La Grange-Brignoli Italian Opera: Roberto il diavolo

Event Information

Venue(s):
Academy of Music

Manager / Director:
Max Strakosch

Event Type:
Opera

Record Information

Status:
Published

Last Updated:
29 August 2018

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

26 Feb 1868, Evening

Program Details

Debut of Joseph Hermanns.

Performers and/or Works Performed

1)
aka Robert the devil; Robert der Teufel
Composer(s): Meyerbeer
Text Author: Scribe, Delavigne
Participants:  La Grange-Brignoli Italian Opera Company;  Rita Sangalli (role: Elena);  Anna de La Grange (role: Alice);  Pasquale Brignoli (role: Robert);  Domenico Lorini (role: Benbow);  Joseph Hermanns (role: Bertram);  Isabella McCulloch (role: Isabella)

Citations

1)
Advertisement: New-York Times, 22 February 1868, 7.
2)
Advertisement: New York Herald, 24 February 1868.
3)
Announcement: New York Herald, 26 February 1868, 7.

“This evening we are to have the novely of ‘Roberto il Diavolo’… If this does not pack the house before the rising of the curtain this deponent may be set down among the false prophets.  We expect by all odds the finest house that Strakosch can boast of either side of the town.”

4)
Announcement: New-York Times, 26 February 1868, 4.
5)
Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 26 February 1868, 8.
6)
Advertisement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 26 February 1868.
7)
Review: New York Herald, 27 February 1868, 8.

“Academy of Music.—The Academy last night was in full bloom, like a peach orchard, beautiful to look at, deliciously odoriferous, and musical as with the buzzing of busy bees. The bill of ‘Roberto il Diavolo’—with vulgus, ‘Bob the Devil’—with the irresistible cast, embracing La Grange, Miss McCulloch, Brignoli, Loring, Hermanns and Mlle. Rita Sangalli’s (premiere danseuse), filled the house at a premium for reserved seats in any part thereof.  The North German confederation was present in great strength, and the Austrian division of Vaterland was likewise in town. Hermanns, the magnificent basso, had brought in these reserves. A call for Bismarck would have made the welkin ring. The plot of ‘Robert’ is too deep for anything but a profound German mind to comprehend. It is an indescribable compound of ‘Der Freischutz,’ ‘Macbeth,’ ‘The Huguenots,’ the ghostly temptation of St. Anthony and the ‘Black Crook.’ The music is grand, orchestral, sepulchral, supernatural, diabolical and profoundly German. They say that the French score holds the orchestra til two o’clock in the morning, and so Strakosch wisely has adopted the Italian score, though the singing was partly in Tuscan and partly in high Dutch. It is all the same, however, with the libretto, which is in the English done brown—a little too brown, if anything. Secondly, we come to the singing. The choice morceaux were the second, though Miss McCulloch opened the first very sweetly. In the second, however, in the duo between Alice and Bertram (La Grange and Hermanns), and in the trio of Robert, Bertram and Alice, La Grange, Hermanns and Brignoli, were cordially encored and the house would admit of no evasion. In the third of the coquetries of Elena (Sangali), the danseuse à la ‘White Fawn’) with Roberto (Brignoli) were more bewitching than anything in the ‘Devil’s Auction.’ And so Elena won a pretty basket of flowers among the floral distributions of the evening. Hermanns is a grand basso. His voice, strong, flexible and round, seemed to be hardly tested to its full capacities. He is a fine actor too. Lorini has a good organ, though a knowing one at our elbow remarked that he is singing rather carelessly to-night. By and large, as ‘Old Tom Benton’ used to say ‘Roberto’ was a great hit. The scenic effects, the striking situations and tableaux, the resounding choruses, the grand crashes of trumpets and drums orchestral, the sweet solos, charming duos and stirring trios, and the puzzling development of the plot, delighted the house as we have seldom seen a house delighted before, and accordingly there will be a perfect jam at the repetition. Foyer, the treasurer, says the house was almost filled.”

