If you’ve always thought opera to be a colorful career or an opera dressing room a great place to be a fly on the wall, Ethan Mordden‘s delightful romp, Opera Anecdotes, will hardly dissuade you of that notion.
It’s full of whisper-down-the lane retellings of the escapades of the great divas and divos, composers, and conductors no longer with us to confirm or deny these tales.
So why not put credence in them all? It’s more fun that way.
There’s the story about Handel threatening to throw Francesca Cuzzoni out the window for requesting a fresh aria. Or how Beverly Sills managed to get a new costume for her La Scala debut by cutting the existing costume right down the middle with a pair of the seamstress’s shears.
And of course the wonderful anecdote entitled, “Elephant at the Opera,” about an elephant, Papus, who became the rage of Milan in the production of the ballet Amor, set in ancient Rome. Initially, Papus didn’t like the world of velvet and jewels and became depressed. “Perhaps [the elephant] didn’t like the music to Amor,” Mordden writes, “for few if any did.” After they brought in a monkey as a companion, Papus perked up. Some critics thought the elephant was the best thing on stage.
After Don Giovanni failed to please the exacting Viennese, there’s the tale of Mozart saying to his librettist, “Give them time to chew on it.”
Sidebar: Can you imagine ANYONE not thinking Don G. is brilliant?
As reported in Opera Anecdotes, Maria Callas’s compliments cut like diamonds, including a remark about a broadcast of Renata Tebaldi, about which Callas said, “What a lovely voice! But who the hell cares.”
This little book is packed with hundreds of amusing recountings, which Mordden says have been “derived from lore and literature.” Though he sifted through reference materials for authentification, he acknowledges many of the vignettes could conceivably be fictions in the first place.
Despite a copyright of 1985, this book is still in print and readily available through Amazon and other used booksellers.
My rating of Opera Anecdotes?