David Bruce: Create, Don’t Take a Break — Mishaps

Mishaps

• Believe it or not, ballet has its intrigues. When Alicia Markova was about to dance the title role of Giselle in New York, someone in a crowd slipped this note into her hand: “DON’T DANCE TOMORROW NIGHT, OR….” In addition, the irate father of a ballerina who wanted to dance the role of Giselle on opening night punched Artistic Director Leonide Massine in the jaw. Despite the threats, Ms. Markova delivered a popularly and critically acclaimed performance that made her name in the United States. By the way, on one occasion, Ms. Markova, while dancing in the role of Giselle, started to pull some lilies from the stage, only to discover that the stagehands had mistakenly nailed them down. With a mighty effort, she wrenched them free, then continued to dance.

• Gertrude Lawrence scored a notable success in Noel Coward’s play Private Lives. After reading it, she definitely wanted to be a part of it, although it meant getting out of a contract to free herself to appear in it. Therefore, she sent Mr. Coward a telegram saying, “PLAY DELIGHTFUL STOP NOTHING WRONG THAT CANT BE FIXED.” Unfortunately, Mr. Coward thought that “nothing wrong that can’t be fixed” referred to his play, not to Ms. Lawrence’s need to get out of a current contract, so he wired back that the only thing that needed to be fixed was Ms. Lawrence’s acting. Fortunately, they got the misunderstanding straightened out, and Private Lives turned to be a major success for both of them.

• Enrico Caruso enjoyed the absurdities that sometimes occur on the operatic stage. For example, in Pagliacci, the donkey that is brought onstage is very likely to upset the performance by misbehaving in some way. Such antics did not bother Mr. Caruso. He even occasionally announced, “I said a special prayer tonight that the donkey would behave bad. Then the people can laugh.” By the way, Lucrezia Bori lost her voice, retired from opera, and returned to her native Spain. She regained her voice in a very unusual way. While she was riding on a mule, the mule became skittish and threw her from its back. After recovering from the fall, she found that her voice had returned in all its former glory, and so she returned to her operatic career.

• People laughed at the opening of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. One problem was that Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, a fat woman, played the part of a courtesan with tuberculosis. Whenever fat Fanny complained of wasting away, the audience roared with laughter. By the way, an 1855 American production of Mr. Verdi’s Ernani was a disaster. In the finale, the tenor was supposed to stab himself with his sword, but when he drew it the blade went flying off, forcing the tenor to stab himself with the hilt. The tenor pretended to die, but he was too far forward on the stage, so that the curtain fell behind him, and the audience saw the “dead” man sit up, look around, then flee offstage.

• When Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) was a young man acting in London, a play he was in was supposed to end spectacularly with a house falling on and killing the villain, while the hero rescued the heroine just in time. Fortunately, the house fell exactly as it was supposed to, the villain was killed exactly as he was supposed to be, and the hero rescued the heroine exactly as he was supposed to. Unfortunately, the curtain had fallen too quickly, and the audience saw none of the spectacle. Afterward, the manager spent considerable time looking for the man who had dropped the curtain too quickly. Perhaps it’s just as well that the miscreant had run away, since the manager had a crowbar in his hands.

• Trinette Singleton was performing with the Joffrey Ballet at the City Center in New York, when strange things started happening. First, she and the other dancers heard exclamations such as “Stop that!” and “Cut it out!” Then the music the orchestra was playing grew softer and softer and finally ceased. After exiting the stage, the dancers discovered what had happened. Some boys in the balcony had been throwing pieces of hard candy at the musicians, who had shouted at them to stop. The boys did not stop, so the musicians one by one had stopped playing and left the orchestra pit. Eventually, there was silence because conductor Allan Lewis had no musicians left to conduct.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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