Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
Giuseppe Nicolao [cond.]
29 August 2018
“Mme. La Grange has recovered from her indisposition, and will, we are assured, appear to-night…”
“Academy of Music—Italian Opera.—Of all the modern composers of Italian opera Verdi is perhaps the most popular and most abused. The people like him because he is sensational in music as Boucicault is in drama, and the dilettanti dislike him for the same reason. All his opera librettos are overcharged with love and murder and startling situations, and there is no drama of the modern ‘blood and thunder’ school contains one-half of the atrocities of the libretto of one of Verdi’s operas. But the secret of his success is that his music is eminently dramatic and that he not only produced superb melodies and grand choruses, but intensely passionate trios and quartets. The quartet from ‘Rigoletto,’ the ‘Miserere’ in ‘Il Trovatore’ and the quintet in ‘Ernani’ are signal proofs of his genius in this respect. In the ‘Ballo in Maschera,’ which was produced at the Academy last night, and which included in the cast the names of La Grange, Brignoli, Phillips, McCulloch and Orlandini, is another great work of dramatic writing in music. The libretto, grant it, is absurd and highly improbable, but the music is superb. The house last night was crowded, and fashion filled box and stall. The performance was both good and middling in some of the parts. La Grange acted and sang as a great artist can only do under all circumstances; yet traces of her recent indisposition were perceptible in her voice. Brignoli’s peculiarly sweet tenor voice made the rôle of Richard acceptable, and in some of the music which fell to his part he brought out the applause of his hearers. Miss Phillips and Miss McCulloch upheld American talent in the most gratifying manner, the latter appearing to advantage in the rôle of the Page. The orchestra was entirely too loud, and drowned some of the best points in the opera.”
“The revival of ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ at the Academy last night brought out an audience which was both large and fashionable. It is two or three years since this work, which is one of the most attractive of Verdi’s compositions, has been performed here. It was then given by Mr. Maretzek’s company.
The cast for last evening’s performance was, on the whole, a strong one. Madame Lagrange filled our ideal of Amelia well nigh to perfection. She even redeemed the character from the absurdities of the libretto and invested it with interest and womanly sentiment. At first her voice showed some symptoms of the remaining effects of her late illness, but they soon disappeared, and she sang as clearly and as strongly as ever, pleasing us best, however, by the fineness of her softer modulations, when giving with perfect distinctness and audibility the most delicate intonations. In the third act, as performed last night, her acting was equal to that of any of the best characters in which we have seen her. Until nearly the close of this act there is nothing but recitative, and this would ordinarily drag excessively, but the act was saved and made one of the most interesting in the opera by the masterly acting and exquisite modulations of La Grange. Brignoli was in fine voice, and showed a continuance of his lately evinced disposition to infuse more life and energy into his acting. It was a rare pleasure to listen to his perfect rendering of the beautiful barcarole, ‘Di’ tu se fedele il flutto.’
Miss Phillips, as Ulrica, the sorceress, had but little to do, but that little became a prominent feature of the performance, because it was done with the spirit and thoroughness of a true artist.
Miss McCulloch, as Oscar, had a new opportunity and improved it well. She received a hearty encore for her singing of the delightful canzone, ‘Saper Vorreste,’ which was deserved, although there was something of heaviness in her execution. Orlandini, as the indignant husband, was hardly up to himself, and Coletti and Sarti, as the murderous enemies of the Count, labored under a wrong conception of their parts. The masked ball scene was slow and awkward, and the choruses, with the exception of that at the close of the third act, were badly given.”
“Among the three or four best operas of Verdi ‘Un Ballo en Maschera,’ unquestionably takes a high rank. It is not as artistic as ‘Rigoletto,’ nor so popular as ‘Il Trovatore,’ nor so vehement as ‘Ernani;’ but it has variety of coloring, an unusually good contrast of characters, and in the part of the page much vivacity in the music. The choruses too are good. The scene, indeed, where Amelia’s rendezvous is discovered has seldom been exceeded, even by this great master of dramatic effect and concentration. The concerted music expresses the situation perfectly, while the slowly departing chorus chuckling respectfully at the contretemps, which exposes a friend and a friend’s wife to calumny, is eminently real and human. The last scene is one in which every kind of effect can be produced, scenic, dramatic, choreographic and otherwise. There was not much effort in any direction last night, but the vocal pieces were well rendered, and Sig. Brignoli’s expiring tones were listened to with anguish by his many admirers.
