Having received a favorable response to my May 26th post on the troubled history of 1956's Candide (you can read the column here), fans of the musical asked for more. There were a stack of stories I couldn't fit in due to space, with one in particular so wild it could easily fill an entire column on its own — and here it is. To get all the details straight, I went directly to the source: international opera soprano and composer, Constance Hauman. A longtime friend, Connie first told it to me around the time it happened more than thirty years ago and time has done nothing to diminish the remarkable series of circumstances that led to what can only be termed a personal triumph. In a recent conversation that took place in the apartment building she has made her home since arriving in Manhattan as a twenty-two year old fresh out of Northwestern University, Connie recalled every detail of the most charmed experience of her long and vibrant career.
The year was 1989 and Connie was twenty-eight years old, leading the peripatetic existence of an opera singer: an itinerant with a host of luggage traveling the world from job to job. Like most in her specialized sphere, word gets out on stagings of this or that concert and the savviest make their own luck, hardly relying on an agent or manager to solely line up their next gig. When word got out that Leonard Bernstein, then late in the days of his life as a conductor and composer, would be recording a new version of his opus Candide live with the London Symphony Orchestra, Connie set her sights on singing the role of Cunegonde. There was only one problem: she had little clout to land such a prestigious casting, especially with it planned as both a live broadcast and future recording. Names were needed to sell CD's and there were no shortage of opera stars waiting in line to be conducted by the Maestro himself on the stage of Barbican Hall.
Having already sung with New York City Opera and been listed in the New York Times as an up and coming artist, Connie wasn't exactly an unknown. It was in June of 1988, while playing Olympia in The Tales of Hoffman at Canadian Opera, that she was practically taken under the wing by renowned tenor Jerry Hadley. When he told her he was booked more than a year later to sing Candide at a two-night only London concert with Bernstein, it was the first she had heard of it.
Connie Hauman: Jerry told me I had to get on that list. I was like, “Oh, right, sure, HOW?" As it turned out, I had been double-cast as Olympia in Offenbach's opera and when the other soprano cancelled, I ended up doing all of them. That sort of set the tone for what I didn't realize was coming. That I was always last-minute something.
When I first arrived in New York, I met a man who looked sort of like Andy Warhol and who came up to me at a party and said, "You've got the gift." And I thought he meant because he had just heard me sing, because we had done the Rigoletto quartet for this party. And I said, "Oh, thank you," and he said, "Oh, no. You've got the psychic gift." He had sensed a fellow spirit in me. He said, "You've got to come down and work with the cards, etc." Then I found out he's very famous. His name was Frank Andrews and we became great friends and he read for me and taught me how to read as well. And one day in the tarot card spread it came up that I was going to work with a very famous conductor, like Bernstein. And I said, "You're just picking that up mind-reading-wise because Jerry Hadley just mentioned this to me." He said, "Oh, no. It's going to happen. It's a moment of destiny and what's going to happen to your whole life is going to be contained in that moment." And I was like, "Okay, whatever."
Then I was summoned to sing for Alison Ames, who was the producer for Deutsche Grammophon, to sing "Glitter and Be Gay." I took this to mean that I had ended up on that Candide concert list and I assumed it must have come from Jerry. I sang for her, and then was leaving for Paris to sing William Tell. But just before I left, Alison called my manager and said that she wanted me to make a video while in Paris of me singing "Glitter and Be Gay" so she could send it to Bernstein. So, I run to the psychic and he told me I was definitely going to do this but "there's a recording and you don't get to do it and you're wearing a blue dress (and I never wear blue)." Strange. Anyway, I get to Paris and a taping has been organized by DG. I hated my performance in it and didn't want my manager to send it, but he did anyway.
Months later, I hear that they've cast June Anderson with Jerry Hadley and so I realized there's no way this Candide thing is happening and I blame it on my audition tape. Only Frank is adamant the job is still mine. "You should not take any jobs during this time because it's going to happen. And, in fact, when you meet Bernstein you're wearing a coat." Okay... only I make my manager totally frustrated because I'm turning things down in order to be free. At the time, I was getting tons of work and I got asked to do, at the last minute, Don Giovanni with Peter Sellars. I said no and everyone said you're making a big mistake. And I was like, "Lenny's going to call." They thought I was bat shit crazy, including the man I was engaged to at the time.
This was Richard Cowan, who around this time was set to sing a rare Schubert opera in Brussels. And with nothing going on in my life, because I'd turned everything down, I decided to pay a surprise visit to him while he was there. And I took nothing. A tiny bag with a toothbrush and a nightgown (not the way I usually travel). Thankfully, I had on an amazing pair of Robert Clergerie shoes and an Agnes B. coat dress that could become two different things. I fly in and go directly to the Opera House where he's about to go on and he's completely NOT excited to see me because he's been getting these messages all day "Call the London Symphony — urgent! Call the London Symphony!" And he's stressed because he's going on in an opera and we get into a fight. So, instead of being all "it's so great to see you," he starts treating me like a secretary to find out what the London Symphony wants from him. And no way did it occur to me that this call could have been for me. Why would I?
