It’s not unheard of for singers and vocalists to grace the LACO stage, but it is a rare occurrence. Not this month, though! In honor of the upcoming Discover Mozart’s Requiem concert on February 19, which features soloists Alison King, Emily Fons, Nicolas Phan and Aubrey Allicock, as well as The Los Angeles Master Chorale, we’ve assembled these fun facts about the human voice, singers, and the composers who work with them. On with the show!
1) Before his opera career took off, Luciano Pavarotti supported himself and paid for his vocal lessons by selling insurance.
2) In 1722, composer George Frideric Handel hired soprano Francesca Cuzzoni to perform in an opera he was writing. Cuzzoni was known for being difficult, which Handel experienced first-hand when she refused outright to sing one of his arias in rehearsal. Handel resolved the issue by grabbing her wrist and threatening to throw her out the window unless she sang it. His strategy worked, and she didn’t complain again (about that aria, at least).
3) Vocal coach Richard Fink IV set the Guinness World Record for longest continual vocal note when he sang a Bb for 103 seconds in 2009.
4) During her first performance in the Royal Opera House’s production of Tosca in 1964, legendary soprano Maria Callas leaned in too close to a burning candle on stage, and her wig caught on fire. Her co-star, Tito Gobbi (who was playing Scarpia), reached over and extinguished the flame with his bare hard, and while all this was happening, Maria never missed a note. Later, when she had to stab Gobbi, Maria acknowledged his quick thinking by saying under her breath, as she lifted the blade, “Grazie, Tito.”
5) Famed contralto Marian Anderson was the first African American to perform at the White House, as a guest of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. She was also the first African American to perform as a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera.
6) An interactive chart was published last year comparing the vocal ranges of 75 hugely popular recording artists. Axl Rose, the lead singer from Guns ‘N’ Roses, has the widest range, from F1-Bb6, followed by Mariah Carey (F2-G7), Prince (E2-B6), and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith (D2-E6). Country star Luke Bryan has the smallest range (A2-A4), followed by Taylor Swift (E3-F#5) and Karen Carpenter (D3-F5). Other fun facts gleamed from this chart: Bjork and Dolly Parton have the exact same vocal range (E3-D6), as do Rod Stewart and Whitney Houston (C#3-C6), Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain (C#2-F5), and John Lennon and Elvis Presley (B1-A5). Mariah Carey beat out Christina Aguilera for the honor of being able to sing the highest note: Carey can hit G7, compared to Aguilera’s C#7. At the other end of the spectrum, Axl Rose narrowly beat out Barry White for lowest note honors. Rose can hit F1, while White’s range ended at F#1.
7) The Guinness World Record for the lowest vocal note produced by a male was set by Tim Storms in Branson, Missouri, in 2012. He hit a G -7 (0.189 Hz).
8) The oldest professional opera singer was Lou Pinchao, a Chinese performer who sang Cantonese opera well into his nineties. He was known for singing for almost 30 minutes with one foot raised and wrapped around a prop. Lou passed away in 2010.
9) While “Break a leg!” is one common way of wishing a singer good luck before a performance, in Spanish- and Portugese-speaking countries, the popular phrase is “mucha mierda,” which translates to “lots of shit.” This phrase can be traced back to the days when audiences arrived at the theater in carriages. Seeing lots of shit in front of the theater would be a good sign, because it indicated a packed house.
10) One tradition that came from the opera world is the cheering, during a curtain call, of the word “Bravo!” Be careful, though, because the word you cheer changes, depending on who’s onstage. Here’s a quick guide: It’s appropriate to yell bravo for a man and brava for a woman. If there are multiple performers, use the plural, which is bravi. If the group consists only of women, yell brave (pronounced “bra-vay”).
11) In 1991, Plácido Domingo sang the title role in Verdi’s Otello in Vienna, and the audience set a record by applauding for 80 minutes straight. There were 101 curtain calls.
12) This last one isn’t a fun fact, it’s a joke. Enjoy!
Q: How many altos does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: None. They can’t get that high.