Proprietor / Lessee:
Manager / Director:
Robert August Stoepel
Price: $1.50 orchestra; $1 dress circle, general admission; $10 private boxes; $15 proscenium boxes
19 January 2019
"OPERA BOUFFE AT THE THEATRE FRANCAISE.
Mr. Grau expects to open the French theatre [sic], altered, enlarged and improved, on the 22d October. We have already published a list of the artists engaged for his Opera Bouffe. The opening opera will be 'Geneviève de Brabant.'"
“Mme. Anna La Grange, the celebrated dramatic prima donna, arrived in this City in the steamship Ville de Paris. She will shortly appear in operatic represetations in New-York and other cities, under the direction of M. Max Strakosch.”
“Debut in America of MLLE. MARIE DESCLAUZAS, ON THURSDAY EVENING, OCTOBER 15. In anticipation of the production of Offenbach’s celebrated opera, ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ which will shortly be produced with unsurpassed splendor, and in order to comply with the conditions of the contract with Mlle. Marie Desclauzas, which stipulates that her debut in America shall take place in ‘La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein,’ Mr. Grau is compelled to interrupt the brilliant success nightly obtained by Mme. Rose-Bell, who, in the character of the Duchess, has now the very highest direction, receiving the most flattering and enthusiastic recognition from the large and critical audiences and from the entire intelligent press.”
“On Thursday evening next Mlle. Marie Desclauzas will make her American début at this establishment as the Grand Duchess [sic], supported by the entire efficient company that are now performing in that sparkling opera.”
“Mr. Grau announces that Mlle. Maria Desclauzas will make her début on Thursday next, under his direction. Strange to say, she is to appear in the rôle hitherto sustained by Mlle. Rose Bell, La Grande Duchesse. In explanation of this unusual treatment of a prima donna, Mr. Grau says that ‘he is compelled to interrupt the brilliant success nightly obtained by Mlle. Rose Belle [sic], who, in the character of the Duchess has won the very highest distinction, receiving the most flattering and enthusiastic recognition from the large and critical audiences, and from the entire intelligent Press.’ This is rather rough on the intelligent Press, but no matter. The reason why he thus interrupts, &c., is that he is bound by his contract to allow Mlle. Desclauzas to make her début in the part of the Duchess. On the same evening Mlle. Fontanel will make her first appearance in the part of Wanda. The performances, in the interim, take place as usual.”
“Manager Grau, of the French theatre [sic], yesterday received the following letter from Mlle. Marie Desclauzas relative to her debut before the American public in the rôle of the Grand Duchess, which, per advertisement, is announced for to-morrow night. It will be seen by the letter that there exists a remarkable harmonious and friendly feeling between the leading artists of Mr. Grau’s troupe, but whether Mr. Grau will postpone the debut of Mlle. Desclauzas, or whether that lady will make her first appearance in this city in the opera of ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ has not transpired:—
New York, Oct. 13, 1868
Mr. J. Grau, Director of the Theatre Français:—
I observe from the press announcements that in order to fufill the terms of my contract you are obliged to interrupt the admirable representations of ‘La Grand Duchesse de Gerolstein,’ by Mme. Rose Bell, at the Theatre Française. I beg to assure you most sincerely, dear sir, that it would afford me no satisfaction whatever to be the means of disturbing the very happy relations which my estimable sister artiste has had the good fortune to establish with the appreciative American public; and I therefore request you to defer my debut, if possible, until a more suitable opportunity, and also to consider yourself entirely released from the obligation of presenting me in the role of La Grande Duchesse, which Mme. Rose Bell so charmingly fills. Accept, dear sir, the expression of my sincere esteem. MARIE DESCLAUZAS.”
“The last two performances of ‘The Grand Duchess’ at the French Theatre have been enjoyed by large and cultivated audiences, but Mr. Grau has decided to withdraw th opera after to-night, to make way for ‘Genevieve de Brabant.’ The rehearsals for the production of this opera will compel a suspension of performances until next Thursday night, when the new opera will be brought out in superb style. We think that Mr. Grau is wise in withdrawing an opera which has been run longer than its relative merits warrant, and in producing a novelty which all will be anxious to witness.”
“Mr. Grau will give his first and last matinee performance of ‘La Grande Duchesse’ to-day. The piece will then be withdrawn and the theatre closed until the production of ‘Genevieve de Brabant.’ The event comes off some time next week.”
“The ‘Grand Duchess’ of the Theatre Francais having abdicated on Saturday last in favor of ‘Genviève de Brabant’—another gushing offspring of the brain of Offenbach—that magnificent little ‘Duchy’ in West Fourteenth street will remaind deserte until Thursday evening next, which is the time appointed for the gorgeous Geneviève to take possession and to proclaim her intentions and abilities to the impatient and critical, yet good natured, public. This operetta is the latest Parisian novelty in the way of music, as it also is the latest sensation of the sensational Offenbach. It was first brought out at the Theatre des Menus Plaisirs in Paris, where it was performed two hundred and fifty-four consecutive times. It will be produced with mise en scene of the most gorgeous description, and as it likewise demands a ballet we shall probably have another sensation of the order a la Black Crook. The cast will embrace the entire company of the Theatre Français, with Mlles. Desclauzas and Fontanel and M. Gabel, who will make their first appearance before an American audience upon this occasion. Concerning the story or plot of the operetta, we need only add that it is extremely simple but hard to describe, therefore we shall dismiss it for the present without further comment.”
“The matinée on Saturday brought to a close for the present the performances of La Grande Duchesse by Mr. Grau’s troupe. The French Theater will remain shut until Thursday, when we are promised the first representation of Génèvieve de Brabant and the débuts of Mlles. Desclauzas and Fontanel and M. Gabel. Meanwhile Tostée has it all her own way at Pike’s.”
“The matinée on Saturday brought to a close for the present the performances of La Grande duchesse by Mr. Grau’s troupe. The French Theater [sic] will remain shut until Thursday, when we are promised the first representation of Genevieve de Brabant and the débuts of Mlles. Desclauzas and Fontanel and M. Gabel.”
