Larry Palmer (photo credit: Southern Methodist University)
Trombones in Dido and Aeneas? Remembering Albert Fuller
The September 22, 2007 death of Albert Fuller brought back warm memories of several visits the fine American harpsichordist and educator made to Dallas. Perhaps the most memorable, amusing, and culinarily satisfying one occurred during the rehearsal period for the Dallas Opera’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 1972. Although I had recently played harpsichord continuo for a Dido performance in Norfolk, the Opera in those days disdained local artists if they could import someone at great expense from Milan or New York. The management did, however, deign to rent my Dowd harpsichord since neither Opera nor Symphony owned such an “off-beat” instrument.
Albert had called me from New York to ask “why [the hell] they would bother to fly him such a distance when I was already there?” but I assured him that the discrimination was general, not personal, and that he should just enjoy the production (which turned out to be costumed in futuristic, space-age costumes), and charge them a high fee.
One evening Albert arrived at the Fair Park opera theater to tune the harpsichord, but became alarmed when two trombonists entered the pit and began warming up. Perhaps, he thought, the scoring has been altered to match the costumes? But when a tuba player joined in he decided it was time to ask the musicians what was going on.
The brass players informed him that it was not Dido that was to be rehearsed that evening, but its companion work, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci (nearly as strange a coupling as the costumes and staging). Albert was quite incensed that the management had changed the rehearsal schedule without informing him, thus resulting in his flying (first class) from New York when he would not be needed.
I received a telephone call relating this sequence of events, concluding with “Well, I’m here, so before I fly back home let’s have dinner at the best restaurant in Dallas – and charge it to the Opera!”
I had dined only once previously at The Old Warsaw, then considered one of the finest culinary experiences available in the city, so that’s where we had our leisurely and memorable meal. I don’t know if this was a prime example of “turning annoyance into pleasure” or simply the best way to ignore a scheduling snafu, but it was certainly a civilized way to deal with the matter, and remembering it reminds of a happy conversation with a distinguished fellow musician. Ave Albert, et vale.
Comments welcome. Please address them to Dr. Larry Palmer, Division of Music, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275
Originally published in The Diapason (Chicago), February 2008