Proprietor / Lessee:
Manager / Director:
Robert August Stoepel
Price: $1.50 orchestra; $1; $.30 family circle; $6, $8 private boxes of four seats; $15 proscenium
3 October 2019
“Mr. Grau’s opera bouffers, from the Théâtre Français, are not coming back to this city quite so soon as was expected. It will be three or four weeks yet before they open at their headquarters in this city with Herve’s great opera of ‘Chilperic.’ On Thursday evening they will open for a short season of three nights in Cleveland, and on the following Monday they favor the citizens of Detroit with ‘Genevieve,’ remaining in that city until Friday evening.”
“At the French Theatre Mr. Grau commences a closing season of opera bouffe on Saturday evening next. The chief feature of his brief series of entertainments will be the production, next Tuesday, of Herve’s ‘Chilpéric,’ with a cast including almost every important member of his company. The mise-en-scene, we are assured, will exhibit all the brilliancy for which Mr. Grau has made the French Theatre justly celebrated.”
Brief. “Herve’s opera of ‘Chilpéric’ will be brought out to-night at the Theatre Francais.”
“CHILPERIC has been in rehearsal for many months, and its production has been delayed only on account of the absence of the company in the West. It is a work of great merit, regarded by the Parisian critics as superior to any other opera bouffe yet produced, having had in Paris the most brilliant success, where it was the reigning musical sensation last season. Its libretto is witty and neatly written, while its music is refreshing and inspiriting, and upon a grander scale than is common to opera bouffe.”
“This evening, too, it will be remembered, Mr. Grau’s troupe will produce at the French Theatre Herve’s opera of ‘Chilpèric [sic].’ The cast includes Rose Bell, Desclauzas, Gueretti, Carrier, Beckers, and the other artists of the company.”
“We do not wonder that this merry, sparkling work of Hervé ran so long last winter at the Folies Dramatiques, Paris. The music is charming in many respects. The following is the plot:—[detailed account of plot].
“The overture is the best by far we have heard in opéra bouffe. It contains a Strauss-like waltz and an exquisite little polka. The waltz has no peer in any of the works of Offenbach, not excepting the popular finale in ‘La Belle Hélène.’ The first act opens on a scene of Druids, in which Hervé has closely followed ‘Norma.’ Mme. Rose Bell (Frédégonde) sang in this scene the waltz song, which is introduced in the overture, in which a couple of phrases from ‘Il Bacio’ are cleverly interwoven. In the second act she had a very pretty and dramatic aria, ‘Les Lamentations de Frédégonde,’ which, being taken note for note from the Sicilian Vespers, showed that this truly admirable artiste was well acquainted with grand opera. In the last act she introduced the famous bolero from Ambroise Thomas’ ‘Mignon,’ and throughout proved herself worthy of the high reputation which she won here at her debut. Mlle. Desclauzas (Galsuinthe [sic]) made her appearance in the middle of the second act, and in two characteristic Spanish songs she won universal and well deserved applause. Her piquant, fascinating manner and voice and charming stage appearance make her irresistible in every rôle which she undertakes. It will be long before we have again two such accomplished artists in opera as Mme. Bell and Mlle. Declauszas in this city. Carrier sang in his usual apathetic manner, and Beckers thoroughly entered into the spirit of his part. Mlles. Guerretti (Brunchant) and Rizarelli (Landry) filled their rôles passably, and Messrs. Genot, Francis, Mussay and Chopin gave enter satisfaction. There is a great deal of the comic element about the opera—more so than in ‘L’ŒIL Crevé.’ It has spirit and what we might call ‘go’ in it from first to last. The orchestration is far superior to that of Offenbach and is worthy of opera comique. The finale of the second act is full of fun and action, and there is throughout the work the same variety and spice as may be found in ‘Geneviève.’ It is a pity that Mr. Grau reserved this work for the end of the season. Had it been brought out earlier it would have had an immense run. The chorus and orchestra, under the direction of the excellent conductor, Robert Stopel [sic], was all that could be desired. Mr. Grau has certainly selected a brilliant work to close his season of opera bouffe.”
