CHAPTERS OF OPERA
Being Historical and Critical Observations And Records Concerning the Lyric Drama in New York from Its Earliest Days Down to The Present Time
HENRY EDWARD KREHBIEL
Musical Editor of "The New York Tribune"; Author of "How To Listen To Music," "Studies In The Wagnerian Drama," "Music And Manners In The Classical Period," "The Philharmonic Society Of New York," etc., etc.
Who have shared with the Author many of the Experiences described in this book.
"Joy shared is Joy doubled." —GOETHE.
The making of this book was prompted by the fact that with the season 1907-08 the Metropolitan Opera House in New York completed an existence of twenty-five years. Through all this period at public representations I have occupied stall D-15 on the ground floor as reviewer of musical affairs for The New York Tribune newspaper. I have, therefore, been a witness of the vicissitudes through which the institution has passed in a quarter-century, and a chronicler of all significant musical things which were done within its walls. I have seen the failure of the artistic policy to promote which the magnificent theater was built; the revolution accomplished by the stockholders under the leadership of Leopold Damrosch; the progress of a German rgime, which did much to develop tastes and create ideals which, till its coming, were little-known quantities in American art and life; the overthrow of that rgime in obedience to the command of fashion; the subsequent dawn and development of the liberal and comprehensive policy which marked the climax of the career of Maurice Grau as an operatic director, I have witnessed since then, many of the fruits of wise endeavor and astute management frittered away by managerial incapacity and greed, and fad and fashion come to rule again, where for a brief, but eventful period, serious artistic interest and endeavor had been dominant.
The institution will enter upon a new rgime with the season 1908-09. The time, therefore, seemed fitting for a review of the twenty-five years that are past. The incidents of this period are fixed; they may be variously viewed, but they cannot be changed. They belong to history, and to a presentation of that history I have devoted most of the pages which follow. I have been actuated in my work by deep seriousness of purpose, and have tried to avoid everything which could not make for intellectual profit, or, at least, amiable and illuminative entertainment.
The chapters which precede the more or less detailed history of the Metropolitan Opera House (I-VII) were written for the sake of the light which they shed on existing institutions and conditions, and to illustrate the development of existing taste, appreciation, and interest touching the lyrical drama. To the same end much consideration has been paid to significant doings outside the Metropolitan Opera House since it has been the chief domicile of grand opera in New York. Especial attention has been given for obvious reasons to the two seasons of opera at Mr. Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera House.
H. E. KREHBIEL.
Blue Hill, Maine, the Summer of 1908.
AUTHOR'S NOTE TO THIRD EDITION
For the purposes of a new and popular edition of this book, the publishers asked the author to continue his historical narrative, his record of performances, and his critical survey of the operas produced at the two chief operatic institutions of New York, from the beginning of the season 1908-1909 down to the close of the season 1910-1911. This invitation the author felt compelled to decline for several reasons, one of which (quite sufficient in itself), was that he had already undertaken a work of great magnitude which would occupy all his working hours during the period between the close of the last season and the publication of this edition.
Thereupon the publishers, who seemed to place a high valuation on the historical element in the book, suggested that the record of performances at least be brought up to date even if the criticism of new operas and the discussion of the other incidents of the season—such as the dissensions between the directors of the Metropolitan Opera House, the rivalry between them and the director of the Manhattan, the quarrels with artists, the successes achieved by some operas and the failure suffered by others—be postponed for the present at least for want of time on the part of the author to carry on the work on the scale of the original edition.
It was finally agreed that the author should supply the record for the period intervening between the appearance of the first edition of "Chapters of Opera" and the present publication by revised excerpts from the annual summaries of the activities of the seasons in question published by him in the New York Tribune, of which newspaper he has had the honor of being the musical critic for thirty years past. For the privilege of using this material the author is deeply beholden to the Tribune Association and the editor, Hart Lyman, Esq. The record may be found in the Appendices after the last chapter.
H. E. KREHBIEL.
Blue Hill, Maine, Summer of 1911.
INTRODUCTION OF OPERA IN NEW YORK
The Introduction of Italian Opera in New York English Ballad Operas and Adaptations from French and Italian Works Hallam's Comedians and "The Beggar's Opera" The John Street Theater and Its Early Successors Italian Opera's First Home Manuel Garcia The New Park Theater and Some of Its Rivals Malibran and English Opera The Bowery Theater, Richmond Hill, Niblo's and Castle Gardens
EARLY THEATERS, MANAGERS, AND SINGERS
Of the Building of Opera Houses A Study of Influences The First Italian Opera House in New York Early Impresarios and Singers Da Ponte, Montressor, Rivafinoli Signorina Pedrotti and Fornasari Why Do Men Become Opera-Managers? Addison and Italian Opera The Vernacular Triumphant
THE FIRST ITALIAN COMPANY
Manuel del Popolo Vicente Garcia "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" Signorina Maria Garcia's Unfortunate Marriage Lorenzo da Ponte His Hebraic Origin and Checkered Career "Don Giovanni" An Appeal in Behalf of Italian Opera
HOUSES BUILT FOR OPERA
More Opera Houses Palmo's and the Astor Place Signora Borghese and the Distressful Vocal Wabble Antognini and Cinti-Damoreau An Orchestral Strike Advent of the Patti Family Don Francesco Marty y Torrens and His Havanese Company Opera Gowns Fifty Years Ago Edward and William Henry Fry Horace Greeley and His Musical Critic James H. Hackett and William Niblo Tragic Consequences of Canine Interference Goethe and a Poodle A Dog-Show and the Astor Place Opera House
MARETZEK, HIS RIVALS AND SINGERS
Max Maretzek His Managerial Career Some Anecdotes "Crotchets and Quavers" His Rivals and Some of His Singers Bernard Ullmann Marty Again Bottesini and Arditi Steffanone Bosio Tedesco Salvi Bettini Badiali Marini
THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF MUSIC
Operatic Warfare Half a Century Ago The Academy of Music and Its Misfortunes A Critic's Opera and His Ideals A Roster of American Singers Grisi and Mario Annie Louise Cary Ole Bull as Manager Piccolomini and Rclame Adelina Patti's Dbut and an Anniversary Dinner Twenty-five Years Later A Kiss for Maretzek
MAPLESON AND OTHER IMPRESARIOS
Colonel James H. Mapleson A Diplomatic Manager His Persuasiveness How He Borrowed Money from an Irate Creditor Maurice Strakosch Musical Managers Pollini Sofia Scalchi and Annie Louise Cary Again Campanini and His Beautiful Attack Brignoli His Appetite and Superstition
THE METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE
The Academy's Successful Rival Why It Was Built The Demands of Fashion Description of the Theater War between the Metropolitan and the Academy of Music Mapleson and Abbey The Rival Forces Patti and Nilsson Gerster and Sembrich A Costly Victory
FIRST SEASON AT THE METROPOLITAN
The First Season at the Metropolitan Opera House Mr. Abbey's Singers Gounod's "Faust" and Christine Nilsson Marcella Sembrich and Her Versatility Sofia Scalchi Signor Kaschmann Signor Stagno Ambroise Thomas's "Mignon" Madame Fursch-Madi Ponchielli's "La Gioconda"
The Season 1883-1884 at the Academy of Music Lillian Nordica's American Dbut German Opera Introduced at the Metropolitan Opera House Parlous State of Italian Opera in London and on the Continent Dr. Leopold Damrosch and His Enterprise The German Singers Amalia Materna Marianne Brandt Marie Schroeder-Hanfstngl Anton Schott, the Military Tenor Von Blow's Characterization: "A Tenor is a Disease"
GERMAN OPERA AT THE METROPOLITAN
First German Season Death Struggles of Italian Opera at the Academy Adelina Patti and Her Art Features of the German Performances "Tannhuser" Marianne Brandt in Beethoven's Opera "Der Freischtz" "Masaniello" Materna in "Die Walkre" Death of Dr. Damrosch
END OF ITALIAN OPERA AT THE ACADEMY
The Season 1885-1886 End of the Mapleson Rgime at the Academy of Music Alma Fohstrm The American Opera Company German Opera in the Bowery A Tenor Who Wanted to be Manager of the Metropolitan Opera House The Coming of Anton Seidl His Early Career Lilli Lehmann A Broken Contract Unselfish Devotion to Artistic Ideals Max Alvary Emil Fischer
WAGNER HOLDS THE METROPOLITAN
Second and Third German Seasons The Period 1885-1888 More about Lilli Lehmann Goldmark's "Queen of Sheba" First Performance of Wagner's "Meistersinger" Patti in Concert and Opera A Flash in the Pan at the Academy of Music The Transformed American Opera Company Production of Rubinstein's "Nero" An Imperial Operatic Figure First American Performance of "Tristan und Isolde" Albert Niemann and His Characteristics His Impersonation of Siegmund Anecdotes A Triumph for "Fidelio"
WAGNERIAN HIGH TIDE
Wagnerian High Tide at the Metropolitan Opera House 1887-1890 Italian Low Water Elsewhere Rising of the Opposition Wagner's "Siegfried" Its Unconventionality "Gtterdmmerung" "Der Trompeter von Skkingen" "Euryanthe" "Ferdinand Cortez" "Der Barbier von Bagdad" Italo Campanini and Verdi's "Otello" Patti and Italian Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House
END OF THE GERMAN PERIOD
