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- Chapters of Opera - 60/70 -

contingent--Bonci, the most famous of living tenors, after Caruso, whom Mr. Conried thought it wise to carry over to the Metropolitan Opera House, thus precipitating a controversy, which, as such things go, was of real assistance to the manager whom the rival sought to injure; Maurice Renaud, the most finished and versatile of French operatic artists, whom the foresight of Maurice Grau had retained for the Metropolitan, but whose contract Mr. Conried canceled at the cost of a penalty; M. Charles Dalmorès, a sterling dramatic tenor; M. Gilibert, a French baritone of refined qualities; Mme. Bressler-Gianoli, who, coming some years before in a peripatetic French company to the Casino, had stirred the enthusiasm of the critics with her truthful, powerful, and unconventional performance of Carmen; Ancona, a barytone who had been an admired member of the Metropolitan company, and a serviceable bass named Arimondi. Melba and Calvé came later in the season.

Exaggerated stories of Mr. Hammerstein's success followed the close of his season, and if all that Mr. Hammerstein himself said could have been accepted in its literalness the lesson of the season would have been that the people who live in New York and come to New York in the winter season were willing to spend, let me say, one and three-quarter millions of dollars every year for this one form of entertainment. It would appear, also, that fad and fashion were not the controlling impulse in this vast expenditure; for the chief things which fad and fashion had to offer at the Metropolitan Opera House were noticeably absent from the Manhattan. On a score of occasions there were large gatherings representative of wealth and what is called society at the house in Thirty-fourth Street, but generally the audiences were distinct in their composition. It almost seemed as if Mr. Hammerstein had been correct in his deduction, that there were enough people in New York who wanted to go to the opera, but were excluded from the Metropolitan by the extent of the subscription, to support a second house. If this was so it marked a marvelous change from the time of the last operatic rivalry, which ruined both Mapleson and Abbey, and destroyed the prestige of the Academy of Music forever. Perhaps the city's growth in population and wealth furnished the explanation; I can scarcely believe from a study of the doings at the two houses that a growth in musical taste and culture was the determining factor. Twenty years ago such a list of operas as that presented by Mr. Hammerstein in his first season would have spelled ruin to any manager. Not even the prestige of Adelina Patti would have saved it. There was not a novelty in the list.

Many things contributed to the measure of success which Mr. Hammerstein won. There was a large fascination in the audacity of the undertaking, and its freedom from art-cant and affectation. Curiosity was irritated by the manager's daring, and admiration challenged by the manner in which he kept faith with the public. He seemed to be attempting the impossible, but he accomplished all that he said he would do. It is no secret--in fact, Mr. Hammerstein himself proclaimed it--that his artistic achievements were due in an overwhelming degree to the efficiency of Signor Cleofonte Campanini, his artistic director. But not to his efficiency alone--to his devotion and zeal also. Signor Campanini was not only the artistic director--he was also almost exclusively the conductor of the performances. His zeal fired all the forces employed at the opera house. A company gathered together from the ends of the earth succeeded in giving one hundred and thirteen performances of twenty-two operas, and making many of the performances of really remarkable excellence. The reason was obvious at nearly every presentation; from the principals down to the last person in the chorus and orchestra, every one had his heart in his work. Not only the desire to do their duty, but the pardonable ambition to do better than the rival establishment, inspired singers and players alike. It so happened that on one Saturday evening the same opera--Verdi's "Aïda"--was performed at both houses. A newspaper reporter carried the intelligence to the Manhattan Opera House that half the seats were empty at the Metropolitan, while the new house was crowded. The curtain was down at the time, and a score of the performers on the stage, headed by the conductor himself, at once formed a ring and danced a dance of triumph.

For musical effects, as well as some dramatic, there were distinct advantages with the new house. The disposition of the seats and stage brought the listeners and performers nearer together. The acoustical conditions at the Manhattan Opera House were admirable; there could be no such feeling of intimacy at the Metropolitan Opera House as existed here. The quality appealed to the music lover pure and simple, and him only, however, for in the things which make the opera a fashionable social diversion the new building was deficient and woefully inferior to the old.

The lovers of good singing were surprised by the excellence of Mr. Hammerstein's singers, especially the male contingent--a surprise which was heightened by the protestations, to which they had long been habituated, that there was no talent left in Europe comparable with that engaged at the Metropolitan. When in the face of such assertions the voices and the art of tenors like Bonci and Dalmores, and of barytones like Renaud and Ancona, were brought into notice their actual merit seemed doubled. The women singers of the first rank, save Mmes. Melba and Calvé, who appeared in what would have been called "star" engagements under the old theatrical stock régime, were in no way comparable with those of the Metropolitan Opera House, but those of the second rank were superior--a circumstance which was emphasized by the better ensemble performances, for which a discriminating public soon learned to thank Signor Campanini and the esprit de corps with which he inflamed the establishment's forces.

