Perils of operaBMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7166.1110a (Published 24 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1110
“I'm afraid I think that is a carcinoma of the larynx,” the ear, nose, and throat consultant leaned over the radiologist to point to an opacity on the barium swallow.
“I have to agree,” said the radiologist, taking the film from the screen to study it more closely.
My heart seemed to run south like a nervous squirrel as the implications sank in. Three weeks earlier I had become aware of a vague discomfort in the throat followed some days later, to the evident relief of my colleagues, by an increasing loss of voice.
The ear, nose, and throat consultant put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “I'll refer you to the top man in this field in London immediately.”
A fortnight later I was shown into the Great Man's office. He was seated behind a large clear desk; a small, gnome like man with twinkling eyes. He gestured towards a chair in front of me.
“Sit down young man and tell me the story.”
After I had given him what I hoped was the ideal patient history in a hoarse crackly voice, he stood up and came round the desk.
“Let's have a look at you.” After a few minutes of gentle probing and the use of light and mirror, he started back round the desk. He stopped at the side tapping his cheek reflectively with his pen.
“Hmm,” he said, “I should think your favourite opera is either La Bohème or Faust, though you may perhaps prefer Bellini.” I blinked as he resumed his seat. How could he possibly know of my love for La Bohème and Faust or indeed for Bellini. Not for me the weighty paragraphs of Wagner.
“And your favourite singer is probably Bjorling or Gigli or even this new chap Pavarotti.” the Great Man went on.
I nodded dumbly, “Bohème and Bjorling,” I croaked.
He smiled, “And you always try to join him in that top C in the first act usually while you're in your car.”
Balbao viewing the Pacific must have had less of “wild surmise” than I. How on earth could this magical man know this? He answered my look. “Because all you have is a loose left vocal chord which you have abused trying to reach high notes with no training. Speak as little as possible for the next month and all will be well, but please,” he paused, “Please don't sing in the car.”
There was a sad sequel. Some three months later this marvellous man, Freddie Capps, died quite suddenly. But I was able by then to tell the story in a restored, but alas still baritonal, voice. Bjorling remained unchallenged.
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