Pike's Opera House
Proprietor / Lessee:
H. L. [impressario] Bateman
15 January 2019
“Les Bavards is announced at Pike’s for Wednesday night. The plot is simple. A wealthy burgher of Saragossa has a wife with a never ceasing tongue, and a pretty niece, beloved by a needy nobleman, who is also gifted with loquacious powers. Pursued by creditors he at length presents himself to the good burgher, who proposes to the young adventurer the difficult task of toning down his better half. His eloquence succeeds, and his persuasiveness is rewarded with the hand of her lovely niece; the voracious creditors are appeased and the curtain falls on a happy group. The music is said to be sparkling. Le gallant home will be impersonated by Mlle. Tostee, while the second and last acts will be continued with Mlle. Irma and M. Aujac. The matinee today will consist of selections from La Grande Duchesse and La Belle Helene.”
A special announcement by Bateman: In order to give time for rehearsals, Les Bavards will not be presented until Wed. night, 9 Dec.
Les Bavards will be brought out on Wed. The combination of Bateman’s two companies has been drawing in the crowds. Tostee plays Roland, a “needy young nobleman” in Les Bavards.
“This operetta, in two acts, by Offenbach, was produced last evening for the first time in this country at Pike’s Opera House, which was well filled in every part. Novelty was the attraction, and although perhaps too much was expected, many were agreeably surprised that so excellent a display could have been presented from such meagre material. ‘Les Bavards,’ which was brought out in Paris some years ago, is nothing more nor less than a charming little operetta, simple in its construction, yet piquant and highly amusing, full of sparkling dialogue and replete with melody. That it was produced in splendid style was evident, otherwise its success would have been somewhat doubtful to give it any claim to the cordial and hearty applause which was bestowed upon its representation. Candidly, the impersonation of every character was as near perfection as possible, and the general excellence of the artists fully made up for all deficiencies in the plot. The musical portion of ‘Les Bavards’ is in some respects very pretty and characteristic of Offenbach’s peculiar style. The first act, however, is not remarkable for anything very striking except a humorous selection, ‘J’ai l’art de prendre un délinquant,’ and the closing chorus of voracious creditors, both of which were effectually rendered and deservedly applauded. But the second act is far superior in every respect. The quartet ‘Il a la bouche pleine,’ was charming and full of sweetness, as was also the song, ‘C’est l’Espagne qui nous donne.’ Both were warmly encored. Another pretty trio, ‘Laissons nous tue pas un mot’ was given with great taste and expression. The chorus was quite up to the mark, and on every available opportunity made the best of the means at their disposal. Indeed, the operetta was well placed on the stage, and nothing was left undone that could possibly contribute to its success. Roland, the needy young nobleman, was well personated by Mlle. Tostée, and the vivacity, humor, chivalric bearing and abandon which she threw into the part at once elicited the general approbation of the audience. She moved about with an air that no galant homme could surpass, and her rendition of the many choice airs that fell to her share was characterized by her usual sprightliness and peculiarities. Her wink was irresistible. Mlle. Irma as Ines, niece to Darmiento (M. Duchesne), was quite equal to her part, while Beatrix (Mlle. Duclos), his loquacious wife, was rendered in an artistic manner. One of the best characters in the production, at least one rendered so last evening, was that of Tarribio (M. Leduc), whose quaint humor and comicalities provoked the greatest merriment. M. Leduc was the representative of Prince Paul in the ‘Grand Duchess.’ Nor was M. Lagriffoul wanting in his impersonation of Christobal, the Alcalde. Altogether ‘Les Bavards’ is one of the best of its class, and its careful production last evening was attended with success. The second act of ‘Barbe Bleue’ was also performed.”
“Another tribute to the musical skill and popularity of Offenbach was the production at Pike’s Opera House last night of one of his earlier works, but one to which in a great measure his success is owing; for to the fact that ‘Les Bavards’ hit the public taste of Paris we probably owe it that Offenbach had subsequently the opportunity of bringing out his later and more elaborate compositions. The Orphée aux Enfers was the first of the Offenbach operas that was a success, and it was followed by several minor productions, which detracted from rather than increased his reputation. He felt this himself, and anxious to restore his fading laurels, devoted special care to ‘Les Bavards;’ and with its triumphant success he regained his place in the affections of the fickle Parisians.
