St. Stephen's Catholic Church
Price: $2 reserved; $1
9 August 2019
“The final performances of Rossini’s Mass in this city—at least for the present—will be this afternoon at the Academy, and tomorrow evening, at St. Stephen’s Church, in Twenty-eighth st. In the Church, with the assistance of a fine organ, we presume its effects will be much enhanced.”
"In our first criticism of this much vaunted work we said that it is necessary for a mass to be given in a church like St. Stephen’s in order to form a full judgment of its musical merits and its adaptability to the religious subjects it is supposed to illustrate. A second hearing of it last night in the magnificent church in Twenty-eighth street confirmed our first impressions of it. There are some exquisite gems in it, such as the duet Qui Tollis, the O Salutaris and the Agnus Dei, but the rest will hardly compare with a hundred other masses that precede it. St. Stephen’s was crowded last night, and many went solely for the purpose of hearing a work that has received what we deem undue notoriety. The performance was, on the whole, unsatisfactory. The chorus sang with precision the notes set before them, but regardless of expression or sentiment. Where the marks sotto voce or pianissimo occurred they gave out the music with all the strength of their lungs, and in the fugue at the end of Gloria they were oblivious to the necessity of phrasing. In the Agnus Dei, instead of giving the response, Dona nobis pacem, in the subdued, prayerful manner which the music demanded, they sang pretty much as a number of Sunday school children would render ‘Jerusalem, My Happy Home,’ or some such delectable melody. Signor Boetti utterly failed to develop the spirit which is conveyed in the solo, Domine Deus, and Antonucci was not as good as might be expected with such a voice in the unnecessarily long bass solo, Quonium tu solus. The soprano solo, Crucifixus, lies too low for Miss Kellogg’s voice, and was considerably marred by the inartistic organ accompaniment of Mr. Schreiner. This morceau has evidently been written for a mezzo soprano voice of a heavy caliber. Miss Kellogg in some of the soprano parts throughout the mass was obliged to sing an octave higher, which in the concerted pieces quite changed the character of the music. The organ prelude showed that the organist was not on good terms with the instrument. The O Salutaris and Agnus Dei, as rendered [by] Mme. Natali Testa, were the gems of the mass. The artist seemed to feel the spirit of the sublime words, and she threw into the music soul, expression and religious fervor which is rarely heard in our churches. The best music in Rossini’s work fell to her lot, and she proved herself worthy of it. The mass, however, is by no means on a part with the works of Cherubini, Mercadante or a score of other composers of church music. With such a choir as that of St. Stephen’s and with an organist as Berge, something might be made out of the choruses; but Italian opera singers, as a general thing, do not include religious sentiment among their qualifications, and they gave sufficient evidence of the fact last night.”
“The performance of Rossini’s Mass last night at St. Stephen’s Church was so much better that the performances at the Academy that it seems a pity the work should ever have been given on the stage. It was not that the solemnity of long-drawn aisles and fretted vaults added the effect of association to the sweetness of religious song, for there was no solemnity about it. The church was filled with a chattering crowd of gay people, and the altar, of course, was dark and bare, and there was nothing in the assemblage to remind one of sacred things—unless it were the complete insufficiency of the ushers. The building, however, was well suited to bring out the full effect of the chorus, and the organ supplied a fullness to the choral passages which was lacking in the previous performances. In the great fugue of the Gloria the value of this addition was especially apparent. As a whole, the execution of the Mass was more than ordinarily spirited and careful. Madame Testa added new glory to her former triumph. In the Agnus Dei it is not too much to say that she sang magnificently. Antonucci was in admirable voice, and displayed unusual animation; Boetti was spirited and painstaking, and Miss Kellogg exerted herself successfully in the Crucifixus, though the effect of the solo was injured by the substitution of the organ for the orchestra as an accompaniment, this accompaniment consisting entirely of abrupt chords, for which an organ is certainly unsuitable.
Mr. Schreiner played the offertory piece, and we found it very dry.”
“At the Academy of Music two great works have been for the first time presented in this country. First came Messe Solennelle by Rossini, which had been heralded as its author’s masterpiece in sacred music. It was well received, afforded a rare opportunity for study, and something for enjoyment, but it was hardly appreciated by our people, with the exception perhaps of Catholics who have been educated by their form of worship to love this class of sacred music. After two or three performances at the Academy, and one at St. Stephen’s Church, it was discontinued.”