Posted tagged ‘elephants’

Bouncing Tosca — urban myth?

January 17, 2011

Anyone who works in opera dreads the moment when a non-operatic person says ‘I know a good story…’ and it always turns out to be the one about the time when Tosca did her suicide leap from the battlements at the end of Puccini’s opera, only to reappear to the audience’s sight as she bounced up again on a trampoline.

This is re-told in so many books of musical and operatic anecdotes, without attribution, that one naturally assumes it is an urban legend (along with the elephants falling through the stage in Aïda, or that awful pidgin-English synopsis of Carmen).

However… the other day, I met a distinguished gentleman (while waiting for the long-delayed start of the dress rehearsal of The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House – but that’s another story).  He started telling me his Tosca story, and my heart sank… until he said he had actually been there.  Heaven knows when it was – 1950s, I’d guess – but it was at the Vienna State Opera, the Tosca in question was soprano Ljuba Welitsch (‘not a small lady’) and the conductor was Herbert von Karajan (‘who was not at all amused’).  Whether it was a natural bounce or some disaffected person had substituted a trampoline for the regular pile of mattresses, history does not relate.

So now you know.  Next time someone starts telling you the old Tosca story, you can say, ‘Yes, I know.  It was…’

‘The Art of Chamber Music’ (Judith Weir Weekend, 19 Jan)

January 21, 2008

Judith Weir (c) Chris ChristodolouThe Schubert Ensemble (so named because their basic line-up is that of the ‘Trout’ Quintet) played music by Judith Weir and others, as part of the BBC’s Judith Weir Weekend, ‘Telling the Tale’.

Yet again – another concert, another nice old church… 

LSO St Luke’s’ is a small but magnificent 18th-century church by Nicholas Hawksmoor, marooned in a run-down area of East London and left roofless and derelict until rescued by the London Symphony Orchestra as their rehearsal space.  Very nice.

The trouble with Judith Weir is that, next to hers, everyone else’s music tends to sound woolly and self-indulgent.  Not so Martin Butler (a recently discovered enthusiasm of mine!), whose American Rounds came across as neat, colourful, energetic and fun.  Based on different genres of American folk music, its four movements were delightful, in Martin Butler’s charming laid-back idiom – mostly sort of pan-diatonic (imagine, for example, playing everything on the white notes of the piano but not necessarily in conventional chords), the second movement in particular full of tight irregular rhythms that at times reminded me of Martinů.  His trick of ending each movement with a throwaway quiet finish on a solo instrument was very engaging.  The piece will resound in my memory.

Then Judith Weir’s Music for 247 Strings (she has such a gift for titles! – 243 in the grand piano, four on the violin) – a bit of a ‘one-trick’ piece – quirky stops and starts, rhythmic unisons with occasional outbursts of temperament – but great fun.  A little folk arrangement, Arise, You Slumbering Sleepers, was followed by her Piano Quartet of 2000, broad, deep and hypnotic.

After the interval, David KnottsOn Such A Night As This Is! (an awkward title, unexplained in the programme notes) took a fun approach to bees, cattle and earwigs, tailored to the personalities of the players in the Schubert Ensemble.  As my bro commented, it did sound a bit like a Judith Weir imitation;  but it was a bit too pleased with itself and didn’t quite know when to stop – neither of which criticisms could ever be levelled at Judith’s own works.

What was I saying about Judith Weir’s flair for titles?  How could one not love a piece called What Sound Will Chase Elephants Away? for two double basses?  I say no more.

Then an early work with yet another brilliant title (more…)

…and we love Pavarotti!

September 6, 2007

Here’s a link to bring a smile to your lips as we remember the Great Man:

http://www.rathergood.com/elephants/

(It’s called ‘Pavarotti Loves Elephants’.)

Luciano Pavarotti did have a sense of humour and a sense of fun (and contrary to reports, he could act — he just couldn’t move very much!) — so if he ever saw this, no doubt he laughed along with the rest of us.

(For the literal-minded ones out there, the actual words he sings are ‘…e gli pensier’, meaning ‘…and the thoughts’.  It’s from ‘La donna è mobile’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto — ‘Woman is inconstant in her words and thoughts’…)

Personal note — it was an honour to work on Pavarotti’s farewell performances of Tosca at Covent Garden.  It’s true that his voice was absolutely magnetic, even in his last years.  I did meet him once, as he was climbing the stairs in front of me (with great difficulty).  He was certainly larger than life — his legs were like tree trunks!  No wonder elephants loved him. 

Ah well, we shall not see or hear his like again.  Unforgettable.

One tribute I read today said ‘The world has lost its voice’.