Category Archives: Microtales

‘Rigoletto’ potpourri: a tale, trivia, and a magical performance

MOT's 'Rigoletto' opened May 14

Editor’s note: All month long, in honor of Verdi’s birthday, we will celebrate all things Verdi on Operatoonity.com. This Golden Operatoonity repost features my favorite Verdi opera “Rigoletto.”

Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered in Venice, Italy in 1851. Based on a story by Victor Hugo, Rigoletto is a darkly tragic, gut-wrenching opera that ends in a senseless death. But at least for one performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden circa 1948, Rigoletto turned into a bit of a comedy:

English tenor Walter Midgley was playing the Duke.  During the aria “Questa o quella,”  a lively, upbeat piece, Midgley caught the end of his fake mustache in his mouth and gradually sucked in the entire thing, which eventually lodged itself in his windpipe. If losing his fake mustache wasn’t enough of distraction, at the end of the aria, Midgley managed to blow it out across the stage, into the orchestra pit, and right into the conductor’s face.

According to Bachtrack, the world’s best way to find live classical music, Rigoletto was one of the ten most performing operas in the world  in 2009-10.

Tenor David Lomeli singing the Duke in COC's 'Rigoletto'

Canadian Opera Company is doing Rigoletto this season with a first-rate cast.

In celebration of Rigoletto’s 160th anniversary, here is a link to “Questa o quella,” sans any extra slapstick comedy, from one of my favorite productions last season, Rigoletto a Mantova, as sung by the ever-appealing Italian tenor  Vittorio Grigolo.

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take me out to the opera–an Operatoonity microtale

Babe Ruth, a legendary baseball player, not known for singing opera

Today, March 20, is the first day of spring, and many people in North America equate spring with baseball. In celebration of America’s favorite spring sport, I found a microtale about both opera and baseball. 

A group of American reporters once asked Caruso what he thought of Babe Ruth. Caruso, who was unfailingly polite and friendly, said that he didn’t know because unfortunately he had never heard her sing. 

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a Callas remark: an Operatoonity microtale

March 6, 1853 Giuseppe Verdi: Premiere of La Traviata, in Venice, Italy.

Maria Callas as Violetta in ‘La Traviata

On the anniversary of the premiere of La Traviata, a microtale about the Verdi opera most frequently produced in North America seemed in order.

Callas recorded La Traviata early on in her singing career, well before her performance at La Scala in collaboration with Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini resulted in her designation as the Violetta of the age. She wanted the chance to redo the part as a stereo recording with a stellar cast during a time in which Plácido Domingo was just establishing himself a prominent tenor.

After Callas and Domingo were introduced, allegedly Callas said that she was losing interest in performing on stage because there were no satisfactory conductors, directors, or singers.

“Thank you, Maria,” Domingo said–laughing.

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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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Mozart no word mincer in this microtale

Mozart monument in Vienna

 

Spanish composer of opera buffa Vincente Martin y Soler (once dubbed the Valencian Mozart) was the  most popular composer during the time that Mozart lived in Vienna.  About Martin, Mozart said, “Many of his things are pretty, but in ten years’ time, no one will pay any more attention to him.”  

As it turned out, this was not entirely true, for one of Martin’s melodies from the opera Una Cosa Rara is one of the most frequently heard tunes in opera today–because Mozart used it in the banquet scene of Don Giovanni.   

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