David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Audiences, Auditions, Autographs


• Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was so distressed by the lack of manners displayed by audiences that he decided to do something about it. At a concert, he had many musicians arrive late and noisily make their way to their seats. He also had some musicians talk noisily throughout the concert. Finally, he had some of the musicians leave the concert in a hurry a few minutes before the performance was finished. The audience laughed at the actions of the musicians, but the audience continued to act the same way it had been acting.

• Celebrities are adored everywhere, but are they adored for their talents or for the hype surrounding them? Enrico Caruso — a gifted tenor — once decided to find out. During a performance of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, he stood off stage and sang Beppe’s Act II serenade. Had he been onstage, he would have caused a sensation, but after he had sung out of the sight of the audience (without his presence having been announced), no one applauded his singing.

• Sir Rudolf Bing enjoyed telling the story of an incompetent tenor from Chemnitz who went to Bremen for an audition. Although the tenor was terrible, many people in the audience applauded and shouted such encouragement as “Wonderful! Wonderful! Stay here! Stay here!” Why? Because many of the members of the audience were from Chemnitz.

• Hans von Bülow once played piano in front of a very appreciative audience, and even after he had played several encores, the audience showed no signs of going home. Therefore, Von Bülow threatened, “If you don’t stop this applause, I will play all of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues, from beginning to end!” The threat worked, and the audience went home.

• Audiences tend to like happy endings. Gioacchino Rossini wrote the opera Otello, based of course on William Shakespeare’s Othello, but the audience hated the ending, and kept trying to warn Desdemona that Othello was going to murder her. Eventually, Rossini was forced to change the ending to a happy one where Othello and Desdemona reconcile.

• In 1949, before Victoria de los Angeles had become a famous soprano, she traveled to Oslo for two concerts. At the first concert, barely 30 people attended. However, news of good singers travels fast. At the second concert only two days later, over 1,000 people tried to attend the concert but couldn’t because the concert hall was full.


• James Morris’ voice teacher, Nicola Moscona, helped him greatly during his audition with the Metropolitan Opera. On the morning of the audition, Mr. Morris was understandably nervous, and he vomited. He telephoned Mr. Moscona, who took him — and a bag — to the Met. During the audition, Mr. Morris sang one aria, but when he was asked to sing another, his mind went blank. Fortunately, Mr. Moscona hissed at him, “Simone, stupido, Simone.” Mr. Morris sang the Simone Boccanegrabass aria and the Met offered him a contract.

• Early in her career, Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza auditioned for the director of the Vienna Volksoper, Rainer Simons. Halfway through her first song, Micaeli’s aria from Carmen, he shouted, “Stop! That’s enough!” Ms. Jeritza complained that he hadn’t allowed her to finish even one song, but he explained, “I didn’t need any more — I’m engaging you.”


• The great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad used to enjoy giving autographs to fans who wrote to her for them, but she was surprised when several fans complained that the autographs weren’t genuine, but were instead written by her secretary. After investigating, she discovered what the problem was. Not only did Ms. Flagstad write the autograph, but she also wrote the names and addresses on the envelopes she used to send her autograph to her fans. Fans compared the writing, noticed that it was done by the same hand, and incorrectly concluded that a secretary had written the autographs.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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