“The story of the opera . . . [plot synopsis]
“The cast last night was as follows… [see above]
“By these experienced performers the opera was represented with great vivacity and elegance. Tostee perhaps has less to do in it than might be expected; but, on the other hand, that clever singer and actress Mlle. Duclos is brought more prominently forward than hitherto. In the play Cristobal, the Alcaide, and Torribio, his scribe, are most amusing characters—the Dogberry and Verges of comic opera, for this, rather than opera bouffe, is ‘Les Bavards.’ The two parts find admirable representatives in Lagriffoul and Leduc, the latter again proving himself to be a really remarkable character actor.
“The music of this opera is certainly far more masterly than Offenbach has produced in such of his later works as have been heard here. At times the listener wonders whether the frivolity of the ‘Duchess’ and ‘Genevieve’ represent the true musical character of the man who could compose such an exquisite Mozart-like morecau as the canon movement, Il a la bouche pleine. The opera opens with a brisk chorus of creditors; and other features of the first act are a duet, with the accompaniment of clinking money; a telling, novel and pretty rondeau well sung by Mlle. Duclos; a quaint antiphonal duet between the Alcaide and his clerk, similar in style and destined to a popularity equal to that of the gend’armes, couplets in ‘Genevieve;’ and a very original and amusing chorus of creditors, in which the librettist, as well as the composer, is worthy of praise. In the second act occur the exquisite canon already alluded to; a fascinating melody, O’ssi l’Espagne, the air of which seems to be the central theme of the opera; and a curious hit at musical volubility, wherein Roland out-talks the garrulous wife, Beatrice.
“The opera, though without the extravagantly burlesque nonsense which has characterized its predecessors, gave thorough satisfaction, and was in every way successful. It will give to the musician a higher opinion of Offenbach’s musical talents than he has before entertained, and will add several pleasant gems to the public’s repertoire of Offenbachian airs. Its production cuts out at once new work for the music adaptors and publishers.”
“A new opera bouffe—new at least to America—was produced here last evening. It is called Les Bavards—a title which is not translatable, but which means something like the Chatterers. There is a species of talk which the English call “nagging”—an incessant patter of words going round everything and touching nothing. A certain Sarmiento is afflicted with a wife who addicts herself to this habit. Not being blessed with a large exchequer of words himself, he is naturally made uneasy, and feels himself nonplussed. Suddenly, he comes upon an adventurer whose vocabulary is inexhaustible. Without knowing that this adventurer is in love with his niece, and only needs a pretense to get into his house, he persuades him at once to confront his wife and talk her from her position. This he does successfully, and by the movement of the plot wins as his reward the hand of the lady he loves.
“On this simple thread, borrowed, we are told, from CERVANTES, a charming piece has been constructed. The dialogue is compact and witty, the situations are as ludicrous as those in the Barber of Seville, and there is not a word that cannot, from beginning to end, be repeated in the presence of ladies.
“Mlle. TOSTEE was the adventurer—Roland, by name. A nattier adventurer has never been seen on the stage. Neither the music nor the attire embarrassed her. She sang with perfect abandon all the morceaux that came to her part, and acted as she only can act. Mlle. DUCLOS, who was brought to the front on this occasion, was also good as the virago, Beatrix. M. LEDUC as Torribe, was simply admirable. The immobility of his face, and the real humor of everything he did, brought down the constant applause of the audience. Mlle. LAMBELE and M. DUCHESNE were also excellent. The full chorus of Mr. BATEMAN’S double company was employed. It is necessary to hear the singers to know that chorus singing really means. The Italian opera has never possessed such a well-balanced number of voices. The orchestra, under M. BIRGFELD, was also good. In every other respect of production the opera was placed on the stage in Mr. BATEMAN’S usually careful manner. The scenery and costumes were new and appropriate. Nothing, in this way, is ever neglected. The two scenes necessary for the two acts were excellent and the dresses were splendid.
“The music of the opera will rank with Offenbach’s best, albeit not in his familiar style. It is evident that the texture of the score has been carefully made, and that the composer has tried to do something good. The pieces are mainly concerted pieces, and as such are very effective. Public appreciation, which does not run in the way, was so marked last night that these pieces were vociferously encored. Of course—strictly speaking—there are none. The introductory couplets, which take the place of the solos—but lead to something else—were received with enthusiasm, and even the chorus was applauded. Unlike most of OFFENBACH’S music, this requires to be heard more than once.
“An act of ‘Barbe Bleue’ was played after ‘Les Bavards’.”