“The first representation of ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ was witnessed and applauded last evening by a crowded and fashionable house. The mise en scene of the opera was superb. The first scene, the city of Curaçoa, in Brabant; the eighth, the Forest, and the ninth, the Grand Hall of the Palace, were painted by M. Cambou, of the Grand Opera at Paris. The second scene, Genevieve’s Boudoir, the fourth, the Northern Railway Station, and the seventh, the Chateau of Asnières, by M. Fromant, of the Théâtre Impérial du Chátelet; and the third scene, Sifroy’s Bedchamber; the fifth, the Ravine, and the sixth, the Apparition, by Messrs. H. & W. Calyo, of New York. The costumes have never been exceeded in splendor. In fact, the scenery and costumes alone would suffice to secure for this opera a decided success of curiosity, at least. As for the opera itself, while the partition, which has already been fully described in our musical columns, offers occasional reminiscences of other works of Offenbach, it seems to contain fewer airs like those in the ‘Grande Duchesse,’ the ‘Belle Helène’ and the ‘Barbe Bleue,’ which strike the popular ear at once and commit themselves to memory; but the music is throughout full of richness and variety. After a few more representations certain passages may become equally familiar and popular as the most favorite gems of the operas which we have mentioned. The airs which chiefly hit the fancy of the audience last evening were the serenade (and in this balcony scene both Mlle. Rose Bell, as Drogan, and Mlle. Desclauzaz, as Genevieve, appeared to the best advantage), the Corico song of M. Carrier, as Sifroy, Duke of Curacao, “Une Poule sur une Mur,” and his pie song, ‘J’en ai Mangé Plus Qu’il ne Faut,’ the Crusade song of M. Beckers, as Charles Martel; the song of the ladies of honor at work around a table sewing on a lace wrapper, and especially—the funniest song of all—that of Grabuge, the Sergeant-at-Arms (M. Bourgoin), and Piton, a common soldier and uncommon good bouffe singer (M. Piton). This latter song was given three times and was heartily applauded every time. The opera will bear considerably more cutting than it has already undergone. Certain parts of it dragged almost intolerably, and it was concluded at so late an hour that we shall now only have time to repeat that the highest praise must be accorded to its scenery and costumes and to the spirited manner in which the principal performers acted their several rôles, and to add that although it lacks anything like even the slender but delightful thread of a plot which runs through the ‘Grande Duchesse,’ it is full of delicious surprises, and as a whole is so carnavalesque that it will not be surprising if the public shall bestow on it a popularity like that won by other favorite operas of Offenbach. As for the grivoiseries in which the libretto abounds it is but just to say that many of them are entirely omitted, and that the actors very properly avoid making the others offensively prominent. The ballet part of the opera was, in the opinion of some of the spectators, sadly curtailed; but the majority of our theatre-going population have had quite enough of Black Crookism elsewhere, and will not complain if it brille par son absence at the French Theatre.”
“Offenbach’s opera of ‘Genevieve de la Brabant’ [sic] will be produced at the French Theatre to-night. The cast embraces all the principal artists of Mr. Grau’s troupe, including several who have not yet made their débuts. Mr. Grau has gone to great expense in the production of this work, the scenery, costumes, properties, &c., having been procured in Paris.”
“Mr. Grau brings out Genèvieve de Brabant tonight, and we presume will make a sensation with it, as it calls for the services of three prima-donnas, two first tenors, a ballet, and various other fine things.”
“The French Theatre last night fairly overflowed; boxes, parquette and standing room being all needed to accommodate those who braved the disagreeable weather to witness the first production of Offenbach’s ‘Genevieve de Brabant.’ This opera was to have begun Mr. Grau’s season, but was not ready for the opening, so the ‘Grand Duchess’ was given as a substitute. The attendance last night showed that a novelty was desired. The performance of the novelty was so entirely satisfactory that the public want will be handsomely met. The plot of the opera is absurdly inconsequential and thoroughly ‘Frenchy.’ Crusaders, lords, chavaliers, citizens, chanters, soldiers, aldermen, pasty cooks, etc., are migled in the curiously jumbled scenes of the opera, and behave in the most absurd and comical manner. The main characters are—Genevieve, the wife of the Sifroy, the Duke of Curacao, whose marriage has proved baren […plot synopsis continues].
The first honors of the evening were divided between Madame Rose Bell and M. Gabel. The former, as the page, Drogan, not only increased the reputation as an actress which she won as the Grand Duchess, but surpassed, in the ease, grace, and animation of her acting any one whom we have ever seen in a similar part. A more perfect, handsomer, or more dashing page has seldom won easy conquest on the stage. Her singing, both in solo and in concerted pieces, was admirable, and invariably received with showers of applause. Gabel made his first appearance here as Piton, a stupid clownish, awkward dolt of a soldier. In the ridiculous duet with Grabuge (M. Bourgoin), M. Gabel took his audience by storm. So comical a face has not been seen on the stage here for a long time. Mlle. Desclauzas, as Genevieve, had a part not remarkably suited to bring out her powers as a delineator of humor. In the serenade duet with Madame Bell she was received with general satisfaction. Mr. Carrier gave to the part of Sifroy a great deal of humor, and sang the music of his part excellently well. M. Beckers was less satisfactory as Charles Martel. M. Petit, as Narcisse, Sifroy’s poet, displayed much facial humor, and M. Goby, as Golo, plated his part acceptably. The scenery and costumes were the subjects of universal commendation. No opera within our recollection has had a more elegant dressing. The orchestral and choral music was given with spirit, precision and effect. Altogether the performance was the most satisfactory of the season. ‘Genevieve’ can be profitably run as long as Mr. Grau sees fit to keep it on the sate. Further criticisms are deferred for the present from lack of space.”
