blanche araalpic

In her memoir, “The extraordinary operatic adventures of Blanche Arral,” the established half-French, half-Belgian  soprano born Clara Lardinois wrote of her touring adventures, one which includes Old Shanghai where she met Harry Houdini.

After a storm devastated Le Casino du Petit Lac, a little theater in Hanoi (or Tonkin?) where she had invested her money, the French Government in Vietnam offered her a casino in Boson, a French concession near Haipong for the following summer.

Blanche,a short, plump and extremely vivacious woman then took a holiday to China.  Once in Shanghai, at the suggestion of a Frenchman who was hosting her there, she decided to give a concert. There was a minor problem: the French concession in Old Shanghai was too small to draw a big audience. So, Blanche hit upon a plan to invite talented amateur artists to assist at her show from an active local music society. The plan worked & she was a success. 

She was home at Shanghai with her own personal ricksha driver and also attended a Chinese wedding.

 A little detour to Hankow on her cousin’s invite where there was a colony of Belgians assisting in the Peking railway construction, where Blanche gave a performance yet again singing songs that reminded the Belgians of home.

On her return to Shanghai, her ship got stuck in mud. For 4 long days where the crew of the ship finally mutinied against a Prussian captain who was reluctant to hoist  the distress signal.  Once rescued, Blanche ate “victuals” after subsisting on rice for four days and her cats relished a meal of fish.

After her return, Blanche performed many times (not just with amateurs anymore) and had no intention to disappear. Around this time Harry Houdini, the Hungarian American magician performed in Shanghai. Blanche was seated in the first row. In the middle of his performance he paused and said: “I see Madame Arral in the audience” waving gracefully in her direction inviting her on to the stage next to him so that he could make her “vanish.”

The audience was applauding & Houdini smiling but for Blanche it was an awful moment, a chilling proposition.  She stood up and said :”But I don’t want to disappear.”

The audience was still applauding and she went on say which would you rather choose: her disappearance or coming on to the stage and sing instead.

The next day Houdini visited her and questioned her reluctance to come on stage for his act the previous night and proposed a business partnership. But, Blanche had firmly decided that music was her thing.

Following is a 1906 reports which means that Blanche was in Shanghai before or around 1906.

  blanche arral