Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bantcho Bantchevsky -- The Fat Lady Sings

A well-known musical comedy performer in the thirties on "Bulgaria's Broadway," a theatrical section of Sofia, Bantchevsky left Bulgaria after it became a Soviet ally during World War II.  He continued to perform as an actor and singer throughout post-war Europe before emigrating to the U.S. in the early 1950s with the dream of starring in American theatre.  In New York, he supported himself as a singing coach, and by writing political satire for Radio Free Europe.  A devoted opera enthusiast, Bantchevsky, 82, was a fixture at Metropolitan Opera House performances, and had cultivated friendships with many of its Bulgarian stars.

On the morning of January 23, 1988, Bantchevsky refused a friend's dinner invitation with the comment that he could not eat because "I'm going to die tonight."  Attending the Met's matinee performance of Verdi's opera Macbeth, Bantchevsky seated himself in the "Family Circle," the fifth and highest balcony in the opera house where desks are provided for patrons to study the score during the performance.  During the first intermission two ushers had to pull Bantchevsky away from the top railing where he was seated rocking slowly back and forth.  Ten minutes into the second intermission, the singing coach plunged 80 feet from the top railing, bounced off a lower balcony rail, and mercifully landed on unoccupied seats ten rows from the back of the orchestra with a broken seat atop him.  The rest of the opera, broadcast live on nationwide radio over the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Network, was cancelled.  Friends of Bantchevsky said that the elderly man had recently suffered from poor health, and had constantly talked of suicide.

1 comment:

  1. I remember Bantcho vividly. I first met him in Port Jefferson Long Island where he attended a service at a Russian Orthodox church where I was performing. Some time later I met him again at the Met and on opening night of 1976 he invited me to watch the opera, Il Trovatore, from his par terre box. On that night he was resplendent in white tie an tails and with numerous medals and ribbons decorating his chest. He was knowledgeable and gregarious about the theater and especially the opera but his good humor was overlaid by a certain world-weary melancholy not uncommon in slavic aficionados of a certain age. On the afternoon of January 23, 1988 I was returning to NYC from a visit to Chile. Arriving at home I turned on the radio to find the Metropolitan Opera broadcast in progress but instead of Verdi's "Macbeth" I heard the announcer, Peter Allen, obviously stalling and filling time. Somehow, as soon as the situation was reported I knew who the victim was before they mentioned his name. I was shocked but not surprised. Incidentally, the operatic equivalent of the "Macbeth Curse" is usually associated with Verdi's "La Forza del destino" which has been marked over the years with strange and tragic events including the on-stage death of Metropolitan star baritone Leonard Warren.