Academy of Music
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Price: $1; $.50 family circle; $1.50 - $2 secured seats; $10 private boxes; price reduction
1 March 2019
Part of larger article containing other announcements and reviews.
...After the departure of Parepa, Mrs. Kapp Young is supposed to be the new prima donna. Since she just arrived the day before yesterday, Maretzek will have to stage operas where she is not needed. The first one of these is Romeo and Juliet which has been rehearsed for 8 days and which will be staged in a short while.
Maretzek’s ensemble is diligent and is able to prepare an entire opera in a very short time. Financially the Italian opera did not do brilliantly so far. This is because there were no novelties staged. The audience is weary of the old and familiar and craves the “good and new”. That is why the “Grande Duchesse” has been so successful...
Opera suspended during the week to allow for rehearsals of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette.
Special note from the Academy of Music: Due to the immensity of preparations and the high number of rehearsals needed for the upcoming opera Romeo and Juliet, there will be no opera performances this week.
“The rehearsals of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ are progressing very satisfactorily at the Academy, and it is quite probable, from present aspects, that the opera will now be produced, and the new subscription series resumed, by the middle of the coming week. Mr. Maretzek has determined upon a coup on the occasion what should bring to his side the popular support. Although his pay-books certify to his responsibility of the most expensive company in the country, and while his orchestra alone costs as much as many theatrical troupes, he has duly considered and decided upon returning the rate of opera admissions to the scale that was the standard before the war. In this step Mr. Maretzek is, very likely, but the pioneer in a movement which may be general among theatrical managers presently, although we cannot really believe it is a necessary one; for whatever the public wants it will pay the highest price for, and that which it does not care for, low prices are little inducement. It is a costly experiment which Mr. Maretzek contemplates making however; for, naturally, the production of a new opera calls for greatly increased expenditures, and to offer a grand novelty in midseason, with enlarged expenses, at reduced rates, is something that ought to, and probably will, provoke the most extended recognitions.”
“Gounod’s last opera, Romeo and Juliet, which made such an immense sensation in Paris and London last summer at its first production on any stage, was brought out at the Academy of Music last night for the first time before an American audience. It is an opera constructed on a principle which makes it impossible to criticize it in detail and thoroughly at first hearing. Consequently when it was produced in Europe the opinions of its merits were very conflicting, and the most learned and exhaustive, yet muddled disquisitions were vented forth by the column. The final verdict was, however, unfavorable to its popularity. Judging from a first representation we entirely agree in this opinion. There is no chance of its ever holding a place among the favorites of the lyric stage. There are many reasons for it. The opera, first of all, demands artists of a caliber far above anything in the present company at the Academy, with the exception of Pancani, whose Romeo is characterized with all the qualities that the immortal author and the composer has invested the unhappy Montague with. Then the work is a scientific one, of a peculiar kind, in which there are no strong effects of light and shade, nothing which one can or must carry home and treasure up in his lyric memory. There is not one chorus of any account, but five acts of elaborate melody and recitative in which nearly every idea is toned down to an almost dreary platitude. Reminiscences of Faust are very frequent throughout; but those strong, decisive, marked features that make the latter such a perfect character picture are wanting in Romeo and Juliet. Let us compare both works on one point at least. Faust is clearly defined and the merest amateur in music can trace its outlines as if it were some vigorously limned picture, standing forth in bold relief. Romeo is an elaborate, needlessly pruned and carefully toned down work, in which every free, passionate, we might say reckless aspiration is painfully reduced to the principles of mere mechanism. It is artificial to the last degree. To appreciate or interpret its style and meaning a musician must study it thoroughly and hear it a half dozen times. What, then, must the general public think of it? Simply that it is very tiresome and uninteresting. Still there are some excellent scenes in it. The balcony scene is in melody and orchestration a glimpse of the inner world of love and passion, and if Juliet could only have responded to the warm, spirit-rent utterances of Pancani, this scene alone would have imprinted itself on the hearts of the audience and popularized the opera. Again, the marriage in Friar Lawrence’s cell, the interview of the unhappy couple after Tybalt’s death, and their concluding suicidal release from the interference of their families, are all photographed in musical lines of fire and passion, worthy of the great originals on the dramatic stage. The lovers, as we conceive Gounod’s idea, should be in voice and action, human volcanoes, in which passion and devotion are breathed forth in lava-like tones. Pancani gave such an interpretation, but he addressed an icicle in the Juliet of the occasion. At all events, the opera is a novelty, and might have saved the troupe, had it been produced earlier and with a different cast. It comes too late, however, as the persistence of the management during the first twenty nights of giving nothing but old, hackneyed works has inflicted an almost irreparable injury on the prospects of the season.”
“The new opera by Gounod, Romeo E Guilietta, was produced last night at the Academy, for the first time in this city. The auditorium was filled by an immense crowd, in which could be perceived the time-honored countenance which always lend their lustre to an operatic novelty. The regular patrons were in full strength and seemed to enjoy themselves as much as if they had entered at the old prices. Mr. Carl Bergmann conducted the orchestra, and the artists advertised to appear fulfilled the promise without exception. [List of performers and roles.]
The verdict of the audience seemed to be that the opera was a success. We shall take another occasion to examine it and its execution by the very strong company employed in giving it its merited effect.”
“Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ which was last night produced for the first time in this country, is an opera which is as likely to excite discussion over its merits as any recent work. It met with various criticisms in Paris, some of them highly laudatory, and others nearly the reverse, while in London the judgment of the best critics has been most decidedly in its favor. In the latter capital the part of Juliet was confided to Adelina Patti. How great a favorite the opera will become here it is difficult to say, even after one night’s hearing of it. It is a work which ought not to be hastily judged, for if it is so judged, the decision will be pretty surely wrong in one direction or the other. So far as we could form an opinion on the subject the audience last evening seemed disposed to give the opera an impartial and unprejudiced hearing, and to appreciate well the dominant character of the music. If it was not often moved to enthusiasm it was because the opera is of a character rather to win the hearer’s love than to take him by storm by bursts of grand musical passion or striking ensembles.
The chief excellence of the opera consists in its correspondence with the beautiful and delicious love story, whose idyllic simplicity makes it entirely incomparable with any other of ancient or modern times. The composer has struck the keynote of Shakespeare’s immortal play with a felicity which, if not a proof of high genius, comes so near the demonstration, that Gounod may well be entitled to the benefit of whatever doubt may linger in our minds after the first hearing. So confident does he seem to be that he has mastered the secret of the play’s charm, and transmuted its inspiring sentiment into musical form, that he boldly dispenses with many of the adventitious effects which have kept alive operas having little claim to originality or worth. It has been thought, for instance, that grand finales were essential to the effect of operas having any pretension, but Gounod has dared to terminate the most of the acts in a manner which doubtless will seem tame to many superficial hearers.
It will be considered a more serious objection to the opera that it has so few well-defined, easily caught and winning melodies that can be remembered and popularized. The pretty little waltz movement assigned to Juliet in the first act, which, except as a light and pleasant relief, is introduced with little apparent reason, is about the only separate air in the opera which would be caught and retained by ordinary listeners on a single hearing. There are melodies which are consonant with the prevailing spirit of the opera, and which will grow on the popular ear the oftener they are heard. There is, however, nothing in the opera that will at once become a common possession, in the same manner as the march, and several of the melodies of ‘Faust.” The balcony scene in the second act affords a fine illustration of the difference between the two works of the same composer. In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the effect of this scene depends entirely upon the delicate development of sentiment attempted by the composer. Neither in the orchestral music to which the curtain rises, in the serenade of Romeo, nor in the duet which follows, is there any single salient passage which is likely to provoke special and demonstrative admiration. Its peculiar charm lies in the fidelity, with which the music expresses the most ardent and unrestrained passion on the one side, and a tender, sweet, confiding, all-surrendering love on the other. The orchestral music prepares for what follows in a strain of delicious reverie, which fills the hearer with a sentiment in accord with the time, the place and with the spirit of the whole subsequent scene. The serenade song of Romeo is not a well-pronounced melody, but finely expresses his longing but doubting love, and the culmination of an accepted and returned passion. The contrast in the duet between the differing temperaments of the two lovers is finely marked by the music, which blends and harmonizes the contrasted persons as beautifully as in the play.
The truthful character of the music is, also, nobly shown in that assigned to Capulet, in the first act. The welcome given by him to the guests of his house is full of joyousness, cordiality and hospitable greeting. The tones ring out a genuine and hearty invitation to social festivities, and give the whole of the gay scene an atmosphere of enjoyment. Signor Antonucci, in this and in the subsequent scenes, gave the music of this part with a fullness of effect deserving of the highest praise. He looked and acted the Capulet of Shakespeare, with a good comprehension of its requirements, with spirit, and with an overflowing vitality truly admirable. His singing was as good as his acting, and was in agreeable contrast with that of some of the other leading characters.
The third act opens with ecclesiastical music, whose dominant sentiment is in fine accord with the requirements of the play. It is in a tone of solemnity, giving premonition of the tragedy which seems the almost inevitable termination to the marriage of the two passionate representatives of the rival houses. The impressive invocation by Friar Lawrence is a noble preparation for the trio and quartette for Romeo, Juliet, Father Lawrence, and the Nurse, which follows. The light and joyous song of the Page, in the second scene of this act, was doubtless intended as both a contrast and a relief, but was assigned to Mdlle. Ronconi, whose delicate and beautiful tones were yet too weak for the effect sought by the composer. Perhaps the nervousness incident to a first public trial in the part may somewhat account for a too feeble execution. As it was, the interlude failed of its purpose, and the stirring scenes which followed were in rather more glaring contrast with the tranquil sentiment of the first part of the act than they should have been. The duels between Mercutio and Tybalt, and Tybalt and Romeo are rapidly gone through in appropriate recitative, and with little apparent effort on the part of the composer to produce any sensational effect. The concluding scenes bring the Duke, the courtiers and the village people on the stage, and the act ends with an effective double quartette and chorus.
The fourth act is full of sadness. The duo between Romeo and Juliet is a tender bit of ‘love’s melancholy.’ In rhythmical beauty it is unexcelled by anything we have heard of Gounod’s, and the delicate episode of the lark and the nightingale is charmingly expressed. The farewell is strongly written, but came near being tedious as it was given. The scene which depicts the despair of Capulet over the supposed death of his daughter was rendered with much more fidelity and effect, and the sad orchestral music nobly rounded and finished the act. The fifth and last act is the most trying of all, but should be a fitting termination to what precedes. It consists entirely of the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet, in the tomb scene, and the effect demands not only the utmost delicacy in the singing but in the acting as well. The music of this act, above that of either of the others, requires to be often heard to be fully appreciated. The delirious love is finely delineated by strains of the marriage hymn and of the lark and nightingale episode. The simplicity of the ending is one of its chief merits.