“The long-looked-for much-talked-of, last opera Offenbach was brought out last evening at the French Theatre before a house brim full of that composer’s admirers. The first impression the opera makes on one is that it is very long, the second that it is very funny, the third that it is altogether incomprehensible. As to the first point, the scissors will settle it at a clip. Indeed, the pieces will stand cutting down as well as any we know, and the man of the shears will have an easy task of it, for, there being no connection anywhere in the plot, it can be cut in one place just as well as another. It was midnight before the curtain fell last night, and that is really too much of a thing ever so good. As to the fun of the piece, it is immense—the wildest, boldest, most grotesque and devil-may-care fun that Offenbach and his librettists have put into any opera yet. Everybody goes daft dances, frolics, and capers a[b]out to an incredible extent. One of the couplets of the play would do for its motto:
Que nos voix en deiré excitant nos transporte,
Ayons le diable au corps!
And ‘le diable au corps,’ or ‘raising the deuce,’ it is, from beginning to end. As to the plot, we confess that a single reading of the libretto and a single hearing of the opera have not enabled us to get at all a clear idea of it. The slight suggestion we did get was of such a nature that we feel that it would be quite impossible for us to reproduce it for our readers in the English language. French is better, because it don’t seem to matter very much what one says in French. Latin would be better still, as being less generally understood; but if the libretto could be done into choice Hindustanee, or into one of the dialects of Cochin-China, it would be best of all. Our readers may infer that we are mildly intimating that the opera is a little coarse, and that the less there is understood of it the better. The inference would be entirely correct—it is coarse, more so than a little, in fact. Parisian ballets and Offenbach are carrying quite a ways in that direction. More’s the pity! As to the music, it is in Offenbach’s best manner. He repeats himself somewhat, and those who go to hear this opera, will find that his climaxes are worked up in much the same way in this as in the ‘Grand Duchess’ and ‘Barbe Bleue,’ and that the pen that wrote ‘Dite lui,’ and ‘Le sabre de mon père,’ cannot forget that it wrote them. But mannerism is to be expected, and surely a man has a right to be like himself so long as he don’t repeat himself, and this opera is sprinkled all over with fresh, sparkling melodies that are quite new, and that will forthwith percolate down through piano arrangements, negro minstrel arrangements, street-band arrangments, to the hard-pan of the inevitable hand organ, which we take to be as low down as a tune can very well get. But the composer has done better for the people than ever before. He was shown that he has learning when he chooses to employ it, and has written a male voice trio and a quartette for female voices (the Hunters’ quartette) and Tyrolean trio for soprano, alto, and tenor, all with exquisite art and finish; and parts of the opera prove that when he gives his mind to it he can do serious work in a serious way.
We have not space at the late hour at which we write to speak in detail of the singers—this we defer to another occasion. Suffice it to say, briefly, [illeg.] exceedingly strong one, and was without any noticeable failure in any part. Madame Rose Bell was especially excellent, as was also Mr. Carrier, the admirable tenor. They were quite proper, too, as proper as the text permits, for it is always to be born in mind that Offenbach is nothing if not indelicate, and that an actor had better not attempt them at all rather than be prudish. There is every reason to believe that this [illeg.] previous works produced. Mr. Grau has spared no expense, and it is the simple truth to say that it is superbly costumed and put upon the stage.”
“Mr. Grau should have commenced his season with ‘Geneviéve de Brabant.’ Not only would he have avoided comparisons, which are at all times unpleasant, but he would have at once asserted the strength of his company and the liberality of his arrangements. The performance last evening was witnessed by a full and fashionable audience, and the verdict was, we think, in favor of the new production. ‘Geneviéve is a long piece, and on its first representation extended to midnight. It has been placed on the stage in the best possible manner. The scenery is good, the dresses magnificent and the cast ample. We can only record these points now. The music is in Offenbach’s well-known style. The composer, indeed, has not hesitated to borrow extensively from himself. Of the singers last night Mme. Rose-Bell distinguished herself by singing excellently. Mlle. Desclauzas made her début, and sang pleasantly. She is a lady of prepossessing appearance and will become a favorite. M. Gabel made an exceedingly good impression as Pitou, a part which he played in the original distribution. He is the only member of the company who possesses real humor.
The opera was successful, and will be repeated until further notice.”
“Mr. Grau has distinguished himself by producing at the French Theater the most revolting mass of filth that was ever shown on the boards of a reputable place of amusement in this city. By the side of ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ which was last night exhibited there for the first time,’La Belle Hélène’ is clean, and ‘Orphée aux Enfers’ is purity itself. The new opera is dirty without any excuse or qualification, and the dirt is not gilded with wit, nor enriched with sensuous charms; it is merely brutal—the sickening horrors of the bagnio, without the gayety or the gilding. Out upon the insolence which offers such beastly exhibitions to a decent community? Shame upon the spectators who can tolerate such an insult to their good fame! ‘Genevieve’ is not merely indecent, but it grovels in a dirty depth even below indecency. No lady can look at it twice without sacrificing her reputation, and no respectable person can look at it at all without feeling degraded by the spectacle. We shall be very much surprised if it is suffered to keep the stage; it certainly will not be patronized by ladies or gentlemen.
The house last night was full, but the quality of the audience was not good, and the applause was too mechanical to be mistaken for genuine.”
“The second representation of ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ last evening confirmed our first impressions of this opera, perhaps the most perfect exemplification of the resources of opéra bouffe. Superbly placed upon the stage, with decorations and scenery and costumes that would do honor to the most pretentious ‘grand operas,’ and with music so uniformly rich and delightful that the ear can at first scarcely distinguish any passages more worthy than others of special recoeection, the general effect of ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ is, as we have already said, so carnivalesque,’ so gay and so inspiring, that none of the spectators could withstand its influence. All yielded without reluctance to the old law announced by Horace—Dulce est desipere in loco—which, after all, is the true moral of opéra bouffe, and all enjoyed heartily the entire conglomeration of splendid nonsesnse, ludicrous anachronisms, and serio-comic allusions to the peculiar absurdities of royal and ducal life in particular, and the universal faiblesses of human life in general, so admirably set forth in one of the liveliest operas which Jacques Offenbach has ever produced. We again decline to unravel the plot of this whimseical version of the story of ‘Genevieve de Brabant.’ We would not willingly deprive any of the future spectators of the many representations to which we feel that this opera is destined, of the delicious surprises that they will enjoy. We must say; however, that certain criticisms upon its first representation, which were manifestly written in advance and which betrayed far greater indecency than has ever been charged upon the extremest liberties of which any opéra bouffe has been accused, were yesterday evening rendered null and voice by the presence and the applause of ladies and gentlemen who must be accepted as representatives of the most refined and cultivated classes of our community. ‘To the pure all things are pure,’ and false modesty alone could be offended at anything which the able and experienced manager of the French theatre would permit to be represented.
