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Weird and wonderful facts from the stage

29 January 2019

Perhaps you are wise to some of the more well-known facts in classical music, like its health benefits and that Mozart was five when he wrote his first compositions, but here are some extraordinary ones for you. These facts are definitely going to make for some interesting conversations at your next dinner party and might even come in useful in a pub quiz...

1. No mics for us thanks…
Opera singers sing at a different sound frequency to the orchestra and therefore don’t need microphones to be heard over musical accompaniment.

2. A dramatic end
When the baritone Leonard Warren died on stage at The Met in 1960 he had just finished singing ‘Morir! Tremenda cosa’, from La forza del destino by Verdi, which translates to ‘To die a momentous thing’ – very apt for such a moment.

3. Pavarotti at an Eisteddfod?!
Believe it or not but Pavarotti experienced his first singing success as part of a male voice choir (Corale Rossini), of which his father was also a member, in 1955. Winning the first prize at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod inspired Pavarotti to pursue a professional musical career, which led to him being one of the most famous tenors.

4. Wagner’s curse…
Two conductors have died while conducting the second act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Both conductors collapsed from heart attacks at exactly the same point in the music, and this could be down to its technical demands.

5. Epic applause
Following a performance of Othello in Vienna on 30 June 1991, the opera singer Placido Domingo received 80 minutes of applause as well as 101 curtain calls – now that’s when you know you’ve done a good day’s work…

6. A pricey dress…
Ever wondered what the most expensive opera costume of all time was? Well it was worn by Adelina Patti (of Craig-y-Nos castle, here in South Wales) at Covent Garden in 1895 and was worth a whopping £15 million!

7. A chicken crosses the road to the opera house…
During a performance of Boris Godunov at Sydney Opera House in the 1980s, a chicken fell off the stage and onto a cellist. They have since installed a net above the orchestra pit to avoid this in future.

8. Skulls the word
Did you know that Haydn’s grave has two skulls? His real skull was stolen by two men with an interest in phrenology and managed to keep the skull out of the hands of the authorities and even managed to fool them with a different skull. In 1954 Haydn’s real skull was placed in the tomb – however they never removed the imposter. 

9. Singing ballet
In the 18th century all opera singers performed in ballet’s third position, so they would all stand with one ankle in front of the other with their legs slightly bent. So back then you needed to be apt at ballet as well as some beautiful bel canto.

10. All in the name of opera 
In the 1700’s castrati was a very popular voice group and at the height of the craze it is estimated that around 4,000 boys were castrated annually. In opera the castrati played subsidiary roles and sometimes played women, but by 1680 these voices played the main male title roles.