Saturday, June 25, 2011

Toscanini's Conducting Debut

On June 30, 1886 (125 years ago), Arturo Toscanini made his conducting debut in Rio de Janiero. The young Toscanini had been hired as principal cellist and assistant chorus master for an Italian opera company's tour of Brazil. On the ship on the way to Brazil, he coached the singers and impressed them with his knowledge of the music they were to sing. Although most of the company was Italian, the conductor for the tour was Brazilian, Leopoldo Miguez, and the company didn't meet him until their arrival in Sao Paulo. To put it mildly, Miguez and the troup did not work well together. Miguez resigned on June 30th, the day of a performance of Aida; Miguez also published a letter blaming his resignation on the Italians.

The show must go on, so the assistant conductor, Carlo Superti took the podium and began the opening of Aida. The audience made so much noise that the music could not be heard, and Superti left to jeers and catcalls. The company's impressario, Claudio Rossi, tried to speak with the audience with no greater success, and an audience heading to the ticket stand for refunds. What to do? The singers backstage suggested the nineteen year old Arturo Toscanini knew the score. What was there to lose? Toscanini took the helm of the orchestra and the rest is history.

To read more about Toscanini, books such as Understanding Toscanini, by Joseph Horowitz, Reflections on Toscanini, by Harvey Sachs, and Arturo Toscanini: the NBC Years, by Mortimer H. Frank, can be found in the Polley Music Library. The library also has several recordings with Toscanini conducting.

No comments: