Juignet and Drivet's French Opera Company: Songe d’une nuit d’été

Event Information

Venue(s):
French Theatre

Conductor(s):
Auguste Predigam

Event Type:
Opera

Record Information

Status:
Published

Last Updated:
30 September 2016

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

30 Oct 1866, 7:45 PM
01 Nov 1866, 7:45 PM

Performers and/or Works Performed

1)
aka Midsummer night's dream
Composer(s): Thomas
Text Author: Leuven, Rosier
Participants:  Juignet and Drivet's French Opera Company;  Jeanne Laurentis (role: Olivia);  Monsieur [tenor] Anthelme (role: Shakespeare);  Jean Vert (role: Falstaff);  Paul de Surmont (role: Latimer);  Elvira Naddie (role: Queen)

Citations

1)
Advertisement: New York Herald, 28 October 1866.
2)
Advertisement: New-York Times, 28 October 1866, 7.
3)
Announcement: New York Herald, 29 October 1866, 5.
4)
Announcement: New York Herald, 30 October 1866, 7.
5)
Advertisement: New York Herald, 30 October 1866, 7.
6)
Announcement: New-York Times, 30 October 1866, 5.
7)
Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 30 October 1866, 8.
8)
Review: New York Herald, 31 October 1866, 7.

“We must congratulate the management of the French Opera on the decided improvement in the audience last night in point of numbers. It was really encouraging to the artists and all who wish the success of this excellent form of opera to see at least the parquet completely filled, and quite a respectable show in the two tiers.  The increase in the audience seemed to inspire the artists to unwonted efforts and they gave more complete satisfaction last night than on any other night since the season commenced. The opera was by Ambrose Thomas, one of the professors of the Conservatory of Paris, and it is called ‘Songe d'une Nuit d'Eté,’ (Midsummer Night’s Dream). The libretto, as regards the treatment of the well known characters introduced is very absurd to the historical reader, for it places some of those characters in positions entirely at variance with all received ideas of them. Imagine Queen Elizabeth, taking refuge in an inn from the pursuit of drunken sailors and compromising her dignity and pride by holding a nocturnal interview with Shakespeare in Richmond park. And again, think of Shakespeare as a sot, a bully, and a [illeg.] apostrophizer, and Falstaff as secretary to the Virgin Queen. Still, the misconception of those personages is consistently carried out, and if we close our eyes to the above ludicrous blunders of the librettists, there remains a very interesting and amusing plot. The inn, the park and the palace are the scenes and the Queen, one of her maids of honor, ‘the skeptic Shakespeare, the tender, silent Lord Latimer, the gay, fat, round, boasting Falstaff’ and a crowd of players, courtiers, keepers and inn servants the characters. The first act is full of musical gems. We can only select a few. The trio between Elizabeth, Olivia and Falstaff, where he imagines that he has made an impression on the hearts of the masked beauties, bubbles over with mirth and exquisite melody. Latimer’s romance, ‘Olivia! Olivia!’ is a tender, impassioned air, and was sung by M. De Laurent with taste and feeling. The gentleman’s voice improves on acquaintance. It is a light tenor; but the tone is pure, sweet and firm, and his execution is neat and devoid of meretricious display. The drinking couplets of Shakespeare and the cavatina of Elizabeth were also remarkable features in the first act. Anthelme eclipsed his former successes in his impersonation of the great poet. In voice and acting he left little to be wished for. He used the falsetto very sparingly, and in the scene with Elizabeth in the second act his voice was richer in tone than we heard it in any previous opera. Mlle. Naddie pleased the audience to the highest degree and achieved a marked triumph as the Queen. Mlle. Laurentis was not exactly in a congenial rôle as Olivia, and Falstaff (M. Vert) seemed to be doubtful as to the correct placing of his voice in wide intervals, and therefore marred his otherwise good singing. The former, however, sang well and the latter acted splendidly. There are many of the brilliant, dashing choruses so characteristic of the French school scattered through the opera. They were nearly all spoiled by the mechanical, spiritless manner in which the chorus treated them. The [illeg.] chorus, ‘[illeg.] a la Reine,’ was the only one that received good usage at their hands. The ensemble, however, was good, and showed that with proper care and attention at rehearsals this important element in opera comique may be raised to the proper standard. The orchestra was pretty fair, but Mr. Predigam should keep the brass and reed instruments more under control. The opera was so well put on the stage in regard to scenery and costumes, a circumstance that is sometimes neglected by operatic managers, that the management deserves much credit for it. The audience seemed to be more interested in and pleased with this work of Ambrose Thomas than in any preceding night of the season. It will be given at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this evening. Last evening, for the first time, librettos, with French and English words, and some of the music of the opera, were introduced. They will supply a want that has heretofore been felt to a considerable degree. On Thursday the Queen’s Musketeers will be given, and at the matinee, on Saturday, the Crown Diamonds.”