“It is a comfort to come across a work by Offenbach that contains no indelicacy either in plot, language, or suggestion. Such a work is ‘Les Bavards,’ a musical farce in two acts which was last night presented for the first time in America by the Bateman Troupe at Pike’s Opera House. Les Bavards are the chatter-boxes, and they abound in this piece, and talk and sing nineteen to the dozen. The purpose of the farce is to show how one of them was cured, and how a love-match was incidentally made up. Deeper than this, the purpose is to ridicule babblers. It is sufficient to say that the design is well accomplished. ‘Les Bavards’ is full of comical incidents, and under the exaggeration that of course marks its character-paintings, there is a reality of sense and truth, which makes the comicality significant and valuable. To see this opera therefore, is to meet with no offense; to be possibly benefited, and certainly to be amused. In construction the work is especially neat. Only seven persons, with a few auxiliaries, participate in its action. The scene is laid in a Spanish town, and this choice of place admits of good illustration in scenery and costume. Spanish colors are always picturesque. The characters are Roland, a wild young fellow, in love with Inez, nice to a respectable citizen, [?], Roland has a lot of Creditors, and these gentlemen constitute a chorus. Then there is Sarmiento’s wife, Beatriz, who is a Bavard of uncommon powers of [?], and Pedro, his servant, and Christobel, an Alcade, and Torribio, a clerk. The latter two may be said to be sort of Dogberry and Verges. In the first act of the farce…[plot summary]. Last night’s performance was very sprightly. Mlle. Tostée played Roland; M. Duchesne was the Sarmiento; M. Francis was the Alendo. Leduc played Torriblo; Beatrix was enacted by Mlle. Duclos, and Inez by Mlle. Lambele. Throughout the performance the acting was neat, crisp, and telling. Leduc distinguished himself in particular by his charming repose and ease, and by his rich resources of delicate comic business. The musical hit of the evening was the duet between the Alcade and his clerk, in act first—a wonderful piece of elaborate absurdity. Mlle. Duclos sang her garrulous rondeau with a good deal of vigor and finish, and this, as also the gastronomical quartette, at the beginning of act second, moved the especial enthusiasm of the audience. The piece was sumptuously mounted. Only two scenes are set, and both are admirable. The first represents a picturesque street, the second a terrace, on Sarmiento’s house-top, whence is seen a vista of spires and house-tops. The audience last evening was numerous and fashionable, and its applause was frequently and heartily given. Mlle. Tostée especially excited it by her delicate rendering of ‘C’est l’Espagne,’ which, in point of sweetness and a kind, merry sadness, is the musical gem of the piece. Mlle. Tostée’s subsequent celebration of the charms of the banquet—a really remarkable effort of loquacity—was excellently done, and awoke the most cordial laughter. ‘Les Bavards’ is a trifle, but it has made a hit, and it offers Opera Bouffe in a form that none will disapprove and that all may enjoy. The second act of ‘Barbe Bleue’ concluded the performance. Mlle. De Rosa appeared and trod ‘the mazy.’”
The venue was completely booked. The cheerful operetta with its beautiful melodies has an excellent cast and brilliant stage scenery, design, and costumes. Bateman’s conductor and musical advisor, Birgfeld, would deserve laurels from Offenbach for his formidable leadership in preparing Offenbach’s operettas. We still believe, though, that the era of light-hearted and indecent entertainment is nearing its end. (…)
“CHRONIQUE HEBDOMADAIRE. – We must begin by rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to Jacques . . . Offenbach.
“The new work—for New York—we’ve taken account of today could boldly swap the name of operetta-bouffe, under which it’s designated on the poster, for that of opera-comique. Not that we pretend to put the score of les Bavards at the level of those of le Pré aux Clercs, le Domino noir of la Dame Blanceh, but finally we have the pleasure of attesting that there’s pretty music, fine, elegant, distinguished, there, and that there are a few more or less lyrical stunts there whose ephemeral reign will soon say its last word.
“What proves that public taste isn’t as profoundly depraved as they wish to say, in spite of Bu qui s’avance [from la Belle Hélène] and le Sabre de mon père [from la Grande Duchesse] is that, even in these disheveled workd, success has its modesty; he looks for an honest pretense and holds on, while making himself popular, to some relatively melodious pieces whose vulgarity isn’t their only merit.
“We’ll never renounce the masters; we’ll never burn the idols whom we’ve adored, but we concede nevertheless that one can like, without idiocy, gaiety and happy refrains. One dreads only the bad pieces and the scores without skill. Every well-made work deserves to be applauded, be it dramatic, sentimental, light or even facetious.