Madame La Grange, whose rentrée was warmly welcomed by the audience, was in good voice. In the third act her scene with Signor Brignoli was encored. The duet is always agreeable, although the least original number in the opera. It deserved this fate. It was repeated in a very abbreviated form. The habit of repeating under any circumstances is wrong. If the public desires more of the same work they can readily procure it. The manager does not object to repeating any opera that receives the indorsement of a large and appreciative community. Signor Brignoli was excellent in this act, and especially in the tender andante which precedes the duet. The sweet and sympathetic quality of his voice was brought our charmingly. The number itself, we may add, is one of the best ever written by the maestro, and none the worse because it is entirely out of his ordinary vein. Signor Coletti and Signor Sarti were good, but they err as we have frequently had occasion to say—in supposing that Tom and Samuel, although plebeian by name, are not gentlemen in instinct. The chuckle to which we have already referred is all they should exhibit; not the guffaw of a country clown. Signor Orlandi has neither the power or dramatic intensity for such a rôle as Renato. Miss McCullough is one of the rising artists of the day, and evidently has a career before her. Miss Adelaide Phillips was the Ulrica, a character which she has impersonated many times, and which has always been regarded as one of her best. The orchestra and chorus was received with genuine satisfaction by a fine and discriminating audience.”
“We had last night an excellent revival of the ‘Ballo in Maschera,’ an Opera which, popular as it has always been, has not been heard in New York for several years. It belongs to Verdi’s better and more artistic style, and though it has neither the finish of ‘Rigoletto’ nor the showy melody of ‘Trovatore,’ it combines to a certain degree some of the best characteristics of the two Verdian manners, of which those operas are the representatives. The Amelia of Madame La Grange deserves to rank with her Leonora and Violetta. It is distinguished by the dramatic intensity and vocal delicacy, in which she is preeminent, and it is not easy to imagine a more satisfactory personation. Signor Brignoli seemed to revel in the sweetness of the arias with which the composer has so liberally endowed the tenor part, his La Rivedra in the first act, and the second part of the barcarole in the second being particularly delicate. His duet with Amelia, Non sai tu, in the same act, and the Ah qual soave in the third were admirable. The latter was redemanded. Miss Phillips was the Ulrica, as she used to be of old. Sterling artist as she is, we need hardly say that her performance was entirely good, and the same praise may be given to Orlandini. Miss McCulloch made a favorable impression as Oscar, especially in the opening aria. In the finale of the second act she was somewhat over-taxed, but upon the whole her assumption of the role was a successful one. The opera was well mounted and the house was full.”
“The performance of Ballo in Maschera, Wednesday, was very mediocre. Mme de La Grange was still under the influence of the illness that had kept her away from the stage for several days. The audience, always merciless and full of feeling, didn’t let up forcing her to repeat the end of the duet in the second act. The role of the count was executed by M. Brignoli: when we say ‘executed’, it’s in the sense of ‘massacred’ that it must be understood. This role, however, yielded M. Brignoli one of his most brilliant successes in days of yore. But where are the snows of yesteryear? A tenor’s voice is a hundred times more fragile than a woman’s virtue, and the most anxious attention doesn’t prevail against the injuries of time. When, then, will artists who have had celebrity recognize when to stop, and enjoy their reputation without compromising it?
Mme Phillips lacked power in the role of Ulrica. M. Orlandini had some good moments, though he had a bit of a cold. The two conspirators were frankly bad: one above all, who sang inside a cottony voice. The conspiracy trio passed along, thanks to M. Orlandini.
Mlle McCullough was charged with the role of the page. Never was there seen on the stage a young adolescent more elegant, more graceful and more slender. We recall that Mlle McCullough debuted at the Winter Garden in the Ballo in Maschera: she took on the role of Amelia, too heavy for her at the time. This young person, likeable and very gifted, has made immense progress since that time: her debuts, nevertheless, scarcely go back eighteen months. Mlle McCullough sang the verses Saper Vareste with infinite taste, and the public wished with all its might for her to do them again. The evening’s success was for her: may that encourage her to study more.
The orchestra was weak, and the chorus too.
The last scene of the fourth act, which was supposedly the masked ball, was completely ridiculous. It would have been worth more to not put the dancers on the stage at all, than to exhibit there some petticoated dancers who wounded the eye and whose entire skill consisted of jumping about foolishly, without elegance and without taste. They aren’t even pedestrian!”