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- Chapters of Opera - 40/70 -

in the regions which most of her rivals carefully avoided. To throw out those scintillant bubbles of sound which used to be looked upon as the highest achievement in singing seemed to be an entirely natural mode of expression with her. With the reasonableness of such a mode of expression I am not concerned now; it is enough that Mme. Melba came nearer to providing it with justification than any one of her contemporaries of that day, except Mme. Sembrich, or any of her contemporaries of to-day. Added to these gifts and graces, she disclosed most admirable musical instincts, a quality which the people had been taught to admire more than ever while they were learning how to give reverence due to the dramatic elements in the modern lyric drama.

I have already intimated that Mme. Melba's operas found little favor with the public compared with "Carmen" and "Faust," and, perhaps, there was in this more than a mere indication of the educational influence left by the German period. I should have no hesitation whatever in saying so had not the "Carmen" craze reached proportions which precluded the thought that artistic predilections or convictions had anything to do with it. So much of a mere fad did Mme. Calvé in "Carmen" become that the public remained all but insensible to the merits of her immeasurably finer impersonation of Santuzza in "Cavalleria Rusticana." It was in Mascagni's opera that she effected her début on November 29, 1893, in company with Señor Vignas, a Spanish tenor, squat and ungraceful of figure, homely of features, restricted in intelligence, and strident of voice. New York knew very little of Mme. Calvé when she came, though she had already been twice as long on the stage as Mme. Melba, and even after her first appearance Mr. Abbey met my congratulations on her achievement with a dubious shake of the head, and the remark that, while he hoped my predictions touching her popularity would be fulfilled, he placed a much lower estimation on her powers than I. Not he, but Mr. Grau, was responsible for her engagement, and his hopes were all centered on Mme. Melba. Like most of our singers at the time, Calvé came to New York by way of London. The rôle of Santuzza, which she had created in Paris in January, 1892, and in London in the following May, had been hailed with gladness in both cities, but her Carmen was as inadequately appreciated in Paris as it was overestimated in New York and London, especially in later years, when the capriciousness which led her originally to break away from some of the traditions of the rôle created by Galli-Marié. and thus cost her the understanding of the Parisians, had become a fixed habit, which she pursued regardless of decent moderation, sound principles, and good taste.

The Parisians attested their artistic Bourbonism not only in declining to recognize the excellence of the good features of Calvé's Carmen, but, also, in failing to appreciate her touchingly beautiful Ophelia, to the great grief of Ambroise Thomas, who went to Italy to see her in the part, and believed that had she but been given the proper support in Paris "Hamlet" would have ranked with "Faust" in popularity. Of course, this was a fond composer's too good opinion of his opera, but the trait of the Paris public which is unwilling to find merit in any change from a performance which first won their admiration has frequently stood in the way of first-class talent. To illustrate this I can relate an anecdote which was repeated to me at an artistic dinner table in the French capital in 1886. It is not for me to vouch for the truth of the story, but give it as it was told to me in explanation of some amused comments which I had made on the stiff conventionality of a performance of "L'Africaine" which I had witnessed at the Grand Opéra. Faure, the original of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet, had been succeeded in the rôle by Lassalle, whose fine art in newer works had met with full recognition from press and public. To Lassalle's great surprise, his Hamlet, a remarkably fine performance within the limit set by the pitiable operatic travesty of Shakespeare's play, was received coldly, and there was wide comment on the circumstance that he had ignored traditions of performance, especially in the scene between the Prince and his mother. In considerable distress he went to Faure, who had set the fashion:

"What pose, gesture, effect of yours is it that I have failed to copy?" he asked of his confrère.

And Faure explained:

At the first performance when he reached the scene in question, he had found his throat suddenly clogged. Only by an act neither pleasant to observe nor polite to describe, could he remove the obstruction, and at a supreme moment he had improvised a movement which carried his face out of sight of the audience, so that he might free his throat unnoticed. Knowing nothing of the cause, the public applauded the effect, and the singular nuance became a part of the "business" of the piece.

When Mme. Calvé flashed upon New York in "Cavalleria Rusticana," her impersonation startled me into the declaration that no finer lyrico-dramatic performance had been witnessed in America within a generation. Unhesitatingly I placed it by the side of Materna's Brünnhilde, Brandt's Fidès, Niemann's Tristan and Siegmund, and Fischer's Hans Sachs, without, of course, presuming to compare the relative value of the dramatists' conceits. Even now I cannot recall anything finer in the region of combined action and song. She held her listeners so completely captive and swayed them so powerfully that she compelled even the foolishly and affectedly frantic claquers, who had seats near the stage, to hold their peace. They could only make their boisterous clamor in response to the old-fashioned appeal made by a high tone screeched by the stridulous tenor. There was as little conventionality in her singing as in her acting, though she had not yet adopted that indifference to rhythm which has marked her singing in more recent years. She saturated the music with emotion. Much of it she seemed to sing to herself, declaiming it like dramatic speech whose emotional contents had been raised to a higher power by the melody. In moments of extreme excitement one scarcely realized that she was singing at all. Carried along by the torrent of her feelings, her listeners accepted her song as the only proper and efficient expression for her emotional state. The two expressions, song and action, were one; they were mutually complemental. It was not nature subordinated to art, but art vitalized by nature. It is not possible for me to compare her Carmen with Galli-Marié's, which stood in the way of her appreciation in the part in Paris. I have heard that that was so frank in one of its expressions that it invited the interference of the Prefect of the Seine. To me, at least, in Mme. Calvé's impersonation, it seemed that I was enjoying my first revelation of some of the elements of the character of the gypsy as it had existed in the imagination of Prosper Mérimée when he wrote his novel. To me she presented a woman thoroughly wanton and diabolically equipped with the wicked witcheries which explained, if they did not palliate, the conduct of Don José. Here we had a woman without conscience, but also without the capacity for even a wicked affection; a woman who might have been the thief whom the novelist describes, who surely carried a dagger in her corsage, and who in some respects left absolutely nothing to the imagination, to which even a drama like "Carmen" makes appeal. She came upon the stage as Mérimée's heroine stepped into his pages: "poising herself on her hips, like a filly from the Cordovan stud," and with a fine simulation of unconsciousness, she seemed every moment about to break into one of those dances which the satirist castigated in the days of the Roman Empire:

