Thursday, October 15, 2009

To Smoke or Not To Smoke (?)

Who said that an opera singer shouldn’t smoke?

History has it that a legendary opera singer of all time, Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), smoked two packages of Egyptian cigarettes a day. He was a heavy smoker!

Enrico Caruso with his Egyptian cigarette

Lisa della Casa (born 1919) just turned 90 on February 2009. She’s one of The Last Prima Donnas (a book written by Lanfranco Rasponi). Some people could still remember her beautiful rendition of works by Mozart and Strauss. She still smokes until today.

Lisa della Casa: Singing is more dangerous than Smoking.

90 years old Lisa della Casa and her beloved husband:
And her beloved cigarettes

And here we come, four of the famous Metropolitan Opera’s roster: Risë Stevens, Robert Merrill, Nadine Conner, and Patrice Munsel. They appeared in a vintage advertisement of Camel cigarette. I don’t know if they really smoke, but the ad proved that.

This is Elvira de Hidalgo (1892-1980). Does anyone know her? Yes, she was Maria Callas’ teacher. A famous Spanish coloratura soprano and singing teacher, she almost smoked a pack of cigarette during this interview session.

Elvira de Hidalgo with almost one pack of cigarettes:

In the summer of August 1957, Maria Callas was scheduled to sing at the open-air Herodes Atticus amphitheater, Greece. Both of teacher and student met at the rehearsal. And LOOK at their facial expression! Maria Callas was a genuine icon of Greek tragédie, with melancholy and languorous eyes, while her teacher – with Spanish passion for fiesta and fireworks – seemed very happy and enjoyed the very night with cigarettes.

de Hidalgo: "Dear Maria, just sit and relax. Let me smoke this bloody cigarette,"

Like teacher, like student: Maria Callas herself was a smoker. I got two pictures of her. One with her colleague, tenor Giuseppe di Stefano who smoked cigar. Another one is a miscellaneous snapshot, taken from the filming session of Pier-Paolo Pasolini's Medea (1970).

Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano:
Draught beer and cigarettes

Maria Callas during the filming session of Medea

The rivalry between Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi seems too pretentious. Some people said that Callas had a diabolical voice compared to Tebaldi, who owned a voice of an angel, like Toscanini said. And here The Angel with a cigarette.

Renata Tebaldi: it's a pleasure to burn!

Last but not least: Luciano Pavaroti, King of the high Cs, and King of big cigars.

Pavarotti, was a cigar aficionado


Carlyne Serrano said...

Wow... thank you. thank you so much.

Helen Kalliope said...

As a quitter and also a singer, I know from experience that smoking is absolutely no good for singers. Very soon after quitting my old 10-a-day addiction, in March 2005, I found I was singing better, breathing better, sustaining notes better, and also reaching notes which I hadn't reached for years! Indeed, within less than a year of quitting, my range restored itself to what it had been before I'd started smoking! Now, I'm singing better than ever, and deeply regret ever smoking, or at least, not quitting many, many years before I did.


History is littered with stars whose voices have been devastated by smoking.

Speculation abounds about Callas' vocal decline, especially centered around weight loss. But smoking would be a much more obvious reason.

Thomas Einstein MD

Anonymous said...

I am learning to sing and I checked a Maria Callas CD from the libary. Reading about her voice decline, which everything I read attributed to her weight loss made no sense to me. But none of these sites mentioned that she smoked. (I am a medical doctor). So I looked up Callas and smoking and found this site. I agree with Dr. Einstein--smoking is the most likely cause. Heavy people do have more developed lungs due to the constant exercise of lugging their weight around. However, overweight people also have more inflammation, which exacerbates decline in any organ system, including the respiratory system. But, smoking causes more intense and consisten damage to the lungs (decreased space for air-space exachange due to alveolar loss, inflammation from inhaling the burning smoke, and decreased elasticity from the scarring caused by inflammation.) Smoking was most likely a cause in her early death--what a loss to the world!

Cam Ma said...

History is littered with singers who died prematurely from lung cancer or other diseases brought on by smoking. A few may survive, but their fewness proves the point.