“This said in the matter of a preface, let’s take on the analysis of les Bavards. It has to be recognized before everything else that to serve as a pretext for his pretty music, the composer has found a well-executed libretto. It’s only a trifle sketched in the genre of the old Spanish theater, a little imbroglio without too much pretension, whose intrigue, straddling the point of a needle, unfolds very naturally and amuses without tiring.
“[Gives brief synopsis of plot, interspersed with quotations from Alfred de Musset. Then quotes from the introduction to the operetta:]
“Cherchons bien! Courons vite!
“This introductory piece is lively, sparkling and in good circumstances of sonority for the voice.
“[Gives more plot, then quotes from Roland’s serenade to Ines:]
“Sans aimer, ah! peut-on vivre?
“Ines . . .isn’t really imprisoned under lock and key, for she begins very politely to give a reply to her gallant suitor and unfolds with him the most pleasing duettino in opera-comique. It’s fresh and most original, above all the end where the orchestration is dominated by the noise of jingling money, absolutely like in the refrain of les Filles de Marbre “Voilà ce qu’aime Marco!” [play by Theo. Barrière, music by Montaubry, 1853]. For the rest, let’s not quibble too much; an old philosopher said it: the only thing new is what’s been forgotten . . . .
“Roland is Mlle Tostée, and I swear to you that she wears the pants capitally. The young Aragonaise, Inès, is no other than Mlle Lambelé, including her pretty eyes, her nice teeth and her lovely voice. As for the giver of slashes, it’s our excellent Duchesne, and here’s his spouse, Senora Beatrix . . .by St. James of Compostela! (since we’re in Spain). I promise you that here’s a jolly woman who is rather well-spoken! Mme Duclos found the exact note for this role and revealed herself in this creation [to be] as much an intelligent comic actress as a good singer.
“Her rapid verses:
“J’ai bon caractère . . . .
are of excellent workmanship; nevertheless you may not believe that they’re at the level of the pretty song of the chatterboxes in lAmbassadrice [Auber, 1836] . . . .
[more plot synopsis] . . . .
“The success was plainly visible and the “bis”es began with the entry of the alcaid Christobal and his clerk Torribio; sorry! I meant Lagriffoul and Leduc. There are the two roles that will make the success of the work. Lagriffoul as the alcaid is a splendid silly creature; he’s embodied an exceedingly funny character; with his curls and his medieval-style bonnet [hat with crenellations], one would say the head of the countess of Albuquerque or the Marquise of Montefiascone [ancient fortified town near Rome] on the torso of a Bodhisattva. Leduc isn’t a clerk; he’s only the shadow of one. Imagine something impalpable, imperceptible, diaphanous; conceive of a type half Pierrot, half Bazile [don Basilio, Marriage of Figaro]; a falsetto voice, a mask sprinkled with flour, eyes that roll, a belt like Crispin [French theater character inspired by commedia dell’arte—Lesage, Crispin Rival de son Maître, 1707]. The coat of M. Loyal [in Tartuffe—a disloyal bailiff] and a long pointed cap bristling with goose-feathers, emblems of his office. . . . .
“They encored the alcaid’s verses twice:
Quel magistrat surprenant!
Quel acade étonnant! . . .
(What a surprising magistrate!
What an astonishing alcaid!)
This alcaid is also a chatterer of the first order, an eternal and everlasting taker of whom Torribio-Leduc, chatterer indirectly, becomes the servile but amusing echo . . .
[more plot synopsis] . . . . Sarmiento thinks, like Cliton [in Corneille’s le Menteur, I, 4] that
. . . when a woman has the gift of keeping quiet,
She has qualities above the vulgar . . . .
“The duet that Duchesne and Tostée sing there is one of the pretty pieces in the work; it’s very well cut and its music is frisky . . . .
[more plot synopsis] . . . . The scene with the creditors that is the finale of the first act is unconstrained in behavior, good in appearance and very jolly . . . . [A]fter the chorus,
Sous cette arcade. . . .
Come four pretty couplets (of which two were gracefully sung) and the refrain at its heart:
Quand on doit il faut qu’on paie!
(When one owes, one has to pay!)
“The saying: Ah! la chaleur est accablante! (Ah! The heat is oppressive!) is perhaps a cruel irony today, but it’s certainly a very melodious phrase that I would have wished to hear developed more. Why demand, however, that Offenbach renounce his habits? He isn’t Offenbach for nothing . . . .