Nec de Gadibus improbis puellae Vibrabunt sine fine prurientes Lascivos docili tremore lumbos.

Alas! Mme. Calvé's admiration for herself was stronger than her devotion to an artistic ideal, and it was not long before her Carmen became completely merged in her own capricious personality.

Massenet's "Werther" (performed in Chicago, March 29) had its first New York performance at the Metropolitan, April 19, 1894, with Mme. Eames, Sigrid Arnoldson, Jean de Reszke, M. Martapoura, and Signor Carbone. Signor Mancinelli conducted. The opera had one performance, and was repeated once in the season of 1896-97. Then it disappeared from the repertory of the Metropolitan, and has since then not been thought of, apparently, although strenuous efforts have been made ever and anon to give interest to the French list. I record the fact as one to be deplored. "Werther" is a beautiful opera; as instinct with throbbing life in every one of its scenes as the more widely admired "Manon" is in its best scene. It has its weak spots as have all of Massenet's operas, despite his mastery of technique, but its music will always appeal to refined artistic sensibilities for its lyric charm, its delicate workmanship, its splendid dramatic climax in the duo between Werther and Charlotte, beginning: "Ah! pourvu que de voie ces yeux toujours ouverts," and its fine scoring. It smacks more of the atmosphere of the Parisian salon than of the sweet breezes with which Goethe filled the story, but no Frenchman has yet been able to talk aught but polite French in music for the stage, Berlioz excepted, and the music of "Werther" is of finer texture than that of most of the operas produced by Massenet since.

The season of 1894-95, consisting again of thirteen weeks, began on November 19th, and closed on February 16th. It was marked by a number of incidents, some of which made a permanent impression on the policy of the Metropolitan Opera House. Chief of these was a remarkable eruption of sentiment in favor of German opera--so vigorous an eruption, indeed, that it led to the incorporation of German performances in the Metropolitan repertory ever after, though the change involved a much greater augmentation of the forces of the establishment than the consorting of French with Italian had involved. To this I shall give the attention which it deserves presently. Other features were the introduction of Saturday night performances of opera at reduced prices (a feature which became permanent), the appearance of several new singers, and the production of two novelties, one of them Verdi's "Falstaff," of first-class importance.

In their prospectus the managers promised a reformation of the chorus, and announced the re-engagement of "nearly all the great favorites of last year." The improvement of the chorus was not particularly noticeable except in appearance; a number of young and comely American women were enlisted, but their best service was to stand in front of the old stagers who knew the operas, and could sing but who seemed to have come down through the ages from the early days of the old Academy. The phrase "nearly all" was an ominous one, for it betokened the absence from the company of Mme. Calvé. The newcomers were Lucille Hill, Sybil Sanderson, Zélie de Lussan, Mira Heller, and Libia Drog, sopranos; G. Russitano and Francesco Tamagno, tenors, and Victor Maurel, who had been a popular favorite twenty years before at the Academy of Music. Luigi Mancinelli and E. Bevignani were the conductors, and Mr. Seidl was engaged to give éclat to the Sunday evening concerts. Mme. Melba's chief financial value to the management in the preceding season had been found to lie in these concerts, which this year were begun earlier than usual, and made a part of Melba's concert tour. The first opera was "Roméo et Juliette," with the cast beloved of society, and on the second night the introduction of the newcomers began. But woefully. The opera was "William Tell," and Signorina Drog sang the part of the heroine in place of Miss Hill, indisposed. Mathilde (or Matilda--the opera was sung in Italian), does not appear in the opera until the second act, and then she has the most familiar air in the opera to sing--"Selva opaca," an air which then belonged to the concert-room repertory of most florid sopranos. When Signorina Drog came upon the stage, it is safe to say that no one regretted her substitution for the English singer except herself. She was an exceedingly handsome person, who moved about with attractive freedom and grace, and disclosed a voice of good quality, especially in the upper register. She began her aria most tastefully, but scarcely had she begun when her memory played her false. For a few dreadful seconds she tried to pick up the thread of the melody but in vain. Then came the inevitable breakdown. She quit trying, and appealed

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