a legendary bass calls them as he hears them . . . a microtale

Chaliapin's grave in St. Petersburg, Russia

The mostly self-taught Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873–1938) was a giant of a man with allegedly a giant-sized ego to match. If he didn’t like a conductor’s tempo, he would simply begin commanding the orchestra during a rehearsal or a  performance, stamping out the tempo he wanted and, on occasion, leading the musicians himself. 

Once, while rehearsing Mozart and Salieri, Chaliapin tried to trump the conductor’s rhythm, pounding out his preferred tempo with his very large feet. 

The maestro stopped the music and said, “You must remember that I am the conductor.” 

To which Chaliapin replied, “In a garden where there are no birds, a croaking toad is a nightengale.” 

Song of the Volga Boatmen” by Feodor Chaliapin 


*adapted from Opera Anecdotes by Ethan Mordden

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