I may eventually write about this past weekend, CAREFULLY. But for now, thanks
to all those who privately, and more importantly perhaps, publicly came to my
Many agreed with me, but I do not solicit agreement. I claim to have a big
seat; not to be the seat of all wisdom in opera or anything else. In the heat
of the moment I can write quasi ex cathedra; that's just an obsessive getting
carried away. I value dissent and respect subjectivity without thinking that
ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING comes down to "how I feel about it" or as one of the
nastier private posters wrote me this weekend: "we do this to amuse ourselves
and have no other purpose".
I hope those who promised to delete me unread have done so by now. For those
who read the 'Basta Cretini' anti-Emma screed, I provide some footnotes.
Kunc was Zinka Milanov's given name; her brother, a "composer" who had a
little more English than she, suggested she change it. My favorite Kunc story,
and they are legion, was told endlessly by Pinza. In one of her earlier forays
out of the caves, she was doing a Verdi Requiem with Toscanini in Vienna. She
was not exactly up on the score. Or perhaps, she just wasn't very musical,
period. Toscanini said to her, "Signora, if your brain were as big as your
butt, you'd be the greatest soprano in the world." Except he said it more
rudely. The only Italian she understood was "La piu grande cantante del'
mondo!" She took a deep breath, blushed scarlet, bowed deep and sobbed, "Thank
you Maestro," then waved to the orchestra and chorus. Pinza allowed she was a
little puzzled that they were all hysterical. But naturally assumed it was
from love for her.
"Basta cretini" is from a famous Macneil story. He was in Parma, fairly early
in his Italian career, singing BALLO. In the third act, the audience booed the
soprano after her aria very long and very loud. Mac banged a table and
bellowed, "enough, cretins!"
It wasn't chivalry. He'd gotten his pay check, wanted to sing his aria, kill
the count (in that prod.) and go out for a drink. A pity Mac doesn't own a Mac
(I assume). He'd be fun; and I doubt he'd suffer our holy fools (small in
number as they are) as kindly as the list master, or whatever he calls
It wasn't chivalrous of that poster either, to cry Basta Cretini to the many
people who posted publicly in defense of me. He was calling you all cretins.
Naturally, he meant to call Emma Albani, a cretin. Like many of his ilk, he
doesn't really know any languages. Well, he has that in common with Madame
I, sir, am a cretina if female or, of course, a cretino, if I'm male (though I
don't know I've ever heard that word used, I think it was a Mac coinage). Now
there are other bad words for me in real Italian -- but you'd have to learn to
use an Italian -- English dictionary -- and that's not my function here.
That you expressed contempt for me isn't a surprise, and I return it. It's
also your right. But it was really nasty of you to call ALL the people who
thought I made a couple of valid points, or at least had the right to try,
I have wondered if opera-l were an arm of a certain rag I dare not name. The
list master has denied it. But I was quoted in the rag, if I remember aright,
without my permission. I am posting the following for the delectation of
listers who have gotten this far. I don't expect to see it quoted in any way,
elsewhere. If it is and the list master allows it, then we are all writing for
a zine, which has it own web page, correspondents, sycophants, subscribers (I
think they do a slightly less well than their sister publication, THE ARYAN
NATION GAZETTE but I could be wrong).
That publication does not allow anyone it defames, lies about or libels any
response. It would seem most unfortunate to me if the list master endorsed
that policy, and allowed a list hosted by CUNY to be used so unscrupulously.
At least KUNC AND JUDY (was that that poster's handle? I don't remember now)
posted publicly and I had a chance to respond. That's all anyone, cretina, 'o'
, 'i' or otherwise, can ask.
Fleming had her third perf of LUCREZIA tonight. It was an immense triumph for
her. She inserted an F in alt in the middle of one cadenza and held the E flat
longer and more confidently, also more certainly pitched than she had at other
She told La Scala that it would be her last LUCREZIA there; though she is
scheduled for two more. She said her nerves had been shattered and she had not
so insecure and vocally tense, since master classes with a certain Schwarzkopf
had lost her her voice a decade ago. She was never going to risk that again
and was withdrawing.
