• Sophie Arnould was noted for her ability to give witty insults, but occasionally she was the recipient of a witty insult. For example, when the Abbé Galiani was asked what he thought of Ms. Arnould’s singing, he replied, “It is the finest asthma I ever heard.” By the way, Ms. Arnould once met Voltaire, who told her, “I am 84 years old, and I have committed 84 follies.” She replied, “A mere trifle. I am not yet 40, and I have committed more than a thousand.”
• S.N. Behrman tells this anecdote about Oscar Levant: He was talking to Mr. Levant about a mutual acquaintance, and Mr. Levant said that he had walked with him recently and found him to be a good companion. This surprised Mr. Behrman, as Mr. Levant had previously said insulting things about this acquaintance. Mr. Levant replied, “Well, you know I hate ’em ’til they say hello to me.”
• The wonderful comedian Jonathan Winters sometimes jokes about fishing with dynamite. Believe it or not, this happens in real life. Choreographer Léonide Massine bought some islands in Italy, and for a few weeks he was surprised to hear explosions near his islands. Eventually, he closely observed a fishing boat. One of the two men on the boat threw something overboard, there was an explosion, and the fishermen began gathering the dead fish. That was how Mr. Massine learned that they were fishing with dynamite.
• When lieder singer Lotte Lehmann was performing at the Hamburg Municipal Theater early in her career, she worked with two practical jokers: Max Lohfing and Bobby vom Scheidt. In the second act of Heimchen am Herd(The Cricket on the Hearth), they tied her to her seat with knitting yarn, then waited for the moment when she was required to stand up on stage.
• Sir Malcolm Sargent once made a concert tour in Israel during a time of hostility. While visiting the Gaza Strip, his jeep was shot at by the Arabs. Safely back home, he told his friend and fellow conductor Sir Thomas Beecham about the incident. Sir Thomas joked, “I had no idea the Arabs took music so seriously.”
• Many musicians use language well: 1) Sir Malcolm Sargent was once asked what a musician needed to know to play the cymbals. He replied, “Nothing — just when.” 2) Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked what he would do after the opera season ended. He replied, “I propose to go shooting — shooting anyone who mentions music.” Sir Thomas also once scolded the choir at a rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah: “When you sing, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray,’ might we, please, have a little more regret and a little less satisfaction?’” 3) Arturo Toscanini was not shy in criticizing his orchestra when he felt the musicians deserved it. He once shouted at the members of his orchestra, “Assassins!”
• The Nicholas Brothers, an African-American dance act, performed in a show called “Babes in Arms” where they sang a song titled “All Dark People Is Light on Their Feet,” but their mother told them on opening night not to sing it that way, but instead to sing “All Dark People AreLight on Their Feet.” Afterward, the stage manager told them that they were singing it wrong and they should sing “is” and not “are,” but Fayard Nicholas said about the Nicholas Brothers’ version, “That’s the way I talk.”
• Marius Petipa choreographed Swan Lake. A Frenchman, he went to Russia, where he lived for decades but never mastered the language. To dancers who made mistakes in rehearsal, he said something in Russian, which, translated, was this: “Stop, stop, what miserable madam, what you are bad cucumber.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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