B1798. Ethan Mordden. Opera Anecdotes. New York, Oxford University Press, 1985. 267pp. Index; DJ. - 0-19-503600-X
“From backstage squabbles and box-office chicanery to the gallantry and glory of creation, this book unveils a delightful panorama of opera lore, alternately hilarious, poignant, and wise. Ethan Mordden has mined the literature for the best stories and retells them in the fresh and witty style that prompted Publishers Weekly to hail him as ‘one of the most entertaining and provocative writers around’.
Here are anecdotes both classic and arcane: Giuseppe Verdi's discourse on ‘How to Write an Opera’, Enrico Caruso's adventures in the San Francisco earthquake, Arturo Toscanini's reunion dinner with his former lover Geraldine Farrar, and Beverly Sills' ad libbing from the Met balcony during a Lily Pons LAKMÉ. There are sad stories, as when Hans von Bülow confronts his wife Cosima after she has left him for Wagner. And there are nutty stories, as when Colonel Henry Mapleson attempts to stage IL TROVATORE while missing one of the four principals, Azucena. We see history being made, when Gluck's ‘psychological’ orchestration of IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE so startles the Paris Opéra orchestra that the players trail off in astonishment. And we see history nearly unmade, when Luciano Pavarotti's plane crashes en route to Milan.
‘There is history here’, Mordden notes, ‘for if many of the tales are silly, many others are telling. They bring us close to a moment in which art is invented, revised, elaborated. The characters of opera's adventures are so vital and stimulating that almost anything they do enlightens us’."
About the Author: Ethan Mordden's many books include THE AMERICAN THEATRE, THE SPLENDID ART OF OPERA, A GUIDE TO ORCHESTRAL MUSIC, OPERA IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MOVIE STAR, BROADWAY BABIES, and DEMENTED: THE WORLD OF THE OPERA DIVA. Most recently he brought out his first collection of short fiction, I'VE A FEELING WE'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE: TALES FROM MANHATTAN.
- Schuyler G. Chapin, Columbia University