David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Opera, Poets

Opera

• Whenever Enrico Caruso performed, ovations greeted him. Therefore, he decided to perform an experiment to see if the audience would applaud him if they were unaware he was singing. He went to Albert Reiss, who was scheduled to sing an aria offstage in Pagliacci, and he arranged to sing the aria in Mr. Reiss’ place. Unfortunately, Mr. Caruso received no applause, and no music critic noticed that Mr. Reiss had suddenly acquired a glorious voice. Mr. Caruso sadly noted, “It is not Caruso they want — it is only the knowledge that they are hearing Caruso!” By the way, Mr. Caruso sang with great power. When he performed Lucia for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Caruso sang with such force that a police officer showed up to find out where all the sound was coming from. Mr. Caruso said, “Aha! I sing too loud! I must look out for that.”

• Opera singers have very powerful voices. While in Paris, Gioacchino Rossini heard two powerful singers performing together. He wrote to a friend of his in Italy: “Lablache and Tamburini sang the duet from Bellini’s I Puritani. I need not tell you anything about their performance. You surely heard it for yourself.”

• Christoph Willibald Gluck revolutionized opera. His controversial style caused much excitement in his opera Armide, whose premiere was packed. An usher requested one man in the audience to take off his hat, but the man replied, “You take it off; it’s so crowded here that I can’t move my arms.”

Poets

• As you may expect, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, loved nature. As a boy, he and other boys engaged in fights in which they pelted each other with acorns. Sometimes, he would closely examine the color and shape of an acorn — an examination that was interrupted when the other boys pelted him with large numbers of acorns. People loved him and his poetry, which has been translated into many different languages. When Mr. Neruda was in political exile from Chili in 1949, he went to Europe and artist Pablo Picasso helped him get permission to stay in France. Mr. Neruda said, “He spoke to the authorities; he called up a good many people. I don’t know how many marvelous paintings he failed to paint on account of me.” On 11 April 1957, Mr. Neruda was arrested in Argentina because of his Communist leanings and put in jail for one and a half days. When he was released, one of his jailors gave him a gift. Mr. Neruda said, “I was about to leave the prison when one of the uniformed guards came up to me and put a sheet of paper in my hands. It was a poem he had dedicated to me. … I imagine few poets have received a poetic homage from the men assigned to guard them.” Also, he was delighted in May 1967, when he attended the Congress of Soviet Writers in Moscow and a floor-polisher saw him and recited from memory one of Mr. Neruda’s poems. Of course, Mr. Neruda loved books and was influenced by such poets as Walt Whitman. As a recognized poet, he kept a photo of the bearded American poet on his desk at Isla Negra (Dark Island). A workman once looked at the photo and asked Mr. Neruda if the photo depicted his grandfather. Mr. Neruda replied, “Yes.”

• At age 23 Langston Hughes was both an undiscovered poet and an employed busboy. He worked in the restaurant of the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., and he knew that famous poet Vachel Lindsay would be reading his poetry at the hotel. As an African-American in those Jim Crow days, Mr. Hughes knew that he could not attend the whites-only poetry reading, but he hoped to see Mr. Lindsay. When Mr. Lindsay and his wife sat down in the hotel restaurant to eat, Mr. Hughes approached their table and left three poems there. He wrote later, “Quickly, I laid them beside his plate and went away, afraid to say anything to so famous a poet, except to tell him I liked his poems and that these were poems of mine.” Mr. Lindsay liked the poems, and at his poetry reading he announced that he had discovered a new and promising young poet, and he read all three of Mr. Hughes’ poems. The next morning, Mr. Hughes was interviewed and photographed by newspaper employees. Mr. Lindsay also gave the young poet a gift: a set of books by Amy Lowell, along with the recommendation to study her poems. Later, Mr. Hughes wrote about Mr. Lindsay, “He was a great, kind man. And he is one of the people I remember with pleasure and gratitude out of my bewildered days in Washington.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

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