Lee Sings in Venice
I must tell you about my attempt to sing in Venice. Jackie was off every day scribbling with her art teacher and I suddenly felt that I must do something too. I got the most desperate urge to really learn how to sing and thought it would be such fun to run off to my little lession every morning.
Jackie got terribly excited over the idea, saying she could come and draw pictures of me singing. The only person we could think of who would know a singing teacher was the head porter here at the Danieli - Signor Vicari. He is the most terridying man I have ever met, with oily black hair and a wicked moustache. He treats us as if we were disobedient grandchildren and the big moment of his day is hen we come creeping up to the desk to ask if there is any mail - and he can point to the empty box and look at us as if to say “Who would ever write you?” He laughed so condescendingly at my gay ittle idea that I decided I must convince him I had been studying for years and just needed some brushing up. I finall did impress him slightly and he warmed up and from a dirty roll of newspaper he kept hidden behind the desk, proudly brought forth a picture of his brother in law who is the greatest basso at La Scala.
He telephoned for two days and finally got us an appointment with Signora Delta Rizza - Queen of all the Sopranos in Italy.
We went to her house on the Grand Canal and were ushered into this salon where we sat shaking, while the house shuddered and thundered with her singing scales in another room. On the piano was a picture of Toscanni with a long dedication to her - also one from Puccin - she was the first to sing “Madame Butterfly” - and a couple from King Umberto, and portraits on the walls of her in different costumes.
She finally came in and of course couln’t speak a word of English and hardly any French so Jackie had to interpret for us from her dirty brown Italian grammar book. She promptly asked meto sing a few arias from various operas. At that point I was so terrified I’d forgotten how to speak. My hands were icy cold with sweat and I could see Jackie in hysterics on the sofa behind her. The poor woman was so polite and finally asked me if perhaps I knew how to sing a scale. We did this one pathetic scale and my voice cracked like a sick rabbit on the last note. Jackie lolled on the sofa and kept telling me to sing something from “Call Me Madam.” I knew that would really finish her off but I coudn’t tihnk of anything else except Abadaba Honeymoon. I was so frantic I decided to sing it anyway, thinking she wouldn’t know what the words meant and they did sound a little Italian and it was so fast it might sound coloratura. I started off much too high and after three lines forgot all the words and something stuck in my throat so I ended with a screech like a cat being run over.
After that we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. At the door she asked me rather worriedly just exactly what was it that I had hoped to be able to do with my voice, and I could only laugh stupidly and trip over the doorstep.
Now Signor Vicari is treating me as if I am Lily Pons’ niece and everytime we pass him he asks how the lesson went. I say “Oh fine” trying to sound casual, then pretend I’m in a terrific hurry. All we hope is that we leave Venice before he communicates with the woman, or we just might be thrown out of the Danieli.