8)
Review: New York Post, 27 February 1868.

“Two operas in one night are rather too much, even for New York, but last night a liberal patronage was extended to both Mr. Strakosch’s company at the Academy and to Mr. Harrison’s company at Pike’s Opera House The academy had the largest and most fashionable audience. The fact that Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert’ was to be performed was sufficient to call out one of the best houses of the season. The opera has not been heard here as often as many other works of less merit, the difficulty of giving it a proper cast, perhaps, preventing.

The performance last night was something of a disappointment. Madame La Grange was a superb Alice. We do not recollect ever having seen a more perfect representation of this character than was given by her; and her singing was as good as her acting, which is the highest praise. Signor Brignoli, however, for some reason did not appear to be fully at ease in the execution of the music assigned to his part. Mr. Herrmans is always impressive, but did not, last night, appear to the best advantage. The choruses were not executed as they should have been, and as they doubtless will be tomorrow night. A single thorough rehearsal would work wonders.

In spite of all deficiencies, however, the performance was very much enjoyed by one of the best audiences that we have seen this winter. Such singers as Brignoli and Herrmans, even when they are liable to criticism, always s give a satisfaction which cannot be conferred by the best performances of mediocrity. With one or two faithful rehearsals, we are confident that ‘Robert’ can be given in a manner which will not only satisfy but delight.”

9)
Review: New-York Times, 27 February 1868, 4.

“The rival companies crossed swords last evening. There were performances at Pike’s Opera House and the Academy of Music. Considering that it was Ash Wednesday, when good Catholics and Episcopalians stay at home, there was in each house a large attendance of the other sort of people. Externally they were quite as respectable as their more scrupulous brethren… [Review of Faust at Pike’s.]

At the Academy of Music the opera was ‘Robert le Diable,’ a work of transcendent and revivifying merit, albeit hackneyed. The full strength of Mr. Strakosch's company was exhibited in the cast. Indeed somewhat more than its normal strength, for Herr Hermanns (who also sang in German) was engaged for the part of Bertram, and the famous danseuse, Mlle. Sangelli, for the toe-temptation scene. Signor Brignoli was the Robert, Mme. La Grange the Alice, and Miss McCulloch the Isabella. The quartette, it will be seen, was very strong, and the performance, although by no means perfect, was credible. It is none of our business to apologize for or explain shortcomings, but it may be suggested that the first night of a work of this caliber is attended with many difficulties, and that a moderate amount of allowance is not out of place on such an occasion. Mme. La Grange’s Alice was almost without fault, save that on one or two occasions she sang out of tune, a defect to which she is hardly at any time addicted. It occurred last night. Otherwise she sang like a true artist, and acted without demonstration, which is the best kind of acting. In the cross duet of the second act she sang in German to accommodate herself to the Bertram, who was of that persuasion. Herr Hermanns was in fine voice, and renewed his former success in the rôle, which is assuredly one of the best of his repertoire. Signor Brignoli in the first act lacked strength, so that the drinking song passed off tamely. He improved, however, as the opera went on. Miss McCulloch was excellent. She ripens rapidly, and undoubtedly has a career before her. Of Signor Lorini (Ramboldo) it is not possible to say much, except that he did as well as he could. Nor can we say a great deal more for the orchestra and chorus, both of which can be improved for the next performance. The performance did not excite the enthusiasm that it usually does, but it was nevertheless a fair one. On the repetition we have no doubt the work will be given to decided advantage. The cast justifies this expectation.”  

10)
Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 27 February 1868, 4.

