David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Music, Opera

Music

• Before becoming a famous comedian, Sid Caesar was a jazz saxophonist. He played with Gene Krupa’s band, along with pianist Teddy Napoleon and Teddy’s sister, Josephine, who was the vocalist. One day, Sid, Teddy, and Josephine were driving to a gig, and a police officer stopped them. Teddy was driving, so the police officer looked at his driver’s license. He was amused by Teddy’s last name, Napoleon, and Sid laughed and said that his name was Caesar. The police officer looked at the only woman in the car and said, “And I suppose you’re Josephine.” Teddy’s sister replied, “Yes, how did you know?”

• After leaving prison, Oscar Wilde went to France, where he stayed at the Hotel Sandwich. Two friends, Robert Ross and Reginald Turner, also stayed with him. Mr. Wilde was widely hated at this time, so he stayed at the hotel under an assumed name, and he wrote a friend that Robert Ross was staying at the hotel under the name of Reginald Turner, and Reginald Turner was staying at the hotel under the name of Robert Ross, because “it is better that they should not use their own names.”

• When Steve Wozniak was married to Candi Clark, they had a son they named “Jesse John Clark.” They decided to use Candi’s last name because “Wozniak” is difficult to spell. As a co-founder of the Apple Computer Company, Mr. Wozniak made millions, so he had money to play with. When he built a house, he designed part of it to look like a limestone cave — complete with fake cave wall paintings, fossils, and dinosaur footprints.

• When Rudolf Bing became general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, his appointment was kept secret for a while. When he went to a photographer to have his portrait taken to accompany the press release that would announce his appointment, he used an assumed name. When the assumed name was called, he failed to stand up — because he had forgotten the name.

• Alan Brady’s original name on the pilot that became the basis of The Dick Van Dyke Show was Alan Sturdy, chosen by creator Carl Reiner because it sounded strong. The name was changed because executive producer Sheldon Leonard and comedian Morey Amsterdam (who played Buddy Sorrell) both thought the name sounded like “Alan’s Dirty.”

• When he was a youth (and later), choreographer George Balanchine had a habitual sniff or facial tic that made him bare his front teeth. Other dance students noticed this, and they gave him a nickname: Rat.

• Count Basie got his name early in his career, when he was often late for rehearsals. Frequently, the bandleader Bennie Moten would look around, see that Mr. Basie was not present, then shout, “Where is that no-’count Basie?”

• A homophobe once said to lesbian comedian Robin Tyler, “They should take all the homosexuals and put them on an island.” Ms. Tyler replied, “They did, and they call it Manhattan.”

Opera

• African-American diva Shirley Verrett learned a lot from performing various roles in opera. She debuted in opera in 1957 playing the title role in The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten, and in 1958 she played Irina in Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill. She once said, “That showed me how I could change characters, being a virgin one night and two nights later a dance hall girl coming down the stairs with a split in my skirt. Everything I had learned in church went right down the drain!”

• During a performance of Lohengrin, tenor Leo Slezak still had not met the woman playing Elsa of Brabant. During the performance, following the script, he said, “Elsa, I love thee,” and raised her from her kneeling position and placed her head against his chest, then whispered, “Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Slezak.” The woman playing Elsa then whispered in reply, “Delighted to know you; my name is Ternina.”

• In Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca, the title character commits suicide by jumping off the ramparts of the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome into the Tiber River. Mr. Puccini pointed out to the author of the original play, Victorien Sardou, that the river is too far from the castle for this to happen, but Mr. Sardou told him not to worry about such a minor point.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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