David Bruce: Opera Anecdotes — Problem-Solving


• While singing Alfredo in La Traviatain Toronto, Canada, tenor John Brecknock had a Violetta who was rather standoffish and whose common comment in rehearsal was “Don’t touch me.” Mr. Brecknock, however, felt that in the love duet Alfredo and Violetta ought to be standing together, not apart, and he felt that Alfredo’s arms should be around Violetta. Fortunately, he found a way to sing the love duet his way during the actual performance. Violetta wore a dress with a long train, and Alfredo simply stepped on the train, preventing Violetta from moving away from him. Alfredo then enclosed Violetta in his arms, and they sang the love duet together.

• Guiseppe Verdi once stayed in a cottage at an Italian summer resort. A friend visited him and noticed that he seemed to be using only one room in the cottage. Curious, the friend asked him why he was not using the other rooms. Mr. Verdi showed him the other rooms, which were filled with 95 barrel organs. He explained, “All of these organs were playing Rigoleto, Il Trovatore, and other operas of mine. Obviously, I could not work under such circumstances. I decided to hire [rent] the organs from their owners. It will cost me about 1,500 lire for the summer, but it is not too large a price for a peaceful vacation.”

• While Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini was living in Argentina, where she was very popular, the 20-year-old son of her host fell in love with her. He appeared before her, holding a silver-handled dagger and threatening to kill himself if she did not kiss him. She replied, “We Italians never kiss anyone unless we know them very well. Now suppose you give me that lovely dagger of yours, then I will go out on the lawn and tell you presently if I like you well enough to kiss you.” Her playing for time worked. She did not have to give the young man a kiss, but she did acquire a silver-handled dagger that she used for the next 15 years while singing Lucia di Lammermoor.

• Marianne Brandt, an Austrian contralto, sang at the Metropolitan Opera House. She once went to the General Post Office at City Hall in New York City to receive a registered letter. The postal worker asked her for identification such as a passport, but she had none with her. The postal worker said, “I am sorry, madame, but the rules are strict.” She replied, “You will not give me the letter? I will prove to you that I am Marianne Brandt!” She then loudly sang the cadenza from an aria in the opera Le Prophèteby Giacomo Meyerbeer. The postal worker said, “Here is your letter, but for God’s sake be quiet!”

• During a visit with Sir Hugh Walpole by Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior, Mrs. Melchior had to use the bathroom, did, and discovered too late that no toilet paper was present. Seeing some other paper present in the form of books, she selected the least impressive volume and employed a few pages for a purpose they were not intended. Later, she discovered that Sir Hugh kept a number of priceless first editions in his bathroom, where he employed his sitting-down time perusing his collection.

• Roger Prout used to help produce operas for the Welsh National Opera Company. One problem that concerned him was the breakage of glass props such as champagne glasses as the company moved from town to town. Writing “Fragile — Handle with Care” on the box didn’t work, so he looked up the chemical formula for glass, then wrote “Na2SiO3/Ca Si O3— Handle with Extreme Care — Do Not Smoke” on the box. The breakage problem stopped immediately.

• Like many famous people, coloratura soprano Lily Pons had a problem with people who too strongly insisted that she dine at their home, even when she needed to rest. To combat these “hosts,” Ms. Pons would say that she would sup with them only if she could choose the menu. She then would choose a menu that was extremely difficult to prepare: steak châteaubriand, an exotic salad dressing, a rare wine, etc. Almost always, this solved the problem.

• American soprano Grace Moore allowed no one to upstage her. Singing Mimi, she appeared with Jan Kiepura as Rodolfo. When Ms. Moore started singing “Me chiamano Mimi,” Mr. Kiepura moved to a position that partially blocked the audience’s view of her. The people in the audience, including Lanfranco Rasponi, author of The Last Prima Donnas, long remembered how Ms. Moore shoved Mr. Kiepura aside — forcefully.

• While soprano Emma Albani was singing in San Francisco, a problem developed when opera fans started sneaking into the theater through a window rather than buying tickets. To solve the problem, a police officer was stationed at the window. Unfortunately, whenever someone tried to climb through the window, the police officer forced him to pay a fee — which the police officer then put into his own pocket.

• Sir Rudolf Bing once invited Maria Callas to sing the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute. She demurred, pointing out, “It doesn’t make sense for you to pay such a large fee for such a small part.” Sir Rudolf replied, “I have the solution! Reduce your fee.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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