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Massenet and the crossed phone line: Dial M for Murder

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

French opera composer Jules Massenet once experienced an untimely mix-up in phone lines at the precise moment he was dashing off the finishing lines to an opera.  Stuck on the last scene of his opera Thérèse he called up his collaborator from a hotel phone to brainstorm together. Unfortunately, the lines got crossed, and a terrified eavesdropper listened in on their conversation. Katherine Bakeless related the anecdote in her book, Story-Lives of Great Composers:

“The last scene didn’t come out right. He called up his collaborator who had written the words, and said:

‘Cut Therese’s throat and it will all be all right.”

The wires had crossed, and some total stranger heard him. The strange voice said,

 ”Oh, if I only knew who you were, you scoundrel, I would denounce you to the police.”

The collaborator answered Massenet: “Once her throat is cut she will be put in the cart with her husband. I prefer that to poison.”

The strange voice shouted, “Oh that’s too much! Now the rascals want to poison her.”

[Bakeless, 138]

Unfortunately for Massenet, SKYPE had not yet been created.Or else the suspicious citizen could have seen with his own eyes that the “murderer”on the other line was, in fact, famous French composer Jules Massenet who was having a bit of trouble with his opera and that newly invented machine: the telephone.

Posted by on February 21st, 2017

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