The baritone who forgot his pants, and other crazy classical music stories of 2009
News of the weird, from the classical music world: Conductor David Ott fell into an orchestra pit; composer Curtis Hughes wrote an opera about Sarah Palin; and baritone Bryn Terfel forgot his pants in 2009.
Special to The Seattle Times
As 2009 slips away, it's once again time for ... the Classical Music Believe It or Not! And while the calendar marches toward 2010, may you enjoy the follies of the past year, with tidbits gleaned from actual news items, just as much as we've enjoyed collecting them for you. Here goes:
Leaping from the stage: It's been quite a year for spectacular stage accidents. Conductor David Ott survived a 14-foot fall at the University of West Florida in September, returning to the orchestra pit after a performance when the lights were off and plummeting into the basement below the pit. He miraculously avoided serious injuries.
Earlier, soprano Ana Maria Martinez fell headfirst into the orchestra pit during a performance of "Rusalka" at Britain's illustrious Glyndebourne Opera, landing on a luckless cellist. Martinez also suffered no ill effects.
Less fortunate, however, was mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, whose tumble at London's Royal Opera House during "The Barber of Seville" ended in a broken fibula. She gamely carried on to finish the performance, later continuing in a wheelchair and cast for the remaining shows.
Singing to the cows: Italian tenor Marcello Bedoni has been singing operatic selections to cows in Lancashire, England, on the theory that "soothing sounds or music can reduce stress" (according to the National Farmers' Union). Bedoni calls the cows "a great audience." Presumably they remember to shut off their cellphones beforehand.
Watch those batons: A 17-year-old California girl used her marching-band baton to beat off two muggers who grabbed her coat and demanded money several months ago. She punched one in the nose, kicked the other in the groin, and beat them both with her band baton before running away. You don't mess with the marching band.
Really Terrible Orchestra: You don't mess with the Really Terrible Orchestra, either, without incurring the wrath of founder (and novelist) Alexander McCall Smith. The Edinburgh-based orchestra, founded in 1995 and billed as the world's worst, has trademarked its name to fend off attempts by rival tribute orchestras to cash in on its reputation. The RTO claims its success is due to short performances and free wine for listeners. McCall Smith says, "It does not matter that on more than one occasion members of the orchestra have been discovered to be playing different pieces of music by different composers, at the same time. We are The Really Terrible Orchestra and we shall go on and on."
An opera about ... Sarah Palin? The much-parodied voice of Sarah Palin has inspired composer Curtis Hughes to write an opera ("Say It Ain't So, Joe"), for the Boston-based Guerilla Opera. Based on "the exact pitches that were spoken" during the Palin-Biden debates in last year's Presidential campaign, the opera also features Joe the Plumber, for whom Hughes says his "word-painting tends to get a little more crass." Hughes told one interviewer, "One of [Palin's] arias concludes with her informing the audience, 'I am your future.' I'd like to think that the music at this moment could be understood as either ominous or joyful, or perhaps both." Perhaps.
"Twitterdammerung": Yes, it's billed as "the first Twitter opera," premiered in September at London's Royal Opera House, based on some 900 tweets and predictably panned as "a cheap gimmick" — though one reviewer cited "humour by the bucket load." One can only imagine.
We can hardly wait: China is planning a new opera version of Marx's 1,000-page "Das Kapital," with an economist overseeing the project to "ensure that it remains intellectually respectful of Marxist doctrine." Count us in for opening night!
Another violin left in the cab: Psychologists might have a field day with the long list of major musicians who have left ultravaluable instruments behind in taxicabs. To that list we now add New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, who left the orchestra's 1727 Guarneri del Gesù violin in a New York taxi last February. The cabbie quickly arranged for the violin's return. Not to be outdone, South Korean-born virtuoso Hahn-Bin left his 18th-century Giovanni Francesco Pressenda violin in a Manhattan yellow cab after an August performance. Fortunately, the cab had a GPS tracker, and the instrument returned to Hahn-Bin, who cried, "My baby!"
The baritone forgets ... his pants?: Yes, noted baritone Bryn Terfel set out for the concert hall from his Seoul hotel wearing a pair of shorts, but forgetting to pack his concert trousers for the evening's performance last April. Arriving with just minutes to spare, and with no time to return to the hotel for his clothes, Terfel was saved by a speedy loan from a South Korean opera lover the same size as the 6'4" singer. Sort of gives a new meaning to the phrase, "Flying by the seat of one's pants."
The curse of the Ring: The Metropolitan Opera had its hands full this past spring with Wagner's four-opera epic, "The Ring of the Nibelung," when the company had to find three substitute singers for the key role of Brünnhilde. It also needed last-minute replacements for four other important roles, as well as a last-minute conductor when James Levine got sick.
Los Angeles also experienced unpleasant Ringing sensations, when the $32 million production suffered a computer glitch, causing a malfunction in the Nibelungs' cavern. And at Seattle Opera's "Ring," another computer problem twice delayed the start of scenes in the finale, "Götterdämmerung." Opera fans were heard to utter "Götterdämmerit."
Department of operatic excesses: A Berlin production of Gluck's "Armida" in April featured scenes of bondage, rape, simulated sex, murder, a live python and several naked bodybuilders. Meanwhile, over in Cologne, a third of the cast walked out of rehearsals for a violent staging of "Samson and Delilah," reportedly claiming that "the scenes of rape and massacre [were] making them sick." The Berlin patrons, accustomed to the outré, responded with "polite applause," according to news reports, but in Cologne many ticketholders wanted their money back.
Roll on, Beethoven: A Caltech computer-systems grad student named Virgil Griffith has used Facebook data to measure the musicians most often listed as a user's "favorite music" against the average SAT score for the school the user attended. At the top: Beethoven (average SAT score 1371, out of a possible 1600); at the bottom: Lil Wayne (889). Don't tell us you're surprised.
The hazards of teaching: Last February, a 13-year-old Italian schoolboy stabbed his violin teacher with a kitchen knife during a lesson at a middle school near Venice, leaving the knife embedded in the teacher's back when he ran away after the attack. Music teachers, it may be time for those Kevlar vests.
Melinda Bargreen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.