There is so much to be said in regard to the opera that we have simply sought to convey a few of the impressions it made on us, rather than to attempt an exhaustive criticism. One thing is very certain, and that is that the opera must please as a whole or not at all. Those who feel, as we do, that the composer has thoroughly appreciated and reproduced the spirit of the play will admire the fidelity and simplicity with which the theme is elaborated. Those who form a judgment by their like or dislike for detached passages, will probably be of the opinion that the composer of ‘Faust’ has not raised his reputation by the production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Of the performance last evening we should speak with much care and charity. The difficulties attending the first production of a new opera of such peculiar character are truly formidable. To those which are usually felt on the first nights must be added many others of a more serious nature. The singers cannot follow in the well-worn path of precedent, but each must embody his own conception without the assistance of examples. It is not strange that some of the leading singers last evening failed in a measure to achieve even that which lay within their usual powers. [List of cast and roles.]
The part of Juliet was certainly a trying one for Miss Hauck, and one which should properly have been intrusted [sic] to a more mature prima donna. If she was deficient in the expression of passionate sentiment, there was much to admire in the quieter passages, which were more in her style. In many passages her tones were beautifully soft, sweet, and touching. Signor Pancani revealed, as usual, the thoroughness of his method as a singer and his ability as an actor. Signor Orlandino made an excellent Mercutio, and the other parts were generally well-assumed. The orchestral [sic] was the best feature of the performance. The continuous and artistic development of the opera was perceptible most clearly in the orchestral passages, while the beauty and originality of the accompaniments were faithfully preserved. The scenery and costumes were worthy of especial admiration.
It was gratifying to see so densely crowded a house. Before the curtain rose every seat had been sold. Every box was full and radiant with beauty and fashion, not an inch of standing room was unoccupied. The era of low prices has begun most auspiciously. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ will be repeated on Monday evening. It is sure of a long and prosperous run.”
“It is not difficult to understand why the latest opera of Gounod’s, rich as it is in every description of beauty, should have aroused when it was produced in Paris such a war of conflicting opinions. The positive merits of the work are palpable. But Gounod is the recognized representative of a new and what claims to be a progressive school. The so-called ‘music of the future,’ whose highest aim is not the creation of melodious phrases, but the logical adaptation of words and tones, or rather, the expression of a dramatic conception—that half-understood music toward which Wagner is struggling through a tumult of grim forms and tempestuous fancies—Gounod seemed quietly to have grasped. In Faust he appeared to have made a long stride toward the establishment of a new lyric school. He hinted at a way in which music could become an intensely dramatic poem without ceasing to be melody. He cut loose from many of the traditions of the composers. He evolved his art new beauties, of which we had before no conception. Still his theory, whatever it may have been, was not yet completely explained. He had brought us to the borders of a garden of surpassing and surprising loveliness, but he had not yet led us within. We waited to be led further. We watched eagerly for the fuller development of this principles and the growth of his genius. The appearance of his latest great work was therefore looked for with absorbing interest. It does not show the development which was hoped for. Charming it is, undoubtedly; but to musicians who expected not to be charmed but reformed, it is a disappointment. We have made no progress. We are still hovering around the boundaries of the flowery land. Gounod has gone no nearer the music of the future in Romeo and Juliet than he went in Faust.
But to those who look only at positive achievements and care nothing for prospective reform or for theories however brilliant, Romeo and Juliet must be a perpetual delight. If it shows no progress toward those ideal forms which after all may prove only deceptive visions, it abounds with poetic inspiration and is radiant with subtle and delicate beauties, and sparks of the true divine afflatus. Comparison is not criticism; but as the popular judgment of this work will undoubtedly be made up by weighing it in the balance with the earlier composition by the same master with which we are so familiar, it may be worth while to indicate briefly what we deem the chief points of difference between them. Faust is the more original opera of the two; not that in Romeo and Juliet Gounod has copied other composers, but that he has turned back and imitated himself. The delicious love music in which he is without a rival is of the same essence in both, and often there is a strong similarity in the forms. The strain of inexpressible tenderness which breathes through the garden scene of Faust and the Fifth Act of the same opera is not surpassed by any one passage in the new work, though the composer rises to the same high level and sustains it from the opening of the Second Act to the end. The melodies show no great wealth of invention, but a surprising ingenuity of delicate elaboration. The most popular airs of Faust nearly all have their parallels—we do not say imitations, but resemblances—in the later opera. There is nothing which is likely to be hackneyed about the streets so immediately as the Fanfare militaire, but then there is nothing so false and pretentious as that brassy composition, and there are many spirited movements, especially the bass song and chorus, Lunge, lunge ogni pensier in the First Act, which will be popular long after the soldiers’ chorus is forgotten. As a parallel to the jewel-song, we have a waltz which will take a strong and immediate hold upon the public taste. Siebel’s Le parlate d’amor finds its counterpart in an arietta for Stephano, the page; and Romeo’s song under the balcony can hardly fail to recall to mind the Salve dimora casta. Upon the whole, we think the preference will be awarded to the Romeo and Juliet, though its beauties are not so striking, simply because they are not so fresh. It has less variety than Faust, but that is because the libretto affords less opportunity for variety. Its most noticeable merit is the completeness with which Gounod seems to have comprehended and carried out Shakespeare’s conception of the characters. The individuality of the music of each part is strongly marked, well sustained, and exactly appropriate to the persons of the drama. There is hardly anything finer in the whole repertory of the modern lyric stage than the distinction constantly preserved between the chaste, delicate, ingenuous love of Juliet, and the burning passion and rapture of Romeo. The music for the one is the very essence of purity; for the other it burns with consuming heat. Nor is this artistic distinction confined to the principal characters. The manliness and hearty nobility of Capulet, the gayety of the jesting Mercutio, and the impetuosity ‘the fiery Tybalt’ are all marked out with marvelous fidelity. But the tenderness and pathos of the story overlies everything, and colors indelibly every movement of the opera. The instrumentation, in which Gounod is always great, is here surpassingly fine, and is well worth a separate study.
