Leo Slezak

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What time is the next Swan?

Leo Slezak (18 August 18731 June 1946) was an Austrian tenor opera singer and film actor. He was the father of American actor Walter Slezak, and the grandfather of actress Erika Slezak.

Quotes[edit]

  • Papa told her about a Lohengrin performance. It was just before his first entrance. He was ready to step into the boat, which, drawn by a swan, was to take him on-stage. Somehow the stagehand on the other side got his signals mixed, started pulling, and the swan left without Papa. He quietly turned around and said: "What time's the next swan?"
    That story has since become a classic in operatic lore.
  • Leo Slezak gastierte kürzlich in einem oberösterreichischen Theater als Lohengrin. Die Präzision der technischen Arbeiter war nicht gerade erhebend, und so geschah es, daß der Schwan davonzog, ehe Slezak ihn ritterlich bestiegen hatte. Der Tenor geriet nicht aus der Fassung, wandte sich nach der Kulisse und rief: „Bitt schön, Sie da, wann geht der nächste Schwan?
  • NN in the bimonthly Der Zwiebelfisch. Eine kleine Zeitschrift für Bücher und andere Dinge. Hans von Weber Verlag München 1922, p. 34-Schwan?
  • During my first year on the stage at Brünn [1896/97] I conceived the idea of a pilgrimage to Bayreuth, in order to hear and to see the wonders of Wagner's works at the spot dedicated to his memory. I was successful in my application to the management of the Festival for a free pass for the cycle - four nights of The Ring of the Nibelungen and Parzifal, on condition that I sang at an audition held in Bayreuth by Frau Cosima Wagner, who took every opportunity of seeking new talent. ...
I arrived at the gymnasium at noon and sent my card in, with a beating heart. ...
I was ushered in just as they were rehearsing The Rhinegold and a Thor stood on a small platform posing for a photograph, while Frau Wagner was arranging his position, when my card was handed to her. She spelt my name out, did not appear to recognise it — which filled me with misgiving — and asked: "Well, my dear Herr Slezak, what are you going to sing to me?" Being anxious to appear versatile and to show my mettle as a dramatic singer also, I replied-rather guardedly: "The I Pagliacci aria." There was general and undisguised dismay throughout the hall, and the director of music, Herr Kniese, gasped, while the Thor on the platform nearly fell off it. Even the attendant who had ushered me in, tottered. Frau Wagner seemed taken aback, but after she had recovered from her astonishment, she rather coldly remarked that it that might be better if I sang something by the Master — if I could sing anything besides Pagliacci — what Wagner arias did I know? Thoroughly dejected and realising what an ass I had made of myself, I enumerated Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman and Froh in Rhinegold.
  • Leo Slezak: Song of Motley. Being the Reminiscences of a Hungry Tenor. Arno Press 1977, p. 91-5
  • Im ersten Jahre meiner Künstlerlaufbahn in Brünn erwachte in mir die Sehnsucht, nach Bayreuth zu pilgern und dort an geweihter Stätte die Wunder Wagnerscher Werke zu hören und zu sehen. Ein Gesuch an die Festspielleitung um ein Freibillett für den Zyklus - vier Abende "Ring des Nibelungen" und "Parsifal" kam in günstigem Sinne erledigt zurück; es wurde nur die Bedingung gestellt, daß ich in Bayreuth Frau Cosima Wagner vorsingen müsse, eine Gepflogenheit, die Gelegenheit gab, alle jungen Talente kennenzulernen. ...
Mittags um zwölf Uhr stand ich vor der Turnhalle, und mit hochklopfendem Herzen sandte ich meine Visitenkarte hinein ...
Ich wurde hereingeführt - es war gerade "Rheingold"-Probe. Ein "Donner" stand auf einem kleinen Podium in Photographierstellung. Frau Wagner rückte ihm gerade den rechten Fuß nach auswärts, dann ließ sie ihn stehen, nahm meine Karte, buchstabierte meinen Namen - der ihr nicht geläufig schien, was mich mit Befremden erfüllte, und fragte: "Also, mein lieber Herr Sle - Sle - zak, was werden Sie mir vorsingen?" Ich, der ich mich von allen möglichen Seiten, auch als dramatischer Sing-Schauspieler zeigen wollte, sagte voll Zuversicht: "Die ,Bajazzo'-Arie." Allgemeines, lähmendes Entsetzen verbreitete sich im Turnsaal. Generalmusikdirektor Kniese rang nach Luft - der Donner auf dem Podium gab seine Pose auf und wankte. Sogar der Diener suchte verstört nach einem Halt. Frau Wagner war gleichfalls verblüfft, und nach einer längeren Pause sagte sie ziemlich reserviert, daß es erwünschter wäre - wenn ich etwas vom Meister sänge - ob ich denn nur Bajazzo könne - und was ich schon von Wagner gesungen hätte. Eingeschüchtert und ahnend, daß ich da etwas vorbildlich Blödes angestellt habe, nannte ich Lohengrin, Holländer und den Froh im "Rheingold".
  • Leo Slezak: Meine sämtlichen Werke.

Quotes about Slezak[edit]

Even the attendant who had ushered me in tottered.
After America had entered the war in December 1941 all postal service with Germany and Austria was stopped. But Papa had faithfully kept on writing to me, a ten-page letter nearly every week. ~ Walter Slezak
  • After America had entered the war in December 1941 all postal service with Germany and Austria was stopped. But Papa had faithfully kept on writing to me, a ten-page letter nearly every week. They were never mailed and I found them, neatly bundled, sealed and addressed to me. … And now, on the plane, winging back home, I began to read his letters. They are remarkable documents. It's the whole war, as seen from the other side, through the eyes of a man who detested the fascist system, who hated the Nazis with a white fury. In the midst of the astonishing German victories in the early part of the war he was firmly convinced that Hitler MUST and WOULD lose. He dreaded communism, and all his predictions have come true. He told of all the spying that went on, the denunciations to the Gestapo, the sudden disappearances of innocent people, of the daily new edicts and restrictions, of confiscations that were nothing but robberies, arrests, and executions; how every crime committed was draped in the mantilla of legality.
    His great perception, intelligence, decency, his wonderful humanity, his love of music and above all his worshipful adoration for his Elsa — through every page they shimmered with luminescent radiance.
    • Walter Slezak, in What Time's the Next Swan? (1962), on reading letters his father had written him during the years of World War II, after his father's death, p. 226


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