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HERE ARE SEVERAL OPERATIC SUPERSTITIONS cited by Henry Stewart in his “Operapedia” feature in Opera News, April 2023. As usual, I do added sleuthing as well. 

Spitting Image. Stewart recalls the theater tradition of saying “break a leg” in lieu of “good luck.” He adds the operatic counterpart of “toi, toi, toi,” with a couple of possible origins: “One states it’s a shortened version of the German word Teufel, or devil, and that uttering his name sends him and his minions away.”

“The other,” Stewart says, “claims it’s an onomatopoeic rendering of the act of spitting, a more concise version of ‘patooey!’ which also scares away diabolical forces intent on spoiling a performance.”

This and a following image from Opera News, April 2023.

Steward also cites the Italian “In bocca al lupo,” to which one responds, “Crepi il lupo.” Translated: “Into the mouth of the wolf,” followed by “May the wolf choke,” literally, says Google Translate, “Crack the wolf.”

Scott Joplin’s “Superstition” Aria. CD notes for the opera Treemonisha describe, “ ‘Music circles have been stirred recently by the announcement that Scott Joplin, known as the apostle of ragtime, is composing scores for a grand opera,’ reported the New York Age on 5 1908.”

Treemonisha, by Scott Joplin, Gunther Schuller conducting the original cast and chorus, Deutsche Grammophone, 1976.

“In Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha,” Stewart describes, “the titular educated Southern woman tries to rid her community, preyed upon by hucksters and charlatans, of its unscientific beliefs. There’s even an aria called ‘Superstition,’ running down local idiosyncrasies: sweeping cabin dust at night causes bad neighborly relations; scratching your nose in your room attracts unwelcome neighbors.”

Lucky Nails. “Italians,” Stewart recounts, “have a tradition of ‘tocca ferro,—touch iron—to prevent or reverse a jinx, the way Americans might knock on wood.”

Stewart says tenor Luciano Pavarotti “wouldn’t sing unless he had a bent nail in his pocket.” Pavarotti told an interviewer, “Every night you will see me around the stage to find a nail before the performance. It must be bent, sure, and normally! I mean… not prepared before. Some friend sometimes puts a nail [out there for me to find].”  

On Touching Wood. I looked up the origin of “Touch Wood for Luck.” The Guardian says it derives from pantheistic religions in which spirits, both good and evil, resided in trees. To touch a tree was to invoke the good spirit’s blessing or ward off the evil one’s wrath.

One of its respondents suggests the phrase dates back to Chaucer’s time, when summoners and pardoners sold relics of the True Cross.”

A Motor Sports Digression. By the way, the phrase is also the title of the funniest motor racing book of all time, Duncan Hamilton’s Touch Wood!, Motoraces Book Club, 1964.

Image from AbeBooks. My paperback is from 1971. 

Duncan was a larger-than-life character of British motor racing. I once met his son and related Duncan’s influence on my life: “When deciding on an action, I’d ask myself ‘What would Duncan have done?’ ” 

His son replied, “Crikey, I’ll have to tell The Gov’nor that one.” 

See “Ozy and the Wolf,” for an example of the Duncan Hamilton influence. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

2 comments on ““BREAK A LEG?” NO, “TOI, TOI, TOI”

  1. Tom Tyson
    March 20, 2023

    Hmmm, it appears that is not answering it’s url. Are you still receiving it’s missives?

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