Operatic Whims and Caprices.
Mataura Ensign, Volume 11, Issue 787, 6 July 1888, Page 2
Operatic Whims and Caprices.
Professional singers are, perhaps, bf : 'flii niembfcra of the histrionic profession, the most capricious and least manageable. ' Macready once wrote of them, to the ■ proprietors of Covenjt Garden Theatre, with habitual rudeness, " I can make nothing of your musical fooia." Alfred Bunn, writing ot them wheu he was manage- of Drury Lane» said, with characteristic bitterness : '••-• J' : ■ •' '' ; I
f 4 it as not only the price which these ft m6rintebanks set -upbir their c^mmodity, JbuV the . consequence they attach to the "possession is incredible. They will Bing what they please and when they please: they will plead inability to appear more than thre times a week in the theatre from which they derive their reputation, and they invariably 1 sing the other three nights at some place of amusement opposed to the stage. They transpose into another key all music which they cannotVsingrin the original key, and introduce.it imo another opera but the one it belongo to, just aB it may suit their fancies, it is common to these precious people to be singing in the country when they ought to be doing so in town, and to be at a dinner-table at the very time when they ought to be on the stage. A medical certificate given to these shameless people speaks too frequently the language of good nature to the patient rather than that of tfuth to the public. It is easily procurable when artists mean to forego their duty, and it has recently become Hutsh a very doubtful appendage to a playbill as to be utterly discredited." More iscenfc .illustrations ; of " the price which these mountebanks," as Uuiin so politely calls them, " set upon their commodity," are those of stars of even stcond-rate brilliancy demanding salaries so absurdly large that no manager in London could possibly afford to pay them. One Italian tenor the other day asked Mr. Augustus Harris, of Drury Lane, a Bum per iiight which, at ordinary prices, would have swallowed up the entire receipts of the performance and left the managerjhabout two hundred pounds out ot pocket,
When theßussian Czirewitch, afterwards Paul 1., was ia Berlin, as the guest of Frederick the Great, Madame < Mara waa iequested to appear in some opera which the royal visitor was specially desirous of witnessing. She "retuse'd. Being told that it was her sovereign's command that she should "appear, she pretended illness and s<*nt word that it was impossible for her to obey. But Frederick was as absolute, on the stage as on: his, throne, ; and he sent Madame word that Bha must get w«livery quickly, for sick or well she would have to sing. Madame smiled, gave her head a knowing shake, and said to herself, "We shall see," and did so ; for ah hour or so before the timeVappoihted for the commencement of the opera there was a carnage, at her door with an escort of dragoons.' The officer in command, being told that Madame Mara was in bed and unable to rise, said he must see her, and was conveyed to her bed» chamber. " I come, madame," eaid he, "to escort you to the theatre " < ; I am> too ill to risei" said she.
. "•Tneii I must' take you — " i £V* Take me | " cried madame, indignantly^ " takW me from my bed ? " ..,',' JN,q, madame, no j the king is not iso ; indelicate.. ..I will take you bedand- Slil-jußt as yon are." -The result was that the lady requested him to retire while she dressed, and then went to the theatre, sang her worst and looted her Bulkiest, until she saw astonishment and contempt depicted upon the face of the royal visitor, and a threatening frown upon the brow ol Frederick, when she piudemlycharged'her intention, and sang ftiid played her ve/y best, charming the Slavonic ears, and winning the forgiveness of her sovereign.
Madame Banti, an operatic celebrity of, the last century, well known on the London boards, would seldom or never kam the words of the second verse; all the public wanted, she said, were the notes and the music, so she sang the words of the first veiße over again, twice or thrice. When ehe died, in her fortj -ninth year, she bequeathed her larynx, which was one ol extraordinary size, to the Municipal Museum at Bologna, where it was placed in a bottle of spirits, and is still shown as a curiosity.
yVhe Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte Was as arbitrary in hia rule over operatic stars as Frederick the Great was. A.t Dresden, in lbOo, after hearing Madame Paer ting, he sent for her, and, addressing hvr abruptly, said : 1 ' You sing divinely , ma dame. What do they pay you here ? " " Miteen thou»and francs, sire."