“Herve’s opera of ‘Chilpéric,’ sung at the Theatre Francais last evening, for the first time in this country, is characterized by the same excellencies and the same defects for which ‘L’Oeil Creve’ was notable. Aside from a rondo in the first act, it contains no air likely to impress itself upon the memory of those peculiar dilettante whose appreciation of the art is limited to the repértoire of Offenbach and his compeers. But the music is of a higher order, and if fewer melodies denote the inventiveness of the composer, a treatment to which more popular and less cultured and careful writers have not accustomed us discloses a master hand. It was very late when the first hearing of ‘Chilpéric’ terminated last night, and a hurried notice of it is therefore all that can be penned. The representation was very smooth and thoroughly successful. It is safe to say that no one quitted the theatre with the slightest conception of the plot—which out of sheer inability we shall not attempt to recount—but logic and Herve’s libretti are subjects known to have so little connection with each other, that there was no disappointment on that score. Some of the incidents, however, are positively amusing, and the finale of the second act, during which Frédégonde, the discarded favorite, departs from her lover’s palace drawing a handcart laden with mattresses and household articles of every kind, afterward serving as missiles for the courtiers to hurl at each other’s heads, was accompanied by laughter uproarious and prolonged. None of the operas produced at the Theatre Francais have been more happily represented than the latest one. All Mr. Grau’s artistes had a share in the performance, and all acquitted themselves of their task, with a fidelity indicative of close study and a brio showing a supreme disregard of the hot weather. Mr. Carrier was Chilpéric and Mme. Rose-Bell was Frédégonde. The former sang with unusual care, and his noble voice was never heard to better advantage. Mme. Rose-Bell acted and sang admirably. M. Beckers, who embodied Ricin, a Court doctor addicted to much misquotation, had abundant opportunity to evince his skill as a comedian, and little chance for vocal display. The efforts of M. Genot, whose caricatural appearance entitles him to a word of praise; of J. M. Francis, an actor whose merit was proven when he assumed the character of Bobêche, in ‘Barbe-Bleue;’ and of Mmes. Rizareli, Desclauzas, and Gueretti secured a completeness of interpretation far exceeding that of the opera in Paris. The choruses were superbly given. Scenery and costumes were good. ‘Chilpéric,’ about the very favorable reception of which the applause of a brilliant audience left no doubt whatever, is to be repeated until further notice.”
“Whatever Grau, Fisk, and Irma may have in store for us, we think the conviction must ere this have fastened itself upon the public mind that we have sounded the depths of opera bouffe, and the stimulant upon which we rioted as long has no power now to tickle the palate with a fresh sensation. We have seen, we hope, the dirtiest of the works of Offenbach and his tribe; we have seen also, we fear, the funniest and the most sprightly. Mr. Grau exhausted his resources of scenic display when he brought us ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ and no new opera is likely to equal that as a spectacle. It is only in the way of music, in which there is no limit to the inventiveness of genius, that we can look for any fresh pleasure; but music is only a small part of opera bouffe, and the better the work is as a composition the further it generally departs from the rollicking spirit of the typical bouffe, such as ‘Barbe Bleue’ and ‘La Grande Duchess.’ Hervé’s ‘Chilperic,’ for instance, which was produced last night at the French Theatre, contains some of the best music which we have heard from any of the French companies, and many of its airs are well worthy of the Italian lyric stage. It opens, for example, with a fine chorus of Druids, and a broad declamatory scena for baritone (admirably sung by M. Chopin); it embraces one or two other choruses of similar character and nearly equal merit; several of the concerted pieces, and a few of the solos, would win approval even in a series opera; and there is a perfectly charming air for Madame Rose Bell, with an unaccompanied chorus behind the scenes, by which the composer produces a striking effect by original and legitimate means. Yet ‘Chilperic,’ judged by the bouffe standard, is not entirely successful. It embraces a great deal of fun, but the fun is in detached scenes, separated by dreary intervals of dialogue that just falls short of being funny, and by musical scenes, which have often to be intrusted to incompetent performers. The libretto is from the pen of Hervé himself. It is less extravagant than ‘L’Œil Crevé,’ and less decent, though many of Mr. Grau’s patrons will probably be disappointed