End of the German Period 1890-1891 Some Extraordinary Novelties Franchetti's "Asrael" "Der Vasall von Szigeth" A Royal Composer, His Opera and His Distribution of Decorations "Diana von Solange" Financial Salvation through Wagner Italian Opera Redivivus Ill-mannered Box-holders Wagnerian Statistics
ITALIAN OPERA AGAIN AT THE METROPOLITAN
The Season 1891-1892 Losses of the Stockholders of the Metropolitan Opera House Company Return to Italian Opera Mr. Abbey's Expectations Sickness of Lilli Lehmann The De Reszke Brothers and Lassalle Emma Eames Dbut of Marie Van Zandt "Cavalleria Rusticana" Fire Damages the Opera House Reorganization of the Owning Company
THE ADVENT OF MELBA AND CALV
An Interregnum Changes in the Management Rise and Fall of Abbey, Schoeffel, and Grau Death of Henry E. Abbey His Career Season 1893-1894 Nellie Melba Emma Calv Bourbonism of the Parisians Massenet's "Werther" 1894-1895 A Breakdown on the Stage "Elaine" Sybil Sanderson and "Manon" Shakespearian Operas Verdi's "Falstaff"
UPRISING IN FAVOR OF GERMAN OPERA
The Public Clamor for German Opera Oscar Hammerstein and His First Manhattan Opera House Rivalry between Anton Seidl and Walter Damrosch The Latter's Career as Manager Wagner Triumphant German Opera Restored at the Metropolitan "The Scarlet Letter" "Mataswintha" "Hnsel und Gretel" in English Jean de Reszke and His Influence Mapleson for the Last Time "Andrea Chenier" Madame Melba's Disastrous Essay with Wagner "Le Cid" Metropolitan Performances 1893-1897
BEGINNING OF THE GRAU PERIOD
Beginning of the Grau Period Death of Maurice Grau His Managerial Career An Interregnum at the Metropolitan Opera House Filled by Damrosch and Ellis Death of Anton Seidl His Funeral Characteristic Traits "La Bohme" 1898-1899 "Ero e Leandro" and Its Composer
NEW SINGERS AND OPERAS
Closing Years of Mr. Grau's Rgime Traits in the Manager's Character Dbuts of Alvarez, Scotti, Louise Homer, Lucienne Brval and Other Singers Ternina and "Tosca" Reyer's "Salammb" Gala Performance for a Prussian Prince "Messaline" Paderewski's "Manru" "Der Wald" Performances in the Grau Period
HEINRICH CONRIED AND "PARSIFAL"
Beginning of the Administration of Heinrich Conried Season 1903-1904 Mascagni's American Fiasco "Iris" and "Zanetto" Woful Consequences of Depreciating American Conditions Mr. Conried's Theatrical Career His Inheritance from Mr. Grau Signor Caruso The Company Recruited The "Parsifal" Craze
END OF CONRIED'S ADMINISTRATION
Conried's Administration Concluded 1905-1908 Visits from Humperdinck and Puccini The California Earthquake Madame Sembrich's Generosity to the Suffering Musicians "Madama Butterfly" "Manon Lescaut" "Fedora" Production and Prohibition of "Salome" A Criticism of the Work "Adriana Lecouvreur" A Table of Performances
HAMMERSTEIN AND HIS OPERA HOUSE
Oscar Hammerstein Builds a Second Manhattan Opera House How the Manager Put His Doubters to Shame His Earlier Experiences as Impresario Cleofonte Campanini A Zealous Artistic Director and Ambitious Singers A Surprising Record but No Novelties in the First Season Melba and Calv as Stars The Desertion of Bonci Quarrels about Puccini's "Bohme" List of Performances
A BRILLIANT SEASON AT THE MANHATTAN
Hammerstein's Second Season Amazing Promises but More Amazing Achievements Mary Garden and Maurice Renaud Massenet's "Thas," Charpentier's "Louise" Giordano's "Siberia" and Debussy's "Pellas et Mlisande" Performed for the First Time in America Revival of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," "Crispino e la Comare" of the Ricci Brothers, and Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" The Tetrazzini Craze Repertory of the Season
INTRODUCTION OF OPERA IN NEW YORK
Considering the present state of Italian opera in New York City (I am writing in the year of our Lord 1908), it seems more than a little strange that its entire history should come within the memories of persons still living. It was only two years ago that an ancient factotum at the Metropolitan Opera House died who, for a score of years before he began service at that establishment, had been in various posts at the Academy of Music. Of Mr. Arment a kindly necrologist said that he had seen the Crowd gather in front of the Park Theater in 1825, when the new form of entertainment effected an entrance in the New World. I knew the little old gentleman for a quarter of a century or more, but though he was familiar with my interest in matters historical touching the opera in New York, he never volunteered information of things further back than the consulship of Mapleson at the Academy. Moreover, I was unable to reconcile the story of his recollection of the episode of 1825 with the circumstances of his early life. Yet the tale may have been true, or the opera company that had attracted his boyish attention been one that came within the first decade after Italian opera had its introduction.
Concerning another's recollections, I have not the slightest doubt. Within the last year Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, entertaining some of her relatives and friends with an account of social doings in New York in her childhood, recalled the fact that she had been taken as a tiny miss to hear some of the performances of the Garcia Troupe, and, if I mistake not, had had Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni" pointed out to her by her brother. This brother was Samuel Ward, who enjoyed the friendship of the old poet, and published recollections of him not long after his death, in The New York Mirror. For a score of years I have enjoyed the gentle companionship at the opera of two sisters whose mother was an Italian pupil of Da Ponte's, and when, a few years ago, Professor Marchesan, of the University of Treviso, Italy, appealed to me for material to be used in the biography of Da Ponte, which he was writing, I was able, through my gracious and gentle operatic neighbors, to provide him with a number of occasional poems written, in the manner of a century ago, to their mother, in whom Da Ponte had awakened a love for the Italian language and literature. This, together with some of my own labors in uncovering the American history of Mozart's collaborator, has made me feel sometimes as if I, too, had dwelt for a brief space in that Arcadia of which I purpose to gossip in this chapter, and a few others which are to follow it.
There may be other memories going back as far as Mrs. Howe's, but I very much doubt if there is another as lively as hers on any question connected with social life in New York fourscore years ago. Italian opera was quite as aristocratic when it made its American bow as it is now, and decidedly more exclusive. It is natural that memories of it should linger in Mrs. Howe's mind for the reason that the family to which she belonged moved in the circles to which the new form of entertainment made appeal. A memory of the incident which must have been even livelier than that of Mrs. Howe's, however, perished in 1906, when Manuel Garcia died in London, in his one hundred and first year, for he could say of the first American season of Italian opera what neas said of the siege of Troy, "All of which I saw, and some of which I was." Manuel Garcia was a son of the Manuel del Popolo Vicente Garcia, who brought the institution to our shores; he was a brother of our first prima donna, she who then was only the Signorina Garcia, but within a lustrum afterward was the great Malibran; and he sang in the first performance, on November 29, 1825, and probably in all the performances given between that date and August of the next year, when the elder Garcia departed, leaving the Signorina, as Mme. Malibran, aged but eighteen, to develop her powers in local theaters and as a chorister in Grace Church. Of this and other related things presently.
In the sometimes faulty and incomplete records of the American stage to which writers on musical history have hitherto been forced to repair, 1750 is set down as the natal year for English ballad opera in America. It is thought that it was in that year that "The Beggar's Opera" found its way to New York, after having, in all probability, been given by the same company of comedians in Philadelphia in the middle of the year preceding. But it is as little likely that these were the first performances of ballad operas on this side of the Atlantic as that the people of New York were oblivious of the nature of operatic music of the Italian type until Garcia's troupe came with Rossini's "Barber of Seville," in 1825. There are traces of ballad operas in America in the early decades of the eighteenth century, and there can exist no doubt at all that French and Italian operas were given in some form, perhaps, as a rule, in the adapted form which prevailed in the London theaters until far into the nineteenth century, before the year 1800, in the towns and cities of the Eastern seaboard, which were in most active communication with Great Britain, I quote from an article on the history of opera in the United States, written by me for the second edition of "Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians":
Among French works Rousseau's "Pygmalion" and "Devin du Village," Dalayrac's "Nina" and "L'Amant Statue," Monsigny's "Dserteur," Grtry's "Zmire et Azor," "Fausse Magie" and "Richard Coeur de Lion" and others, were known in Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York in the last decade of the eighteenth century. There were traces, too, of Pergolese's "Serva padrona," and it seems more than likely that an "opera in three acts," the text adapted by Colman, entitled "The Spanish Barber; or, The Futile Precaution," played in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, in 1794, was Paisiello's "Barbiere di Siviglia." From 1820 to about 1845 more than a score of the Italian, French, and German operas, which made up the staple of foreign repertories, were frequently performed by English singers. The earliest of these singers were members of the dramatic companies who introduced theatrical plays in the colonies. They went from London to Philadelphia, New York, Williamsburg (Va.), and Charleston (S. C.), but eventually established their strongest and most enduring foothold in New York.