“Last night Meyerbeer’s grand opera ‘Robert Il Diavolo,’ was produced for the first time for several seasons. It is a most arduous task for any management to produce this difficult work, and it necessitates several of the artists being first-class ones to represent it at all. For a first representation, the performance was an excellent one, and it deservedly made a success. The strength of its cast was in the rôles of Alice, Robert, and Bertram, respectively sustained by Madame De La Grange, Sig. Brignola [sic], and Herr Hermanns. Madame De La Grange showed herself, as ever, a consummate artist, and perhaps the only prima donna in this country capable of sustaining the part of Alice. Hermann’s matchless bass voice was well suited to the somber music of Bertram, although the effect of mingling the German language with the Italian was sometimes rather unpleasant. The duet with Alice, in the second act, was given by both artists in that language, and was loudly encored, as was the following terzet with Robert. Brignoli was in fine voice, and was, if possible, more dramatic than usual. The orchestra was enlarged, and was kept tolerably well under control. Sangalli was a fascinating but rather too worldly-looking spirit.”

11)
Article: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 27 February 1868, 8.

The opera event attracted a large audience. The highlight of the performance was Joseph Hermans’s ‘Bertram’. His still impressively strong voice, and his artistically inspired acting performance gained him much acknowledgement and applause in the first act, despite the German language of the opera. The big scene and the duet with La Grange in the second act were the highlights in the otherwise rather sad performance.

12)
Review: New York Post, 28 February 1868.

“The event of the season has been the production of ‘Roberto il Diavolo,’ which was achieved on Wednesday evening in a manner highly satisfactory to one of the largest and most brilliant audiences of the season.”

13)
Review: Courrier des √Čtats-Unis, 28 February 1868.

“The performance of Robert le Diable, Wednesday evening, was the big success of the season deveoted to New York by Mme de La Grange. The hall was full from the amphitheater to the parquet, and more than five hundred people stood around the circumference. The Germans came in great numbers; they formed well over two thirds of the standees. You could count an equally large quantity of French, Spanish and Italians: the American element made up no more than a tenth of the contents of the room. Here is a conscientious and methodical account of the performance.

First act. – The chorus was bad: that could be said once for the whole thing. M. Brignoli comes on with his friend Bertram, who is none other than M. Herrmans, the German bass, and who sings in his language. The two friends couldn’t understand each other less. Raimbaud comes on, under the traces of M. Lorini, whose zeal merits more praise than his voice. Luckily, he sings only one verse of the ballad Jadis régnait, etc. Alice comes in her turn, and as it’s Mme de La Grange who is Robert’s foster-sister, she’s greeted by a triple salvo of applause. M. Brignoli’s brothers-in-arms want to take her brutally, but the valiant knight Normand intervenes, repels the insolence of these ‘chevaliers’ who are as ill-bred as they are uncontrolled, and saves the honor of his nurse’s daughter. It must be observed, nevertheless, that this good idea doesn’t come to Robert immediately; he had begun, before recognizing Alice, to graciously make a present of her to his troopers.

Mme La Grange sang the aria Va, dit-elle, mon enfant with the most touching expressiveness. She is a master of the great traditions and she acts as well as she sings. M. Herrmans continued to prove that he had a very good voice: his low notes, those that he pulls up from his boots, are of the first quality, when they’re not of doubtful accuracy. M. Brignoli, giving way to the entreaties of Bertram, gambles, loses, laments the loss of the gold although it’s a chimera, and cautiously passes along the celebrated and difficult phrase Des chevaliers de ma Patrie.

Second act.—Raimbaut sings his duet with Bertram: he has the good sense to cut it in half. The great sung monologue De ma grandeur passée, etc., follows. M. Herrmans lacks power a bit. He gives his character too much of the physiognomy of a traitor in melodrama. Bertram isn’t an ordinary devil, armed with claws and provided with a tail, passing his time by lying in wait for young girls in order to make them fall on the grass or to induce boys into debauchery: he’s a fallen angel, who has maintained all the arrogance of his rebellion, afflicted by his fall and searching for consolation in filial love. The only truly interesting character in Robert is the demon, and you can’t give him, as M. Herrmans did, the conduct of a tempter of the fifth order. Bertram is neither ugly nor repulsive: on the contrary, he’s a majestic type who preserves his dignity and his grandeur in his misfortune.

