David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Problem-Solving


• Early in her career, while she still was in Athens, Greece, Maria Callas sang the lead in Toscawith Antonis Thellentas (sometimes spelled Dellendas). Mr. Thellentas was popular with the Greek audience because of his voice, acting, and size, all of which were great. He had the reputation of being able to eat almost two pounds of macaroni at a single sitting, and because of his size Maria’s mother writes that when he and Maria sang an impassioned duet together, she sometimes was forced to close her eyes.

• Opera singer Ian Wallace recalls the time when a very heavy Italian soprano played the part of Gilda in Rigoletto. In this opera, Gilda is murdered, then carried off in a sack by the character Sparafucile. Unfortunately, the singer playing Sparafucile was unable to lift the singer playing Gilda, so the opera director invented three new characters — burly men all — to help Sparafucile lift and carry Gilda off the stage. (This story may be why Sir Rudolf Bing once wrote, “The greatest singers in the world don’t fit easily into blue jeans.”)

• Adelina Patti, a celebrated diva, seldom showed up for rehearsals (she included a no-rehearsal clause in her contracts), so she often first met her singing co-stars on the stages of the opera house she was performing at the time. In a first-act trio featuring Ms. Patti, a baritone and a tenor, the baritone altered the words of the song he was singing on stage to ask her for an introduction. Ms. Patti being willing, the tenor sang the formal introductions.

• According to an ancient Jewish tradition, a blessing must be chanted when the Sabbath candles are lit. A businesswoman was scrupulous about chanting the blessing, but one Friday she found that she would be unable to return home in time to observe the tradition. So the businesswoman called home and had her maid light the Sabbath candles, then hold the telephone receiver near the candles so she could chant the blessing.

• Pope John XXIII regarded some old customs as nuisances, but having respect for tradition, he modified them instead of entirely doing away with them. He was embarrassed by his attendants’ kneeling three times before him whenever they entered or departed from his presence, so he changed the custom so that they kneeled to him only once in the morning and once in the evening.

• Tenor Enrico Caruso was multi-talented. At a performance of Bohème, the bass who was singing the part of Colline whispered to Mr. Caruso that he had lost his voice. Mr. Caruso whispered back for the bass to move his lips, then Mr. Caruso sang the part of the bass with his back to the audience so no one could see what he was doing.

• Tenor Lauritz Melchior was a big man. Fellow opera singer Marjorie Lawrence writes that when he stayed at the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway, it did not have a bath big enough for him. Therefore, each morning he took the service elevator to the basement, where he dunked himself in the swimming pool.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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