“In the second act . . . .[t]hey sit down at the table—not to eat, but to sing a delightful quartet:
Il a la bouche pleine . . . . (His mouth is full)
Here’s the gem of the score. The motif treated as a fugue, or rather as a canon, is very rhythmical: It certainly isn’t a classic fugue, that veritable head-breaker from school that interests only pure theorists; it’s a little theme singing well—and well sung—that unfolds, unrolls, completes itself with a very original syllabic accompaniment, then takes up its course again until the moment when the parts, losing their own arrangement, coalesce, blend, augment their limpid winding and finally open up into a melodic and deep-toned tutti. Mmes Tostée, Duclos, Lambelé and M. Duchesne were encored with good reason for this remarkable piece.
“Naturally, the meal couldn’t finish without the traditional drinking-song. Roland . . . intones, cup in hand:
C’est l’Espagne qui nous donne
Le bon vin, les belles fleurs!
(It’s Spain that gives us
The good wine, the beautiful flowers!)
There are two verses. I would say that this air, very fine and genteel, seems more like a nocturne than a drinking-song. It lacks the Bacchic color, but not local color, for it’s accompanied by the tambourine. It’s good to prove that you’re in Spain!
“These verses are immediately followed by a very successful comic rondeau: Ah! quell repas sans egal! (Ah! what a meal without equal!) . . . . The said rondeau does not consist of less than seventy to eighty verses that you have to rattle out all in one breath and without inhaling, which Tostée acquitted herself of in a delightful fashion . . . .
“Here we’re at a loss for the moment; from an opera-comique bouffe, we fall into the vulgarity of the rope-dancers. The caricature is exaggerated, the stunts exceed their goal; for five minutes we’re witnessing Mother Goose or The Twenty-six Misfortunes of Pierrot. The said scene of the cookies is amusing, but it would gain by being shortened. Pierrot-Greffier [the clerk] pilfers the cakes that Roland offers to the alcaid and that the latter thinks he already has in his fingers; he wolfs them down like a glutton, a gourmand; he gorges and stuffs himself; he dips his finger in the alcaid’s glass and sucks it. As for the latter, he isn’t disgusted by his clerk, for all these little intimate filthinesses don’t stop him from tossing off in one stroke the glass of wine in question, then he wipes the glass with his robe. O magistrates! O Solon! O Delesvaux!
“Christobal and Torribio are so caught up in their stunts that they forget the audience, op”era-comique and even Spain! – “Ah! Here’s good Bordeaux wine!” says Pierrot; while two minutes previously they were singing about Spain and its unequalled wines. Eternal inconsistency of artists who have a mania to add to the authors’ texts! . . . .
“MM/ Leduc and Lagriffoul are two worthy artists well-loved by the public; that’s why I take the liberty, in the interest of their skill, to remind them that there’s an appropriate limit to everything. In stunts [business, ad-libbing, schtick] like in other things, meditate on these wise words: glissez, n’appuyez pas! [Pierre Charles Ray 1683-1764 – “lightly touch and lightly go” –trans. By Samuel Johnson—about skaters: glide over it; don’t dwell on it}
“These subsidiary roles are the merriment of the piece, but they shouldn’t overrun it and distort it . . . .
“[In the dénouement] . . .there’s a most capital comic scene that Mme Duclos mimed perfectly . . . .
“It’s on this canvas that Offenbach has written a score that I don’t hesitate to place in the rank of his best.
“Is it the Spanish music? I don’t know anything about that, for I have yet to understand what’s called local color in terms of music. What I do know is that it’s the music that’s neither boring nor trivial, and there are here and there in the orchestration some effects of tambourine and castanets. So, that should be Spanish music; especially since I find there a resemblance to the score ot Toréador [Adam].
“I repeat with pleasure that the piece is interpreted well. Mlle Tostée, in the role that Mme Ugalde created, Mme Duclos in the role created precisely by Mlle Tostée in Paris, and Mlle Lambelé, were strongly applauded. M. Duchesne understood the role of Sarmiento well—the least profitable of the piece—and I’d even say a bad role, if there were bad roles in the hands of good artists. MM Leduc and Lagriffoul, the two gendarmes—excuse me! I was thinking of Geneviève de Brabant—the two (Spanish) magistrates, will be perfect if they consent to put a damper on their ad-libbing [stunts]. They have to know how to resist the allure of some spurious bravos. In sum, it’s a hit, and the fuss isn’t for nothing. There isn’t the least cancan in those two acts. . . . ”