Monday, April 28, 2008

Things I've Learned

from reading about famous singers of the past (for a course I'm giving)

* Marian Anderson was the first black to sing at the Met--in 1955. The first black MAN to sing at the Met was Bobby McFarrin. (OK, Robert McFarren, father of Bobby.)

* Lawrence Tibbett was urged to change his name to Lorenzo Tibeto. (Because Italians were supposedly the best opera singers.) But Rosa Ponselle changed her name from Ponzelli because Ponzelli sounded like someone in vaudeville. Tibbett became an alcoholic in his later years; Peter Davis suggests it may have been from guilt from his accidentally stabbing a chorister in a performance he gave. The chorister died; a doctor said it was from a heart attack, not from the wound. Someone referred to Tibbett as "this splendid man." Good characterization. (I have since read a biography of Tibbett--more on this later.)

* Rosa sang "Pace pace" to Caruso, who then urged the Met to let her debut in Forza. She built a mansion outside Baltimore --called Villa Pace. At age 76, she entered a party singing...Pace, Pace...

* Peter Davis was a fine music critic.

* Singing one Norma, said a soprano, was worse than three Brunhildas.

* Rosa became depressed later in life, took an overdose of sleeping pills, spent four months in a mental institution. But she recovered and became active behind-the-stage in opera again.

* The DAR refused to let Marian Anderson sing in Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was black. But relented in 1943. (Rudolf Bing, allegedly biased against American singers, militated to have blacks like her sing at the Met.)

* Too bad Roland Hayes, a black tenor, never sang at the Met. We have no recordings of him, but he became wealthy singing in Europe, and when Melba heard him sing, he was so fine that she burst into tears.

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