Joao Pires faces a great challenge
Pianist Maria Joao Pires was in for the shock of her life when, during rehearsal, the Conzertgebouw Orchestra started playing a concerto different from the one she was expecting to play. On the video you can intuit the surge of conflicting emotions within her. Thanks to her unusual talent and preparation, she was able to play the concerto she was presented with. Luckily, she had it in her repertory. Her talent, aplomb, experience and technique enabled her to recall all that information and bring it to life at a moment’s notice. Amazing!
The lesson for performers is to regularly review the repertory and to be ready to tap into it at a moment’s notice. Many great careers have been started that way. Do you know any such story?
Schuman-Heink got her big brake when a colleague fell out of favor with the management of the Hamburg Opera. She then sang Carmen without reharsal and later took on two other big roles at that opera house.
Kudos to Ms. Joao Pires and to Ernestine Schumann-Heink, amazing performers and brave human beings!
For those of you who may like to read Schuman-Heink’s own colorful account of how, after struggling for years, the opportunity came about for her to sing Carmen and other important roles in Hamburg, scroll down. This is taken from SCHUMANN-HEINK THE LAST OF THE TITANS BY MARY LAWTON New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1928
“Well, anyway, after this period things began to be
easier and I must tell you how I first began to get
better parts in Hamburg. It was when one of my col-
leagues the prima donna contralto: Goetze was her
name started to make trouble. She was always my
worst enemy and kept me down. Now, Pollini was
much interested in Goetze, and so, too, was von Bil-
low. She had studied Carmen with him, so in a way she
was a kind of protegee of von Billow, always getting
the preference, the big parts. She always sang Carmen,
and I had to be content with Her cedes, a small bit,
until this time although I wanted to sing Carmen
myself like every other singer on the face of the
Well, Goetze had some kind of quarrel with Pollini
which often happens with prima donnas and Pol-
lini flew into a terrible rage. He got furious with her, and told her:
“You are not the only one who can sing Carmen.
There is some one else right here in the opera who can
do it! I will now give the Heink the opportunity she
wants. That’s what I’ll do!” (You see, Pollini had
changed his tune about me.)
So it was that Pollini sent for me in great excite-
ment and asked if I could sing Carmen that same
night without a rehearsal.
Of course, I said, “You bet,” or something equally
strong in my best German!
I sang it Fd have sung it if I had died on the stage
for I knew now was my chance at last.
But now comes a funny thing. You see, I had
studied Carmen by ear with my teacher when I was
very young, and from that time on I had always
watched each of the different Carmens, always hoping
I could get a chance to sing it, and had learned it in
that way. I learned a little from them all mostly
their faults, though by just watching; and Mahler,
the conductor, said afterwards (Oh, how he laughed!) that I had all the mistakes of all the Car-
mens combined! I had learned all the faults when I
learned the part which was perfectly true.
“Yes,” Mahler said, “the Heink, she has all the
peculiarities of all the Carmens! She makes the same
stupid old mistakes that they all make but she sings
it, just the same.”
And, thank God, I sang it that time and saved the
Of course, I had no costumes at this time, and noth-
ing ready for Carmen, but my colleagues were very
good. They all helped out. One gave a veil, another a
skirt, another beads, some one else a comb. Everything
I could lay hands on I borrowed for that great occa-
sion. And Marie Kauer I’ll tell you about her later
gave me her beautiful shawl.
It was funny, when you come to think of it, for all
those things from the different singers were of all
sizes and lengths: one was too short, another too long
one too big and one too small. But I managed some-
how everything except the shoes, and they were too
short. Ach! I could hardly walk, they hurt me so. But
I did walk somehow. I suppose excitement made me
forget the pain. At any rate, my Carmen was a great
success. Today I would not dare to do such a thing,
but then well, that is youth plus ambition.
The next opera was to be f( 7> Prophete.” Goetze
who was furious, of course, at my success in Carmen
cancelled again. She thought this time I was not pre-
pared, and couldn’t jump in as I did with Carmen,
and would make a terrible fiasco. But Pollini, still
angry, comes again, and asked if I could sing Fides,
too. Again I said, “Yes, you bet,” in my strongest Ger-
man. Now, you must understand that Fides, in ff Le Pro-
pbete” is one of the biggest contralto parts ever writ-
ten. It goes up and down with coloratura oh, what
a part! Even Pollini doubted me in fact, they all
thought I couldn’t possibly do it ; that I wouldn’t dare
to attempt this difficult role without even a rehearsal.
But he was in such a hole he had to risk it.
I went home and studied like the devil was after
me, and I did manage it somehow, and I sang Fides in
f *Le Propbete.” It was a tremendous success, I may say.
And then for the third time Goetze, who was now
raging, cancelled for Ortrud in “Lohengrin.” And
that, too, I sang without a rehearsal. Then I was made
at last! Then it was that Pollini all smiles, this time
came and gave me a new contract.
Well, I was ready for him ready to sing Carmen,
Fides, Ortrud all the big roles everything. I took
my opportunity with both hands. I tried to learn
from every one. I never was so swell-headed that I
didn’t know I could learn from others, and poverty
had made me very humble. Ach! what I went
through! All the years I slaved for my profession,
until I came to the United States. It took me twenty
years to make my career. That is why I respect to this
day the highest and the lowest be it a boy in the
theater, a working man, every one can teach me a
little bit of life and all that helps to a career and