The work commences with a short symphony, a bold and vigorous allegro movement in which the lead is taken by the brass instruments, these giving place to a striking fugue for reeds and strings. A fine fortissimo passage for the trumpets leads gracefully into a brief andante, during which the curtain rises upon a beautiful tableau. The scene represents a grand hall in the palace of the Capulets. Juliet is seated in the center; around her are grouped some of the principal characters of the drama, and the guests and retainers, with a strong force or more or less ornamental auxiliaries, fill up the background. While we are thus shown as in a living picture, the persons of the tragedy about to be enacted, the chorus briefly explains the tableau, and like the chorus in the Greek dramas, comments upon the scene. In a prologue, imitated with tolerable closeness from Shakespeare, we are told how
‘Two households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,’
and are warned of the catastrophe which is to follow. This chorus is a perfect gem in its way. It begins in monotone, breaks after a few bars into a very sweet and graceful snatch of melody, and then returns to the solemn movement of the chant. It is sung without accompaniment, save at the close of each musical phrase, when the chords are swept by the harp with most beautiful effect. By a strange oversight this Prologue has been omitted from the printed libretto which is sold to the audience. At its conclusion, the curtain falls, and there is a short and lively introduction to the First Act. The opening scene is the festival of the Capulets. The hall is ablaze with lights and crowded with maskers, and male and female voices, in alternate strains, keep time to the music of the dance. This festival chorus is animated and graceful: the commencement, Ne’di felici, and the Bella notte, sung by soprano alone, are especially effective. The entrance of Capulet (Antonucci) is the signal for the guests to unmask. In a well-written recitative passage he announces the approach of his daughter Juliet (Miss Hauck), and the company observing her from a distance burst into an exclamation of wonder and delight at her beauty. Here occurs one of the most delicious and dramatically expressive choruses in the whole opera. The composer has never employed his favorite device of making the female voices answer and echo the male with more charming results. The entrance of Juliet in the midst of this passage, is like the wedding of a beautiful to form to sweet sounds, her fresh young face and winning manner according so admirably with the fresh and simple melody which heralds her arrival. To the music of a harp accompaniment she expresses her girlish delight at the gay scene, and warbles a tender little scrap of melody which suggests, but does not imitate, the beautiful passage accompanying the first entrance of Margaret in Faust. Capulet in a spirited and jovial allegro, notable for its closely marked rhythms, invites the guests to the dance:
‘Which of you all
Will now deny to dance?
She that makes dainty, she
I’ll swear has corns.’
The second part of this song, Lunge, lunge, to which we have already referred, is especially fine and full of inspiration, and Signor Antonucci with his noble voice and correct method does it ample justice. The guests take up the same air, and moving off in different directions bring the scene to a very effective termination. Romeo (Pancani), Mercutio, Benvolio, and others of the Montagues, now enter, having come to the feast unbidden and disguised; and Mercutio (Orlandini), in reply to a remark of Romeo’s that he is troubled by a dream, sings the ‘Ballad of Queen Mab,’ the fairies’ midwife, who ‘comes in shape no bigger than an agate stone,’ the words, of course, being substantially a translation of the well-known description in Shakespeare. Here, again, memories of Faust crowd back upon us, the music recalling both the drinking-song and the serenade of Mephistopheles; but it is a strikingly original composition for all that, and destined to be hard from the manly throats of robust bassos and baritones from this time forth forevermore. It is fanciful in form, as it ought to be, expressing the gayety and the free imagination of the poem as perfectly as thought was ever yet expressed in purely musical notes. The accompaniment, running riot in freaks of fancy, and capering about the melody like a frisky sprite, is like music direct from fairy-land. Signor Orlandini, we must not omit to say, enters well into the composer’s meaning, and gives the song neatly and effectively. A capital bit of dialogue follows, Mercutio and the others bantering Romeo upon his desertion of his quondam mistress, Rosaline, and the friends then retire, and give place to Juliet and the nurse, Gertrude (Madame Fleury), between whom we have a few bars of rather ineffective recitative. This, however, is only introductory to a crisp, delicate arietta for Juliet, in waltz time, which will undoubtedly become the most popular air in the opera, though it is by no means the best. To the music of this charming waltz glimmering feet must henceforth whirl through the mazes of the ball-room in every part of the dancing world, and, while we write, it is haunting the dreams of hundreds of the light-hearted damsels, who nodded their fair heads over it last night, and applauded with pleased smiles and the soft patting of gloved hands. Miss Hauck sang it charmingly. The notes fell from her lips like drops of crystal, and the beautiful chromatic runs were given with absolute correctness. In this arietta the harp, which is liberally used throughout the opera, has some very striking passages. Romeo returns on the conclusion of the waltz, and a tender interview between him and Juliet gives occasion for a very sweet duet, simple in rhythm, rich in original and ingenious phrasing, and breathing the very soul of chaste love. The entrance of Tybalt (Sig. Testa), Paris (Sig. Velden), Mercutio, and other members of the house of Capulet brings about the discovery that an enemy has obtained admission to the festival. Romeo is recognized for a Montague by his voice. Tybalt cries out for vengeance; but old Cappulet calms the tumult by repeating his invitation to the dance, and so with a recurrence of the spirited bass song and chorus of the first scene, the festivities are resumed, and the curtain falls.