Accepting the 1750 date as the earliest of unmistakable records for a performance of "The Beggar's Opera" in New York, the original home of opera here was the Nassau Street Theater—the first of two known by that name. It was a two-storied house, with high gables. Six wax lights were in front of the stage, and from the ceiling dangled a "barrel hoop," pierced by half a dozen nails on which were spiked as many candles. It is not necessary to take the descriptions of these early playhouses as baldly literal, nor as indicative of something like barbarism. The "barrel hoop" chandelier of the old theater in Nassau street was doubtless only a primitive form of the chandeliers which kept their vogue for nearly a century after the first comedians sang and acted at the Nassau Street Theater. Illuminating gas did not reach New York till 1823, and "a thousand candles" was put forth as an attractive feature at a concert in the American metropolis as late as 1845. "The Beggar's Opera" was only twenty years old when the comedians sent to the colonies by William Hallam, under the management of his brother, Lewis, produced it, yet the historic Covent Garden Theater, in which it first saw the stage lights (candles they were, too), would scarcely stand comparison with the most modest of the metropolitan theaters nowadays. Its audience-room was only fifty-four or fifty-five feet deep; there were no footlights, the stage being illuminated by four hoops of candles, over which a crown hung from the borders. The orchestra held only fifteen or twenty musicians, though it was in this house that Handel produced his operas and oratorios; the boxes "were flat in front and had twisted double branches for candles fastened to the plaster. There were pedestals on each side of the boards, with elaborately-painted figures of Tragedy and Comedy thereon." Hallam's actors went first to Williamsburg, Va., but were persuaded to change their home to New York in the summer of 1753, among other things by the promise that they would find a "very fine 'Playhouse Building'" here. Nevertheless, when Lewis Hallam came he found the fine playhouse unsatisfactory, and may be said to have inaugurated the habit or custom, or whatever it may be called, followed by so many managers since, of beginning his enterprise by erecting a new theater. The old one in Nassau Street was torn down, and a new one built on its site. It was promised that it should be "very fine, large, and commodious," and it was built between June and September, 1753; how fine, large, and commodious it was may, therefore, be imagined. A year later, the German Calvinists, wanting a place of worship, bought the theater, and New York was without a playhouse until a new one on Cruger's Wharf was built by David Douglass, who had married Lewis Hallam's widow, Hallam having died in Jamaica, in 1755. This was abandoned in turn, and Mr. Douglass built a second theater, this time in Chapel Street. It cost $1,625, and can scarcely have been either very roomy or very ornate. Such as it was, however, it was the home of the drama in all its forms, save possibly the ballad opera, until about 1765, and was the center around which a storm raged which culminated in a riot that wrecked it.
The successor of this unhappy institution was the John Street Theater, which was opened toward the close of the year 1767. There seems to have been a period of about fifteen years during which the musical drama was absent from the amusement lists, but this house echoed, like its earliest predecessors, to the strains of the ballad opera which "made Gay rich and Rich gay." "The Beggar's Opera" was preceded, however, by "Love in a Village," for which Dr. Arne wrote and compiled the music; and Bickerstaff's "Maid of the Mill" was also in the repertory. In 1774 it was officially recommended that all places of amusement be closed. Then followed the troublous times of the Revolution, and it was not until twelve years afterward—that is, till 1786—that English Opera resumed its sway. "Love in a Village" was revived, and it was followed by "Inkle and Yarico," an arrangement of Shakespeare's "Tempest," with Purcell's music, "No Song, No Supper," "Macbeth," with Locke's music, McNally's comic opera "Robin Hood," and other works of the same character; in fact, it may safely be said that few, if any, English operas, either with original music or music adapted from the ballad tunes of England, were heard in London without being speedily brought to New York and performed here. In the John Street Theater, too, they were listened to by George Washington, and the leader of the orchestra, a German named Pfeil, whose name was variously spelled Fyle, File, Files, and so on, produced that "President's March," the tune of which was destined to become associated with "Hail Columbia," to the words of which it was adapted by Joseph Hopkinson, of Philadelphia. On January 29, 1798, a new playhouse was opened. This was the Park Theater. A musical piece entitled "The Purse, or American Tar," was on the program of the opening performance, and for more than a score of years the Park Theater played an important rle in local operatic history. For a long term English operas of both types held the stage, along with the drama in all its forms, but in 1819 an English adaptation of Rossini's "Barber of Seville"—the opera which opened the Italian rgime six years later—was heard on its stage, and two years after that Henry Rowley Bishop's arrangement of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." At the close of the season of 1820 the Park Theater was destroyed by fire, to the great loss of its owners, one of whom was John Jacob Astor. On its site was erected the new Park Theater, which was the original home of Italian opera, performed in its original tongue, and in the Italian manner, though only a small minority of the performers were Italians by birth.
Garcia was a Spaniard, born in Seville. Richard Grant White, writing in The Century Magazine for March, 1882, calls him a "Spanish Hebrew," on what authority I am unable to guess. Not only was Manuel Garcia, the elder, a chorister in the Cathedral of Seville at the age of six, but it seems as likely as not that he came of a family of Spanish church musicians who had made their mark for more than fifty years before the father of Malibran was born. But it is a habit with some writers to find Hebrew blood in nearly all persons of genius.
The new Park Theater was looked upon as a magnificent playhouse in its day, and it is a pity that Mr. White, writing about it when it was a quarter of a century old, should have helped to spread the erroneous notion that it was quite unworthy of so elegant a form of entertainment as Garcia brought into it. It remained a fashionable house through all its career or at least for a long time after it gave refuge to the Italian muse, though it may not have been able to hold one of its candles to the first house built especially to house that muse eight years later. The barrel hoop of the first New York theater gave way to "three chandeliers and patent oil lamps, the chandeliers having thirty-five lights each." Mr. White's description of this house after it had seen about a quarter of a century's service is certainly uninviting. Its boxes were like pens for beasts. "Across them were stretched benches consisting of a mere board covered with faded red moreen, a narrower board, shoulder high, being stretched behind to serve for a back. But one seat on each of the three or four benches was without even this luxury, in order that the seat itself might be raised upon its hinges for people to pass in. These sybaritic inclosures were kept under lock and key by a fee-expecting creature, who was always half drunk, except when he was wholly drunk. The pit, which has in our modern theater become the parterre (or, as it is often strangely called, the parquet), the most desirable part of the house, was in the Park Theater hardly superior to that in which the Jacquerie of old stood upon the bare ground (par terre), and thus gave the place its French name. The floor was dirty and broken into holes; the seats were bare, backless benches. Women were never seen in the pit, and, although the excellence of the position (the best in the house) and the cheapness of admission (half a dollar) took gentlemen there, few went there who could afford to study comfort and luxury in their amusements. The place was pervaded with evil smells; and, not uncommonly, in the midst of a performance, rats ran out of the holes in the floor and across into the orchestra. This delectable place was approached by a long, underground passage, with bare, whitewashed walls, dimly lighted, except at a sort of booth, at which vile fluids and viler solids were sold. As to the house itself, it was the dingy abode of dreariness. The gallery was occupied by howling roughs, who might have taken lessons in behavior from the negroes who occupied a part of this tier, which was railed off for their particular use."
This was the first home of Italian opera, strictly speaking. It had long housed opera in the vernacular, and remained to serve as the fortress of the English forces when the first battles were fought between the champions of the foreign exotic and the entertainment which had been so long established as to call itself native. Its career came to an end in 1848, when, like its predecessor and successor, it went up in flames and smoke.
Presently I shall tell about the houses which have been built in New York especially for operatic uses, but before then some attention ought to be given to several other old theaters which had connection with opera in one or another of its phases. One of these was the New York Theater, afterward called the Bowery, and known by that name till a comparatively recent date. The walls of this theater echoed first to the voice of Malibran, when put forth in the vernacular of the country of which fate seemed, for a time, to have decreed that she should remain a resident. This was immediately after the first season of Italian opera at the Park Theater. The New York Theater was then new, having been built in 1826. Malibran had begun the study of English in London before coming to New York with her father; and she continued her studies with a new energy and a new purpose after the departure of her father to Mexico had left her apparently stranded in New York with a bankrupt and good-for-nothing husband to support. She made her first essay in English opera with "The Devil's Bridge," and followed it up with "Love in a Village." English operas, whether of the ballad order or with original music, were constructed in principle on the lines of the German Singspiel and French opra comique, all the dialogue being spoken; and Malibran's experience at the theater and Grace Church, coupled with her great social popularity, must have made a pretty good Englishwoman of her. "It is rather startling," says Mr. White, in the article already alluded to, "to think of the greatest prima donna, not only of her day, but of modern times—the most fascinating woman upon the stage in the first half of the nineteenth century—as singing the soprano parts of psalm tunes and chants in a small town then less known to the people of London and Paris and Vienna than Jeddo is now. Grace Church may well be pardoned for pride in a musical service upon the early years of which fell such a crown of glory, and which has since then been guided by taste not always unworthy of such a beginning." Malibran's performances at the New York Theater were successful and a source of profit, both to the manager and M. Malibran, to whom, it is said, a portion of the receipts were sent every night.