M. Herrmans is engulfed in the air-holes of hell, in the midst of the incoherent wailings of a defective chorus. Alice returns to us, and with her calm and mercy. Mme de La Grange sang the delightful cantilena quand j’ai quitté ma Normande with an indefinable charm. In the duet with Bertram, at the foot of the cross, she found some magnificent notes that electrified the hall. The unaccompanied trio that terminates the act was sung with equal perfection by Mme de La Grange, M. Brignoli and M. Herrmans. They had to do it over again, and the artists were called back again twice after the curtain fell.

These bis, applied to an ensemble piece, are an abuse. They are cruelties on the part of the audience, for they tire out the artists horribly; they are foolishness, for it’s rare that an ensemble number is repeated with the same perfection with which it was executed the first time; the thread of inspiration is broken, and the public risks spoiling its initial pleasure. It’s a lack of regard for the singers, and demanding more of them than the public strictly and legally has the right to ask. One should encore a verse, the coda of an aria, nothing better; decency and common sense don’t permit doing more. A witty artist, who was giving a concert in Paris, had agreed to repeat two or three selections. They encored her again. Tired, the artist turned to the audience and said, ‘Messieurs, I’m giving a second concert tomorrow.’

Third act.—Bertram calls forth Satan’s aged nuns with a great force of his lungs. The orchestra played, tastelessly, the splendid symphony that accompanies the religious [figures] prepared to become bacchantes. The tamtam disported itself as though it were addressing itself to the deaf. Six nuns gathered on the stage. If they were frolicsome during their sinful life, they didn’t inspire frolicsomeness after their death. M. Brignoli enters the ancient monastery in order to snatch the enchanted bough which would enable him to deliver the charming Isabelle to him. Here, a surprise was reserved for the spectators. A ravishing dancer, Mlle Sagalli, came to fascinate Robert: one would be fascinated for less. Mlle Sagalli dances wonderfully well; she has prize-winning capers, irresistible twistings, enchanting elevations and triumphant circles of the leg. Let’s add that one would say she’s modeled on a Greek statue: her success was as sparkling as it was deserved.

However, M. Brignoli appeared bored that they were fascinating him. Still, to conform to the libretto, he gives himself up to two major sins: avarice and gluttony. Yet another attempt by Mlle Sagalli, and another very tiny sin will come along to add to the other two. Robert doesn’t break, and since he was brought up in Nanterre, he contents himself with a chaste kiss on the sylph’s forehead, and she disappears into the depths of the wings. M. Brignoli seizes his bough, and the nuns, summoned to return to Hell by two huge red devils, undergo the embrace of frightful tortures amidst the glimmers of a fire of scarlet flares.     

Fourth act.—Mlle McCulloch was burdened with the role of Isabelle. This young person inspires our great sympathy. Thus we confine ourselves to say, about her first aria, that ………………………….....................................................

………………………………………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………………………… [sic]

When M. Brignoli presented himself after having lulled the lackeys to sleep with his opiate bough, Mlle McCulloch sang the aria Grâce, with ……………………..

……………………………………………………………………………… [sic]

There’s a revenge to take.

Fifth act.—The hour is late, and what’s at stake is finishing before midnight. Bertram agrees with M. Brignoli to cancel the duet that precedes Alice’s arrival. They take away the chorus. The trio itself is mutilated. We should at least say that Mme de La Grange was affecting to a supreme degree. Bertram reinstates himself in Hell; everybody is saved.

To sum up, the interpretation was remarkable and the success was immense. The execution of the second act, notably, left nothing to be desired. If the performance had been mediocre, we wouldn’t have dissected it with such scrupulous care.”

14)
Review: New-York Times, 28 February 1868, 4.

Brief mention as part of announcement for performance of the same opera on 2/28/68. “Mr. Strakosh [sic] in the limited season before him has done a bold and judicious thing in bringing out this masterwork. Except with experienced artists it would have been impossible. Although there was a lack of ensemble on Wednesday evening the concerted pieces—devolving on the four principal artists—were admirably given. The trio created a perfect furore, and the singers were twice called before the curtain.”