Sunday, October 29, 2006

Oh, God, That Bassoon!


Oct. 29, 1907
Los Angeles

Given The Times’ view of unions, it’s a little difficult to determine precisely what went wrong with a production of Ambroise Thomas’ “Mignon” at the Auditorium, but it went very wrong indeed because of a labor dispute.

The traveling company included orchestral players from Italy who had, according to The Times, joined the musicians union. However local union officials, citing labor leaders in St. Louis, appeared shortly before the evening’s performance and insisted that the musicians be thrown out of the union and therefore unable to perform.

Whatever the dispute involved, conductor Agide Jacchia was forced to preside over an orchestra of local players that was almost entirely unrehearsed.

“At intervals during the score, Jacchia would shudder as if someone had stabbed him and an expression of anguish would come into his face,” The Times said. “He would let his baton fall against the music rest and give some fellow in the orchestra a look of agonized reproach.

“But the union musicians didn’t care. They fiddled and tooted on at so much an hour—secure in the knowledge that the union doesn’t care whether they can play or not. In the intervals, they picked their noses and laughed and talked; made fun of the chorus girls and signaled to persons in the audience.”

After the first act, Jacchia was almost inconsolable, The Times said. As soon as he began to calm down, he would suddenly shriek: “Oh God! That awful contrabassoon!”

“His friends would grab him and soothe him down for a while. Then the recollection of the flute or the clarinet or something would strike him. He would start back as a man mortally wounded and murmur in the accents of a man dying a hard death: ‘Oh, God, the bassoon.’ ”

Bonus fact: Jacchia’s resignation on the night of the 1926 season finale gave Arthur Fiedler his opportunity to conduct the Boston Pops. History, alas, does not record whether a bassoonist was involved.

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