9)
Review: Courrier des États-Unis, 01 November 1866.

“The day before yesterday, the performance of the Songe d’une Nuit d’Eté, of M. Ambroise Thomas, was excellent; it’s about this performance that we have to give an account.

The libretto of Songe, all historical accuracy apart, is interesting and very well arranged: the music, without blazing with the breath of good living, is no less the music of the master. The production was perfect: the procession of cooks and scullions, in the first act, is the best we’ve seen of this genre in New York. Behind a grand chef altogether proud of his importance there marched in size places the scullions, the cooks’ helpers, the spit-turners, the parsley-choppers, all dressed in cap, cassock, and apron of dazzling whiteness, all armed with Homeric platters, the sight of which excited the appetite and produced dreams of Lucullus or the Baron Brisse. This procession, led with pomp by the drunken Falstaff, was a great success. You might say you saw in action the chapter of Gargantua where Rabelais provides a sumptuous enumeration of the victuals destined to satiate the conquerors of Pierochole. In the second act, the gamekeepers’ costumes were admirable to their opulence and accuracy. We should be thankful to M. Deligne, who is specifically in charge of those details.

The performers surpassed themselves. M. Anthelme (Shakespeare) has never sung or acted better. And notwithstanding [the fact that] the role is one of the most difficult in the repertoire. The intoxication scene, in the first act, can’t be more ticklish. You have to show the authors’ meaning without ever touching on bad taste, and M. Anthelme succeeded perfectly in this. In the second act, he sang his romance with exquisite taste, and one wanted to make him begin the second verse all over again. In the ensembles, he had powerful and strong notes, and some truly pleasing moments.

M. Surmont’s role (Latimer) is a bit in the background; he sand with very little voice and a lot of technique, and showed himself a charming comedian, as always.

M. Vert (Falstaff) is a strange artist. Where he is inferior, he reaches the limits of badness; where he is good, he approaches perfection. Sometimes he vocalizes in a remarkable fashion; sometimes he disregards the laws of tonality. Tuesday, the [good] qualities incontestably prevailed over the faults. He sang his entrance song, Compagnons, chantons donc, very well. In the ensembles, his vocalizations would make a nightingale envious. Our opinion is that M. Vert is one of the most conscientious artists and a consummate musician: his qualities are indeed his own: he has attained them; his principal fault is that Nature gave him a voice that’s both clear and too devoid of body in the high notes. The timbre of his voice, in that register, is, so to speak, such that he isn’t the master of it, if he wants to give it everything. Tuesday, he had the very wise idea of combating that tendency by singing piano in the high part, and he found the perfect solution. The bass notes were naturally very round and beautiful. As an actor, M. Vert was very satisfying, and he entered very well into the skin and the spirit of the gourmandizing friend of Shakespeare. M. Vert inspires us the more so with sympathy than we have sometimes been obliged to be, to not mutilate the truth, to not say more than we would have wanted. It’s truly a pleasure to pay homage to his real qualities, and to mention a role in which one can applaud him without a severe lack of taste.

What shall we say about Mlle Naddie (Elizabeth)? To repeat the same praises is tedious for the reader, and we could only reproduce about Songe what we’ve already printed about the Diamants or the Noces de Jeannette. Mlle Naddie has gone alle stele, and for our theater it’s a fixed star, always twinkling and always luminous. Mlle Laurentis (Olivia) didn’t have a role that was very favorable for her: outside roles agree more with this alert and open nature.

The chorus was good, above all in the second act: the chorus of gamekeepers, sung by the massed chorus reinforced by the elite artists, carried away the audience. The orchestra was again, to our taste, a bit too noisy. It must moderate itself all the more because the pitch one uses in America is perceptibly higher than that used in France. Perhaps you recall that some years ago, there was an investigation of the causes that made older works very difficult to perform, since they appeared to be written [in a] high [register]. Did the sopranos and tenors of Grétry and Gluck have different voices than those of today? The question was studied, and it was found that pitch has changed considerably over the past sixty years. Moreover, pitches change depending on theaters. One dreamed then of lowering them, and of having a unified pitch, and through the initiative of the French government, this useful reform was extended to almost all of Europe. M. Maretzek, then in Paris, solicited and obtained the honor of being the reformer of pitch in the United States, and he received an official commission initialed ad hoc. He deluded himself that Verdi’s operas would henceforth not break the voices of his tenors. Vain hope! He found an unforeseen resistance on the part of the German instrumentalists, who compose the majority of orchestras. These gentlemen, who aren’t singers and care little about destroying the voices of stage artists, oppose all reform, under the pretext that with this pitch in use the violins and all the stringed instruments have much more brightness and sonority, which is correct.  M. Maretzek couldn’t triumph over their force of inertia, and the thing has rested there. We don’t doubt that the pitch in use will inconvenience singers coming from France, especially the first time, and that’s one more reason for M. Predigam’s orchestra to mitigate its feverish ardor a bit.”