***Nero did not fiddle as Rome burned, the fiddle had not yet been invented. But he did consider himself an accomplished lyre player and singer and when in his twenties, gave a public recital. He worked hard at rehearsals and was prepared to suffer for his art. To reduce his weight and improve the quality of his voice, he underwent enemas and severe diets. Some days he ate only chives preserved in oil, and never consumed apples as he felt they harmed his vocal chords.
The concert took place in Naples in a large amphitheatre. The programme was very lengthy and the performance dragged on and on. No one dared show any sign of boredom or dissatisfaction as his spies were everywhere observing faces for a lack of enthusiasm. Nero had packed the amphitheatre with a claque of 5,000 youths to make sure he had a good reception. He was reportedly so pleased by the rhythmic clapping of the Alexandrian sailors that he sent across to Egypt for reinforcements.
No one was allowed to leave before the end and several babies were born during the performance. People tried desperately to escape. Some climbed the wall at the back and risked the long drop to the ground. Others collapsed in a heap and feigned death, hoping to be carted off for burial.
Nero, thrilled by the tumultuous acclaim, embarked on a series of repeat performances over several days. The concerts were finally brought to a close by a small earthquake that destroyed the theatre.
*** from Classical Music’s Strangest Concerts by Brian Levison & Frances Farrer