all but the disgusting dinner

When Verdi’s Aida was first performed, not everyone in the audience was enthralled….


Dear Signor Verdi,

On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation which your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was “No.”


I returned to Reggio, and on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and on the 4th returned to Parma. I made the most desperate effort to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I was obliged to throw away five lire to see the performance in comfort.

I arrived at this decision: it is an opera in which there is absolutely nothing which causes any enthusiasm or excitement, and without the pomp of the spectacle, the public would not stand it to the end. When it has filled the house two or three times, it will be banished to the dust of the archives.

Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent on two occasions 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that this money troubles my rest like a terrible spectre. Therefore I address myself frankly so that you may send me the amount.


Here is the account:

Railroad: One way 2.60 lire

Railroad: Return trip 3.30 lire

Theater 8.00 lire

Detestable dinner at the station 2.00 lire


=15.90 lire Multiplied by 2= 31.80 lire

In the hope that you will extricate me from this embarrassment, I salute you from the bottom of my heart


Verdi’s reply, addressed to his publisher Ricordi May, 1872

As you may readily imagine, in order to save this scion of his family from the spectres that pursue him, I shall gladly pay the little bill he sends me. Be so kind, therefore, as to have one of your agents send the sum of 27 lire, 80 centesimi to this Signor Bertani. True, that isn’t the whole sum he demands, but for me to pay his dinner too would be wearing the joke a bit thin. He could perfectly well have eaten at home. Naturally, he must send you a receipt, as well as a written declaration that he promises never to hear another one of my new operas, so that he won’t expose himself again to the danger of being pursued by spectres, and that he may spare me further travel expenses!

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 5:56 am  Comments (53)  
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53 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. LOL… that was very good natured of him!

  2. Haha! I always love the pics you choose…

    I might need to “borrow” the nausea bag and the album cover…;)

    • I love the nausea bag!

      • haha—I agree…It reminds me of the time I saw a bodily fluid clean-up kit hanging on a wall somewhere…

        Yes—I used it…

  3. An excellent response …… quite heart warming – now wishing that I’d seen Aida …..

  4. I wonder if I can try this with Stevie Wonder? I saw him many years ago at the Brighton Centre (UK), the acoustics of which are like listening to a portable radio in an aircraft hangar.

  5. I used to have a book which included this tale.Sadly, someone nicked it and I can’t remember the proper title.

    • Was it Foie Gras and Trumpets by Charles Nielsen Gattey?

  6. Great story! As (formerly) an avid theatre-goer, I was thinking of all the ‘turkeys’ I had seen and for which I wish I had invoiced. Metropolis, Budgie, Hunting the Snark, Matador… name but four, and probably coming to about £500!

    • Metropolis? I take it you’re not talking about the wonderful Fritz Lang movie?

      • i had to sit through some atrocious philip glass thing about 15 years ago (honestly, i was a fan). live. some lousy choral deal of rumi poems (dig that rumi) and scored to really bad computer animation (kin to that crappy dire straights video). later that night i learned the piece was ‘unfinished’ (!!!), and i paid how much? (i’d sprung for a block of seats for friends). by the next morning i was so disappointed and angry that i called to demand my money back. the person refused. we argued the merits of the piece (or lack there of) until she finally blindsided me with mr. glass’ home phone number insisting that i take my complaint to the top (doh!). i still have his number. i never called. took the piss right outa me.

      • You has Philip Glass’ home phone number and you didn’t call? My, what admirable restraint P xx

  7. Bertani sounds like one of the building contractors I’ve had dealings with recently.

  8. i’m afraid i am far to unsophisiticated to appreciate opera. not that it offends my sensibilities to pay to see it, but it just hurts my freakin’ ears…

    • I don’t have the opera gene either…..

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard a performance (live or on film) so bad that I asked for my money back. I see such things as a learning experience of what not to do in the pursuit of expression. And I’ve never left a bad movie early either. I paid my money, and I’m going to see all the movie.

    • I walked out of Magnolia. And Nine.

      • I walked out of Salo. And proud to have done so.

        BUT The King walked out of Geoffrey Rush’s Tony Award winning performance in Exit the King. Hmmmm…..

    • Ugh… Salo. I’m a fan of much of Pasolini’s work. But NOT that film.

  10. Actually I was thinking why see it again if you hated it the first time. Then I remembered I never did get the Matrix the first time I saw it. I still don’t really get it but it makes a little more sense now.

  11. Well…guess you have to admire honesty. But it can be obnoxious, eh?

  12. I’m always suspicious of people who go to excessive lengths to tell you how much they despise your work.

  13. Five lire?! Even then that couldn’t have much more than 2/3’s of a penny!

    After the premiere of Carmen, many thought Bizet insane.

  14. If I’d asked for my money back from every dodgy concert that I went to, I’d be even more obscenely wealthy than I am now.

    • Haha….. lend us a tenner until Monday will you Madame?

  15. What a good sport Verdi was! I’d never heard this story before, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Except for the eye pictures — what the heck is that a depiction of anyway?

    Aida is an opera which I have heard numbers of times since we had a recording of it. But I’ve never actually seen it staged. I have seen La Traviata, however, and even have played in the pit orchestra for a production of it. As far as I’m concerned, La Traviata is a much better show, with more glorious tunes, although the Triumphal March from Aida was the music that I have always wanted played for my funeral.

  16. Did that really happen? lol

  17. And they won’t refund a ticket at the Movie Theater, those bastards!

  18. Have you read “Dead Letters” by Maurice Baring? All hilarious, but fictional, epistles between characters like Clytemnestra and Helen or Goneril and Regan.

    • No, have you got a copy? I saw another book of letters on your shelves yesterday that looked interesting

      • yep.

  19. But I love exposing myself to the danger of being pursued by spectres. They tend to throw more applause than money as well.

  20. Bertani was right – about Aida anyway, it’s very boring. He may have been pushing it re the evening meal

  21. Ah I remember the days when you could have a slap up meal a disreputable show in Soho, some reefer and the omnibus home and still hve change out of a farthing

  22. Verdi was a good sport AND a musical maestro. I prefer La Traviata but Aida has its moments. The test of a good Aida is if it works without the elephants.

  23. Do you think I could try the same thing with Inception? Overrated Hollywood toss.

    I liked Magnolia. You should’ve stuck with it.

    • I think Tom Cruise was pissing me off too much

  24. I love clever responses to mean comments – LOVE.

  25. I try never to listen to any musical item whose name I cannot pronounce.

    • So I guess you don’t listen to Powaqqatsi or Naqoyqatsi then….

  26. Nobody mentioned elephants. You’d think an opera with elephants would get them at least a passing reference.

  27. I’m afraid Bertani started a trend that led to thousands of people returning Stephanie Meyer’s last Twilight Series book because they didn’t like the ending.

    • hey robin, welcome to the gimcrack!

  28. i’v ebeen to many shows i didn’t like alhtough none of them opera. i wonder if i should do the same thing next time i see a flop? i guess it just never occurred to me but i will remember this post in case i ever do.

  29. Verdi’s totally cheap. He should have sent more lire, plus a bag of penis pasta wouldn’t have hurt.

    • I get the feeling Bertani would have preferred testicle tartare

  30. Wow, this has totally inspired me to write that letter of complaint to one of our local cafes that keep serving me burnt coffee. I think I will calculate and include petrol costs as part of the travel expense…

    Wonderfully entertaining as always, thanks NurseMyra

  31. I’m sending a response like this to my bill collectors.

  32. If you substitute ‘Avatar’ for ‘Aida’ you get my contemporary account. I wonder if James Cameron will give me my money back?

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