Grand Combination Italian and English Opera: Lurline

Event Information

Academy of Music

Manager / Director:
Max Maretzek

Price: $1.50; $1; $8 private boxes

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
25 September 2019

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

22 May 1869, Matinee

Program Details

Beginning with the opera’s American premiere on 05/13/69, to be sung in Italian and English on alternate nights. This performance in English.

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Lorelei
Composer(s): Wallace
Text Author: Fitzball
Participants:  Grand Combination Italian and English Opera Company;  Annie Kemp (role: Ghiva);  Gustavus S. Hall (role: The Gnome);  Brookhouse Bowler (role: Count Rudolph);  G. [dancer] Novissimo;  Domenico Orlandini (role: Rhineberg);  Isabella McCulloch (role: Lurline);  Maria Bonfanti


Advertisement: New-York Times, 17 May 1869, 7.
Advertisement: Courrier des États-Unis, 18 May 1869.

"...with new staging, costumes, scenery, having cost more than $30,000."

Advertisement: New York Herald, 22 May 1869, 9.
Review: New York Sun, 25 May 1869, 2.

“The experiment of English opera now being tried at the Academy of Music is one that all lovers of music have looked forward to with the utmost interest. The problem whether English opera could succeed here has been for years waiting to be demonstrated, and nobody has been bold enough to risk the necessary amount to bring it to a solution. Finally the experiment has been made under the most favorable possible circumstances. A charming opera, a good company, appropriate scenery, and a noble opera house have been provided, and yet the result trembles in the balance. In one scale sits the double opera company. Maretzek is the weighmaster, and he waits to see greenbacks thrown into the other scale sufficient to carry up his enterprise and weigh down his treasury. Looking on as impartial spectators, we regret to see that the beam does not adjust itself. The opera companies are as heavy as lead, and the greenback scale is high up in the air. It looks like a dead failure. If we were at all in apposition to advise, we should cry out to Maretzek to throw his ballet company overboard. That is simply dead weight in his scale. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that legs are a condition essential to the success of every dramatic enterprise. Mr. Tayleure made that mistake at Fisk’s Opera House. He thrust a ballet into the middle of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest,’ stopping the whole action of the piece and breaking off all continuity of interest. So Maretzek with equal lack of reason, has forced the dancing girls into this opera. Wallace’s music is laid aside, the conductor leaves his seat, dance music replaces the score, one of the fiddlers takes the baton, and the audience is compelled to sit out half an hour of hopping with what patience they may, till the legitimate business of the evening is resumed. The dancing is good, but absolutely meaningless. It has no more relation to the opera than an exhibition of trained dogs or a Punch and Judy show would have in that connection. It is a hindrance and a not a help. Sometimes a ballet is a necessity and carries on the plot. It is so in ‘Robert le Diable,’ for instance. There Meyerbeer wrote the music carefully and worked the whole into unity with his musical design. So did Auber in ‘Masaniello’ and many of his works. So did not Wallace in ‘Lurline.’

Then again, if this did not lighten his scale sufficiently, we should call upon Maretzek to throw overboard his Italian company. The whole scheme of an Italian rendering of this English opera is an absurdity on its face and the greatest absurdity of all is the Italian company itself which is about as much Italian as ‘Bryant’s Ethiopian Serenaders’ are genuine Africans. It seems to us that Maretzek has courted disaster in this enterprise, for, from a merely business point of view, this double company would appear to be a financial blunder.

What an utter absurdity it is to take an English opera, composed with relation to its English words, and turn it into a foreign tongue to be sung to an English-speaking audience! The mere statement of the thing carries the conviction of its folly.

In the first place, it is an insult to our native tongue. What is the matter with the English language? Why is it not good enough to be sung? Why is it not a thousand times better than the effeminate, emasculated, vowel tones of the Italian language? Milton found it good enough to write the ‘Paradise Lost’ in; Shakespeare found it quite competent to express every phase of his great genius. Tennyson, Bryant, and Longfellow find it smooth and flowing enough to furnish expression to their subtlest thought and most poetic imaginings. Handel found it all-sufficient to wed with his immortal music. He did not ask any one to translate his divine aria, ‘I know that my Redeemer Liveth’ into Italian, or to dress up the ‘Halleluja Chorus’ in a foreign garb. Why then is it not good enough for Wallace’s music? Wallace himself though it was. The fact is that this gross superstition that English is a language not fitted for musical expression has afflicted the English and American mind a long time. It is a foolish contempt for our mother tongue, founded on prejudice and not on reason, and is hereditary and traditional. This is not the place to trace its history of to discuss the baleful and disastrous influence that the Italian language has had upon English music. This last enterprise of an English opera given in Italian is its final expression and crowning folly, and deserves no favor from an American audience—nothing, indeed, but reprobation. To render the absurdity still more absurd, the libretto has not only been twisted into a foreign tongue, but foreigners and not Italians have been set to sing it. The cast itself is a fine satire on the Italian operatic school…If Mr. Maretzek will now have the kindness to have ‘Hamlet’ translated into Chinese and performed by a company of Esquimaux, we shall feel that he has done for us all that he could, so far as making a play intelligible to the audience before which it is to be presented is concerned.”