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- Chapters of Opera - 28/70 -

December 2d. The cast was as follows: Sulamith, Fräulein Lebmaun; Königin, Frau Krämer-Wiedl; Astaroth, Fräulein Brandt; Solomon, Herr Robinson; Assad, Herr Stritt; Hohepriester, Herr Fischer; Baal Hanan, Herr Alexi. Mr. Seidl conducted. The opera (which had had its first production in Vienna ten years before, and had achieved almost as much success in Germany as Nessler's "Trompeter von Säkkingen") was produced with great sumptuousness, and being also admirably sung and acted, it made a record that provided opera-goers in New York with a sensation of a kind that they had not known before, and to which they did not grow accustomed until the later dramas of Wagner began their triumphal career at the Metropolitan. Twenty years afterward (season 1905-06) Mr. Conried revived the opera at the Metropolitan, but it was found that in the interim its fires had paled. In 1885 there were reasons why the public should not only have been charmed, but even impressed by the opera. In spite of its weaknesses it was then, and still is, an effective opera. Thoughtfully considered, the libretto is not one of any poetical worth, but in its handling of the things which give pleasure to the superficial observer it is admirable. It presents a story which is fairly rational, which enlists the interest, if not the sympathy, of the observers, which is new as a spectacle, and which is full of pomp and circumstance. Looked at from its ethical side and considered with reference to the sources of its poetical elements, it falls under condemnation. The title of the opera would seem to indicate that the Bible story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon had been drawn on for the plot. That is true. The Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem to see Solomon in his glory, and that is the end of the draft on the Biblical story; the rest is the modern poet's invention. But that is the way of operas with Biblical subjects--a few names, an incident, and the rest of invention. In Gounod's "Reine de Saba" the magnificently storied queen tries to elope with the architect of Solomon's temple like any wilful millionaire's daughter. Salome is a favorite subject just now that the danse du ventre is working its way into polite society, but save for the dance and the names of the tetrarch and his wife, the Bible contributes nothing to the Salome dramas and pantomimes. Sulamith, who figures like an abandoned Dido, in the opera of Mosenthal and Goldmark, owes her name, but not her nature or any of her experiences, to the pastoral play which Solomon is credited with having written. The Song of Songs contributes, also, a few lines of poetry to the book, and a ritualistic service celebrated in the Temple finds its prototype in some verses from Psalms lxvii and cxvii, but with this I have enumerated all that "Die Königin von Saba" owes to the sacred Scriptures. Solomon's magnificent reign and marvelous wisdom, which contribute factors to the production, belong to profane as well as to sacred history, and persons with deeply rooted prejudices touching the people of Biblical story will be happiest if they can think of some other than the Scriptural Solomon as the prototype of Mosenthal and Goldmark, for in truth they make of him a sorry sentimentalist at best. The local color of the old story has been borrowed from the old story; the dramatic motive comes plainly from "Tannhäuser"; Sulamith is Elizabeth, the Queen Venus, Assad Tannhäuser, and Solomon Wolfram. Goldmark's music is highly spiced. At times it rushes along like a lava stream, every measure throbbing with eager, excited, and exciting life. He revels in instrumental color; the language of his orchestra is as glowing as the poetry attributed to the veritable King whom the operatic story celebrates. Many composers before him made use of Oriental cadences and rhythms, but to none did they seem so like a native language. It has not been every Jew who could thus handle a Jewish subject. Compare Halévy, Meyerbeer, and Rubinstein with Goldmark.

