Farewell, or maybe not

The announcement that the Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theatre Company Inc. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" is on its "Pharewell Tour" might be greeted with a grain of salt — judging by the farewell tours of some singers from the real opera world.

The prize case is Giulia Grisi, a hugely popular soprano famed for her silver-toned performances of Italian operas in the 1830s and 1840s. As her vocal powers began to fade, her enjoyment of applause remained undiminished. She followed her "last" season in 1849 with multiple "farewell" performances there in 1854, 1855 and 1860. As Henry Pleasants notes in his book "The Great Singers," one critic finally asked: "Does the word ‘last' bear an esoteric idiom in operatic parlance other than that ordinarily accepted?"

In 1861, Grisi gave one farewell too many and had to sign a contract agreeing not to sing in public for another five years. Sure enough, when that time elapsed, she was at it again, as if she'd never said goodbye.

In our time, pop singers have been known to slip into a farewell groove. Cher stretched out a "final" tour for several years. In 2000, Barbra Streisand announced her absolutely final public concerts, but bounced back six years later for a whole bunch more. Then there was Frank Sinatra's "farewell concert" in 1971, an event he famously closed by singing "Angel Eyes," with the line "excuse me while I disappear." He reappeared only two years later.

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