Three other theaters which were identified with opera more or less came into the field later, and by their names, at least, testified to the continued popularity which a famous English institution had won a century before, and which endured until that name could be applied to the places that bore it only on the "lucus a non lucendo" principle. These were the theaters of Richmond Hill, Niblo's, and Castle Garden. The Ranelagh Gardens, which John Jones opened in New York, in June, 1765, and the Vauxhall Gardens, opened by Mr. Samuel Francis, in June, 1769, were planned more or less after their English prototypes. Out-of-doors concerts were their chief musical features, fireworks their spectacular, while the serving of refreshments was relied on as the principal source of profit. Richmond Hill had in its palmy days been the villa home of Aaron Burr, and its fortunes followed the descending scale like those of its once illustrious master. Its site was the neighborhood of what is now the intersection of Varick and Charlton streets. After passing out of Burr's hands, but before his death, the park had become Richmond Hill Gardens, and the mansion the Richmond Hill Theater, both of somewhat shady reputation, which was temporarily rehabilitated by the response which the fashionable elements of the city's population made to an appeal made by a season of Italian opera, given in 1832. The relics of Niblo's Garden have disappeared as completely as those of Richmond Hill, but its site is still fresh in the memory of those whose theatrical experiences go back a quarter of a century. They must be old, however, who can recall enough verdure in the vicinity of Broadway and Prince Street to justify the name maintained by the theater to which for many years entrance was gained through a corridor of the Metropolitan Hotel. Three-quarters of a century ago Niblo's Garden was a reality. William Niblo, who built it and managed it with consummate cleverness, had been a successful coffee-house keeper downtown. Its theater opened refreshingly on one side into the garden (as the Terrace Garden Theater, at Third Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street does to-day), where one could eat a dish of ice cream or sip a sherry cobbler in luxurious shade, if such were his prompting, while play or pantomime went merrily on within. Writing of it in 1855 Max Maretzek, who, as manager of the Astor Place Opera House, had suffered from the rivalry of Niblo and his theater, said:
The Metropolitan Hotel, Niblo's Theater, stores and other buildings occupy the locality. Of the former garden nothing remains save the ice cream and drinking saloons attached to the theater. These take up literally as much room in the building as its stage does, and prove that its proprietor has not altogether overlooked the earlier vocation which laid the foundation of his fortune. The name by which he calls it has never changed. It was Niblo's Garden when loving couples ate their creams or drank their cobblers under the shadow of the trees. It is Niblo's Garden now, when it is turned into a simple theater and hedged in with houses. Nay, in the very bills which are circulated in the interior of the building during the performances you may find, or might shortly since have found, such an announcement as the following, appearing in large letters:
"Between the second and third acts"—or, possibly, it may run thus when opera is not in the ascendant—"after the conclusion of the first piece an intermission of twenty minutes takes place, for a promenade in the garden."
You will, I feel certain, admit that this is a marvelously delicate way of intimating to a gentleman who may feel "dry" (it is the right word, is it not?) that he will find the time to slake his thirst.
When he returns and his lady inquires where he has been he may reply, if he wills it:
"Promenading in the garden."
It is not plain from Mr. White's account whether or not his memory reached back to the veritable garden of Mr. Niblo, but his recollections of the theater were not jaundiced like those of Mr. Maretzek, but altogether amiable. Speaking of the performances of the Shireff, Seguin, and Wilson company of English opera singers, who came to New York in 1838, he says:
Miss Shireff afterward appeared at Niblo's Garden, which was on the corner of Broadway and Prince Street, where the Metropolitan Hotel now stands. Here she performed in Auber's "Masked Ball" and other light operas (all, of course, in English), singing in a theater that was open on one side to the air; for Niblo's was a great place of summer entertainment. It was a great New York "institution" in its day—perhaps the greatest and most beneficent one of its sort that New York has ever known. It may be safely said that most of the elder generation of New Yorkers now living [this was written in 1881] have had at Niblo's Garden the greatest pleasure they have ever enjoyed in public. There were careless fun and easy jollity; there whole families would go at a moment's warning to hear this or that singer, but most of all, year after year, to see the Ravels—a family of pantomimists and dancers upon earth and air, who have given innocent, thoughtless, side-shaking, brain-clearing pleasure to more Americans than ever relaxed their sad, silent faces for any other performers. The price of admission here was fifty cents, no seats reserved; "first come, first served."
Last of all there was Castle Garden. Children of to-day can remember when it was still the immigrants' depot, which it had been for half a century. Tradition says that it was built to protect New York City from foreign invasion, not to harbor it; but as a fortress it must have suffered disarmament quite early in the nineteenth century. It is now an aquarium, and as such has returned to its secondary use, which was that of a place of entertainment. In 1830 and about that day it was a restaurant, but for the sale only of ice cream, lemonade, and cakes. You paid a shilling to go in—this to restrict the patronage to people of the right sort—and your ticket was redeemable on the inside in the innocent fluids and harmless solids aforementioned. A wooden bridge, flanked by floating bathhouses, connected the castle with the garden—i.e., Battery Park. North and east, in lower Broadway and Greenwich Street, were fashionable residences, whose occupants enjoyed the promenade under the trees, which was the proper enjoyment of the day, as much as their more numerous, but less fortunate fellow citizens. There balloons went up by day, and rockets and bombs by night, and there, too, the brave militia went on parade. To Mr. White we owe the preservation of a poetical description written by Frederick Cozzens in an imitation of Spenser's "Sir Clod His Undoinge":
With placket lined, with joyous heart he hies To where the Battery's Alleys, cool and greene, Amid disparted Rivers daintie lies With Fortresse brown and spacious Bridge betweene Two Baths, which there like panniers huge are seen: In shadie paths fair Dames and Maides there be With stalking Lovers basking in their eene, And solitary ones who scan the sea, Or list to vesper chimes of slumberous Trinity.
The operas performed in the first season of Italian opera in America by the Garcia troupe in the Park Theater 1825-1826, were "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," "Tancredi," "Il Turco in Italia," "La Cenerentola," and "Semiramide" by Rossini; "Don Giovanni" by Mozart; "L'Amante astuto" and "La Figlia del Aria" by Garcia.
EARLY THEATERS, MANAGERS, AND SINGERS
The first opera house built in New York City opened its doors on November 18, 1833, and was the home of Italian Opera for two seasons; the second, built eleven years later, endured in the service for which it was designed four years; the third, which marked as big an advance on its immediate predecessor in comfort and elegance as the first had marked on the ramshackle Park Theater described by Richard Grant White, was the Astor Place Opera House, built in 1847, and the nominal home of the precious exotic five years.
The Astor Place Opera House in its external appearance is familiar enough to the memory of even young New Yorkers, though, unlike its successor, the Academy of Music, at Fourteenth Street and Irving Place, it did not long permit its tarnished glories to form the surroundings of the spoken drama after the opera's departure. The Academy of Music weathered the operatic tempests of almost an entire generation, counting from its opening night, in 1854, to the last night on which Colonel J. H. Mapleson was its lessee, in 1886, and omitting the expiring gasps which the Italian entertainment made under Signor Angelo, in October, 1886, under Italo Campanini, in April, 1888, and the final short spasm under the doughty Colonel in 1896. The first Italian Opera House (that was its name) became the National Theater; the second, which was known as Palmo's Opera House, when turned over to the spoken drama, became Burton's Theater; the Astor Place Opera House became the Mercantile Library. The Academy of Music is still known by that name, though it is given over chiefly to melodrama, and the educational purpose which existed in the minds of its creators was only a passing dream. The Metropolitan Opera House has housed twenty-three regular seasons of opera, though it has been in existence for twenty-five seasons. Once the sequence of subscription seasons was interrupted by the damage done to the theater by fire; once by the policy of its lessees, Abbey & Grau, who thought that the public appetite for opera might be whetted by enforced abstention. The Manhattan Opera House is too young to enter into this study of opera houses, their genesis, growth, and decay, and the houses which Mr. Oscar Hammerstein built before it in Harlem and in West Thirty-Fourth Street, near Sixth Avenue, lived too brief a time in operatic service to deserve more than mention.
I am at a loss for data from which to evolve a rule, as I should like to do, governing the length of an opera house's existence in its original estate as the home of grand opera.
The conditions which produce the need are too variable and also too vague to be brought under the operation of any kind of law. At present the growth of wealth, the increase in population, and with that increase the rapid multiplication of persons desirous and able to enjoy the privileges of social display would seem to be determining factors, with the mounting costliness of the luxury as a deterrent. The last illustration of the operation of the creative impulse based on the growth of wealth and social ambition is found in the building of the Metropolitan Opera House, Mr. Hammerstein's enterprise being purely individual and speculative. The movement which produced the Metropolitan Opera House marked the decay of the old Knickerbocker rgime, and its amalgamation with the newer order of society of a quarter of a century ago. This social decay, if so it can be called without offense, began—if Abram C. Dayton ("Last Days of Knickerbocker Life in New York") is correct—about 1840, and culminated with the Vanderbilt ball, in 1882, to which nearly all the leaders of the old Knickerbocker aristocracy accepted invitations. "During the third quarter of the nineteenth century," said The Sun's reviewer of Mr. Dayton's book, "sagacious and far-sighted Knickerbockers began to realize that as a caste they no longer possessed sufficient money to sustain social ascendency, and that it behooved them to effect an intimate alliance with the nouveaux riches." To this may be added that when there were but two decades of the century left it was made plain that the Academy of Music could by no possibility accommodate the two classes of society, old and new, which had for a number of years been steadily approaching each other.
There was an insufficiency of desirable boxes, and holders of seats of fashion were unwilling to surrender them to the newcomers. So the Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1883, and the vigor of the social opposition, coupled with popular appreciation of the new spirit, which came in with the German rgime, gave the deathblow to the Academy, whose loss to fashion was long deplored by the admirers of its fine acoustic qualities and its effective architectural arrangements for the purposes of display.