The first performance of Wagner's "Meistersinger" fell on the same night as the production for the first time in America of Goetz's "Widerspänstigen Zähmung" in English by the National Opera Company. We thus had in juxtaposition an admirable operatic adaptation of a Shakespearian comedy and a modern comedy, of which I thought at the time I could not speak in higher praise than to say that it was truly Shakespearian in its delineation of character. In my book, "Studies in the Wagnerian Drama," I have analyzed Wagner's comedy from many points of view, and printed besides the results of investigations of the old Nuremberg mastersingers made on the spot. The significance of this record is that it tells of the introduction in America of a comedy which, though foreign in matter and manner to the thoughts, habits, and feelings of the American people, has, nevertheless, held a high place in their admiration. Later we shall see that this admiration was based on the sound understanding of the play which the original, performers inculcated. Let their names therefore be preserved. They were: Hans Sachs, Emil Fischer; Veit Pogner, Josef Staudigl; Kunz Vogelsang, Herr Dworsky; Konrad Nachtigal, Emil Sänger; Sixtus Beckmesser, Otto Kemlitz; Fritz Kothner, Herr Lehmler; Balthasar Zorn, Herr Hoppe; Ulrich Eisslinger, Herr Klaus; Augustin Moser, Herr Langer; Hermaun Ortel, Herr Doerfer; Hans Schwartz, Herr Eiserbeck; Hans Foltz, Herr Anlauf; Walther von Stolzing, Albert Stritt; David, Herr Kramer; Eva, Auguste Seidl-Krauss; Magdalena, Marianne Brandt; Nachtwächter, Carl Kaufmann. Mr. Seidl conductor.

I modulate to the Metropolitan season 1886-87 through the performances of the opposition, which began at the Academy of Music, but ended in the house which was now definitely acknowledged to be the home, and only home, of fashionable opera. Mme. Patti provided the last bit of evidence. In the two preceding seasons she had led Colonel Mapleson's forces at the Academy; yet the public would have none of his opera. Now, after a year's absence, she returned to America under the management of Mr. Abbey, who had opposed Nilsson to her when the rivalry of the houses began. She gave operatic concerts, one, two, three, and four, at the Academy of Music, with old favorites of the New York public--Scalchi, Novara, and a French tenor named Guille--in her company, besides Signor Arditi; and she gave fragments of opera ("Semiramide" and "Martha"), besides a miscellaneous concert. The experiences of Mme. Patti on her return to her old home in 1881 were measurably repeated. The great singer was admired, of course, and half an operatic loaf was accepted as better than no bread. This was in November, 1886, and in April, 1887, Mr. Abbey decided to offer the operatic loaf, such as it was, but to cut it, not at the house with which Patti's name had been intimately associated, but at the Metropolitan Opera House. He was conjuring with the legend (then new, but afterward worn threadbare), "Patti's Farewell." I am writing in July, 1908, and have just been reading the same legend again in the London newspapers--twenty-one years after it served Mr. Abbey a turn. In April, then, Mr. Abbey came to the Metropolitan Opera House with Mme. Patti to give six "farewell" operatic performances. The company consisted of Scalchi, Vicini, Galassi, Valerga, Del Puente, Novara, Abramoff, Corsi, and Migliara, some of them recruited from an earlier company that had come and departed like a shadow in the fall season. Also Miss Gertrude Griswold, whom I mention because she was an American singer who had given promise of good things in Europe, and who helped Mme. Patti with the one and doubly singular performance of "Carmen," in which she was seen and (occasionally) heard in the United States. Mr. Abbey gave six performances, in all of which Mme. Patti appeared, the operas being "La Traviata," "Semiramide," "Faust," "Carmen," "Lucia," and "Marta." The financial results were phenomenal. The public paid nearly $70,000 for the six operas! Had Colonel Mapleson been able to do fifty per cent. of such business the Academy of Music might have been saved. But Mr. Abbey, to use the slang of the stage, was playing Patti as a sensation. Prices of admission were abnormal, and so was the audience. Fashion heard Patti at the Metropolitan, and so did suburban folk, who came to $10 opera in business coats, bonnets, and shawls. Such audiences were never seen in the theater before or since.

