NABOKV-L post 0011873, Wed, 14 Sep 2005 15:07:57 -0700

a query for Dmitri. Walter Slezak's "Next Swan" story

----- Forwarded message from -----
Date: Wed, 14 Sep 2005 22:19:13 +0200
From: nabokov <>
Reply-To: nabokov <>
Subject: FW: Speaking of plagiarism -- a query for Dmitri
To: "'D. Barton Johnson'" <>, 'Brian Boyd'

-----Original Message-----
Subject: FW: Speaking of plagiarism -- a query for Dmitri


Dear Carolyn,

I have no further intercourse with Professor Johnson, for reasons I'll
be glad to explain to you privately. But I shall gladly make this
exception to reply to your query.
The Next Swan story, as told by Walter Slezak, is very likely true, but
I can't vouch for its authenticity since I wasn't there. Like many
comical happenings in opera and other domains, it has become
traditional, with different variants and other attributions (or none).
Examples of other funny stories and questions: 1) A voice from the
gallery to an unfortunate tenor, astonished at calls for a third encore
of his aria: "You'll keep doing it over until you get it right!". 2) In
a performance of Don Giovanni, I, as the Commendatore, was backing
upstage after uttering a final, fateful invitation to the Don (Justino
Diaz). On my way I stepped on the trapdoor which was to open soon for
the Don's descent through fire and smoke into hell. A stagehand, perhaps
blinded by an excess of that smoke, prematurely pressed the "open"
button. Just as I felt the earth moving under my feet, Leporello
(Fernando Corena) noticed, and signalled to the agile Diaz who, with an
improvised leap, nudged me to safety. 3) How many cockeyed Russian
academics does it take to offend the memory of Vladmir Nabokov on
Lolita's 50th birthday? 3) How many she-scholars with names beginning
with "J" or "P" does it take to make insulting incestuous conjectures
about the origins of Nabokov's plots? 4) How many fuddy-duddy editors
does it take to censor writings by individuals including Vladimir
Nabokov in the land of the free, of the brave, and of the First

Incidentally, the swan anecdote was fashionable in the party talk of the
1930s and 40s, and even typical in some circles. Father and I did
discuss it, and he told me he deliberately adapted it for his book --
hardly what I would call plagiarism. Another thing I clearly remember
him telling Mother and me, while imagining what future morons might make
of the vague resemblance, is that the news story about Sally Horner and
the mechanic had nothing to do with Lolita.

With best wishes,

Dmitri Nabokov

-----Original Message-----
From: Sandy Klein []
Sent: lundi, 29. mars 2004 16:42
To: Dmitri Nabokov
Subject: Fw: Speaking of plagiarism -- a query for Dmitri

From: D. Barton Johnson []
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 11:54 AM
Subject: Fw: Speaking of plagiarism -- a query for Dmitri

----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin <>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <>
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 7:42 AM
Subject: Speaking of plagiarism -- a query for Dmitri

An interesting example of how tricky the concept of "plagiarism" can be
came up recently in a private conversation with Jansy in Brazil. We were
discussing Lohengrin as a grail story and Jansy told me how funny she
found Nabokov's joke about missing the swan (-boat) in Laughter in the

But that's not Nabokov's joke, it is a famous anecdote from the career
of the wonderful tenor Leo Slezak (1873 - 1946). I thought it would be
interesting to compare the two jokes and to ask Dmitri if he (almost as
big an opera singer as the 6'7" Slezak) can cast any light on the

Laughter in the Dark:

Miller licked his chops and sat down again. Then he smiled, and in a new
good-natured manner launched into a funny story about some friend of
his, an opera singer who once, in the part of Lohengrin, being tight,
failed to board the swan in time and waited hopefully for the next one.

What Time's the Next Swan? by Walter Slezak (as told to Smith-Corona
Model 88E)

Papa told ... about a Lohengrin performance. It was just before his
first entrance. He was ready to step into the boat, which, drawn by a
swan was to take him on stage. Somehow the stagehand on the other side
got his signals mixed, started pulling, and the swan left without Papa.
He quietly turned around [to the audience] and said: "What time's the
next swan?"


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