The period is not so remote that we cannot trace the influences of fashion and society in the rise of the first Italian Opera House, if not in its fall. The Park Theater was still a fashionable playhouse when Garcia gave his season of Italian opera in it in 1825-26, but within a decade thereafter the conditions so graphically described by Mr. White, combined with new ambitions, which seem to have been inspired to a large extent by Lorenzo Da Ponte, prompted a wish for a new theater: one specially adapted to opera. The new entertainment was recognized as a luxury, and it was no more than fitting that it be luxuriously and elegantly housed. It will be necessary to account for the potent influence of Da Ponte, who was only a superannuated poet and teacher of Italian language and literature, and this I hope to do presently; for the time being it is sufficient to say that it was he who persuaded the rich and cultured citizens of New York to build the Italian Opera House, which stood at the intersection of Church and Leonard streets. The coming of Garcia had filled Da Ponte, then already seventy-six years old, with dreams of a recrudescence of such activities as had been his in connection with Italian Opera in Vienna and London. He made haste to identify himself in an advisory capacity with the enterprise, persuaded Garcia to include "Don Giovanni" in his list of operas, although this necessitated the engagement of a singer not a member of the company, and had already brought his niece, who was a singer, from Italy, and the Italian composer Filippo Trajetta, from Philadelphia, when his dream of a permanent opera, for which he should write librettos, his friend compose music, and his niece sing, was dispelled by Garcia's departure for Mexico, and his subsequent return to Europe. For the next five years Da Ponte seems to have kept the waters of the operatic pool stirred, for there is general recognition in the records of the fact that to him was due the conception of the second experiment, although its execution was left to another, who was neither an American nor an Italian, but a Frenchman named Montressor. Like Garcia, he was his own tenor, which fact must have eased him of some of the vexations of management, though it added to its labors. We are told that Montressor succeeded in making himself personally popular. He had an agreeable voice, a tolerable style, and was favorably compared with Garcia, though this goes for little, inasmuch as Garcia was past his prime when he came here. Among his singers were Signorina Pedrotti, who created a great stir (though, I fancy, this was largely because of her beauty and the fact that the public, remembering the Signorina Garcia, wanted somebody to worship) and a basso named Fornasari.
Signorina Pedrotti effected her entrance on October 17, in a new opera, Mercadante's "Elisa e Claudio," which made the hit of the season, largely because of the infatuation of the public for the new singer. Mr. White gives us a description of her (from hearsay and the records) in his article published in The Century Magazine, of March, 1882:
Not much has been said of her, for she had sung only in Lisbon and in Bologna, and had little reputation. But she took musical New York off its feet again. She had a fine mezzo-soprano voice, of sympathetic quality; and although she was far from being a perfectly finished vocalist, she had an impressive dramatic style and a presence and a manner that enabled her to take possession of the stage. She was a handsome woman—tall, nobly formed, with brilliant eyes and a face full of expression. She carried the town by storm.
Like Malibran, and many another singer since, Fornasari made a fine reputation here, and was afterward "discovered" in Europe, where he rose to fame. He seems to have been of the tribe of lady-killers, of whom every opera company has boasted at least one ever since opera became a fashion—which is only another way of saying ever since it was invented. But Fornasari had a noble voice, besides his mere physical attractions. Mr. White, who saw him long years afterward, when he chanced to be passing through New York on his way to Europe, describes him: He was very tall; his head looked like that of a youthful Jove; dark hair in flaky curls, an open, blazing eye; a nose just heroically curved; lips strong, yet beautifully bowed; sweet and persuasive (one would think that White got his description from some woman—what man ever before or since was praised by a man for having a Cupid's bow mouth?), and withal a large and easy grace of manner.
Montressor's season opened on October 6, 1832, at the Richmond Hill Theater, which became respectable for the nonce, and collapsed after thirty-five representations. The receipts for the season were $25,603—let us say about half as much as a week's receipts at the Metropolitan Opera House to-day. The operas given were Rossini's "Cenerentola," "L'Italiana in Algeri"; Bellini's "Il Pirata," and Mercadante's "Elisa e Claudio," the last winning the largest measure of popularity. The chief good accomplished was the bringing to New York from Europe of several excellent orchestral players, who, after the failure of the enterprise, settled here, to the good of instrumental music and the next undertaking.
Why men embark in operatic management, or, rather, why they continue in it after they have failed, has always been an enigma. Once, pointing my argument with excerpts from the story of all the managers in London, from Handel's day down to the present, I tried to prove that the desire to manage an opera company was a form of disease, finding admirable support for my contention in the confession and conduct of that English manager who got himself into Fleet Prison, and thence philosophically urged not only that it served him right (since no man insane enough to want to be an operatic impresario ought to be allowed at large), but also that a jail was the only proper headquarters for a manager, since there, at least, he was secure from the importunities of singers and dancers. Lorenzo Da Ponte was, obviously, of the stuff of which impresarios are made. Montressor's failure, for which he was in a degree responsible (and which he discussed in two pamphlets which I found twenty years ago in the library of the New York Historical Society), persuaded him that the city's greatest need was an Italian opera house. His powers of persuasion must have been great, for he succeeded in bringing a body of citizens together who set the example which has been followed several times since, and built the Italian Opera House at Church and Leonard streets, on very much the same social and economic lines as prevail at the Metropolitan Opera House to-day. European models and European taste prevailed in the structure and its adornments. It was the first theater in the United States which boasted a tier composed exclusively of boxes. This was the second balcony. The parterre was entered from the first balcony, a circumstance which redeemed it from its old plebeian association as "the pit," in which it would have been indecorous for ladies to sit. The seats in the parterre were mahogany chairs upholstered in blue damask. The seats in the first balcony were mahogany sofas similarly upholstered. The box fronts had a white ground, with emblematic medallions, and octagonal panels of crimson, blue, and gold. Blue silk curtains were caught up with gilt cord and tassels. There was a chandelier of great splendor, which threw its light into a dome enriched with pictures of the Muses, painted, like all the rest of the interior, as well as the scenery, by artists specially brought over for the purpose from Europe. The floors were carpeted. The price of the boxes was $6,000 each, and subscribers might own them for a single performance (evidently by arrangement with the owners) or the season. Apropos of this, Mr. White tells a characteristic story:
It was told of a man who had suddenly risen to what was then great wealth, that, having taken a lady to the opera, he was met by the disappointing assurance that there were no seats to be had.
"Nowhere, sir; every seat in the house is taken, except, indeed, one of the private boxes that was not subscribed for."
"I'll have that."
"Impossible, sir. The boxes can only be occupied by subscribers and owners."
"What is the price of your box?"
"Six thousand dollars, sir."
"I'll take it."
And drawing out his pocketbook he filled up a check for six thousand dollars and escorted his lady to her seat to the surprise and, indeed, to the consternation of the elegant circle, which saw itself completed in this unexpected manner.
The new house, which, with the ground, had cost $150,000, was opened on November 18, 1833, under the joint management of the Chevalier Rivafinoli and Da Ponte, with Rossini's "La Gazza ladra," but two months before that date there was a drawing for boxes, concerning which and some of the details of the opening performance an extract from the diary of Mr. Philip Hone, once mayor of the city, presents a much livelier picture than I could draw:
(From the diary of Philip Hone, Esq.)
September 15, 1833. The drawing for boxes at the Italian Opera House took place this morning. My associates, Mr. Schermerhorn and General Jones, are out of town, and I attended and drew No. 8, with which I am well satisfied. The other boxes will be occupied by the following gentlemen: Gerard H. Coster, G. C. Howland, Rufus Prime, Mr. Panon, Robert Ray, J. F. Moulton, James J. Jones, D. Lynch, E. Townsend, John C. Cruger, O. Mauran, Charles H. Hall, J. G. Pierson and S. B. Ruggles.
November 18, 1833. The long expected opening of the opera house took place this evening with the opera "La Gazza ladra"; all new performers except Signor Marozzi, who belonged to the old company. The prima donna soprano is Signorina Fanti. The opera, they say, went off well for a first performance; but to me it was tiresome, and the audience was not excited to any degree of applause. The performance occupied four hours—much too long, according to my notion, to listen to a language which one does not understand; but the house is superb, and the decorations of the proprietors' boxes (which occupy the whole of the second tier) are in a style of magnificence which even the extravagance of Europe has not yet equaled. I have one-third of box No. 8; Peter Schermerhorn one-third; James J. Jones one-sixth; William Moore one-sixth. Our box is fitted up with great taste with light blue hangings, gilded panels and cornice, armchairs, and a sofa. Some of the others have rich silk ornaments, some are painted in fresco, and each proprietor seems to have tried to outdo the rest in comfort and magnificence. The scenery is beautiful. The dome and the fronts of the boxes are painted in the most superb classical designs, and the sofa seats are exceedingly commodious. Will this splendid and refined amusement be supported in New York? I am doubtful.
The outcome justified Mr. Hone in his doubts. The season was advertised, to last forty nights. When they were at an end a supplementary season of twenty-eight nights was added, which extended the time to July 21, 1834. Besides "La Gazza ladra," the operas given were "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," "La Donna del Lago," "Il Turco in Italia," "Cenerentola," and "Matilda di Shabran"—all by Rossini; Pacini's "Gli Arabi nelli Gallie," Cimarosa's "II Matrimonio segreto," and "La Casa do Pendere," by the conductor, one Salvioni. The season had been socially and artistically brilliant, but the financial showing at the end was one of disaster. The prices of admission were from $2 down to fifty cents, and when the house was completely sold out the receipts were not more than $1,400. The managers took their patrons into their confidence, Rivafinoli publishing the fact that the receipts for the entire season—including fifteen nights in Philadelphia, for that city's dependence on New York for Italian opera began thus early—were but $51,780.89, which were exceeded by the expenses $29,275.09. For the next season the house was leased by the owners to Signor Sacchi, who had been the treasurer of Rivafinoli and Da Ponte, and Signor Porto, one of the singers. These managers had an experience similar to that which Maretzek declaimed against twenty years later when troubles gathered about the new Academy of Music. Notwithstanding that there had been a startling deficit, though the audiences had been as large as could be accommodated, these underlings of Rivafinoli and Da Ponte, who were at least men of experience in operatic management, took the house, giving the stockholders the free use of their boxes and 116 free admissions every night besides. The second season started brilliantly, but just as financial disaster was preparing to engulf it the performances were abruptly brought to an end by the prima donna, Signora, or Signorina, Fanti, who took French leave—an incident which remains unique in New York's operatic annals, at least in its consequences, I think.