A word or two about the music.
There are many clever imitations of burlesques of the grand opera scattered through this work. We will say with confidence that every repetition of it will place it, as far as the music is concerned, above any of the three operas of Offenbach which have been hitherto produced in this city. Drogan (Mme. Rose Bell) has the largest bouquet of melodies allotted to her. The pie song, the charming serenade, the address to the ladies of honor, the succeeding trio with Genevieve and Brigitte, the trio in the ravine where the figuitives are pursued, her message when in the disguise of a man-at-arms and the delightful hunting quartet were the principal selections, in which her clear, thoroughly trained and beautifully modulated voice was heard. Any of those selections will compute favorable with anything that ever Offenbach composed. Mlle. Desclauzas has a very pleasing voice also, and in the serenade duet the effect of both soprano voices was such as to call for an enthusiastic encore. The gendarmes, Pitou and Crabuge (MM. Gabel and Bourgoin, are sufficient to insure the success of any work. The duet which they sing on their first entrance will soon be hummed, whistled and played by every one who has idea of music in his mind. Gabel is a host in himself. It would be impossible to conceive anything more ludicrous and irresistibly comic than his singing, action and make up. He possesses a fortune in his mouth alone, which is one of the most expressive arrangements we have ever seen on the stage. He became a favorite at once on his first appearance, and, with the dignified Bourgoin, received no less than three encores for the duet ‘Ah! Qu’il est beau.’ Carrier and Beckers did full justice to the music of Sifroy and Charles Martel. The choruses of this opera are really excellent. The finale of the first act, ‘Le clairon qui sonne,’ is a dashing, spirited piece of music which eclipses anything in ‘La Grande Duchesse,’ ‘La Belle Hélène,’ or ‘Barbe Bleue.’ The chorus of the ladies of honor, the farandole in the second act, terminating in a cancan of the wildest kind, and the return of the crusades from Palestine (they look for all the world like the traditional carpet-baggers), are the other noticeable numbers in the opera. The music alone is sufficient to make ‘Genevieve’ an immense success."
“It was hardly to have been expected that the second performance of the new opera at the French Theatre would draw out as crowded an attendance as the first. Novelty and the usual liberal distribution of free tickets often make ‘first night’ false indicators of the permanent popularity of a play or opera. When, however, the second representation calls out as large and enthusiastic an audience as the first, permanent success is more certainly predicted. This was the case last night. Standing room, after nine o’clock, was scarcely attainable, and the large audience was more universally enthusiastic, if possible, than on the first production of the opera. As with ‘Barbe-Bleu,’ repetition and familiarity increase the public interest. The absurdly comical duet of the grenadiers; the delicately executed hunting song; the duo between Madame Bell and Mde. Declauzas; the jolly choruses; the Tyrolese trio, and the other salient features of the opera grow on the ear by repetition. ‘Genevieve’ is an assured success. The performance last night closed three-quarters of an hour earlier than on Thursday evening.”
“‘Genevieve de Brabant’ was given for the third time last night at this theatre. The performance was witnessed by a crowded house, and the frequent plaudits bestowed on the acting, singing and tableaux spoke the satisfaction with which those present enjoyed the opera. The artists, one and all, entered into the spirit of the acting with a greater degree of confidence than that which characterized their playing on the preceding nights, and as a consequence everything went off with greater smoothness and with much more ease and grace. The light, sparkling music of Offenbach; the glittering, fanciful, yet meagre costumes; the splendid scenic effects, all conduce to make the opera a success. There is a degree of liberality displayed upon the production of ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ that should be rewarded, and there is very little doubt but what there will be, if we should judge by the indications of last night. Its comicalities are intensely funny, though some may take objection to them on the score of being somewhat too broad. This, however, is a matter of taste, and as this qualification is as varied as it is universal, it is presumed the public itself will decide upon its merits by seeing for themselves. Mlle. Desclauzas added to her laurels by last night’s performance and Madame Rosa Bell made the most bewitching of pages, sang in her sweetest mood and played with an earnestness and vivacity that elicited the admiration and applause of her auditors. The acting of Gabel and Bourgoin was superb. In every sense of the word they are artists of fine ability. Taken altogether the company is an excellent one, and its career so far augurs well for its future success.”
“Geneviève de Brabant’ has evidently settled down into a steady, sensational attraction at the Théatre Francais, and, running in that groove, it is destined, probably, to hold possession of the boards for some time. As was suggested by the Herald after the first representation of the piece, the scissors have been applied to the libretto and many of its objectionable passages have been pruned. As the opera grows older it will doubtless improve in smoothness, and, by adapting itself more to the American idea of opéra bouffe, it may achieve its share of laurels that are never withheld by an appreciative public. The house is nightly crowded and the most vociferous applause is bestowed upon one and all of the leading actors in their several roles.”
“The excitement in the matter of opera, however, is at present the ‘Genevieve’ at the French Theatre; and the question agitating the public mind at present is whether it doesn’t so far run over the line of propriety that it whould never have been produced. Everybody seems disposed to judge of this question for himself, not being entirely willing to take the judgment of even his best friend in a question of such delicacy; and as New York is rather a large place, by the time that everybody has been, and the minds of the whole community are fairly made up that it is ‘really going too far,’ it will have had a very excellent run, and Mr. Grau will be ready for something else.”
“Mr. Grau has enjoyed the luxury of three good houses since the production of Genevieve de Brabant on Thursday last. It seems possible that this, the filthiest of all works, may enjoy a success of curiosity. Indeed, were it not for the loathsomeness of the dialogue and the brutishness of the ideas it would merit more than passing popularity. The music is in a happy vein, and it is interpreted excellently. Mme. Rose-Bell displays the skill of an experienced vocalist, and a lively gracefulness as an actress which is thoroughly charming. Mlle. Desclauses has but little to do, but does it thoroughly well. M. Carrier as the Dulce is somewhat hard, but sings with animation. M. Beckers, the basso, has not yet attained to any prominence, either as a singer or an actor. He is simply boisterous. Decidedly the two best sustained characters in the piece are Grabuge and Pitou, by Messrs. Bourgoin and Gabel. The latter is indescribably droll.
