Thursday, September 08, 2005


La Scala is reporting Mme. Olivero's death at the age of 105

UPDATE: Magda Olivero recently celebrated her 102nd birthday. (March 2012)

I wrote the rest of this in 2005:

This is a response to a recent Boston Herald column by Tom Keane, calling for a recap of Boston's once glorious theater district.

Dear Mr. Keane:

I read with pleasure your recent column in the Herald about Boston's Theater district. I was especially pleased with your mention of B.F. Keith's, the magnificent theater Sarah Caldwell renamed The Opera House in the late 1970s.

I was a college kid working for Sarah's Opera Co. of Boston in those days. Singing in the chorus, walking her ancient and arthritic dachshund, Cranberry (who refused to die), doing what needed to be done. The paychecks bounced their way down the Charles river. Never mind. Youth is great and I was in an ambiance I loved. My parents paid the bills. ("At least he's not on drugs")

The Keith sale was concluded on a Tuesday. Sarah waddled in with the mortgage. The problem was that Puccini's TOSCA, starring the divine Italian soprano Magda Olivero, was to open the following Friday. We were changing theaters four days before opening night. Actually, Sarah often changed tenors a day or two before, but switching theaters, re- hanging sets, re- seating the orchestra, finding light bulbs! was going to be a challenge. We spent three days in the dark and dirt with flashlights writing numbers on the seats with magic marker. I was sent out to Woolworth's on Washington Street to get more markers and was turned away. That was another bill Sarah, God bless her, hadn't paid.

The Keith had a bowling alley, a gym, a swimming pool and toilets that flushed! Most of the building had not been cleaned in the movie house Bruce Lee days. Your feet stuck to the floor backstage and you learned not to ask.

Then there was Magda Olivero. A great diva in the old tradition, beloved of composers and audiences throughout Europe, she arrived in Boston and went to work. Tosca is a glamorous young woman, the prima donna of Napoleon's Rome. Madam Olivero, seventy if she was a day, remained above the squalor around her. It was my job on opening night to escort her to the wings. We stood together, she solemnly crossing herself awaiting her entrance. Two rats ran over our feet. I shuddered, all 200 pounds of me.. She kissed me. "Is a-ok! Topolini! Jut-a like Milano!" Her cue came in the orchestra and she sang out from the wings, "Mario! Mario! Mario!". The music, the theater, the lights all chased the years away. She was greeted by a great roar of applause and cries of brava! as the audience caught sight of her.
Even the rats scurried off.

I was stained with magic marker ink, and developed a rash. Who cares? I've heard Tosca in some of the greatest theaters in the world. But that was a great night in Boston, and a great time.
I bless the Keith forever. Thank you for bringing it back.

(May 3, 2002)

1 comment:

Daniel Osborn said...

Great site. I now have a blog here thanks to you. I normally have mine at xanga but now I am using this.
I saw that at the southern theatre they are doing the Mikado. I think that I might go. Talk to you later,