David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Alcohol, Animals, Audiences


• During the early part of the 20thcentury, dancer Anna Pavlova toured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is famous for its beer. There, Ms. Pavlova’s music director, Theodore Stier, asked a traffic officer where he could find a place in Milwaukee that sold really good German beer. The traffic officer looked Mr. Stier over for a moment, and then he said, “Brother, there’s a place on every block — thank God!”

• Shortly after Edwin McArthur had become the accompanist for soprano Kirsten Flagstad, he struggled as he attempted to open a champagne bottle in her dressing room. She watched him for a moment and then told him, “Here, Edwin — this is more important for you to learn than all the songs we will do together.” She then taught him how to open a champagne bottle.


• While overseas entertaining troops in the Middle East during the Second World War, Joyce Grenfell was singing when a mouse ran over her foot. Because she was occupied, she didn’t even notice the mouse, but her accompanist did — and played the rest of the concert without using the piano’s pedals because she kept her feet off the floor. While in the Middle East, they were warned to shake out their shoes each morning before putting them on in case snakes or scorpions were curled up inside.

• In Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigolettois a scene in which the title character throws into a river a sack containing what is supposed to be the dead body of his enemy. Unfortunately, at a 1950 performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, a kitten wandered on stage during the scene and was fascinated with the sack. The kitten kept digging its claws into the sack, and the “dead body” inside the sack kept squirming. Finally, the singer playing Rigoletto noticed the kitten and removed it from the stage.

• Katheryn Bloodgood, a mezzo-soprano, was singing at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, when a bat flew into the recital hall. While she was finishing singing a Henschel lullaby that was supposed to end with the word “shu” sung very quietly, the bat flew directly at her. Instead of singing “shu” very quietly, she shrieked the word, and then ran offstage to escape from the bat.

• During a New Orleans production of the opera Nabucco, a horse committed a large indiscretion on stage. The producer, Jim Lucas, ordered the stagehands to clean up the mess, only to find out that they didn’t have a shovel. Angrily, he shouted, “Don’t you know you never hire a horse without a shovel?”

• The conductor Artur Nikisch was very popular and received many letters from women who asked him for a lock of his hair. A friend told him that he would soon go bald because he always responded to these letters. Mr. Nikisch smiled, and then said, “I won’t go bald — but my dog might.”

• Tenor Gilbert Louis Duprez once sang a high C in Gioacchino Rossini’s apartment. Mr. Rossini checked to see if any of his glassware had shattered; later, he said that the tone of the high C had been like “the squawk of a capon whose throat is being cut.”


• In Vienna, Alfred Piccaver and Elizabeth Schumann gave a joint recital, the program of which promised that they would sing a duet from La Boheme. Unfortunately, the pianist brought the wrong music, so they sang a duet from Madama Butterflyinstead. Nevertheless, the audience declined to go home until they had heard the Bohemeduet, so the house manager asked the audience, “Is there a Boheme[score] in the house?” A person in the gallery answered, “I’ve got one.” Borrowing the score, the pianist played the duet and the audience was able to hear Mr. Piccaver and Ms. Schumann sing it.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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