The Second Act, containing the balcony scene, is appropriately prefaced by a short introduction of great tenderness and beauty, principally for violins, with harp accompaniment. Romeo is discovered in Juliet’s garden—a scene which has been arranged with great care and a regard for detail, to which we are little accustomed on any New-York stage except that of Wallack’s Theatre. A passionate cavatina brings Juliet to the window; and while the moonlight streams upon her she answers the wooing of her lover in an exquisite duet, which unfortunately provokes comparison with the garden scene in Gounod’s better known opera. To say that it is not equal to the latter is not to deny it high praise. There is perhaps no part of the work in which the characteristic distinction between the music of Romeo and that of Juliet—the intensity on the one, and the purity of the other, is more admirably maintained. The interruption of the meeting by the arrival of Romeo’s servant Gregory (Sig. Barili) and a number of his friends, searching for the truant with the regulation stage accessories of cloaks and lanterns, we cannot help regarding as a clumsy intrusion although the chorus is dramatic and agreeable. It was well to have some break in the long-drawn sweetness of the lovers’ duet; but the interruption here has no logical sequence. The duet is afterward resumed, Juliet appearing not upon the balcony, but at the door—an arrangement which is no doubt much more convenient than the traditional one though it grates upon our sense of the fitness of things. This second part of the duet is one of the fines passages in the opera. Passion kindles; love rises to rapture; there is a delicious parting scene, the closing bars of which are especially delicate; and then after Juliet has retired, Romeo brings the act to a close with a charming little andante,
‘Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast.’
Act Third is introduced by a fugue, followed by a short and very graceful passage for the clarionet. The curtain rises disclosing Friar Lawrence (signor Medini) in his cell, where he is joined by Romeo, Juliet, and the nurse, and unites the lovers in marriage. The invocation of the divine blessing is a magnificent scene, and the solemnity and grandeur of the music finds competent interpretation in Signor Medini’s fine sonorous voice. The orchestration of this part is to be especially remarked. The prayer leads into a glorious quartette, Santo piacer, in which occurs a striking passage, Dio di bonta, to which there is a return in the last scene of all. The whole of this part is extremely impressive. The scene now changes to a street in Verona where Romeo’s page Stephano (Signora Ronconi) enters in search of his master. This is the only important departure which the librettist has made from the text of Shakespeare, except in the way of unavoidable omissions and condensations. Stephano’s canzone is a fanciful and agreeable composition, with phrases of well-marked and easily–remembered melody. It is interrupted by the arrival of Gregory, and other retainers of the Capulets, who take exception to some words in the lad’s song, and bring on a quarrel. Swords are drawn, but the combat has hardly begun when Romeo, Mercutio, Tybalt, and other leading men of the two factions, appear upon the ground and espouse sides. Mercutio and Tybalt are slain, and the Grand Duke (Muller) arriving at that moment sentences Romeo to immediate exile. The dramatic character of the music of this scene is beyond all praise. The chorus rages with the fire of battle, surges, and sways to and fro, and above all is heard the fierce passion of the chief combatants. But Romeo’s cry of agony as the sentence which separates him from his Juliet is tame and spiritless, and makes an ineffective finale to a superb act.
The gem of the opera is the duet between Romeo and Juliet in the latter’s chamber at the beginning of the Fourth Act. It opens with a ravishing pianissimo passage, Notte gentil d’Imene, perhaps one of the most exquisitely poetical creations of Gounod’s refined and poetical genius. The poem—for there is no other word that fitly expresses the music of this number—changes as it flows on into a torrent of passionate feeling, and subsides again into the gentle strains with which it began. The famous passage of Shakespeare upon which it is constructed,
‘Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,’
never has had a worthier interpretation. On the approach of daylight, Romeo, after a delicious adieu, leaves the apartment by the balcony. The Nurse, Capulet, and Friar Lawrence now come to announce to Juliet the completion of the arrangements made for her marriage to Paris, all which is conveyed in a short scene, and a superb quartette, and the heroine, left alone with the worthy Franciscan, consents to the Friar’s plan of swallowing a potion which shall send ‘through all her veins a cold and drowsy humor,’ and counterfeit the sleep of death. The phrase in which the Friar gives Juliet the vial, Bevi allor queste filtre, is a beautiful and solemn conception, and the accompanying instrumentation is singularly fine and original. Immediately after this occurs the only long passage which has been omitted from the present performance. In the original score there is an allegro movement for Friar Lawrence and Paris, and the nuptial party are introduced with a Corteggio marziale, to which succeed an epithalamial chorus, and a ballet with vocal accompaniment. All these minutes have been remorselessly cut. It was undoubtedly necessary to shorten the performance, the entire work being much too long for the taste of American audiences; but we regret that the wedding march at any rate could not have been heard. It would prove extremely popular. The finale of this act opens with a capital passage for the organ, followed by a short but admirable solo for Capulet, which Signor Antonucci renders in the most effective manner. Paris is about to place the wedding ring on Juliet’s finger, when the potion takes effect; she totters and falls; and the curtain descends upon the most beautiful and most telling act of the opera.
