I am asked to play as principal bass for the San Carlo Opera Company, Naples, Italy. Opening night fiasco.
In the early ‘sixties I was asked to play a week of opera as principal bass with the San Carlo Opera Company. I accepted and on the appointed day and time I arrived at the theatre, which was situated in London’s Italian district, in Soho.
Jack Hylton, a band leader well known in the ‘thirties, and who later became a very successful impresario had brought over the entire company from Italy as a birthday present for his girl friend, Rosalina Neri, to sing the roles of Mimi in La Bohème, and Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore. I was the only double bass player but knew both of the operas very well.
Rosalina was a very pretty girl in her twenties, and besides her good looks she was endowed with a very good figure, which, being part of her armoury she exploited to the full. She often appeared on RIA, the Italian TV crooning sentimental songs, and was very popular with her audience, but I soon found out that unfortunately she wasn’t an opera singer. She just about got through the rehearsals due to a large extent to Napoleone Annovazzi the conductor, but her voice could not compete with all the other singers who were first class opera performers.
I was chatting with one of the company who exclaimed “She pusha da boobs througha da televisione, Il Papa, he no like”, and he wagged his finger as though she had committed a mortal sin. Whether or not the Pontiff ever did view her performances on TV (only of course to assure himself that they were fit for his flock to view,) I don’t know.
Came the opening night and Rosalina commenced her aria in the first act. She let out a strangled croak and shortly afterwards the mostly Italian audience began to hiss and boo, shouting “Annovazzi buono ma Neri cattiva”. (Annovazzi good but Neri bad). The curtain was rung down and later the opera re-commenced with one of the San Carlo singers replacing her, doing a superb job. Rosalina never appeared on stage for the rest of that week. Whatever happened to her I don’t know, but to quote Felix Aprahamian, the noted author and musicologist “They’re probably all dead by now”.