Music: Singing, with Love & Garlic

Opera singers, like athletes, are nuts for conditioning—only nuttier. Where Mickey Mantle may shag a few fly balls, Baritone Robert Merrill stands on his head. Where Mickey Wright will hit a few off the practice tee, Mezzo-Soprano Rosalind Elias gargles champagne and does a belly dance. And for a preperformance pick-me-up, singers will have none of that sissy business of pep talks. They eat garlic.

The cult of the opera singer, in fact, is spiced with more fads, phobias and superstitions than are found in most primitive cultures. The most persistent myth is that...

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