This was a little Italian opera season, but a successful one, and one housed at the Metropolitan. In the fall there had been another at the Academy of Music, which was not a success, and which ended in a quarrel between prima donna and manager that contributed a significant item to the popular knowledge of the status of Italian opera. On October 18th an Italian named Angelo began a season of Italian opera at the Academy. The name of the company was the Angelo Grand Italian Opera Company, and its manager's experience had been made, as an underling of Mapleson in the luggage department. The season, as projected, was to last five weeks, and a virtue proclaimed in the list was to be a departure from the hurdy-gurdy list which had been doing service so long. There were smiles among the knowing that a trunk despatcher should appear as the successor of his former employer, and that employer so polished a man of the world as James H. Mapleson; but opera makes strange bedfellows, and there have been stranger things than this in its history. A Hebrew boy named Pohl was little more than a bootblack when he entered the service of Maurice Strakosch, but as Herr Pollini a couple of decades later he was a partner of that elegant gentleman and experienced impresario, and one of the operatic dictators of Germany. Eventually, in the case of the Angelo Grand Italian Opera Company, it turned out that the Deus ex machina was the prima donna, Giulia Valda (Miss Julia Wheelock), an American singer, who had chosen this means of getting a hearing in her native land. The list of operas sounded like an echo of half a century before. Five operas were given, and four of them were by Verdi: "Luisa Miller," "I Lombardi," "Un Ballo in Maschera," and "I due Foscari;" the remaining opera was Petrella's "Ione." Here was an escape from the threadbare with a vengeance. It made the critics rub their eyes and wonder if Mme. Valda had not been in the company of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Five weeks were projected, but trouble came at the end of a fortnight--that is to say, it came to public notice at the end of a fortnight; it began probably with the season. On November 3d the persons who came to hear a promised performance of "La Juive" found the doors of the Academy closed. A few spasmodic efforts to galvanize the corpse into the semblance of life were made, but in vain; the Angelo Grand Italian Opera Company was dead. Some of its members had been heard before in other organizations; some were heard later. They were Giulia Valda, Mlle. Prandi, Mme. Valerga, Mlle. Corre, Mathilde Ricci, Mme. Mestress, Mme. Bianchi-Montaldo, Signor Vicini, Lalloni, Bologna, Greco, Giannini, Pinto, Corsi, Migliara, and Conti. The conductors were Logheder and Bimboni, the latter of whom was discovered as a young conductor of surprising merit twenty years later by Boston.

One season of the American Opera Company sufficed to involve it in such financial difficulties that its managers deemed a reorganization necessary. It appeared, therefore, in the season of 1886-87 under the title, National Opera Company. Mr. Theodore Thomas was still its musical director, and Mr. Gustav Hinrichs and Arthur Mees assistant conductors; Charles E. Locke was the business manager. The company spent the greater part of the season in other cities, but gave two series of representations in Brooklyn, at the Academy of Music, and one series at the Metropolitan Opera House. The first Brooklyn season was of one week, from December 27th to January 1st, when the German company was idle; the second embraced the Thursday evenings from February 28th to March 26th, during which period the company gave a regular series of representations in New York. Among the singers were Pauline L'Allemand, Emma Juch, Laura Moore, Mathilde Phillips (sister of Adelaide Phillips, one of the singers of first rank sent out into the world by America), Jessie Bartlett Davis, Mme. Bertha Pierson, William Candidus, Charles Bassett (The Signor Bassetti of Colonel Mapleson's company in the previous season), William Fessenden, William Ludwig, Myron W. Whitney, Alonzo E. Stoddard, and William Hamilton. The notable feature of the repertory was the first production in America of Rubinstein's opera "Nero," on March 14, 1887. The book had been translated for the production by Mr. John P. Jackson. Mr. Thomas conducted, and the cast was as follows: Nero Claudius, William Candidus; Julius Vindex, William Ludwig; Tigellinus, A. E. Stoddard; Balbillus, Myron W. Whitney; Saccus, William Fessenden; Sevirus and a Centurion, William Hamilton; Terpander, William H. Lee; Poppaea, Bertha Pierson; Epicharis, Cornelia van Santen; Chrysa, Emma Juch; Agrippina, Emily Sterling; Lupus, Pauline L'Allemand. So far as I can recall, "Nero" is the only opera of Rubinstein's that has been given in the United States. Its performance by the National Opera Company did greater justice to its spectacular than its musical features, but in this there was not a large measure of artistic obliquity. The opera

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