Disappointed 'Aida' viewer demands (and gets) refund from Verdi
Despite the promise of his name, Italian citizen Prospero Bertani was neither prosperous financially nor gifted in terms of his critical judgment. After the cash-strapped gentleman traveled to Parma in 1872 to see Verdi’s opera “Aida,” not once but twice -- come on, he wanted to give it a fair shot -- he wrote the composer asking for a refund for his tickets and related expenses, including a “disgustingly bad dinner” for two lire. (Wait a minute: Couldn’t he have avoided a crappy meal the second time at least?)
In Bertani’s politely written letter, part of a correspondence posted on Letters of Note but originally from the 1978 book "Verdi's Aida: The History of an Opera in Letters and Documents," he speculates with golly-gee wonder at why he failed to enjoy the show when so many others did. He finally concludes “that the opera contains absolutely nothing thrilling or electrifying, and if it were not for the magnificent scenery, the audience would not sit through it to the end. It will fill the theatre a few more times and then gather dust in the archives.”
While this strategy of insulting the production and then demanding a refund wouldn’t get you far in today’s theater world, Bertani’s letter succeeded in its goal. An amused Verdi forwarded it to his publisher with instructions to reimburse the disappointed opera-goer for the majority of his costs, though not the sub-par dinner. “He could very well have eaten at home!!!” Verdi wrote.
His publisher, Giulio Ricordi, secured a correspondent to find and pay Bertani, who upon receiving his compensation wrote a receipt to Verdi agreeing that, in exchange for his refund, he’d “undertake no trip to hear any of the Maestro's new operas in the future, unless [Verdi] takes all the expenses upon himself, whatever my opinion of his work may be.”
“Aida,” of course, has gone on to become one of the most oft-performed operas in the world. Did you know that at every production, in seat 120 (Bertani’s original chair for his first “Aida” show), there’s a disgruntled man, clutching his indigestion-riddled gut and complaining that there are no thrills to be found in this dud of a show? It’s true. Opera fans, avoid this grumbly ghost at all costs!
Photo: From the dress rehearsal of an LA Opera production of "Aida" in 2005. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times