It is evident to a close student of the times that the reasons given were not the only ones to contribute to the downfall of the enterprise. Italian opera had found a vigorous rival in English, or rather in opera in the vernacular, for the old ballad operas were disappearing and German, French, and Italian opera sung in the vernacular, not by actresses who had tolerable voices, but by trained vocalists, was taking its place. The people of New York were not quite so sophisticated as they are to-day, and possibly were dowered with a larger degree of sincerity. Many of them were willing to admit the incongruity of behavior at which Addison made merry when he predicted that the time would come when the descendants of the English people of his day would be curious to know "why their forefathers used to sit together like an audience of foreigners in their own country and to hear whole plays acted before them in a tongue which they did not understand." We know that Addison was a poor prophet, for the people of Great Britain and America are still sitting in the same attitude as their ancestors so far as opera is concerned; but it is plain that arguments like his did reach the consciences of even the stockholders of the Italian Opera House, or at least the one of them who has taken posterity into his confidence. The season under Sacchi and Porto had scarcely begun when Mr. Hone wrote in his diary:
I went to the opera, where I saw the second act of "La Straniera," by Bellini. The house is as pretty as ever, and the same faces were seen in the boxes as formerly; but it is not a popular entertainment, and will not be in our day, I fear. The opera did not please me. There was too much reiteration, and I shall never discipline my taste to like common colloquial expressions of life: "How do you do, madame?" or "Pretty well, I thank you, sir," the better for being given with orchestral accompaniment.
I shrewdly suspect that Mr. Hone had been reading his Spectator. There were three years of opera in London, in Addison's day, when the English and Italian languages were mixed in the operas as German and Italian were in Hamburg when Handel started out on his career. "The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian and his slaves answered him in English; the lover frequently made his court and gained the heart of his princess in a language which she did not understand." At length, says Addison, the audience got tired of understanding half the opera, "and to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, so ordered it that the whole opera was performed in an unknown tongue." Now listen to our diarist:
The Italian language is among us very little understood, and the genius of it certainly never entered into with spirit. To entertain an audience without reducing it to the necessity of thinking is doubtless a first-rate merit, and it is easier to produce music without sense than with it; but the real charm of the opera is this—it is an exclusive and extravagant recreation, and, above all, it is the fashion.
Italian music's sweet because 'tis dear, Their vanity is tickled, not their ear; Their taste would lessen if the prices fell, And Shakespeare's wretched stuff do quite as well.
The recitative is an affront to common sense, and if there be any spectacle more than another opposed to the genius of the English character and unsuited to its taste it is the ballet of the opera house. Its eternal dumbshow, with its fantastic appeals to sense and to sense only, may be Italian perfection, but here it is in English a tame absurdity. What but fashion could tempt reasonable creatures to sit and applaud—what was really perpetrated—Deshayes dancing "The Death of Nelson"?
After the season of Sacchi and Porto Italian opera went into exile for ten years. Da Ponte pleaded for "the most splendid ornament" of the city in vain. English opera conquered, aided, no doubt, by the fact that the section of the city in which the Italian Opera House was situated was fatally unfashionable, and after standing vacant for a year the house was leased to James W. Wallack, father of John Lester Wallack, who turned it into a home for the spoken drama. In another year it went up in flames.
THE FIRST ITALIAN COMPANY
The beginnings of Italian opera in America are intimately associated with two men who form an interesting link connecting the music of the Old World with that of the New. These men were Manuel del Popolo Vicente Garcia and Lorenzo Da Ponte. The opera performed in the Park Theater on November 29, 1825, when the precious exotic first unfolded its petals in the United States, was Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." In this opera Garcia, then in his prime, had created, as the French say, the rle of Almaviva in Rome a little less than ten years before. The performance was one of the most monumental fiascos in Rossini's career, and the story goes that Garcia, hoping to redeem it, introduced a Spanish song to which he himself supplied a guitar accompaniment. The fiasco of the first performance was largely, if not wholly, due to the jealous ill will of the friends of Paisiello, who had written music for an opera on the same story, which was much admired all over Europe, and which in an adapted form had reached America, as had Rossini's, before Garcia came with the original version. But Rossini's music was too fascinating to be kept under a bushel, and in it Garcia won some of his finest triumphs in London and Paris. In the first New York season it was performed twenty-three times. Garcia was also a composer, and had made his mark in this field before he became famous as a singer, having produced at least seventeen Spanish operas, nineteen Italian, and Seven French, most, if not all of them, before he came to America.
Exactly what it was that persuaded Garcia to embark on the career of impresario in a new land does not appear in the story of his enterprise. There are intimations that he had long had the New York project in mind; also it used to be thought that Da Ponte had inspired him with the idea; the more general story is that Dominick Lynch, a New York importer of French wines, was at the bottom of the enterprise, but whether on his own account or as a sort of agent for the manager of the Park Theater, I have not been able to learn. Garcia's singing days were coming to an end, though his popularity was not yet on the wane if there is evidence in the circumstances that from 1823 to 1825 his salary in London had increased from 260 pounds to 1,250 pounds. But it was as a teacher and composer that he now commanded the greater respect. He had founded a school of singing of which it may truthfully be said that it was continued without loss of glory until the end of the nineteenth century by his son Manuel, who died in 1906, a few months after he had celebrated the hundredth anniversary of his birth. But, though we may not know all the reasons which prevailed with him to seek fortune as a manager after he had himself passed the half-century mark, it is easy to fancy that the fact that he had half the artists necessary for the undertaking in his own family had much to do with it. His daughter, Maria Felicita, had studied singing with him from childhood and at sixteen years of age had sung with him in Italy. His wife was an opera singer and his son Manuel had made a beginning in the career which he speedily abandoned in favor of that which gave him far greater fame than the stage promised. The future Malibran was singing in the chorus in London only a year before she disclosed her peerless talents in New York. In June, 1825, Pasta, who was Mr. Ebers's prima donna at the King's Theater, took ill. Garcia was a member of the company and came forward with an offer of his daughter as substitute. The offer was accepted, the girl effected her dbut as Rosina in "The Barber," and made so complete a hit that she was engaged for the remaining six weeks of the season at a salary of 500 pounds. This is the story as told by Ftis, which does not differ essentially from that told by Ebers in his account of his seven years of tenancy of the King's Theater, or by Lord Mount-Edgecumbe in his "Musical Reminiscences," except that these make no direct reference to Pasta's illness as the cause which gave Maria her opportunity. Lord Mount-Edgecumbe's account says that Ebers found it necessary, about the time of the arrival of Pasta, "to engage a young singer, the daughter of the tenor Garcia, who had sung here for several seasons. She was as yet a mere girl, and had never appeared on any public stage; but from the first moment of her appearance she showed evident talents for it, both as singer and actress. Her extreme youth, her prettiness, her pleasing voice and sprightly, easy action as Rosina in 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia,' in which part she made her dbut, gained her general favor; but she was too highly extolled and injudiciously put forward as a prima donna when she was only a promising dbutante, who in time, by study and practice, would, in all probability, under the tuition of her father, a good musician, but (to my ears at least) a most disagreeable singer, rise to eminence in her profession."
I am not more than half persuaded that this view of the future Malibran's talents and prospects did not tally with that of her father, though her tremendous success in New York ought to have persuaded him that a future of the most dazzling description lay before his daughter. There is something of a puzzle in the fact that in the midst of her first triumph the girl should have married M. Malibran, who was only apparently wealthy, and was surely forty-three years her senior, and of a nature which was bound to develop lack of sympathy and congeniality between the pair. The popular version of the story of her marriage is that she was forced into it by her father, and it is more than intimated that he was induced to act as he did by the promise of 100,000 francs made by Malibran as a compensation for the loss of his daughter's services. Did Garcia oppose his daughter's marriage, and did she wilfully have her own way in a matter in which she was scarcely a proper judge? Or was the marriage repugnant to her, and was she sacrificed to her father's selfishness? I cannot tell, but it has been hinted that there was danger of her marrying a member of the orchestra in London before she came to New York, and it is as like as not that the affair Malibran was of her wishing. Who can know the ways of a maid fourscore years after? The marriage was as unfortunate as could be. In a few months Malibran was a bankrupt, his youthful wife's father was gone to distant Mexico, there to make money, only to be robbed of it at Vera Cruz on his home journey to England, and Maria Felicita, instead of living in affluence as the wife of a wealthy New York merchant, was supporting an unworthy husband, as well as herself, by singing in English at the theater in the Bowery and in Grace Church on Sundays. The legal claims bound the ill-assorted pair for ten years, but did not gall the artist after she returned to Europe in 1827, little more than a year later. In Paris the marriage was annulled in 1836, and the singer, now the greatest prima donna on the stage, married Charles de Briot, the violinist, with whom she had been living happily for six years, and by whom she had a son, born in February, 1833. The world's Book of Opera must supply the other chapters which tell of the great Malibran, her marvelous triumphs and her early death; but it is a matter of pride for every American to reflect that this adorable artist began her career with the admiring applause of our people.
Manuel Garcia, the son, the senior of his sister by three years, survived her the whole span of life allotted to man by the Psalmist. Malibran died in 1836; Garcia in 1906. He achieved nothing on the stage, which he abandoned in 1829. Thereafter his history belongs to that of pedagogy. Till 1848 his field of operations was Paris; afterward, till his death, London. Jenny Lind was one of his pupils; Mme. Marchesi another.
