Monday, August 26, 2013

What's Opera, Doc?

It was party conversation I was having last night about my friend Ric Ricardi who used to run a showcase club called The Horn. 
The Horn was mainly a room for singers with a couple of comedians a night. So many people got their start at The Horn, it was the place to be seen at the time.  When I first got to town I performed there until things began to happen for me in the business.  I was there for about a year.
Ric, who is no longer with us and neither is his Horn, was a strict club owner. He was a tough Italian who ran the room as a performance space not a bar.  He was the host, doorman, manager, talent booker and Master of Ceremonies introducing each act. Printed on the red candle holders at every table was the phrase.. "Do not Talk while the Performers are on stage." No please, it was not a request but a demand.  He and the brute bartender were also the bouncers and would throw anyone out the door if they did not abide by the no talking rule.  
As one of the comedians, there was always the chance that Ric might throw someone out the door physically just before your set. This created a distraction that was tough to overcome when you were trying to do comedy for the ones obeying the rules. 
That was only one of his quirks.  He started the club with his wife Margaret. Although I never knew her, they say she was tougher than Ric when it came to the attentiveness of the crowd. She had been gone for almost 25 years by the time I showed up.  Although Ric was a "player" when he was young, in his old age he would get emotional when he mentioned her on stage.  The story was almost always the same. He would talk about the moment he found her lifeless body, and how he missed her.  To say the least it was not a chipper story to tell an audience at a club.
The comedians alternated between the early spot and the late spot between singers.  The line up always rotated around the singers who were in town so we comedians never knew who we might follow.  
There was an opera singer named Marge.  A budding diva who was very formal and classical.  I learned quickly that if you were going to follow Marge on stage it was going to be a tough night. 
She was not always there but when she was her set was a group of very heavy arias from various operas.  No matter what else she sang, she would always close with a tragic death song dirge.  
Unfortunately for the comic who had to follow her, the ending song was so tragic and her performance so dramatic you had to work much harder to get the audience back in laughter mode.  Moreover, it happen to be Ric's departed wife's favorite song. 
On more than one occasion Ric would become so emotional from the song he would launch into the Margaret story from the stage in great detail.  Here is how I remember one of those evenings: Marge is done and Ric takes the stage....
"That was Marge.  Beautifully done Marge. That last song was Margaret's favorite. Margaret, my wife, and I started this club so many years ago, this was her room. It was almost 25 years ago that she left us. (beginning to tear up).  I found her slumped over her makeup table one morning. She must have been dead from the night before because her body was cold and stiff. There she was gone...(more sniffles... a little frog in his throat) and she took my heart with her....(choked up) My life has never been the same.... I miss her so much.... and now to entertain you... here is Jay Johnson.  (Lively play on music... I walk on stage).
I clearly remember the look on their collective faces of sorrow, shock, horror and sadness... none of the emotions in the comedy "color pallet." It was like working a coal mine to get them to laugh. 
I was telling this story at the cocktail party and said, "That was my experience following opera."
A friend in the group perked up and said, "Oh, then you must know (insert a name I didn't know)."
"No, I don't", I replied trying to connect to this non-linear question.
 "Oh, he is fabulous. Sings like no one you have heard.  The Santa Fe opera is trying to get him back to sing in their lead production this year." 
After some more information about this person's opera career I said, "And why am I supposed to know this guy?"
My Texas friend replied, "Well I thought you would know him since you said you followed opera."
That's when my friend Lynn connected the dots of this odd conversation and said,
"No, no. Jay didn't say he followed opera, he said he followed an opera singer." 
A huge laugh ended the opera conversation. 
As you were,


P. Grecian said...

Great story. I love great stories, and you have so many.

Paulette G said...

Now THAT'S Funny!!! (Christine?) ;D

Anonymous said...

Any story about The Horn is wonderful. My parents attended regularly and took me there when I turned 21. We got seated in front after some singer and who came on but Mr Jay Johnson. You were awesome and I was hooked on the place. I was wearing glasses and you did a joke about women in glasses. Made my evening! But all the Fridays I went, I don't recall Ric talking about his wife slumped over a table. Too funny (and sad, poor guy).