In the Fifth Act we have a well-arranged representation of the tomb of the Capulets, with Juliet lying upon a catafalque, robed in the habiliments of the grave. The orchestra plays a lovely movement described in the score as ‘Il Sonno di Giulietta,’ or the Sleep of Juliet. It is a repetition and elaboration of an air which occurs in the accompaniment to Capulet’s last aria in the previous act. Romeo enters, and after a short, passionate aria swallows a vial of poison; but before it has time to operate Juliet revives. The duet which follows is a wonderful alternation of rapture and despair, beginning with a touching piano movement, and rising into the rapturous animation of the Dio di bonta, which occurred before in the Third Act. But the rapture is only of momentary duration. The poison begins to curdle in Romeo’s veins. There is a passionate song; and as the chill of death seizes upon him, Juliet stabs herself to the heart, and the curtain falls. We have left ourselves little space to praise in proper terms the principal singers, to whom this beautiful composition has been intrusted. We can only say now that Miss Hauck surprised her best friends by the admirable manner in which she interpreted her admirable part; that no music in which we have yet heard her suits so well as this the freshness of her voice, the simple good taste of her style, and the charm of her young and pretty face; that she acted well, without stiffness, and without apparent effort; that Signor Pancani, though his voice showed signs of wear, especially in the trying high music of the Fourth Act, was an excellent, impassioned Romeo, singing with artistic neatness, and kindling in many passages a warm enthusiasm in his audience; and that the other characters, Antonucci, Orlandini, Testa, and Miss Ronconi, were entirely satisfactory. We have not seen a larger or more appreciative audience at the Academy of Music for many years. Long before the curtain rose the announcement of ‘Standing Room, only,’ gave joy to the heart of the Treasurer. The success of the new opera has been triumphant, and we are much mistaken if it does not prove the most popular of recent productions.”
“…We do not agree with the Parisiennes that Gounod has exceeded his skill in Faust with this new dramatic opera. Gounod copied parts of his composition from other composers, namely Meyerbeer, although cleverly covered up by an original and splendid instrumentation. However, apart from that one major criticism, we still find evidence in this work that Gounod is a genius, and that he deserves a special place among the modern composers of the ‘Neuzeit’.
The work consists originally of 22 pieces, of which many, including the grand wedding march for brass instruments, were cut. This was necessary to keep the opera to a bearable length. One of the most significant pieces is the overture prologue. The ballad of Queen Mab seems somewhat bizarre musically; curious, new musical effects erase the poetry of the ‘Dream Fairy’s text. The following duet of ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’ is empty and cold except for the interesting repetitious violin part we recognize from the third act in Faust. The finale of the first act is noisy and insignificant. In general the first act has a mixture of uninteresting and also beautiful aspects.
In the beginning of the second act, in the well-composed song to the night, Romeo and Juliet sing beautifully. The duet which closes the act is effectively and beautifully composed, yet it lacks fire and inspiration. Only the harp part at the very end warmed the actors’ and audiences’ hearts.
The third act is the least favorable. Many parts remind of other operas. The fourth act, however, is the highlight of the work. The duet ‘Ou douce nuit d’amour’ made the opera’s success in Paris and London, and it is without a doubt the best Gounod has written. Melody and instrumentation are equally masterfully done. The following quartet is also noticeable.
The performances of the leading roles satisfied, chorus and orchestra did as well. Bergmann conducted with attention and confidence. Costumes and scenery were elaborate and tasteful.”
The Academy was completely sold out including the standing room tickets, which has not happened in several years.
The text of the new opera follows Shakespeare’s original exactly; however, a new role was added, Page Stefano, just to give another singer a canzonetta to sing. This role was supposed to create a contrast in its lively, energetic character to the otherwise sensitive, passionate and tragic roles. Ronconi’s bland performance of the page, however, did not fulfill this expectation.
The melodies are not as memorable as in Faust. However, the more one hears them, the more they please. The highlight is the duet of the lovers in the fourth act. The composer has almost reached the perfection of Shakespeare’s text with this piece. The balcony scene is also composed very well with an expression of tenderness and depth of feeling. The score is lacking in outstanding choral or ensemble pieces. Except for the couple, only the old ‘Capulet’–a well-meaning father figure–‘Mercutio’ and ‘brother Lorenzo’ had interesting roles.
The audience remained reserved during the performance, except for a waltz-like ariette of ‘Juliet’ in the first act, which was applauded in a lively manner and requested to da capo. Certainly would there have been more enthusiasm, if the leading parts were cast as well as Antonucci’s ‘Capulet’ and Medini’s ‘Lorenzo’. Pancani has a representable ‘left-over voice’; however, he is not the fresh, young- sounding tenor meant to sing the part of ‘Romeo.’ Although Hauck does possess a young, fresh voice, she lacks ingenuity, authenticity and soulful passion. Only continued studies can take her there.
Despite the shortcomings of the opera, it is worth listening to it again. Only then can one fully grasp its beauty.
“Opera, by the by, has evaporated for the season. Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ did not draw. The chorus revolted, demanding higher pay and Max Maretzek collapsed.”
“The production of this work of Gounod for the first time in this City, on Friday last, gives rise to some reflections on subjects which have been seized upon as vehicles for the triumphs of the lyric stage.
Shakespeare has been pressed into the service of operatic composers without any modesty or hesitation. It is not surprising that souls so keenly alive to harmony as those of great musicians should feel to an extraordinary degree the influence of Shakespeare's lines. These breathe melodies as brilliant and themes as grand as Beethoven or Mozart ever conceived, but they are so perfect as they come from Shakespeare's pen, so well adjusted to do their work of ennoblement and refinement of mankind that they need no assistance from physical melody. In fact the impression of the bard’s mighty language is weakened by the forced change of inflection consequent upon any musical arrangement. Such poetry does not require to be wedded to music in order to become more potent or more pleasing. The recitatives will make the finest line in Shakespeare ridiculous and a duet, on such a theme as a parting between Romeo and Juliet, with its repetitions and rests, is an absurdity if regarded from the poet’s view.
