David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Problem-Solving

• Soprano Lily Pons once was supposed to sing several performances in Mexico City, but she became ill due to the high altitude. Nevertheless, she completed the first performance. The people who had hired her knew that she was ill, and they were afraid that she would leave without performing again, and so they locked her trunks and possessions in the opera house! Ms. Pons’ manager took action to get her property back so she could leave. Ms. Pons said, “My manager hid backstage until five o’clock in the morning. When the night watchman was in another part of the house, the manager packed up my things and carried two big trunks down a creaking staircase. He loaded them on a flower cart drawn by a donkey, and hid them in the cellar of a friend’s house.” As it turned out, her manager did not need to do this. Ms. Pons adjusted to the high altitude and felt much better and so was able to complete the other performances. During World War II, she gave performances to Allied troops. In Italy, she performed very close to the front lines, and some soldiers in the audience had just returned from the fighting — she could hear sounds of combat during her performance. She noticed one soldier sleeping during her concert and worried about her performance, telling herself, “You must be slipping. You can’t hold your audience anymore.” But then she realized that the soldiers needed their rest. She said, “If music is able to rest these tired men so that they can relax and fall asleep easily, I’m doing what I came across the ocean to do!” After realizing that, she no longer worried if an exhausted soldier fell asleep during her performance.

• British pop star Victor Fox was very good with children. In the late 1960s, he brought together a number of children from different schools to form a large children’s choir at a music festival that was not located in London. They sang the English national anthem, but Mr. Fox wanted the children to sing louder, so he asked them, “This is the Queen’s song, isn’t it?” The children agreed. Then he asked, “Where does the Queen live?” The children replied, “In London.” Finally, he asked, “Will the Queen be able to hear this?” The children shouted, “NO!” And then they sang loudly for the queen. (Here’s another interesting bit of problem-solving. Dick Katz was a jazz pianist who always stomped a foot while he was playing. This usually was not a problem, but it became a problem when he was recording. To stop the noise of the stomp, he would put a cushion on the floor — unless he was stomping his foot, he couldn’t play.)

• Sarah Caldwell produced many operas in and around Boston at many venues, including the Cousens Gymnasium at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. At the dress rehearsal with famous soprano Beverly Sills, a track meet took place — the orchestra accompanied thundering footsteps! Ms. Sills had a new business card made up: “Beverly Sills, Star of Stage, Screen, and Track.” Ms. Caldwell and Ms. Sills worked well together. When Ms. Caldwell telephoned Ms. Sills and asked to act and sing the lead in the opera Lucia di Lammermore, Ms. Sills was so excited that she immediately said, “Yes.” But after hanging up the telephone, she remembered something and so she telephoned Ms. Caldwell and said that she couldn’t perform in the opera because she was pregnant. Ms. Caldwell asked, “Weren’t you pregnant ten minutes ago?” (All worked out well. The costumer let out the costumes, and Ms. Sills performed in the opera.)

• Philippe Rameau helped create the opera Hippolyte et Aricie, which was first performed in Paris in 1733. Audiences loved it; critics did not. Sarah Caldwell wanted to produce the opera in 1966, and she wanted to find the orchestra parts, which she was sure existed in the Paris Opera, a large part of whose music was not catalogued. She and opera company business manager John Cunningham went to the Paris Opera Library, where they were assured that the music they wanted did not exist. Because Ms. Caldwell was sure that the music existed and was there, Mr. Cunningham romanced with wine and flowers a single lady who worked at the library while Ms. Caldwell looked jealous. Mr. Cunningham got access to the stacks in the library (which were normally closed to members of the general public), and soon he found the music that he and Ms. Caldwell wanted.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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