David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

• During his American tour of 1883-1884, Colonel James H. Mapleson took his opera company out West where in Sacramento, California, a San Francisco reporter wished to interview prima donna Adelina Patti. Colonel Mapleson tried to put off the reporter, but the reporter insisted on an interview, threatening, “I have come hundreds of miles to interview Patti, and see her I must. Refuse me, and I shall simply telegraph two lines to San Francisco that Patti has caught a severe cold in the mountains, and that [rival prima donna Etelka] Gerster’s old throat complaint is coming on again. Do you understand me?” Understanding the damage to his profits that would occur if the San Francisco newspapers were to report that his leading prima donnas were not able to sing, Colonel Mapleson allowed the reporter to interview Ms. Patti.

• Tour manager Bob Whittaker says, “There are 50 ways to get one thing done on tour.” Of course, you have to be quick-witted to figure out the best way to get something done. Once, he and the band were running very late and it looked like they would miss an important flight. Fortunately, Mr. Whittaker saw a man wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket. Although the man had absolutely nothing to do with check-in, Mr. Whittaker gave him $100 and told him to walk to a certain place. Mr. Whittinger and the band followed the official-looking man, and Mr. Whittinger says, “Just by doing that, we cut quite a few lines and made the flight.”

• Jews and blacks have both endured prejudice — a very good reason to make music together. During the Jim Crow era, Robert “Red Rodney” Roland Chudnick, who was both redheaded and Jewish, played trumpet with jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker as the only white member of Bird’s quintet. When the quintet played in the South, they ran into a problem with laws making it illegal for white and black people to share a stage together. Bird solved the problem by claiming that Red Rodney was a light-skinned black person, and he called him “Albino Red” on stage. (To help with the deception, Red Rodney also sang a blues song.)

• During a duet at the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Franco Corelli ran out of breath while soprano Birgit Nilsson kept singing a high note. (Met general manager Rudolf Bing blamed this on the conductor, Leopold Stokowski, who had neglected to let the singers know how long the note had to be held.) This made Mr. Corelli angry, and he threatened to not finish the opera. Mr. Bing was able to calm him down by telling him to bite Ms. Nilsson’s ear during their love scene in the next act. This made Mr. Corelli happy, but fortunately he only told Ms. Nilsson that he was going to bite her ear — he did not actually bite her.

• In September of 1969, tenor John Brecknock was given the role of Paris in Jacques Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène at the London Coliseum. This was an important role for him at the time, and it was in an important venue. Of course, he got stage fright, and just before he was supposed to go on stage, he turned to baritone Derek Hammond-Stroud and said, “I can’t go on. I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” The next moment he was flying onto the stage — Mr. Hammond-Stroud had given him a mighty shove. Of course, once he was on stage, Mr. Brecknock was forced to sing.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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