Of course in ‘Romeo e Guilietta,’ Shakespeare sinks to the little level of a librettist, and Gounod plants his foot on the neck of the greatest poet of any age. It is well for the American and English public that the immortal bard’s verses have been rendered into trifling Italian before being wedded to the music. Had they been sung in English, the nice ear would have divorced them at once. We say this because in many parts of the libretto of ‘Romeo e Guilietta’ there is an attempt to preserve the lines of Shakespeare.
As a subject for an opera, the story of the Veronese lovers is eminently fitted. The ordinary melancholy themes on which music has always expended its richest treasures, are surpassed by the calamitous fate of these two children of sorrow. The despair of the last moment of their lives is the most moving picture in the universe of fiction.
The composer has selected from the drama of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ for musical illustration, the following scenes: The ball-room meeting of the lovers in Capulet’s house; the balcony interview after the ball; the marriage in friar Lawrence’s cell; the duel between Mercutio, Tybalt and Romeo; the taking of the sleeping potion by Juliet, and the death of Romeo and Juliet in the vault. The interpolation of a page Stephano, who excites the conflict that terminates in the death of Tybalt and Mercutio, is the only variance from Shakespeare's dramatis personae permitted himself by the composer.
The gems of the opera are found in the ball-room scene, which occupies the whole time of the first act. This opens with a waltz of an exquisite character, which is the air of the first chorus and of the finale to the act, and which is heard at intervals during the progress of the scene. An air for Mercutio, ‘Mab, regina de menzogne’ (being the famous Queen Mab description of Shakespeare set to music) is a study which deserves more than one hearing to appreciate its singularity of construction, and the remarkable instrumentation of its accompaniment. The latter, the orchestral effect, is striking and novel, and is a triumph by itself.
Guilietta’s air, ‘The Dream of Love,’ follows close on this, but is not so striking as the succeeding duet between her and Romeo, ‘Angiol requia,’ which is full of impassioned fervor. The vigorous quartette before the finale is in contrast with the softness of the lovers’ duet, and the shifting changes of theme throughout the act make a variety seldom noticeable in other operas. The music of the second act is not marked by any novelty. The duet between the lovers under the balcony has no special claim to distinction among the numerous effective love scenes of popular operas, and owes its effect solely to the fervor of the artists engaged in rendering it.
The marriage benediction of Friar Lawrence has more character, but is not fully treated by the composer. The aria of the Page is hardly light enough for the occasion, and did not come up to expectation. The chorus before, during and after the duel in the third act is the only point noticeable in the scene, and though spirited, was not remarkably strong.
It is just to say that after the first act the music is somewhat tedious and labored. The duet between Romeo and Juliet in her chamber is more elaborate than striking, and does not contain the elements of popularity.
The scena between Juliet and the Friar, where she takes the potion, contains opportunities for dramatic force which Miss Hauck (who sustained the rôle of Juliet) is not strong enough to make as effective as it could be rendered. The relief to much that is dreary in the treatment of the balance of the work is found in Romeo’s final air, but the whole of the last act is ineffective, without extraordinary dramatic ability.
Signor Pancani was not effective as Romeo, having probably little idea of the impassionate nature of the hero of the tradition, and somewhat mechanical in the scenes most calculated to rouse his enthusiasm. He was in good voice, but introduced his falsetto in a scarcely pleasing way. Orlandini sang the part of Mercutio, and in his chief air, ‘Queen Mab,’ showed the want of more study to interpret the theme correctly. Signor Antonucci gave the music of Capulet in the first act with proper force and good judgment. Medini was better than usual in the rôle of Friar Laurence, and in good voice.
Miss Minnie Hauck was a very charming representative of Juliet, but lacked dramatic power. It is doubtful if the exigencies of this character could be met by a singer who has not surrendered the charms of youth for the strength and experience of maturity. But that is the fault of the rôle. Mlle. Ronconi, as the page, made the best of somewhat dreary music for a character which awakes the liveliest anticipations in all audiences.
Gounod has labored faithfully to express the poetry of the tradition in his present work, and it is plainly apparent that many of the artists of the Academy troupe engaged in interpreting the music, did not understand their composer’s intentions fully. A little more study may develop beauties which escaped everybody on Friday night, and we shall certainly have more to say of the work and of its performance after another hearing.”
“If the crowd that hastens to the opera every day is as numerous as the flock Friday evening, M. Maretzek had reason to lower the prices of seats, and we, who have disapproved and still find fault with this measure, will be the first to make honorable amends. But in no case, even though there be a financial success, will he understand how to make a profit from his skill. Besides, Gounod’s work performed Friday offers an almost irresistible charm. A novelty by the author of Faust, which had universal success, was well-designed to tempt both opera-lovers and mere spectators.
We must declare that M. Gounod was less well inspired by Shakespeare than he was by Goethe, which one can attribute in part to the librettists. The libretto is detestable. Not the least bit of variety, nothing that could vary the inspiration of the musician; nothing that could refresh the spectator. It’s a beautiful thing as a love-duet, but a love-duet in five acts wearies [even] the most poetic souls.”
[Next section is a long discussion about Gounod’s choice between Luigi de Porto’s original novel and Shakespeare’s play, Italian vs. English characteristics, etc., with examples.]