The management and her Italian Agent (whose name means 'The Angel Gabriel" and
who has the tenor Sabbatini) are arguing with her and this is not official
yet. But it was not lost on Ms. Fleming that while she was whistled and her
effects ruined by what can only be called mass ESP the first night; Madame
Gencer's pupil had a success which began as Madame Gencer made her way down
the aisle very slowly just as the lights were fading to half. Since that young
woman is so wonderful, Ms Fleming appeared to reason, La Scala should allow
more people the pleasure of hearing her. After all, Fleming got the b'cast,
her work is documented. Pity that she is drowned out on a lot of it.
Madame Gencer ambushed Ms. Fleming backstage with her student and a couple of
photographers, but Ms. Fleming's sister, mother and aunt were able to shield
her from what looked at first like an assault. When the true purpose was
clear, there were smiles all around, and no photos.
Renata Tebaldi, having heard about Gencer, mentioned that she would have been
very happy to stay in Milan an extra week, not only to see this wonderful
singer first hand but to pose with her -- to show that an American can inherit
both the skill and the italianita, the bel canto needs. Madame Tebaldi was
surprised that none of Ms. Fleming's six agents who have been in Europe, two
of whom are her friends, did not try to arrange this.
The tenor Sabbatini and his companion, the soprano, Nancy Gustafson
disappeared before opening night. This was his first appearance in the role
and he was well applauded. He asked Ms. Fleming to stay. But Miss Gustafson,
risking their relationship, advised Ms. Fleming to flee and fast. Ms. G had
been booed so loudly and so long after a FREISCHUTZ, she had canceled many
engagements and was still too frightened to sing. Since Ms. Fleming is facing
a monstrous six months, the terror of La Scala seemed pointless.
Ms. Fleming also noted that since the prompter is now conducting (Maestro
Gelmetti is in hospital or hiding), the deputy prompter was throwing wrong
cues, especially in the trickier ensemble passages, where, given the staging,
the set and the way singers hear, makes it hard for any one singer to be sure
of keeping his/her place.
One cast member had been reduced to tears and was sure this prompter was out
to get her. However, it's quite likely the deputy prompter just doesn't know
the score well enough to keep up with the actual prompter who is now
Maestro Gelmetti did write Ms. Fleming, though there was no return address. He
thanked her for her "strange and interesting attempt on a masterwork; it was a
learning experience for me."
The La Scala Management has been very kind to Ms. Fleming. However in the
make-up room, where she and the bass were being made up for the second night,
the bass said to her, "you know, Renee, Leyla Gencer is in the audience
tonight, I think you should just go home and let her sing." The make up people
laughed. Ms. Fleming completed her own make up and she did it all, tonight.
Riccardo Muti, "dear Riccardo'" as one of Ms. Fleming's management team refers
to him, was conducting in Ravenna, soloists were Gheorghiu and Alagna. Muti
stopped Ms. Gheorghiu quite a bit. Since she killed George Solti, rather a
dangerous thing to do, even though Maestro Muti is younger. Finally, Ms.
Gheorghiu stomped to the foot of the stage and in front of everyone said to
Muti -- "I learned at the Rumanian Conservatory. I'm a professional! Which
school for the retarded did you attend."
Ms. Gheorghiu was fired immediately. For a time the Maestro was allowed to
chase her toward the stage door until someone decided he was making a brutta
figura and held him back. Next day, Mr. Alagna's representative came late to
the rehearsal with a doctor's note, saying that A. was too ill to sing.
Maestro Muti fired him on the spot (apparently BOTH Alagna and the
The title of my book on Goo-Goo and Lasagna: Self destruction on parade.
I am sorry to be so dishy tonight; but what the hey -- if I am allowed to
post again I want to talk about the Battle, Hvorostovsky and Carreras thread
from the point of view of the technical problems they faced and how (and
whether) they solved them.
Those with an interest in the experience of Madame KUNC by a very
distinguished Italian critic of long experience might find the book, L'Opera
in CD e Video, published by Musica worth a look. The author is the extremely
insightful and expert Elvio Giudici.