The scenery is good, and the dresses are magnificent. A little better stage management in the matter of the groupings would show the latter to much better advantage. The chorus at present “flocks” from place to place like an undisciplined mob. The chorus and orchestra, by the way, are both good, and reflect much credit on their competent and talented director, Mr. Robert Stoepel.”
“CHRONIQUE HEBDOMADAIRE. THEATRE FRANCAIS. GENEVIEVE DE BRABANT. Three successive performances have affirmed the success obtained the first evening by Geneviève de Brabant.
One could predict now, without being too afraid of being contradicted in the future, that the French Theater has some music on the boards for the whole season.
For that, I congratulate the director, who risked more expenses and sacrifices for Offenbach’s operetta than he ever had made in New York for Les Huguenots and La Juive.
Thus, following in this the example given by the greatest men of our illustrious epoch, I bow before the fait accompli; I put my principles back in my pocket until the well-known versatility of my contemporaries furnishes me the occasion to issue a pronunciamento, and I say to Grau’s and Bateman’s faces that I don’t attempt at all to rebel against the bland music of Offenbach and the hardly Corneille-like libretti of MM. Crémieux, Halévy and associates. These rhapsodies of stunts have the favors of fortune: the composer whom they’ve agreed to call the king of bouffe music for the masses, and it would be practicing Don Quixote-ism to begin to tilt against so many windmills.
To come back to Offenbach, to his splendor and his works, however, may I be permitted—it’s my conscience that wants it, by all means—to have some reservations, as they say in diplomacy. I frankly avow the success; I even say that it isn’t completely unmerited, but I persist in saying that they’re leading us down a wretched road.
What’s the genre that holds the high rank for the past ten years? It’s about a way of acting, not about art.
As for the music that serves as a passport to many platitudes, let’s recognize in Offenbach his qualities, his inextinguishable verve, the freshness of most of his subjects, an equal proportion of melody and harmony, let’s also have the right to affirm that he’s gifted to the highest degree of genius with reminiscence and shortcuts. How many graceful motifs touched upon, that the ear awaits in vain to be developed! How many borrowings from others and from himself!
Geneviève de Brabant is neither his worst nor his best score.You can count up to five pieces that are real jewels and wouldn’t take away from the best opera-comique. The public isn’t mistaken here, and we’ll indicate them in their time and place in our rapid sketch.
I believe before all things that the heroine of the legend is much more known through the popularity won for her by the prints from Épinal than by the Merovingian narratives of Augustin Thierry. Who doesn’t recall that pretty sheet of paper for two sous where a blue doe bounding through a yellow forest fraternizes with a poor woman in a red dress? Who hasn’t read the poetic lament with which this beautiful colored print is framed?
Has that happened? You’ve never been able to know. There’s certainly in some lost corner of our national history a certain chronicler who tells the life of one named Siffroy, lord of Hohen-Simmerez in the country of Trèves, who after having married Geneviève, daughter of a duke of Brabant, lets himself get twisted around by the calumnies of his evil steward Golo and condemns the poor woman to death. Gabel and Bourgoin (this happens about the year 710), charged with carrying out this barbarous order, can’t carry it out in spite of the threats of the perfidious Goby, and would prefer to kill each other than to lift a reckless hand against such a beautiful princess as Geneviève, I mean Desclauzas de Brabant. These two excellent gendarmes—how the institution has degenerated!—abandon the mother and child in a forest where the unfortunate creatures live for six years on the milk of a compassionate doe who took an enormous interest in the situation of the poor abandoned spouse. The does of our time are a bit less charitable.
It’s thus at least that the facts are presented in the historical memorials and in the serious tragedies ofTeck and Muller. But our contemporary authors, worthy continuers of Molière, have changed all of that. There’s no question at all of the child, the poor infant who shares the favors of the doe in the little blue cape with his unfortunate mother. MM. Crémieux and Tréfeu hve replaced him with a lively and animated page . . . very animated, even, for if Geneviève’s virtue resisted Golo’s seductions, the authors let us have a glimpse that she wasn’t as cruel toward the young Drogan. I know very well that there are extenuating circumstances; Golo is ugly, Siffroy the husband is . . .isn’t . . . in brief, the throne isn’t the only heir presumptive in sight, and Drogan, who dreams of the future of his country, devotes himself to saving Brabant.
Drogan is only the lowest level of employee, a poor little journeyman pastrymaker, but under his linen jacket beats a noble heart. This future patissier shudders at the thought of selling biscuits for a sou to the good people of Curacao in Brabant for his whole life (see the Géographie fantastique for Offenbach’s usage). Drogan casts off his toque blanche; he will be Madame Geneviève’s page; love wills it, and love has brought about many other metamorphoses. This explains why, in the forest where the virtuous duchess languishes, we find her there in the company of Drogan. The child is doubtless in the wings, inasmuch as it appears that actually Brabant has been saved.
The story, the truth, affirms that at the end of six years Siffroy accidentally finds his wife again during a hunt where he’s pursuing the nurturing doe.
But what the story omitted, perhaps because it didn’t know, is to inform us of the friendly relationship that existed between Duke Siffroy and Charles Martel.
They commonly believe that the first crusade took place around the year 1096 and was extolled by Peter the Hermit; and well, the story simply delays everything that happens in three centuries. It’s Charlemagne’s grandfather who first conceived the idea of going to cause some unpleasantness in the abode of the poor Saracens. The proof is that Beckers endeavored to engage Carrier in his enterprise, and he had moral and physical sufferings in his heart, for he, who just at the same time learned of the so-called treachery of his spouse and gave himself indigestion from pâté, he, I say, obeyed and prepared himself to go to Palestine.