The story that Da Ponte had anything to do with inspiring Garcia's New York enterprise is practically disposed of by the fact that Da Ponte, though intimately associated with the opera in London during his sojourn in that city, had already been a resident of New York three years when Garcia made his dbut as a singer and never returned thither. Personally Garcia was a stranger to him and he to Garcia when the latter came to New York in the fall of 1825. This gives color of verity to a familiar story of their meeting. As might easily be imagined, the man who had written the librettos of "Le Nozze di Figaro," "Don Giovanni," and "Cosi Fan Tutte" for Mozart, was not long in visiting Garcia after his arrival here. He introduced himself as the author of "Don Giovanni," and Garcia, clipping the old man in his arm, danced around the room like a child in glee, singing "Fin ch'han dal vino" the while. After that the inclusion of Mozart's masterpiece in Garcia's repertory was a matter of course, with only this embarrassment that there was no singer in the company capable of singing the music of Don Ottavio. This was overcome by Da Ponte going to his pupils for money enough to pay an extra singer for the part. Many a tenor, before and since, who has been cast for that divinely musical milksop has looked longingly at the rle of Don Giovanni which Mozart gave to a barytone, and some have appropriated it. Garcia was one of these (he had been a tenor de forza in his day), and it fell to him to introduce the character in New York. Outside of himself, his daughter, and the basso Angrisani, the company was a poor affair, the orchestra not much better than that employed at the ordinary theater then (and now, for that matter), and the chorus composed of mechanics drilled to sing words they did not understand. It is scarcely to be wondered at, therefore, that at one of the performances of Mozart's opera, of which there were ten, singers and players got at sixes and sevens in the superb finale of the first act, whereupon Garcia, losing his temper, rushed to the footlights sword in hand, stopped the orchestra, and commanded a new beginning.
It has already been told how that Da Ponte was active in the promotion of the first Italian opera enterprise, that he inspired Montressor's experiment at the Richmond Hill Theater and was the moving spirit in the ambitious, beautiful but unhappy Italian Opera House undertaking. To do all these things it was necessary that he should be a man of influence among the cultured and wealthy classes of the community. As a matter of fact he was this, and that in spite of the fact that his career had been checkered in Europe and was not wholly free from financial scandal, at least in New York. The fact is that the poet's artistic temperament was paired with an insatiable commercial instinct. This instinct, at least, may be set down as a racial inheritance. Until seven or eight years ago nobody seems to have taken the trouble to look into the family antecedents of him whom the world will always know as Lorenzo Da Ponte. That was not his name originally. Of this fact something only a little better than a suspicion had been in the minds of those who knew him and wrote about him during his lifetime and shortly after his death. Michael Kelly, the Irish tenor, who knew him in Vienna, speaks of him as "my friend, the abb," and tells of his dandyish style of dressing, his character as a "consummate coxcomb," his strong lisp and broad Venetian dialect; if he knew that he was a converted Jew, he never mentioned the fact. Later writers hinted at the fact that he had been born a Jew, but had been educated by the Bishop of Ceneda and had adopted his name. When I investigated his American history, a matter of twenty years ago, my statement in The Tribune newspaper that he was the son of a Hebrew leather dealer provoked an almost intemperate denial by a German musical historian, who quoted from his memoirs a story of his religious observances to confound me. My statement, however, was based, not only on an old rumor, but also on the evidence of a pamphlet published in Lisbon in the course of what seems to have been a peculiarly acrimonious controversy between Da Ponte and a theatrical person unnamed, but probably one Francesco. In this pamphlet, which is not only indecorous but indecent, he is referred to as "the celebrated Lorenzo Daponte, who after having been Jew, Christian, priest, and poet in Italy and Germany found himself to be a layman, husband, and ass in London." It remained for Professor Marchesan, his successor in the chair of rhetoric in the University of Treviso, to give the world the facts concerning his origin and early family history. From Marchesan's book ("Della Vita e delle Opere di Lorenzo da Ponte") published in Treviso in 1900 we learn that the poet's father was in truth a Hebrew leather dealer, and also that the father's name was Jeremiah Conegliano, his mother's Rachel Pincherle, and his own Emanuele Conegliano. He was fourteen years old when not he alone, but the whole family, embraced Christianity. They were baptized in the cathedral of Ceneda on August 20, 1763, and the bishop gave the lad, whose talents he seems to have observed, his own name. The rest of his story up to his departure for America may be outlined in the words of the sketch in Grove's "Dictionary of Music and Musicians" (second edition, Vol. III, p. 789).
After five years of study in the seminary at Ceneda (probably with the priesthood as an object) he went to Venice, where he indulged in amorous escapades which compelled his departure from that city. He went to Treviso and taught rhetoric in the university, incidentally took part in political movements, lampooned an opponent in a sonnet, and was ordered out of the republic. In Dresden, whither he turned his steps, he found no occupation for his talents, and journeyed on to Vienna. There, helped by Salieri, he received from Joseph II the appointment of poet to the imperial theater and Latin secretary. Good fortune brought him in contact with Mozart, who asked him to make an opera book of Beaumarchais's "Mariage de Figaro." The great success of Mozart's opera on this theme led to further co-operation, and it was on Da Ponte's suggestion that "Don Giovanni" was undertaken, the promptings coming largely from the favor enjoyed at the time by Gazzaniga's opera on the same subject, from which Da Ponte made generous drafts—as a comparison of the libretti will show. Having incurred the ill will of Leopold, Da Ponte was compelled to leave Vienna on the death of Joseph II. He went to Trieste, where Leopold was sojourning, in the hope of effecting a reconciliation, but failed; but there he met and married an Englishwoman who was thenceforth fated to share his checkered fortunes. He obtained a letter recommending him to the interest of Marie Antoinette, but while journeying toward Paris learned of the imprisonment of the Queen, and went to London instead. A year was spent in the British metropolis in idleness, and some time in Holland in a futile effort to establish an Italian theater there. Again he turned his face toward London, and this time secured employment as poet to the Italian opera and assistant to the manager, Taylor. He took a part of Domenico Corri's shop to sell Italian books, but soon ended in difficulties, and to escape his creditors fled to America, arriving in New York on June 4, 1805.
Da Ponte lives in the respect and admiration of Dante scholars as the first of American teachers and commentators on "The Divine Comedy." He gave himself the title, and in this case adhered to the truth, which cannot be said of all of his statements about himself. For instance, in a letter to the public to be set forth presently, he calls himself "poet of the Emperor Joseph II." He was in the habit of thus designating himself and it was small wonder that his biographers almost unanimously interpreted these words to mean that he was poet laureate, or Caesarian poet. After the mischief, small enough, except perhaps in an ethical sense, had been done, he tried to correct it in a foot note on one of the pages of his "Memorie," in which he says that he was not "Poeta Cesario," but "poet to the Imperial theaters." In his capacity as a teacher his record seems to have been above reproach; and it was in this capacity that he first presented himself favorably to New Yorkers. Within two years after his arrival he gave a pamphlet to the public entitled "Compendium of the Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, written by Himself, to which is added the first Literary Conversatione held at his home in New York on the 10th day of March, 1807, consisting of several Italian compositions in verse and prose translated into English by his scholars." That this little brochure was designed as an advertisement is obvious enough; it was issued on his fifty-eighth birthday and its contents, besides the sketch of his life, which, so it began, he had promised to give his pupils, were specimens of their literary handicraft. In the biographical recital are echoes of the contentions in which he had been engaged in London a few years before. Although only two years had elapsed since his arrival in America, what may be called the first of his commercial periods was already over. He had sent his wife to New York ahead of him with some of the money which his English creditors were looking for. With this he promptly embarked in business, trafficking in tobacco, liquors, drugs, etc.—goods which promised large profits. In three months fear of yellow fever drove him to Elizabethtown, N. J., where he remained a year, by which time he was ruined. He came back to New York and began to teach the Italian language and literature, and the little "Compendium" recorded his first successes. He taught till 1811, by which time he had laid aside $4,000, with which he again went into business, this time as a distiller in Sunbury, Pa. After several years of commercial life he returned again to New York and resumed the profession which brought him into contact with people of refinement and social standing, who seem to have remained his friends, despite his complaints and importunities, till his death in 1838. Among those who were sincerely attached to him were Clement Clark Moore, Hebrew lexicographer, trustee of Columbia College, and (best of all) author of "'Twas the Night before Christmas." Through Moore he secured the privilege of calling himself Professor of Italian Literature at Columbia, though without salary, managed to sell the college a large number of Italian books, and was engaged to make a catalogue of the college library. Another friend was Henry James Anderson, who became Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy in the college in 1825, the year in which Garcia came to New York with his operatic enterprise. Professor Anderson married his daughter and became the father of Edward Henry and Elbert Ellery Anderson. Other friends were Giulian C. Verplanck, Dr. Macneven, Maroncelli, the Italian patriot, (whose wife was one of the members of the opera company which Da Ponte organized with Rivafinoli), Samuel Ward, Dr. John W. Francis, the Cottenet family, and H. T. Tuckerman, who wrote a sketch of him after his death in Putnam's Magazine. At the time of his operatic venture, 1833-34, he lived at No. 342 Broadway, and kept a bookstore at No. 336, which may then have been an adjoining house. The site is near the present Catherine Lane. Before then he had lived in dozens of different houses, moving, apparently, nearly every year. He died at No. 91 Spring Street, on August 17, 1838, and was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Eleventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A. When the centenary of the first performance of "Don Giovanni" was celebrated in many European cities, in 1887, I conceived the idea of sending a choir of trombones to the grave of the poet who had written the text to pay a musical tribute to his memory, and thus made the discovery that the place of his burial was as completely lost as the last resting place of the mortal remains of Mozart. Weeks of research were necessary to determine the fact that it was the old cemetery that had received his body, and that the location of the grave was no longer to be determined by the records. It was never marked.
