Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
16 June 2019
“Last night ‘Fra Diavolo’ was given at the Academy of Music to a good audience. In some respects it was the most remarkable operatic performance ever heard in this city—or any other. It was eminently worthy of the Tower of Babel—Ronconi as Lord Allcash sang in Italian, with such occasional English ejaculations as ‘All right’ and ‘My gracious.’ Miss MacEvoy as Lady Allcash sang, it is rumored, in English. Hermann, as Beppo, sang in German introducing Abt’s ‘Sleep Well’ and Russell’s English song ‘I’m Afloat! I’m Afloat!’ Mr. Hermann’s method of informing the public that ‘de rovare iss free’ gave so much satisfaction as to win an encore. Madame Rotter as Zerlina showed good taste and judgment. In any tongue, Auber’s delightful melodies are enjoyable, and they proved so last night.”
“The times are not propitious for Mr. MARETZEK. He plays opera in two languages—indeed in three, for some of his artists are capable of the vernacular. He has regular Italian and regular German nights, but neither seems to prosper, albeit the performances, as we have had occasion from day to day to record, have been unusually excellent. Last evening ‘Fra Diavolo’ was played. A smoother representation has never taken place in New-York. The orchestra was perfect; the chorus and the principal artists were competent and thoroughly up to their work. There was, notwithstanding, a poor house—not wretchedly poor, but poor for such an occasion. The Zerlina of Mme. ROTTER is her best part; and although the lady was somewhat out of voice last night, and compelled to be prudent, she sang the music admirably. Miss KATE MACEVOY [sic] made her début as Lady Rochburg, and sang quietly and pleasantly. Without much strength, she has a manner and method which will win her success. Mr. HABELMANN was admirable as Fra Diavolo, and won a merited encore in the introduced piece of the second act. RONCONI was, of course, immense as the English Lord. He sang the part in Italian, as also did Miss MACEVOY, as Lady Rochburg. Messrs. HERMANNS and DUBREUL were capital as the twin robbers.”
“ . . . . –Alas!. . .the days and the operas follow each other but don’t resemble one another’ the foolish illusions of one hour make way for disappointing realities, as Don Giovanni gave way to Fra Diavolo . . . in German.
“I ask myself again—and notwithstanding that five long days have passed concerning the wound—what motive can push people to try to do what they can’t and don’t know how to do, and Germans to sing French opera-comique? There’s a lot of difference between taking pleasure in a work and being in it yourself. (It’s not I who said that first: it’s J.-J. Rousseau.)
“Can you conceive the audacity [of it]? To go challenge this work of Auber that’s so stylish, so buoyant, so coquettish! It’s guipure-lace [very fine, transparent lace], not mattress-ticking; it’s as fine as amber, as sweet as the sweet smile of a beautiful baby [who is] completely pink, frothy and sparkling as a glass of champagne. Do they sing that with six beer-mugs thrown in?
“And then, you have to be a comic actor, for all opéra-comique doubles as a comedy. You have to understand the characters, analyze them and not play them the wrong way. In digging into the role of Fra Diavolo, for example, so as to enter into the skin of the good man, M. Habelmann probably would have discovered his true colors. He would have seen that this lively character, this holder of the Grand Cross for the highest thievery, has bloody claws; he’s a marquis of the Ox-Eye and not a vagabond of the Court of Miracles; he makes watches like Cartouche, attacks stagecoaches like Mandrin and sings a serenade like Almaviva or Don Juan; he also has Lovelace’s perpetual love in his heart, but it’s the love of jewel-boxes; he’s as elebant as [Beau] Brummel and as fearless as Saint George; it’s a hybrid and complicated bype; for a bit he’d smell of verbena and may-flower; he has an aftertaste of the time of the Regency; he struts, shakes a handsome leg, uses Spanish snuff and dribbles it on his mock frill of Brussels lace; he must load his carbine only with field-marshal’s powder, and, absolutely for sure, he turns up his sleeves before committing a murder. Don’t let me represent him, though, with the somber air and black mustache of a traitor in a melodrama; he’s a character in Opéra-Comique and not in Ambigu [a card game]; one of those types borrowed from the lovely countryside on painted silk, where the sky is always blue, the trees always green; where the always-pretty shepherdesses, always dressed in satin, watch, in the company of handsome shepherds no less satined, the perfumed cows, combed, like they’ve stepped out of a bandbox, and sheep of sugar-candy . . . without overlooking the shepherd’s crook and the beribboned shepherd’s-pipes. Convention, you’ll say, convention! Eh, forsooth! I know very well that it’s convention; but since we’re agreed that this convention would be reality from eight o’clock in the evening until midnight and that you promised it to us, give us this convention and no other!
“To complete the measure, they mutilated the score. Fra Diavolo omits the lovely ballad Agnès la Jouvencelle, without doubt [because it was] detrimental to the interests of the action, and replaces it with a German lied whose soporific effect should make it a rough rivalry to opium. They should bring it to the Chinese. On the other hand, one of the bandits added I don’t know what species of seguidilla to the third act; the necessity for that really wasn’t impressive.
“If you leave out Ronconi, very funny in the role of the Englishman (though costumed as though he was playing in Jobin et Nanette) [a one-act comédie-vaudeville by Michel Carré and Léon Battu, 1849], and the orchestra which, as always, was excellent, including the harpist condemned to accompany the abovementioned lied, one could say that mediocrity ruled over the whole range. A Fra Diavolo travestied in this fashion makes me dream of sauerkraut meringues....”