I go down the hallway in the Opera House to find a pay phone, but it's out of order, and I bump into an old friend I haven't seen in a while. Richard comes by in his costume to go on stage and he's like, "Did you call?" He's mad because I'm sitting there blabbing. So I find a phone and pose as Richard's secretary and ask what is the call regarding Mr. Cowan? This woman says, "We're not calling for Richard Cowan, we're calling for Constance Hauman. Maestro Bernstein would like her to come to London immediately as June Anderson is ill.'"
I dropped the phone and I don't even know what happened. I ran so fast that I fell down and ripped the only pair of panty hose I had. I flew into the Opera House in a panic and Richard is now coming offstage and he sees me and says, "who died?" and I'm like "the call wasn't for you, it's for me! It's about Candide and I've got to go!"
Of course, had I been in New York where I was supposed to be, there wouldn't have been time for me to get to London. I wouldn't have even been called. It was only because I'd decided to pay this surprise visit to see Richard in Brussels that I had a shot at even getting there, let alone winning the role. I hadn't warmed up and hadn't sung a note in two or three weeks and I didn't have a score. But then there was this guy in the hallway, who was a coach, and he perks up and says, "I have the score" (what I didn't know was that Bernstein was conducting the Scottish Opera version from 1982). So, I go to this guy's house, I run in, I grab the NYC Opera score and I fly into Heathrow, freaking out. And still, all I know is that June Anderson is sick and they need me as a standby or something. I'm met at the airport, I'm given a work permit, and they don't tell me anything except that I have a rehearsal with the orchestra at 11 a.m. So I figure I'll just stay up all night and I'll go on adrenaline and at least it's in English. And I know that at the very least, I can sing the aria "Glitter and Be Gay."
It turns out I'm doing the orchestra rehearsal so June can save her voice. She hasn't cancelled. Okay, fine. That's really all I know and that they’ve called me to say rehearsal is now bumped to 10 a.m. I jump into a taxi in the rain. My driver is Irish and the traffic is terrible. This is 1989, so I can't call anybody to say I'll be late. I arrive at two minutes after ten and I have on a white, fake fur coat that I bought once at the flea market in Paris (remember Frank said I'd be in a coat when I met Bernstein). Since I was late, I didn't even have a chance to take off the coat, and there I am apologizing and the door is flung open for me — and there he is — Maestro Bernstein in front of the orchestra. He sees me, steps down off the podium, and gives me this huge bear hug embrace. I look up at him and he says, 'You don't have to pee yet. Just sing.' And I did have to pee — another psychic moment. Haha."
Boom. Downbeat and I sang "Glitter and Be Gay" and I fucking nailed it! I mean, the orchestra stood up and gave me a standing ovation. But out of the corner of my eye, I notice a woman in the audience in a pink suit stand up and rush out of the hall. And that turned out to be June Anderson's assistant. Then I looked at Bernstein and said, "Maestro, I don't know the rest." And he said, "What do you mean?" I told him the series of circumstances and he said, "Do you have the Scottish Opera version?" — and this was in front of everybody — and I'm like, "huh?" He shouts out "Good God! Someone get her into a room now!" And I'm immediately whisked into a room with Justin Brown, Bernstein's assistant conductor, and I'm taken through the entire score. I'm in a total haze but Justin took to me and was like "who are you and where did you come from? Outer space?" And we crammed, crammed, crammed. Because apparently I was now going to go on for June Anderson at an invited dress rehearsal that night in front of 2,000 people! I've had no sleep and I'm in the same dress (with ripped panty hose). And nobody told me anything. It was 1989! It's not like I could Google this shit. Only later did I find out one of the two performances was for the Royal Family and the Emperor of Japan!
To top it off, I really didn't know the whole show. I was most certainly going to be sight reading some of it. But I figured I could kill it on the aria and the first two duets and get through it somehow. And then... June Anderson shows up. The woman in the pink suit had told her "this girl is good and the orchestra gave her a standing ovation." June was there to protect herself and went on that night sick as a dog. Bernstein was sick too and so was Jerry Hadley! There was a pandemic flu going on. Hello!"
The show begins, I'm backstage, and June Anderson gets through the aria and the first duet with Candide... and then she fainted. In front of everybody. I get thrown out there and I was so bad that they cancelled the rehearsal. They used the excuse that Lenny wasn't feeling well and sent the audience home. We didn't do the second half. I was mortified and Jerry said to me "Go talk to Bernstein." I said, "They're not going to let me in there," and he said, "Don't cry, just talk to Bernstein. Tell him the psychic story. He loves that shit! It's going to make the difference you doing it or not doing it because HE picked you. And he also just saved you by stopping the rehearsal." So, I go to his dressing room door that is guarded by people throwing daggers at me and Jerry knocks on the door for me. "Can I come in, Maestro?, it's Constance." I try to say without crying. And I hear, "Come on in."
