Pike's Opera House
12 June 2017
“Since the opening of Pike’s Opera House on Twenty-third street, Italian opera has once more returned to the city and resumed the throne it had so early abdicated. The establishment of this second house will, it is to be hoped, beget a rivalry in the lyric branch of our entertainments, the want of which has for some time been severely felt. We can quite understand the difficulties under which the management of the Academy of Music have labored since the building of the present house; but we are none the less bound to look at the matter solely as the public are affected, and, unfortunately, the facts revealed by retrospection place the New York public and the Academy of Music at direct issue. We are not yet half through the season, and already the Academy has closed its doors, after several intermittent efforts to attract with Italian opera, and this, too, almost before the rival establishment had inaugurated its first season. Who is to blame for this? Are we indifferent to the beauties and fascination of Italian opera? Have the performances provided for us been below the standard of our taste? Or, if neither of these propositions can be considered as explanatory, what is the reason that for many weeks during that time of the year when New York is most crowded we have been without an Italian opera? We will dismiss at once the idea that our appreciation of good music is so limited that an opera company cannot obtain renumeration from it, and inquire a little into the managerial catering of the present season. We have had ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as the grand effort of the year and Ronconi was engaged and cast in several of his best comic parts. These were to be the two attractions of the season, and both failed to excite any extraordinary degree of interest. We have before done homage to the beauty of Gounod’s latest work, as well as to the talent and versatility of Ronconi, and think these were excellent spars in an otherwise ill-found ship; but it requires only a slight acquaintance with the mysteries of management to know that, that however beautiful an opera may be, its success depends to the full as much as the manner of its representation as on the excellence of its music, and that no baritone in the world has ever yet succeeded in keeping open an operatic establishment by the force of his own attractive powers. We are not now criticising the ability of individuals and should not be misunderstood when we say that the performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fell considerably short of the same thing in Paris and London. The consequence was that while crowds flocked to see as well as hear it in those two cities, here we went in straggling groups. The performance of the ‘Barbiere, produced for Ronconi, was in every way excellent, and the best houses were obtained from this opera; but the production of a new work and the engagement of a popular baritone are no adequate result of operatic catering. New York, like every other capital, should draw its artists from out of the front rank, and cannot be content with those of minor reputation or ability. It may be impossible at the present prices obtainable for seats, and particularly with the best boxes in the house reserved, to engage the great soprani and tenori of Europe, while at the same time it may be an easy matter to make a building a paying speculation by renting it to ‘English opera’ companies or dramatic stars; and if this is the secret of indifferent singing, we have nothing further to say beyond expressing our thanks for the establishment of Pike’s, and our hopes for its prosperity. It is clear that if the proprietors of a theatre reserve all the best boxes for themselves they cannot be surprised at the public objecting to pay high prices for the less desirable places, or affording patronage and support to a rival establishment, where the line between Dives and his neighbors is less strictly drawn and his momentary predominance less objectionably protruded.
It is said by some with a certain amount of superficial logic, that as one opera house could hardly maintain its existence in New York the establishment of a second is not calculates to improve our chances of permanently obtaining operatic performances. With this reasoning, however, we altogether disagree, feeling sure that rivalry alone will provide the artists we desire to hear; and that whatever the difficulties may be that surround the conduct of a lyric establishment those difficulties will be overcome when it is remembered that another competitor is in the field.”