David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Mothers and Parties

Mothers

• When soprano Beverly Sills was pregnant with her second child, she received a telephone call from Sarah Caldwell asking her to play Rosalinda in a production of Die Fledermauswith conductor Arthur Fiedler. Ms. Sills was so excited by the offer that she immediately said yes. But when she hung up the telephone and told her husband, he asked her, “What are you planning to wear?” She replied, “Costumes,” and then looked at her pregnant belly and realized what her husband meant. She immediately telephoned Ms. Caldwell and told her, “Miss Caldwell, I’m terribly sorry but I can’t do your Fledermausbecause I’m pregnant.” Ms. Caldwell paused and then asked, “Weren’t you pregnant five minutes ago?” By the way, Ms. Sills got her nickname — Bubbles — because when she was born, she had a huge bubble of saliva on her mouth.

• This anecdote is not funny, but it does show the love a mother has for her child. During World War II, German soprano Elizabeth Schumann raised money for the Allies, but her son was a pilot for the Nazis. In 1945, while she was in London, she learned that during the Sicilian campaign her son had lost a leg after his plane was shot down. Being a mother, she wanted to help her son, even if he was on the wrong side in the war, so she tried to enlist the help of a friend in getting a well-made prosthesis to her son. The friend — who was bitter because of the many deaths that had occurred due to the Nazi bombing of London — replied that since her son had fought for Hitler, he would not help him. Ms. Schumann never again spoke to the former friend.

• Adelina Patti’s mother was willing to use underhanded methods to help her to succeed. Once, Ms. Patti was singing with a rival who had shaved her real eyebrows and put on false eyebrows. Ms. Patti’s mother wanted to make the rival look ridiculous, so she began to stare at the rival. Under her breath, the rival asked, “What is the matter?” Ms. Patti’s mother lied, “Your right eyebrow has fallen off!” Immediately, the rival tore off her left eyebrow and for the rest of the act wore only a right eyebrow.

• In 1964, in West Berlin, Sarah Caldwell and her mother attended the premiere of Montezuma, an opera by Roger Sessions. Unfortunately, after the opera, the production people were booed. One of the people doing the booing was a man sitting next to Sarah’s mother. Her mother was so angry at the man that she hit him with her fists. In 1976, Sarah presented the American premiere of the opera. Mr. Sessions heard the story about Sarah’s mother and enjoyed repeating it to others.

Parties

• Italian soprano Claudia Muzio was known for keeping to herself, especially early in her career. She used to arrive at a theater for rehearsals, go directly to her dressing room and stay there until it was time to rehearse, and then disappear from the theater after the rehearsal without speaking to anyone. She also declined to go to most parties, saying, “I love my art and I permit nothing to interfere to its disadvantage. I can’t understand how singers can go to suppers and dinners and receptions and still keep in good trim for their work.” She and her mother often ate in hotel dining rooms — in a far corner — and didn’t even nod to acquaintances who walked into the dining room.

• Mid-1950s Metropolitan Opera basso Giorgio Tozzi and his wife once looked for a quiet apartment in Milan, Italy. He investigated an apartment, found it both charming and inexpensive, then looked around the streets, which were totally empty. Thinking that he had found the perfect place, he leased it. That night, around 10 p.m., the streets began to fill with people, and shouts, laughter, and other noises filled the air. No wonder the apartment had been so quiet in the middle of the afternoon — everyone was sleeping, for the apartment was located in the middle of the Milanese night life, which did not start until 10 p.m. and lasted all night!

• Opera soprano Marilyn Horne tells this story about composers: At a soiree, the hostess gave two composers — Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizelli — a piece of paper each and asked them to write some music. Both wrote a beautiful melody, and when the hostess compared the two pieces of paper, she discovered that they had written the same beautiful melody. She told them, “Two creative talents can arrive at the same result!” But Donizelli replied, “Oh, no. We both stole it from Vincenzo Bellini.”

• As a famous opera singer, Geraldine Farrar had her share of invitations to parties just so she could provide entertainment. At one such party, the hostess requested of her, “Dear little songbird, do please sing that heavenly Butterflyentrance, I so seldom hear it.” Ms. Farrar replied, “I am so sorry, but if you would arrive in your box before the middle of the first act, and stop chattering, you would hear it, in the opera house, where it belongs.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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

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