How could I ever forget it? It was during a rehearsal of the Girl of the Golden West. Amazing - we had already had 33 orchestral rehearsals. "Puccini will attend". And here he was in front of us! I was petrified. I stood there, mouth open unable to move. Anyway the cast was introduced to Puccini and we were told to go on with the scene. You know it was the big love duet between myself and the hero in the second act. So as soon as I finished my high C, I heard a very baritone voice "basta".
Well Professor Charles rushed to Maestro Puccini and asked him why he stopped the rehearsal. After a few minutes he came back, spoke with the tenor, and asked us to continue. After 2 or 3 times of "basta ancora una volta", I went to Mr Charles: "Professor, tell me don't you think I should know what Mr basta ancora una volta wants from me. Why he stops me always at the C?" I didn't speak any Italian so I didn't know what it meant. "I think he don't like me at all". Professor Charles answered "You're wrong, my girl - he likes you very much but he thinks the tenor is not affectionate enough".
It was changed the way he wanted it. The way he wanted it that the tenor should squeeze me to pieces. I said that will be fine. Squeeze me to death in the second act - there won't be any third act I guess - that was right. After the rehearsal he came to my dressing room and told me in broken German that he liked me very much and wanted me to study Tosca with him. From then on he practiced his German and me my bad Italian. And so a friendship started with the great Puccini.
We began immediately to work on his Tosca. At that time he said to me, "I don't compose operas, I compose musical dramas in which everything fits into an order without interruption. Between it must always be continued drama." To prove this, he explained Tosca to me in every detail so I became Tosca.
For instance about Vissi D'Arte. You have to sing it in a way that the people are spell bound and unable even to applaud and find something so they are unable to do so (Int: not applaud - almost impossible at that moment). He told me I should work out something so the people would sit petrified and can't even move. "My dear, you will do it and you have the imagination - I depend on it."
I tried, I tried. I racked my brains and couldn't find anything. Then during the second act Scarpia was carried away with the part and he and his emotion and he threw me down on the floor and I fell down on my nose. I lay there. Thought my nose was bleeding and I was afraid to start my Vissi D'Arte. The Konzertmeister thought I lost the pitch and so he start from the orchestra again. But I was afraid to start. He started again - two or three times. I was so afraid my nose was bleeding but I thought blood or no blood you have to start. So I started Vissi D'arte flat on my nose. After the first bars I managed to reach my face and found out that my wet face was full of tears and not blood. And so I started slowly but surely to raise in a kneeling position.
All of a sudden I heard the familiar sound of Puccini's voice - "basta". And he came rushing on the stage, took me in his arms and kissed me. And said "Cara, carissima, thank you oh thank you so very much for the wonderful idea you had." "Maestro, that was not an idea of mine, that was an accident. Your Scarpia was carried away in his temper and he threw me on the floor." "Never mind, promise me that whatever happens you will always sing it in this accidental way."
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