Da Ponte's ambition to see Italian opera permanently established in New York seems to have received a crushing blow with the failure of the pretentious Italian Opera House enterprise. His dream I have referred to; he was again to be a "poet to the opera," to write works for season after season which his countryman Trajetta was to set to music. His niece was to be a prima donna. He did write one libretto; it was for an opera entitled, "L'Ape Musicale," for the musical setting of which he despoiled Rossini. His niece, Giulia Da Ponte, did sing, but her talents were not of the kind to win distinction. He persuaded Montressor to give his season, and, rushing into print, as was his custom—the period of the pamphleteer was to his liking—he discussed the failure of that undertaking in two booklets. After the successive failures of himself with Rivafinoli and his underlings, who attempted to succeed where he had come to grief, he appended a letter to his old supporters (who had plainly fallen away from him) to a pamphlet devoted to setting forth the miseries of his existence after the great things which, in his opinion, he had done for the people of New York. The letter has never seen the light of day from the time when it was printed in 1835 till now; but it deserves preservation. I found it twenty years ago in the library of the Historical Society of New York in a bound volume of miscellaneous pamphlets. It is as follows:
TO THOSE AMERICANS who love the fine arts I address myself. Hitherto I have vainly spoken and written. Never was more really verified the Latin proverb: Abyssus abyssum invocat.
Let the verses that I now present you rouse you from your lethargy; yet should they not, I will not cease to cry aloud. I cannot now remain in silence while my fellow countrymen are sacrificed, the citizens of two noble cities deceived, and an enterprise for which I have so long and ardently labored, so calculated to shed luster on the nation, and so honorable in its commencement, ruined by those who have no means, nor knowledge, nor experience. Answer at least these questions: Did you not request from me an Italian company? It will be readily understood with whom I speak. Why did you ask this of me? I was offered a handsome premium if I would introduce a troupe of select Italian artists in America. Did not I, and I alone procure them? Were they not excellent? Have I been compensated for my labor, reimbursed my actual expenses, or even honored by those most benefited by my losses and labors?
Had not I a right to expect thus much, or at least justice? And if you thought me competent to do what I have done, why should you not be guided by my counsels? Did I not tell you and reiterate in my writing and verbally that Rivafinoli was not to be trusted? That he was a daring, but imprudently daring, adventurer, whose failures in London, and in Mecico and Carolina were the sure forerunners of his failure in New York? And when deceived by him, whom did you take in place of him? PORTO! SACCHI! With what means? What talents? What judgment? What experience? What chances of a happy issue? Would you know why they wished it? I will tell you, with Juvenal—'Greculus esuriens si in coelum jusseris ibit.' But ignorant pretenders mostly have more influence than modest truth. You, gentlemen of the committee, gave the theater to them because, not having anything to lose, they could yield to everything, even to the promising of what they knew themselves unable to perform.
One of them it is said still has some hopes from you. Before another disgrace occurs I beg you to look at the effects. Nemo dat quod non habet. I brought a company from Italy by the mere force of my word. And why was this? Because they knew me for an honorable man, who would not promise what he could not perform, who had been eleven years the poet of the Emperor Joseph 2d, who for another equal space of time had been the poet to the theater in London, who had written thirty-six operas for Salieri, for Martini, for Storace and Mozzart (sic).
That these dramas still survive, you yourself have seen and thought its author not worthy of your esteem. For God's sake let the past become a beacon light to save you from the perils of the future. Do not destroy the most splendid ornament of your city. Rocco is obliged to visit Italy. Lease to him the theater, he will have for his advisers the talented and estimable Bagioli and myself. For me I wish for nothing, but it pains me to see spoiled by ignorance and imposture, and vanity that which cost me so much, or to speak more correctly, which cost me everything, and you so much, and it will cost you more in fame as well as in money.
What will they say, the Trollops and the Halls and Hamiltons who nodum in scripto quoerunt with the microscope of national aversion? Rocco and he only can redeem the fortunes of your disorganized, betrayed, dishonored establishment by giving you a new and meritorious company. Listen then to him and assist him—you will lose nothing by it; I pledge you the word of an old man whose lips have never uttered an untruth. Your servant and fellow citizen, Lorenzo Da Ponte
The theater was not leased to Rocco. It never echoed to opera after the second season.
HOUSES BUILT FOR OPERA
"His wit was not so sharp as his chin, and so his career was not so long as his nose," says Richard Grant White of the impresario who, ten years after the failure of the Italian Opera House, made the third effort to establish Italian opera in New York of which there is a record. The man with a sharp chin and long nose was Ferdinand Palmo. He was the owner of a popular restaurant which went by the rather tropical name "Caf des Milles Colonnes," and was situated in Broadway, just above Duane Street. Palmo knew how to cook and how to cater, and his restaurant made him fairly rich. What he did not know about managing an opera house he was made conscious of soon after the ambition to be an impresario took hold of him. His was an individual enterprise, like Mr. Hammerstein's, with no clogs or entangling alliances in the shape of stockholders, or managing directors, or amusement committees. He seems to have been strongly impressed with the idea that after the public had been total abstainers for ten years they would love opera for its own sake, and that it would not be necessary to give hostages to fortune in the shape of a beautiful house, with a large portion set apart for the exclusive use of wealth and fashion. Except in name, says Mr. White, there were no boxes. Palmo did not even build a new theater. He found one that could be modeled to his purposes in Stoppani's Arcade Baths, in Chambers Street, between Broadway and Center Street. The site is now occupied by the building of the American News Company. The acoustics of the new opera house are said to have been good, but the inconvenience of the location and unenviable character of the neighborhood are indicated quite as much as Signor Palmo's enterprising and considerate nature by his announcement that after the performances a large car would be run uptown as far as Forty-Second Street for the accommodation of his patrons; and also that the patrons aforesaid should have police protection. The house seated about eight hundred persons, the seats being hard benches, with slats across the back shoulder high. Opera lovers given to luxury were permitted to upholster their benches. The orchestra numbered "thirty-two professors," but their devotion to the art which they professed was not so great as to make them willing to starve for its sake or to refuse to resort to the methods of the more modern workingmen's unions to compel payment for their services, as we shall see presently. The first performance under Signor Palmo took place on February 3, 1844, the opera being the same one with which Mr. Hammerstein began his latest venture sixty-two years later—"I Puritani." The prima donna soprano was Borghese, who was attractive in appearance, though not beautiful; who dressed well, sang with passionate intensity, and won a popularity that found vent in praise which may have been extravagant. One critic, "balancing her beauties against her defects," pronounced her the best operatic singer that the writer had yet heard on this side of the Atlantic. This remark leads Mr. White to surmise that the critic had not been five years in America, for, says he, Signora Borghese was not worthy to tie the shoes of Malibran, Pedrotti, Fanti, Garadori, or Mrs. Wood, the last two of whom had sung in English opera. Her chief defect seems to have been the tremolo—that vice toward which the American critics of to-day are more intolerant than those of any other people, as they are toward the sister vice of a faulty intonation. Mr. White talks sensibly on the subject in his estimate of Borghese.
She had a fine voice, although not a great one; her vocalization, regarded from a merely musical point of view, was of the corresponding grade, but as stage vocalization it had great power and deserved higher commendation. Her musical declamation was always effective and musico-rhetorically in good taste. She had a fine person, an expressive face, and much grace of manner. One might be content never to hear a better prima donna if one were secured against never hearing a worse. In her was first remarked here, among vocalists of distinction, that trembling of the voice when it is pressed in a crescendo, which has since become so common as greatly to mar our enjoyment of vocal music. This great fault, unknown before the appearance of Verdi, is attributed by some musical critics to the influence of his vociferous and strident style. It may be so; but that which follows is not always a consequence of that after which it comes. Certain it is, however, that from this time forward very few of the principal singers who have been heard in New York—only the very greatest and those whose style was formed before Verdi domineered the Italian lyric stage—were without this tremble. Grisi, Mario, Sontag, Jenny Lind, Alboni, and Salvi were entirely without it; their voices came from the chest pure, free and firm.
I can scarcely believe that the distressful vocal wabble either came in with Verdi's music or was greatly promoted by it. In the lofty quality of style Mme. Sembrich is the most perfect exemplar whom it is the privilege of New Yorkers to hear to-day; and she is the best singer we have of Verdi's music. Did anyone ever hear a tone come out of her throat that was not pure, free, and firm? Frequently the tremolo is an affectation like the excessive vibrato of a sentimental fiddler; sometimes it is the product of weakness due to abuse of the vocal organ. In all cases it is the sign of bad taste or vicious training, or both, and is an abomination. On the opera stage to-day Italian prima donnas are most afflicted with it. In turn Verdi, Meyerbeer, and Wagner have been accused of having caused it, but anyone who has listened intelligently to the opera singers of the last forty years will testify with me that the truly great singers of their music have been as free from the vicious habit as have been those whose artistic horizons have been confined by the music of Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti.
The tenor of the Palmo company was Antognini, who effected his entrance on the American stage five weeks after the opening of the season. In the opinion of Mr. White, he was the greatest tenor ever heard here, not excepting Mario and Salvi, and Mr. White's opinion is so judiciously expressed that one is fain to give it credence. Whether or not it can be extended over the period which he has covered, which is that reaching from the last days of the Academy of Music, when Campanini was still in his vocal prime but had not developed the dramatic powers which he put into play with the decay of his voice, I shall not undertake to say; taste in tenor voices has changed within the last generation in favor of the robust quality so magnificently exemplified in Signor Caruso. To judge from Mr. White's description Antognini, as a singer merely, was a Bonci of a manlier mould. His fame seems to have died with those who heard him, and perhaps this is a good reason for reprinting what Mr. White said about him in full: