Manager / Director:
2 May 2016
“The second night of the season was very unfavorable as regards the weather, but the attendance was both large and brilliant. The ever fresh and pleasant opera of Fra Diavolo was presented in capital style as regards the leading roles which have rarely been more satisfactorily rendered. The reading of the role of the English Lord, by Signor Ronconi, is new, and is less of a caricature than we usually find it in the hands of men of less experience and smaller genius. Without resorting to extreme burlesque, in which the gentleman is made a snob and a fool Ronconi presents us a strongly marked and broadly humorous version of a high bred but absurdly fastidious traveler. It is a character shrewdly and brilliantly drawn, and full of points which tell with the public and one which only a man of his talent could create and stands out in broad relief among the more important characters.
Zerlina is one of the happiest of Miss Louise Kellogg’s efforts. The music suits her style and she sings it with that grace and naivete which are the charms of her manner, and which the character specially demands. Mazzoleni is certainly the beau ideal of the dashing Fra Diavolo, as far as bearing and manner are concerned. The one fault he evidenced in his first personations of that character was a too prononce and robust tenderness. It seemed impossible for him to sing in mezzo voice, but this he has overcome in a great measure, and sang the pleasant love songs in a subdued and, at the same time, passionate manner last evening. It was a marked improvement, and supplied the one thing wanted to make him the most effective Fra Diavolo of the present day.
The music of Lady Pamela is not at all suited to Mme. Testa, but she made the best of it, as might have been expected from a good artist. The other characters were well sustained, and the chorus and orchestra were excellent.”
“There was a fair house at the Winter Garden on Wednesday night. The opera produced—‘Fra Diavolo’—is one which is always acceptable and enjoyable, when moderately well brought out. It is true that there is comparatively little of genuine melody in the opera, but it is lively throughout, and allows little opportunity for lassitude if well rendered. We are happy to say that—thanks to Miss Kellogg, Ronconi, the chorus, and the orchestra—the opera, as a whole, was given in a manner which leaves little room for aught save favorable criticism. As for Miss Kellogg, we never saw her when her dramatic genius was more manifest, or when she sang more charmingly. Some of her feats of vocal execution were really marvelous, and occasionally too refined to be appreciated by the major portion of the audience.
Ronconi was, as he always is, a great delineator of the humorous traits of the character he assumed. It struck us, however, that occasionally he overacted, and ran the risk of sinking into the buffoon. He is, not withstanding all this, always interesting, and seems to infuse a portion of his own superabundant vitality into all who are around him on the stage.
Madame Testa had a part the music of which was unsuited to her range of voice, but she did the best she could under the circumstances. Her acting was very good, but the deficiencies of her voice caused us anew to regret that, for some unexplainable reason, Miss Phillips has been left out of Mr. Maretzek’s company for this season. This singer, who, whenever she appeared, charmed all critical listeners by her rich and thoroughly trained voice, was also an actress of the first order, and one whose place, we regret to say, cannot be filled even by Madame Testa. We cannot imagine what cause has deprived our community of the opportunity of hearing on the lyric stage an artist who is one of the best representatives of our native musical talent, and who abroad has won a higher reputation than any female foreign singer now upon the operatic stage in this country.
The orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Carl Bergmann, did its part perfectly. Mr. Bergmann has not only a corps of well trained and accomplished musicians, but he has them as completely under his control as the keys of a piano are under the hands of a Mills. The orchestral performances alone would redeem a vast amount of ordinary singing.
The chorus, also, was excellent; generally accurate, always pleasing and sometimes really stirring.
We regret that we must conscientiously end our praise of the performance of ‘Fra Diavolo’ here. We are the more sorry, because we believe that Mr. Maretzek—against his own sound musical judgment—has retained an artist whom it pains us to criticize as we think he deserves. That he is now the first tenor of the company we attribute more to an outside pressure than to his own merits. Our readers will anticipate that we refer to Signor Mazzoleni.
We believe that we pronounce the judgment of the most critical musical people of the city when we say that this singer has become—in plain words—unbearable. His voice is disagreeably nasal. When he attempts a piano tone he simply splits his voice, and his pianissimo is only a further reduction by the simple process of contracting the larynx. In concerted pieces—as in the first quintette in ‘Fra Diavolo’—he almost invariably drowns better voices than his own. In solos he wins applause from uneducated persons by the easy process of ‘bearing on’ and singing loud. His personal appearance, ungainly manner, and inexpressive face unfit him for the delineation of the more refined sentiments. We trust that this will be his last season as leading tenor in America.”
“The second night of the Stuart-Maretzek season of Italian opera at Winter Garden was noticeably brilliant. The house was thoroughly filled, and the occasion happily combined the favorable elements of conscientious striving on the part of the singers, and the most perfect sympathy on the part of the audience. The cast included Miss Kellogg, Mlle. Natali-Testa and Signors Mazzoleni and Ronconi. Signor Ronconi's Lord Rockburg is a historic rôle. Its fame preceded his coming to these hospitable shores, and naturally its performance invariably attracts critical and general attention. Varying as it does from all others in conception, make-up and interpretation, it has been and is the subject of diverse criticism. Without the extravagance of the Bellini conception, Ronconi’s rendition of the English traveler is full of humor and sparkling with quiet gems of character-action that make it at once irresistibly comic, and perfectly natural. Nervous and fearful for his own safety, bothered by the flirtations of a pretty wife, annoyed by the loss of property, full of whims and oddities, the born Briton finds in the Italian artist a painter whose brush, though using high colors at times, conveys to [h]oi polloi, as well as the connoisseur, the very best idea we have yet seen upon the stage. Signor Ronconi grows young with age and vigorous with practice. Last evening he was in his best mood, and responsible for any quantity of ‘convulsed laughter.’ Mlle. Natali-Testa was more at home on this occasion than when she first appeared; in consequence, her pleasant role of Lady Pamela was much better rendered; her action was spirited, and found favor with her audience. Of Miss Kellogg's Zerlina and Mazzoleni's Fra Diavolo we have written so often and at such length that further comment would be superfluous. They were greeted enthusiastically by an audience full of appreciation and overflowing with kind feeling. Every encorable [sic] opportunity was availed of by the hearers, who appreciated the evident ambitious determination of both artists. ‘Fra Diavolo’ has never been given better.”
“Wednesday, the performance of Fra Diavolo attracted a respectable number of spectators to the Winter Garden. One knows that the role of Zerline is one of Mlle Kellogg’s best. Mlle Natalie Testa is, without comparison, the best Milady that we’ve seen in New York. She acts with intellect and distinction, and as a singer, although the role is not the greatest choice for such a beautiful voice, it’s easy to see that she’s a consummate musician.
M. Ronconi is splendid in the role of the Englishman. It’s not about caricature any more; like we’ve gotten used to at the Academy, it’s about comedic acting, the finest and in the best taste; M. Ronconi’s success was immense. Where we found caricature, it was in MM. Dubreuil and Fossati, above all in the former, notable in the second act, during Zerline’s aria, and in the third, when they aped a young serving-maid. We would prefer a more austere manner. M. Bernardi played the role of Lorenzo agreeably. As for M. Mazzoleni, he isn’t our ideal Fra Diavolo, but we must testify that, to be fair, the public celebrated and applauded him a lot, except after the beautiful aria in the third act that he garbled, mutilated and misinterpreted.”
Ronconi’s interpretation of the role of Lord Rockbury is well regarded in Europe. He has received enthusiastic reviews in the London Times for it. His take on the role is different from other singers including Bellini’s who performed as the Lord last season; less intense, yet more genuine and lively. His portrayal was that of a true, maturing British man. Only once Ronconi exaggerated his performance: in the end of the second act when he escaped onto Zerlina’s bed and listened to her explanation as if from a throne. However, the audience liked this strange impromptu. Kellogg excelled as usual. Every part she portrays seems to be her best one.