But that’s a decoy. Don’t believe that our happy Beckers would be as inclined as all that to go to get himself mauled near Syria. He simply takes his friend Carrier to the castle of Asnières, which was then his little house, as one might say his deer park, and there, my two jolly fellows, in the company of other fine fellows of their sort on whose accounts history has singularly deceived us, feasted, tossed off the champagne, and devoted themselves to the most unrestrained antics. Sultan Saladin threw the handkerchief to the beautiful Armide, while Renaud de Montauban came face-to-face with Don Quixote in a lightly accented farandole.
The party isn’t even interrupted by the arrival of the intrepid Drogan, who comes to inform Siffroy of Geneviève’s death and brings him as proof a lock of hair cut from the lifeless body of Gabel. Carrier puts the lock in his pocket and the orgy continues. That man has a merry widowerhood!
Then some truly fairylike marvels appear. It’s a feast of lunacy and an enchantment for the eyes. First here’s a group of Tyroleans, then some bacchantes dressed, or almost, as warriors of old, helmet on head and lance in fist; then a team of oarsmen . . . Ohé, of a cutter . . . what am I saying—two teams; there are the reds and the blues, like the circus games of yesteryear in Byzantium, the Blues and the Greens. Finally a half-company of sappers arrives; oh! the pretty little sappers! they lack for nothing . . . except a beard; no matter, they appear proudly bold under their wool caps.
And all of that swarms, goes, comes, laughts, maneuvers, dances and sings very nicely into the bargain.
As there isn’t a piece, good or bad, that doesn’t have a last act, Carrier, always flanked by his poet Narcisse-Petit, one of the most successful Kazoos, returns to the forest, finds his wife and her page there, recognizes Golo’s treason and Geneviève’s innocence, and enters triumphally into the village of Curacao just in time to prevent the traitor from robbing him of the crown.
The score offers enough charm to justify the popular success that has welcomed it and that seems to be getting bigger every day. I account for this by the excellence of the interpretation. A work of this genre has never been mounted like this in New York. Mme Rose Bell defies all criticism in the pretty role of Drogan. She is the musical pivot of the piece, as Gabel is its pivot from the comic point of view.
Nothing is more handsome, more charming, more frolicsome than Mme Rose Bell as a little baker at first, then as a page.
By turns moved, happy, lively, passionate, even comic, she runs the whole gamut of human feelings and it’s certain that this role is going to determine her fame in America.
After an overture that ends in a happy enough motif in two-four, the curtain rises on an introductory chorus in which are enshrined two verses which have nothing striking.
Drogan’s entering aria
C’est un pâté qui renferme/Du veau mélé de jambon . . .
Doesn’t have great musical worth and you scarcely suspect in reading it the effect Mme Rose Bell gets from it. She sings it so wittily, with such a rich technique and such an agile voice, that the piece appears to be simply a little jewel.
A real masterpiece, for example, is the serenade:
En passant sous la fenêtre
Où pour mon bonheur
Je vous ai vue apparaître
Ah! j’ai perdu mon Coeur!
Ohé! de la fenêtre, ohé!
It’s impossible to expect anything more fresh, more sweet, more piercing. Mme Rose Bell sings the first verse and Mme Desclauzas the second, then Drogan and Geneviève begin the refrain again in two voices a third apart. That’s the foremost jewel; this piece was encored every evening and will be on all the pianos in a week. It will replace the sleep-inducing Dîtes-lui with interest.
Mme Desclauzas, whose reputation for skill and beauty had preceded her to New York, was received with prolonged applause, which she justified admirably.
We won’t repeat any more now that they applauded Mme Rose Bell frantically. Isn’t she the spoiled child of the house, and who can listen to her without being under her spell? What I admire and can’t stop admiring in this talent that’s so perfect, it’s the sureness, the mastery of execution, coupled, which you don’t encounter all the time, with a true talent as a comedienne.
After a more successful chorus [number] than the first, Siffroy enters and sings an air arranged from the popular refrain that lulled us all to sleep when we were nursing:
Une poule sur un mur
Qui picotait du pain dur
This motif in A-flat, accompanied by an imitative chorus, ended the scene merrily.
In the second scene, the duchess’s maids of honor are in the process of rigging the amorous young pastry-maker out as a page.
Mme Gueretti sang her part very well and was very justifiably applauded. The chorus had been well trained, and Mme Rose Bell, unruly as a pretty devil, was also hailed, both for her acting and for her singing in the verses:
Je me sens hardi comme un page
The trio of the hand and the beard was vigorously handled by Mmes Rose Bell, Desclauzas and Gueretti. The refrain:
La barbe qui pousse, pousse . . .
Is very artfully ‘rhythm’ed.
The last piece of this second scene is a romance in two verses that Carrier sings with infinite skill and where his lovely voice displays itself with adorable freedom. It goes without saying that they encored this motif again:
L’excès en tout est un défaut,
J’en ai mange plus qu’il n’en faut
The following scene opens with the verses about tea:
Je ne connais rien au monde
D’excellent comme le thé,
Mais faut que le sucre fonde,
Et qu’il soit bien apprêté
Après le pâté
C’est bien bon le thé.
The poetry isn’t sumptuous; I’ve read better on a chocolate-wrapper; the music isn’t too original either, but Carrier sings it and he knows how to fashion success out of nothing.
The verses of Charles Martel’s entrance had been spoiled by the musicians. All of Becker’s skill and liveliness were needed to make them appreciated.
But on the other hand, we applauded with both hands the handsome martial finale that ended the act. It’s grand, sonorous, uplifting, and for a little while you leave for Palestine with all those gallant Paladins.
In the second act, it seems that the piece changes pace with the introduction of new episodical characters, the gendarme Pitou and his sergeant Grabuge. You expect me to give you the menu of details about the way Gabel created this medieval simpleton, this foot-soldier in a coat of mail. It’s the vis comica pushed to its highest point; unfortunately, it’s indescribable. You have to see and hear him; he has his own way of singing,
Ah! qu’il est beau d’être home d’armes
Mais que c’est cun sort exigeant! . . .
which defies all analysis. His altercations with his sergeant would take away the spleen from the most sullen children of perfidious Albion.