“To get back to the new opera, M. Gounod didn’t know how to give his hero either the slightly gloomy, but deeply impassioned character of the English lover, nor the sparkling, romantic and truly amorous character of an Italian Romeo. His creation is pale; he was unable to give him virility. Never have the French composer’s defects been more prominent than in this work. Practically no pieces are rhythmically well-constructed. The little waltz that Juliet sings in the first act is vulgar, and has the detriment of recalling the famous bacio [by Arditi] exceedingly too much. Many other reminders are met with during these five tedious [deadly] acts that no powerful breath of inspiration gives life to.
A strange thing! One would say that M. Gounod, an established master of fugue, counterpoint and harmonic combinations, can’t develop a melody. One hars some delightful measures, the charmed ear prepares itself to savor a beautiful motif, then nothing. Complete disappointment! The song stops in an instant, as if the inspiration were shattered or unable to sustain itself. Scholarly music-lovers will get pleasure from examining the new score minutely, but how many of those are there? M. Gounod is a learned man and a patient seeker; his style is one of extraordinary accuracy and his calculations would do a mathematician proud, but where is the spark that alone can impart life to this style? It’s not enough to write well and to possess a language thoroughly; ideas are indispensable.
The interpreters of Roméo et Juliette did whatever lay in their power to heat up this long performance. Mlle Hauck, however, was not up to the level of her task. One doesn’t attempt with impunity a role written for Mme Carvalho, and the young American singer shouldn’t have burdened herself with it without trepidation. Mlle Hauck still sings like a student, and the nuances of tenderness, like those of passion, are totally unknown to her. We won’t reproach her for that: her extreme youth explains, and amply excuses, her inexperience. But in her own interest, she mustn’t believe she has arrived [just] because they have entrusted her with one of the most crushing roles in the repertoire. She still has a lot to do, a lot of work, a lot to achieve: when she will have corrected her faults and perfected her abilities through intensive study, only then can she lay claim to the level to which every serious artist should aspire. Mlle Elisa Ronconi was a cipher in the insignificant role of the page.
M. Pancani doesn’t have the voice he had twenty years ago, but he knows how to sing, and still had some very beautiful moments. The role of Romeo, as M. Gounod has conceived it, is thankless enough; the soaring parts stop prematurely, and the bursts of passion degenerate into effeminate cooings . . . . Romeo is almost ridiculous in the fifth act. The composer didn’t dare to contend with the wonderful scene written by Vaccai, and he treated its ending roughly. M. Antonucci sang old Capulet’s song very well: it’s one of the most successful pieces in the opera. M. Medini, in the robes of Friar Laurent, created great pleasure, above all in the marriage trio; that ensemble is also one of those numbers where inspiration miscarried the least. M. Orlandini merits equally great praise.”
The performance was not perfect due to the little time to rehearse. Gounod’s composition lacks originality, versatility in melody, rhythm, and instrumentation, and even in the dramatic description of a situation. In Faust, Gounod is at least occasionally moved to express strong emotions. Here he composed a sentimental love song without nuancing or dynamics. Even his attempt to be humoristic in the search scene of the second act or in Stefano’s song in the third, or his attempt to express strength in the duel scene his music remains soft and void of expression. This opera can only be successful in attracting the curious, but not in receiving recognition for its artistic value.
Quotes the Weekly Review:
“To judge from the demonstrations of an immense audience, the first performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ last evening, at the Academy of Music, was a complete success. This however, is, to a great extent, due—as in the case of ‘Faust’—to the libretto. Operas on the same subject have been written by Zingarelli, Bellini, Vaccai, and others; but on each occasion Shakespeare has been slaughtered by Italian librettists. The present edition, in operatic form, has not only the merit of following closely, act by act, the incidents of Shakespeare’s tragedy, but the great beauty of adherence to the individuality of each character. The music of Gounod is original, in so far that it resembles no other compositions save his own. There is plenty of French sentimentality in it, and a strong flirtation is carried on with the new German school of the ‘future.’ Those who expect to find the martial strains and exciting choruses of ‘Faust’ in this new opera will be somewhat disappointed; but they will be amply repaid in listening to the love duets, in the second and fourth acts, which far surpass the merits of those that mark similar situations in ‘Faust.’ It is impossible to give an elaborate criticism after one hearing of this opera; but we noticed, in the first act, a charming valse, sung by Juliet, and a madrigal for tenor and soprano, both of which are sure to become popular. The second act contains a romance for tenor, and a duet—representing the famous balcony scene—that is excellent. The third act seemed the weakest. The fourth contains another duet, between Romeo and Juliet, which is the gem of the opera, and the best thing Gounod has ever written. It will survive all his other compositions. The fifth act represents the tomb-scene, and consists of reminiscences of the preceding four acts—so well managed, however, in its effects, that the fifth act alone could be called a musical poem and, as such, a masterwork. The performance was as good as a first performance could be. The honors of the evening were won by Miss Hauck, and Signors Pancani, Antonucci, and Medini.”
“After an intermission of a few days, Mr. Maretzek has commenced a new season of Italian Opera at reduced prices with the performance of Gounod’s new opera Romeo and Juliet. The house was crowded even to the last standing room, and the performance was generally acceptable. Opinions are of course divided as to the merits of the work, and comparisons of all kinds are instituted with the composer’s popular Faust. But the opera is too elaborate and thoughtful to be judged by one or two performances. Even Faust was most coldly received on the first night. The best analysis of the new opera Romeo and Juliet, which we have seen, was in the Tribune of Nov. 16th, but it is too long to reproduce in our columns.”