Decades ago Sir Peter Ustinov was called upon to write an introduction to an amusing anthology about calamities that have ocurred in the major opera houses of the West—appropriately entitled Great Operatic Disasters. Sir Peter began with a memorable definition: “There is no art form which attempts the sublime while defying the ridiculous with quite the foolhardiness of opera.” The book is full of misbehaving horses, dentures lost in the stage gloom, grotesquely misclad baritones, Rigoletto’s hump gradually slipping down the hapless singer’s back (“One would have thought that they knew something about handling hunchbacks in Paris”). And this is not even to begin to consider the quality of the singing, of which Ustinov gives us a few classifications: “Those who can sing but can’t act … those who can act but who can no longer sing … those paragons who can both sing and act …...


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