M. Bourgoin gives him his cue as an old [illeg.] . . . and both receive their warm ovation every evening. They didn’t make them sing their song twice, they made them do it three times.
Let’s come along quickly, for time and space disappear beneath my pen, to the act with the château of Asnières, and give the description of the pretty [Tyrolean] mountain song, in three voices, sung by Mmes Bageard, Gueretti and M. Chopin, as well as the beautiful hunt quartet that opens the eighth scene. Here again we find lovely skills’ it’s Mme Rose Bell at the head, seconded by Mmes Bageard, Gueretti and Estèphe; this piece which is sung mezza voce with imitations of a horn by closed mouths is a combination as original as it is striking. The applause hasn’t yet been used up, as the audience encored it frantically and it’s the same every night. Along with the serenade it’s what’s the most successful [thing] in the score.
We’ve just about sketched the thematic catalogue of pieces and rendered justice to the singers; we also owe compliments to the artists charged with interpreting the libretto. A strange thing, the roles which are the pivot of the piece, Geneviève, Siffroy and Golo, are badly fashioned and very little developed; it took all the talent of Mme Desclauzas, of our excellent Carrier and of M. Goby to get something out of them. On the contrary, the lesser roles are laid out in a very original way. We’ve said what Mme Rose Bell does with Drogan and what Pitou and Grabauge are like in the hands of Gabel and Bourgoin; let’s add that Beckers is sidesplitting in the manic role of Charles Martel, that M. Génot and his acolyte, Mussay, as Vanderprout and Peterpip have a good demeanor full of local color—foamy beer and tobacco-smoke—and finally, that as the poet Narcisse M. Petit gives the full measure of his skill; from a scarcely sketched-out role, he draws out true comic effects.
In those big systems the value of these very small roles, grouped, combined and helping one another out, in the argot of the wings, is in the attainment of harmony in the ensemble; but it’s only right to bear witness to each one. In the act of Asnières, the lovely Mme Briot, already mentioned; the piquant Mlle Villiers whose eyes sparkle and whose voice seems like a silvery burst of laughter, the maniacs, bacchantes and oarsmen Clémentine, Breton, Emilie, Adrienne (perhaps I’ve forgotten even the best), the fierce sapper Rosa all in the end contribute to the success and see their efforts applauded by the audience.
May we add toat, to boot, everything unfolds amid magical scenery among which we mention the public square of Curacao; the station of the Northern Railway; a gothic portico with pointed arches set against elegant little columns, and finally the park at Asnières, an airy curtain with soft colors mysteriously shaded, with aphrodisiacal groves bathed in the silvery rays of the fair Phoebe.
A word about the dances; in theory I had a completely different idea about the art of choreography, but this isn’t the place to evoke the memory of Essler [sic] or Granzow. I’ll say all the same that a little witty cancan doesn’t make my hair stand on end; but the vulgar dance of the Clodoches, Comète and company produces only a repulsive effect on me and here I’m echoing a lot of folks. They say the public applauded: then dance, since the audience wants it; but remember, like Carrier’s song [that’s] so good, that excess in everything is a failing.
Felicitations to the orchestra and its director, M. Stoepel, who in a relatively very short time has carried off this unmanageable business, for there are no less that thirty to thirty-five roles, big and small, without counting the troops [supers?].
M. Grau has spent enormously, but I believe that he only has to reap now, and that dollars sown with taste and intelligence will produce fivefold [profits] . . .
“Manager Grau reopened the French Theatre on Thursday evening, 22d, bringing up his reserves, and opening a heavy fire with his new Armstrong, ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ offered by Desclauzas, Fontanel, etc. Grau seems to have undressed ‘Genevieve’ to suit the popular taste; and the Tribune, in its delight over the physical charms there brought to view, gives the performance this first rate puff, without money and without price:—[Quotes review, nearly in full, from the New York Tribune of 10/23/68.]
Now, we hope that this is honest criticism, and not the result of any little private ‘difficulty’ in front of the house, in the matter of free seats, personal affronts, or anything of the sort, for if such should prove to be the truth, then the first rate puff would lose its force. However, it is a little singular that nothing has been said against this nastiness until Grau took it up. Bateman, who introduced this ‘opera bouffe’ dirtiness to a New York audience, and who has been running it off and on, for months, was given free scope to display the immoralities of the French stage, and our critics rather encouraged the ‘revolting mass’ than otherwise. Does Bateman control all the newspaper critics? Or why is it that Grau is made the target and Bateman permitted to go untouched. [sic] If this buffer operatic war is to be a free fight let it be conducted on fair principles. Give Grau a chance as well as Bateman; let Desclauzas revel with her jolly jambs, and so forth, as well as the Tosteecated Tostee. Come, gentleman, a fair field for the buffers. We cannot stand by, and see Grau maltreated. If we are to be dossed with this French nastiness, let us have it out in its full strength. Bateman began this buffer scrimmage, and we must see that his opponent, Grau, has a fair shake. Clear the ring.”
CHRONIQUE HEBDOMADAIRE “ . . . . Poor operettas, whose defenders, behold! we constitute by the simple spirit of tolerance and fairmess—they’re caught between two fires: the anathemas of the sacred pulpits and the objurgations of the virtuous press; the pulpit thunders agains the abomination of the distress, the press fulminates agains the perversion of morals.
In Canada, it’s the bishops and the sermons that open up the hostilities. If Tostée and her comrades have come back safe and sound, it’s probably because these black-clothed gentlemen don’t have as much influence up there as they wish it to be believed.
It’s a vexing thing in the long run, this intrusion of the church into the theater. I know very well that malicious tongues say that it’s only a question of opposition; but it’s precisely there that they mustn’t say it.
The dignity of the church doesn’t gain anything by provoking such debates. When the swords are drawn out of the sheaths, that’s not the time for discretion; you throw yourself at the head of harsh truths. Ah! you mistreat the theater, say the Voltairean advocates of the cause, you have nevertheless more than one point of resemblance to it. Like the theater, you look to produce effects in your performances; like it, you have subscriptions and reserved seats; only, there isn’t at the theater, as there is at church, a little tray at the door.
