they real pearls bought from your phenomenal Scala fees?” Ms. Nilsson replied, “Oh, no. These are cheap and ordinary pearls bought from your Vienna fees.”

• After Dame Nellie Melba was given a worthless check for an opera performance, she insisted on being paid in cash. In fact, she refused to go on stage until her money had been counted out in her presence, the money placed in a trunk in her dressing room, her maid seated on the trunk, and the dressing room door securely locked until after her performance.

• In 1916, soprano Eva Turner started singing in the chorus of the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Soon, she started playing small parts. As the Page in Tannhauser, she earned an extra half-crown, which she put in the waistband of the baggy tights she wore as part of her costume and twisted so that the tights would not fall down.

• Adelina Patti was well paid; in fact, she earned in one evening as much as the then-President of the United States earned in one year. When this was pointed out to her, she was not apologetic, instead replying, “Let him sing.”

• Wagner soprano Birgit Nilsson had a sense of humor. She once claimed Metropolitan Opera General Manager Rudolf Bing as a dependent on her income tax form.



• Opera singer Teresa Stratas, perhaps most famous for her performances in and recording of Alban Berg’s Lulu, has a lot of respect for her mother: “She ran the house. She organized us for school. She washed our clothes — in those days, they used scrub boards — and she worked in the restaurant day and night and in between. She worked all hours. I don’t ever remember her going to sleep and I don’t remember her sitting down and eating a complete meal and not saying, ‘Oh, I feel full — why don’t you have the rest?’” When Nick, Teresa’s brother, was older, some women came into the restaurant and talked to Nick and Teresa’s mother. They said that Nick was old enough to quit school and go to work and do something for his mother — like buy jewelry for her. Nick and Teresa’s mother then said something wise and wonderful: “My children are my jewelry.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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