Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
24 March 2019
“It is no reflection upon a great composer to say that he has mannerisms and repeats himself. All of the race have [sic] done so. Mozart and Handel did it frequently; so did Rossini; so did Meyerbeer; so did Bellini.
“That Donizetti fell into the same habit is proved by his ‘Belisario,’ produced last night at the Academy of Music, after a repose of some twenty years as far as New York is concerned. There are strains in it almost identical with certain passages in ‘Lucrezia’ and ‘Favorita;’ and having noticed this, and added that several of the concerted pieces are weak, unfavorable criticism in regard to ‘Belisario’ is exhausted, and we are forced to confess that it is a well-written work, replete with choice melodies in Donizetti’s best style. There are two prima donnas, the principal one appearing only in the first and last acts, while the secondary character is more frequently before the audience and more readily enlists its sympathies. Last night Miss States and Miss McCulloch filled these positions creditably, the latter winning several encores. The tenor part was filled by Signor Boetti, and that of Belisario by the baritone Orlandini. Both of the gentlemen did well, securing an encore for the spirited duet, familiarly known as ‘On to the field of glory,’ and adding much to the effect of the concerted music. Orlandini finds a truly grateful part in Belisario. Some of the melodies—we may particularize the duet which closes the second act—are most tender and graceful, and well suited to his rich, sympathetic voice. The trio ‘Se il fratel stringere’ has long held its place as one of the most popular of compositions for the concert room, but has a genuine dramatic significance and musical propriety only when heard in its proper place in the opera. It was redemanded last night.
“The choruses in ‘Belisario’ are numerous and sonorous. They are all marked either in the vocal or the instrumental portions by palpable melody, while occasionally, as in the case of the choruses of Senators, they have a touch of dramatic majesty. Mr. Maretzek’s choral force is an ample one, and does fair justice to the choruses.
“‘Belisario’ with all its merits, cannot be called a brilliant opera. Classic costume does not scintillate on the stage like mediaeval or later garb. A classic character, when in reduced circumstances—if one may believe the traditions of the lyric stage—dresses in a snuffy brown gown, not unlike that of a mendicant friar. Belisario as an exile, Irene as an exile’s daughter, and Alemiro as a prisoner, were all attired after this fashion during a part of last evening’s performance, and unconsciously shed a gloom over the scene, which even their melodious voices were scarce able to dispel.”
“Why so good an opera as ‘Belisario’ should be so seldom played is a mystery which we shall not try to solve. A great part of the music is familiar to all of us; but of the large audience that witnessed the performance last night, a very small proportion had ever before seen it represented on the stage, at least in the United States. It was first produced in America at Palmo’s Opera House, in February, 1844. It was brought out by Max Maretzek at the Astor-place Opera House in 1849; and we are not aware that since that time—20 years ago—it has ever been given in New-York until last night. It must rank with some of the best of Donizetti’s works. The style is bold and free, the melody is spontaneous, and the music from first to last, is thoroughly interesting and effective. Donizetti left few lovelier morceaux than the plaintive aria for Irene in the second act, the duet between Irene and Belisario, ‘Ah se potesse,’ or the famous trio, ‘S’il fratel siringere.’ The finale of the first act is admirably wrought out, and there is abundance of inspiration in the choruses. There is much fine contrast of styles also, as the changing scenes of the sad drama require—the joyful clamor of victory and robust music of the camp alternating with the pathos of exile and love and death. Belisario found last night a competent, and, in several scenes, excellent, representative in Signor Orlandini, who always sings with refinement and intelligence and bears himself well upon the stage. Boetti was a good Alamiro, and received hearty applause. Mrs. States made no special mark in the role of Antonina, though she did well whatever was set down for her to do. A far more graceful part, in fact, is that of Irene, taken by Miss McCulloch, who will make it one of her chief successes. In the second act especially she produced a decided effect. The chorus was unusually strong and well dressed, having received a complete new outfit of a very gorgeous character, and the great stage at several periods of the evening appeared to be actually full. The opera has been mounted, indeed, with considerable care—with what for the Academy of Music ought to be called extraordinary completeness—and we were glad to see that the improvement was appreciated. The attendance was excellent.”
“The performance of Donizetti’s ‘Belisario’ on Wednesday night by Mr. Maretzek’s company at the Academy of Music drew together a large and fashionable audience. The opera is not one of Donizetti’s best. Donizetti wrote with a most fluent pen, and seldom stopped to revise his compositions with any great care. Sometimes his inspiration seemed to carry him fairly through to the close of the work, as in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and ‘Favorita;’ and sometimes it was spasmodic and showed itself only in brilliant passages, scattered here and there through an opera as in that to which we now refer. At other times it deserted him altogether, and left his work lifeless and uninteresting, which was the case with some forty operas that he wrote, and which have never been heard of from the day they [were] first performed and condemned to the present time. ‘Belisario’ was saved from this fate by one or two morceaux of great merit that at once hit the popular taste, and have always held their place in concert programmes, such as the duet for tenor and baritone in the first act, ‘Sullo campo del onore,’ well given last evening by Boetti and Orlandini, and the equally popular trio for soprano, tenor and bass. Miss McCulloch appeared to excellent advantage, and gains daily in favor with her audience.”
“The revival of ‘Belisario’ at the Academy of Music promises to be one of Mr. Maretzek’s most fortunate ventures. Donizetti has left no better legacy to the world. The work is interesting, not only in the story, but in its treatment. Some of the numbers, indeed, are equal to anything that Donizetti has ever written. Why a work of such importance should have been permitted to lie perdu for so long a time is more than we can understand. It was produced in this City almost twenty years ago, and in the dearth of good music its resuscitation might have been expected long before this. Its restoration to the programme, at all events, will, we think, add a new pulsation to operatic music, which has been rather at a low ebb. The revival was most creditable to the management. Apart from the general distribution, there was a powerful and efficient chorus, and an orchestra of first-rate quality and proportions. The leading character was sustained by Signor Orlandini—a gentleman who has a good method, and sings with great discretion. As Belisario he displayed better qualities of voice than we have before noticed, and was indeed admirable. Signor Boetti improves on acquaintance. He possesses a very agreeable organ, and sings carefully and with animation. He was heartily applauded in the many charming morceaux of the rôle. Mme. States, as Antonia, displayed her fine voice, but lacked spirit. Nature has been bountiful, but art has been stiff and severe with the lady. Miss McCulloch pleased every one as Irene, a sweet, graceful part, which well becomes the purity and clearness of her voice, and which will certainly be considered as one of her best rôles. The costumes are excellent. The production, indeed, in every way, is worthy of Mr. Maretzek’s palmist days.”