--A tray at the door; for what purpose?
--To collect the farthings of the spectators.
--It’s impossible! Begging is forbidden in cities; so that can’t be.
--It is. They say it’s for the expenses of the religion.
--But impresarios also have their expenses.
Look at the conclusion that evolves from all of this; that here the advantage is that at the theater they can’t have a collection during the performances. Do you imagine that if Rose Bell or Desclauzas came during the intermissions to stretch out their pretty hands to the audience they would find many [who were] averse [to it]? Not one! Like that duke of olden times, those who wouldn’t give for the poor would give for the beautiful eyes of the collector.
--At church as at the theater, resumes my skeptical interlocutor who doesn’t want to let go of his idée fixe, you hear music, sometimes better than that of Barbe Bleue and less good than that of the Pré aux Clercs. There are female singers there on the decline, and tenors singing perfectly out of tune, who are positively less amusing than Carrier.
How do you answer that?
The wrath of a certain part of the local press has only one note, but it’s deucedly irritating too.
The virtuous Tribune has belled the cat. We’ve come back to the good times of the anathemas that the Black Crook received, which, if it could be said between us, contributed so well to its success. Then come behind them, in lock step, the Sporting Times and the Spirit of the Times. It’s curious to see these journals of boxing, turf and horses acting prudish on account of a poor operetta which doesn’t offend morality in reality, any more or less than the highest comedy or the highest opera [that have come here].
You have to hear these cries of terrified peacocks and the like, these moralists lined up two by two, they speak with a virtuous conviction! Operetta recalls us, if you believe them, to the most horrible eras of barbarity and paganism; in Geneviève de Brabant, the wildest orgies of pre-Christian Greece and Rome are exceeded. It’s M. George Wilkes who assures us of this. If I’ve understood this correctly, Grau is quite simple Beelzebub’s accredited agent on Earth; Offenbach is, without a doubt, his accomplice, operetta their means of destruction, and Rose Bell, Tostée, Lambelé the modern serpent temptresses.
Always according to these gentlemen, no honest woman, no pure young lady, can attend such spectacles without veiling her face and undergoing all the moral tortures of outraged modesty. There is eloquence that I didn’t know [existed] any more; the question would be about using it more pertinently.
Another of these lovable preachers, in beseeching high society to fell these scandals and these perversities, adds that there will always be enough French cooks and hairdressers, enough scum in New York to furnish audiences for these exhibitions.
Thanks on behalf of our countrymen, puritan sirs! but we have the pride to affirm that there is in France and in the French population as much private virtue, as many decorous feelings, as much respect for modesty as there can be in any country that there may be. We won’t revenge ourselves by insulting in our turn, but we charitably advise those who have such a shabby opinion of our domestic virtues, of the chastity of our spouses and the honor of our young women, to try to find out a bit whether, by chance, some beam might not have strayed into their eyes.
Must they say to you like Dorine to Tartuffe:
You are then very susceptible to temptation.
Go! go! false goodfellows, they could make a long list of honest folks who have gone to see Geneviève de Brabant, not to mention those who will go back.
Truly, as Balzac has said, if the God of goodness and leniency who looks down on the worlds from on high doesn’t do a second washing of the human race to engulf Grau, Bateman, Offenbach, Hervé and all the directors, and all the operetta-composers, and all the artists who sing Geneviève de Brabant, and all the spectators who go to see them, it’s doubtless because the first flood had so little success.
But all of this is about a little battle, and I believe that you have to take up a higher issue. The theater, after all, only exists for the depiction of passions and characters, for their analysis, for their development, for their encounters. One goes to the theater or one doesn’t go; but, in the name of common sense, no more hypocrisy! Everything is material for the one who wants to transgress, and I’ve always seen honest people laugh unreservedly at a joke before which the second-degree virtuous feign covering their eyes and ears.
From the point of view of decency, Geneviève de Brabant is much less licentious than La Belle Hélène, for example, where it’s about only one thing during three acts: to know whether Menelaus, the ridiculous spouse, will be cuckolded or not. Nevertheless the author of the article that we have beneath our eyes seems to blame M. Grau personally and says that M. Bateman’s program is to give operettas that may not be indecent. Is that fair, and if one searched well, wouldn’t one find one little bit of true character whatsoever that breaks through?
Let’s leave individualities aside and return to the public. The chronicle should be impersonal on questions of principle. Haven’t all the women of high society, that they pretend to exclude from the French Theater, attended, at the opera, La Traviata, Rigoletto, where the King [Duke?] conducts his behavior saucily enough, and the immortal Don Giovanni of Mozart, including the shrill cry that Zerlina sends forth behind the scenes, veritable evidence of the agony of her innocence?
Do you want to know, rigid gentlemen, what will be the result of your ridiculous campaign? It’s that I and several brave honest and peaceful folks, who are not fanatics of stunt-filled operettas, will love it and defend it in order not to be confused with these grave puritans who condemn green apples because they can’t crunch them any more or who play pranks stealthily. That will be a reaction to the forbearance against hypocrisy.
All these prelates or pastors (for I don’t speak for, or rather against, all fanaticisms), Catholic or Protestant, do they imagine that they have a monopoly on virtue?
Ah! Thank God! Morality, undo-able laws of conscience and the sense of goodness, justice and truth existed well before they invented archbishops, pastors and nasal-voiced preachers.
In short, the clearest result of tyhis clumsy campaign will be to give the theater the attractiveness of the Garden of Eden. Black Crook and White Fawn have made the fortunes of two directors; La Grande Duchesse and Geneviève de Brabant will do the same.
At the French Theater, the attendance doesn’t diminish. Rose Bell whom the wicked newsmongers had made to die, without reflecting on the alarm of her family and friends, Rose Bell is alive, very much alive, more alive than ever. She unrolls the melodious jewel-box of her charming voice every evening’ Desclauzas and Gueretti don’t remain behind. Gabel, the popular Gabel, and the well-loved Carrier lead the assault of the battalion of masculine artists . . . and the cashier piles up greenbacks on top of greenbacks. . . .