"I will give you thirty, and, M. Brozzi" (addressing another of the jingere), " you shall follow me on the same terms."
" But, sire, we are engaged "With me— exactly sa — the affair is quite settled." And so, despite all objections and refusals, he forcibly carried away with him, to amuse his troops in camp, the King of Saxony'B entire operatic troupe. Of Gabrielli it J has been said that there never lived a more "whimsical or capricious creature. On one occasion, when the Viceroy gave a State dinner a,t Palermo, ehe wag expected, a&d, not
arriving, the dinner was put back, and a messenger sent to ascertain the cause of her delay. He was told that, absorbed in a book, she had forgotten tne engagement, and Traa then in bed reading. Resenting the command for her appearance, she sang before the distinguished guest with such careless indifference and haste that it amounted to an insult, and so low that most of her notes were inaudible. The Viceroy urged her to be less foolish in a goodnatured message, which she haughtily ignored, and then threatened her with punishment, on which she refused to sing at all.
" The Viceroy may make me cry," said she, " but he can never make me sing."
She . suffered " twelve days imprisonment, but was permitted to feast her friends in grand style, to pay the debts of some hapless wretches whose misery touched her always kindly heart, and to bestow charity upon the poor every day at the prison gates. It was this generous selfwilled songstress who demanded fire thousand ducats to sing at a State concert before the Empress of Russia, and answered haughtily, when Catherine remonstrated with her for making so extravagant a demand, pointing out that not one of her fieldmarshals was paid so well, " Then your Majesty had better get your field marshals to sing to you.
Malibran was as capricious and wilful as a spoiled child. When she tang with Sontag in the opera of Borneo and Juliet, she would never satisfy him at rehearsal as to where ahe intended to " die " at night. All the reply he could obtain to his repeated inquiries was to the effect that she " wasn't sure," or " didn't know," or "couldn't tell," or she would answer, "It will be just aB it happens, according to my humour, sometimes in one place, sometimes in another. I really can't say." On one occasion she "died" close to the footlights, and Sontag was therefore compelled to " die " beside her, and thus when the curtain came down a couple of footmen had to carry them off one at a time amidst the laughter of the audience.
When Faustina aud Cizzone were engaged by Lady Walpole to sing at a private concert to which all the most illustrious personages then in London were invited, a difficulty arose because the one lady would not sing after the other nor. while the other was present ; each would sing first or not at all. But her ladyship was not to be baffled. She carried off Faustina to see some old china while the other sang, and, bringing her back, induced her to sing uuder the impression that the other had yet to do so, after she had, in like way, conveyed Cuzzoni out of hearing. When Eonconi and Tamburini were eDgagad at Covent Garden, one night, in consequence of sudden sickness, the opera announced had to be withdrawn, and "II Barbiere " substituted for it. Rjhconi claimed the right to sing Figaro, but he was in the country, and there was not time enough to get a reply, so Tamburini was cast for the part. But Konconi changed to arrive at the theatre jnst before the. curtain was drawn up, and, finding what waß going on, insisted upon playing the barber's jpart. The result was that, just as Tamburini, in the well-known costume, was about to make his entrance, another Figaro, also iv the wellknown costume, appeared, declaring that he would go on, too, and sing the music, even if Tamburini, did the same. IJltimately the latter withdrew, but not until the patience of the audience had been somewhat tried.
Malibran, already spoken of on one occasion, when on her knees to Elvino iv the second act of JSonnatnbula, aftar vowing her innocence, tickJed Templeton, the tenor, under his arms while singing, because he had offended her at rehearsal, so that he could not refrain from wriggling and twisting, and only by making a very desperate effort could prevent himself from sbriekiug.