The opening of the season, on December 3 1906, had been proclaimed a week earlier, so as to make it synchronous with that of the Metropolitan Opera House; but Mr. Hammerstein's house was not ready, nor were his singers or stage fixtures. The fact looked ominous, and the enterprise took a lugubrious beginning a week later, when "I Puritani," which had been chosen as the opening opera because it was looked upon in Europe as affording to Signor Bonci his finest artistic opportunity, failed to arouse any public interest. It was an experience which Mr. Hammerstein was destined to have again and again with operas like "Dinorah," "Mignon," "Fra Diavolo," "Il Barbiere," and "Un Ballo in Maschera," for which the public seemed suddenly to have lost all liking, while still clinging to works of equal antiquatedness.

From the opening night to the closing the operas of the list were produced on the dates and in the succession indicated in the following table, which tells also the number of times each opera was performed. It must be stated, however, that there were a number of occasions in the course of the season when two operas or portions of several operas were performed on a single evening. This accounts for the large number of times that Mascagni's "Cavalleria" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" were given, the latter being also helped in the record by the fact that it was twice bracketed with Massenet's "Navarraise."

Opera First performance Times

"I Puritani" ................. December 3 ............. 2 "Rigoletto" .................. December 5 ............ 11 "Faust" ...................... December 7 ............. 7 "Don Giovanni" ............... December 12 ............ 4 "Carmen" ..................... December 14 ........... 19 "Aïda" ....................... December 19 ........... 12 "Lucia di Lammermoor" ........ December 21 ............ 6 "Il Trovatore" ............... January 1 .............. 6 "La Traviata" ................ January 2 .............. 3 "L'Elisir d'Amore" ........... January 5 .............. 3 "Gil Ugonotti" ............... January 18 ............. 5 "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" .... January 21 ............. 2 "La Sonnambula" .............. January 25 ............. 3 "Pagliacci" .................. February 1 ............ 10 "Cavalleria Rusticana" ....... February 1 ............. 8 "Mignon" ..................... February 7 ............. 3 "Dinorah" .................... February 20 ............ 1 "Un Ballo in Maschera" ....... February 27 ............ 2 "La Bohème" .................. March 1 ................ 4 "Fra Diavolo" ................ March 8 ................ 4 "Marta" ...................... March 23 ............... 4 Manzoni Requiem (Good Fri.) .. March 29 ............... 1 "La Navarraise" .............. April 10 ............... 2

On three occasions the regular procedure was interrupted for the sake of matters of temporary and special interest. Thus, on March 2d, there was a miscellaneous bill, made up of an act of "Dinorah," one of "Faust," and all of "Cavalleria Rusticana"; on April 19th, the performance was little else than a concert, at which fragments of six operas, some of which were not in the repertory, were sung; while on Good Friday, Verdi's Requiem Mass, composed in honor of Manzoni, took the place of an opera, and was sung to popular prices, though it was on a regular opera night.

The subscription was so small that it seemed unnecessary to differentiate in the table between regular and extra performances. Of the latter there were twenty on Saturday nights, at popular prices, besides others given on holidays and for benefits. Though it is to be noted as a matter of history that the competition of the Manhattan Opera House did not appreciably affect the subscription of the Metropolitan, it is also to be noted that as a rule the attendance on the Saturday night popular performances was larger at the new house.

A few of the incidents of the season deserve to be passed in review. Of the singers whose presence in Mr. Hammerstein's company lent distinction to it, Signor Bonci appeared on the opening night in "I Puritani." The opera failed to awaken interest, but Bonci caught the popular fancy and held it to the end. Toward the close of February, however, it was announced that he had made a contract with Mr. Conried to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House the next season. Mr. Hammerstein first met the move of his rival by announcing the engagement of Signor Zenatello, but afterward began legal proceedings to prevent Signor Bonci from fulfilling his contract with the manager of the house in upper Broadway. M. Renaud, the great French barytone, effected his entrance in "Rigoletto," but he was not in his best voice and condition, and only later conquered recognition for his fine talents. The opera, however, took its place on the popular list, since it employed, at different times, the finest talent at the command of the management. The first large and complete triumph by an opera was won on December 14th, by "Carmen," in which Mme. Bressler-Gianoli appeared as the heroine. She enacted the part fifteen times before Mme. Calvé came to take back the territory which had so long belonged to her.

A second success followed hard on the heels of "Carmen." This was "Aïda," the triumph of which was one of ensemble, in which the chorus, under Signor Campanini, played no small part. Mme. Melba's coming, on January 2d, was the signal for the awakening of society's interest in Mr. Hammerstein's enterprise. She remained until March 25th, when she said farewell in a performance of Puccini's "Bohème," the production of which by Mr. Hammerstein in defiance of the rights of Mr. Conried (according to the allegations of the publishers, Ricordi) and the legal proceedings ending with the granting of an injunction against Mr. Hammerstein at the end of his season, was one of the diverting incidents of the merry operatic war. Mme. Melba sang three times in "La Traviata," five times in "Rigoletto," twice in "Lucia di Lammermoor," once in "Faust," and four times in "La Bohème."

The Bonci incident and the interest created in Mr. Hammerstein's enterprise by Mme. Melba's popularity stimulated interest in the

Chapters of Opera - 60/70

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