I had twenty minutes alone with him that was the greatest twenty minutes of my life.
He was in his robe and he was smoking and drinking out of a flask. I said, "I'm exhausted but I know I can do this. I know I can." So, he says, "talk to me." And I told him the whole thing and he asked me about everything I've ever sung and the whole time people are knocking at his door. Finally, he patted me on the cheek and said, "Don't fuck up." And I knew he was going to let me do it. And as I exited, they all started chasing me and I don't know where I got the steel, but I turned on them and said, "I need to go to sleep!" Like, "leave me the fuck alone." I didn't have a contract and more importantly, I didn't have any clothes to be on TV. And this was going to be broadcast live, as if the pressure wasn't enough.
The next morning I get a call that I have to come in and audition — again. They've flown in another soprano and we are both going to sing "Glitter and Be Gay." It's a Cunegonde-off! She's up first, this other soprano, and she just stood there and sang it. Me, I went for it. I was MTV-obsessed in those days. Prince and Madonna were my idols and I was like "get out of my way,” and it worked. They sent her back to Scotland and I STILL had no idea what was going on. No one was talking about a contract, nothing. I don't know anything except that I still needed a dress.
The orchestra manager's sister happened to own a dress shop so we headed there. And when the car pulled up, there was the blue dress in the window. I never wear blue, remember? But I knew this was the dress for me. And it fit me like Cinderella. But they didn't have any shoes and my Robert Clergerie shoes had these straps... and you never wear straps with a dress like this blue one that had a slit up the front, so a strap would cut the leg line off! But I could put the strap under and stand on them and they'd look like these amazing pumps. And they had jewelry, so I was set. I went straight to the Barbican to get into makeup and get ready for the show that night. And I'm so nervous and exhausted... and I'm still just the understudy. They don't know if June Anderson was cancelling.
A little time goes by and June IS cancelling.
I'm now getting ready, this is it, I'm going on.
And then a frantic messenger comes rushing in: "June is going on! She can't see you! She can't know you're here. Quick! Go in the closet!"
I go into a broom closet. Christa Ludwig sees me go in there and after being in the dark less than a minute, all of a sudden, the closet door opens and in her German accent, there’s Christa Ludwig and she says to me, "It isn't over till it's over," and closes the door. When I think on it, it's the funniest thing about this whole story. She shut the door on me. Hiding in the closet in a blue dress with all my costume jewelry standing on my straps. I'm in there until I hear the downbeat. Then the door is opened for me and I come out and watch the show.
Jerry is coughing on camera. June is coughing. Lenny is coughing. It's a fucking disaster. I watch the whole thing and finally on the last few measures of "Make Our Garden Grow" it's pretty obvious to me that I'm going on tomorrow. So I head out to go back to the hotel and wave for a taxi (you couldn't call an Uber back then) and who picks me up? The Irish driver who had brought me there in the first place. He tells me he's been on the job for thirty years and has never picked up the same person twice. So, I said, "I'll get you tickets to the show for tomorrow night." I mean, I didn't know anybody else to invite anyway. And he came!
I went to the hotel determined to sleep for fifteen hours. I knew that if I had that deep a rest I could nail this thing. And I did sleep, because at 3 p.m. I woke to a pounding at the door (I'd taken the phone off the hook). I was told I was going on, but Jerry Hadley had cancelled and they were flying in Donald George, an American tenor who has played Candide before — but only in German.
Finally, to end this incredibly long, nerve wracking story, I more than got through it. When it was over, I received a bear hug from Lenny, who whispered in my ear, "You forgot a word, kid."
Ron Fassler: The video that was produced (as well as the CD recording) is of the one-time only, first night performance with Jerry Hadley and June Anderson, which they had to come back and re-record some of for the audio. The video with Connie was never shown and is only in her possession because the videographer, Humphrey Burton (who became a friend and later wrote a definitive Bernstein biography) was told by Bernstein that she should have it. But she wasn't allowed to put it out in the world for years.
Eventually, the invention of YouTube made that a moot point. Here it is:
After our hour-long conversation, Connie mentioned that she had never written the story down. "It feels good to retell it," she told me. "And whenever I feel like things are messed up in my life and someone comes along who wants to hear this story, I go, 'Why do I doubt anything? This is so unbelievable. It's inexplicable and magical and how it's played into so many things in my life.'"
Leonard Bernstein died a year after this concert, on November 4, 1990. On December 3rd, a public memorial at the Majestic Theatre, organized by Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents, featured outstanding artists paying tribute to the Maestro. Of all the sopranos on the planet, Constance Hauman was the one requested to sing "Glitter and Be Gay."
If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at Amazon.com in hardcover, softcover and e-book. Also, please follow me here on Scrollstack and feel free to email me with comments or questions at Ron@ronfassler.org.