to hear that the indecency does not descend to beastliness, as in some of the works previously produced at that theater. The story is of King Chilperic (Carrier), who encounters in a forest a young shepherdess… [Recounts entire plot with role names and cast.] …How the conspirators are foiled, and what ultimately becomes of them, we could not for the life of us discover from the play; but Chilperic goes off and wins a victory over somebody, and when he comes back there is a grand jubilec chorus, wherein a German band is burlesqued by the principal artists, Rose Bell playing the violoncello, Desclauzas the clarionet, Madame Gueretti the trombone, and M. Beckers the bass drum. When we add that Chilperic rides a live horse, and M. Beckers has some comic business with a live donkey, and that all the best members of the company are engaged in one way or another, it will be easy to imagine that there is a great deal to laugh at. The opera could be much improved by cutting out some of the parts which are not particularly laughable, and by curbing the natural ambition of certain very inefficient singers to do a great deal of singing. There is a little party of pages for instance—stuffed and padded creatures, as Miss Olive Logan would say—whose exhibitions of musical depravity ought to be suppressed. They have abundant opportunity for exhibitions of another kind. A lack of sufficient rehearsal was apparent all through the performance, but that will be remedied with time. Madame Rose Bell made her chief hits with ‘The Legend of Chilperic,’ a fascinating deux-temps waltz in the first act; the ‘Lamentations of Fredegonde’ in the second; and the air Nuit fortunée, with the chorus behind the scenes, of which we have already spoken. Desclauzas has little to sing except a bolero and a fandango, both of which are good. Carrier has a plenty to say and to do, but very few striking airs. Beckers, the court physician, has an excellent song, Eu toule affaire, a sort of dilution of Figaro’s largo al factotum—not a plagiarism of the music, but an adaptation of the idea to the tastes of bouffes Parisiennes, and he sang it excellently well. The scenery is effective, and the dresses are all that could be desired, at least for quality.”
“Three of Herve’s compositions have now been heard in New York—‘L’Œil Crevé’ contained considerable agreeable music, and was very creditably performed last season, but failed to attract the attention it deserved. ‘Gargouillada’ was a mere exaggerated bit of fun, yet it afforded glimpses of real ability. ‘Chilpéric,’ as given last night by the Grau troupe at the French Theatre, confirms the previously expressed opinion that the composer has a calling rather for grand than for comic opera. His fun, whether in his music or his librettos, is a heavy, elephantine sort of fun, grotesque and quaint, but not sparkling and merrily trivial, like that of the Offenbach operas. It goes to the utmost extreme of grotesqueness. In one scene of ‘Chilperic’ [sic, no accent] we have a prima donna brandishing stove-pipes and a French king flinging mattresses about the stage amid a perfect shower of cushions, hat boxes, and other domestic articles. In another, a company of Druids fearing a coming shower, hoist parti-colored umbrellas and thus march off the stage, in a ridiculous blending of the poetical and the practical. All this is droll and odd; but it has not the merry, rattling vivacity of the ‘Grande Duchesse’ or ‘Barbe Bleue.’
“The music of ‘Chilpéric’ is generally too good for the subject. Although a buffo opera, it opens with a stately grandeur worthy of grand opera. The first scene, irresistibly reminds one of ‘Norma,’ though the music is by no means an imitation. The first chorus sung by all the male voices in unison is very striking and effective, and the chief Druid, Divisticus, who corresponds to the Oroveso of ‘Norma,’ has some noble passages of vocal music. This part was last night so admirably rendered by M. Chopin as to elicit frequent interruptions of applause. This gentleman has hitherto been needlessly kept in the background, having only sung in the Tyrolean trio in ‘Genevieve.’ He has one of the richest baritone voices on the stage, and it should be heard more frequently. In this opera, he appears only in the first act.
“Rose Bell as Fredegonde has what the Italians call an aria di sortita in the ‘Legend of Chilpéric,’ which she sings at her entry upon the stage. It is a very pleasing and ear-tickling melody, and was at once encored. An admirable hunter’s chorus introduces Chilpéric (M. Carrier), who enters mounted on a horse, and Rincin (M. Beckers) who bestrides a donkey. Carrier sings while still an equestrian a rather insignificant aria, during which the attention of all on the stage, as well as of the entire audience, is riveted on the horse; and though the animal behaves very well for one in his novel position, it is evidently a great relief to the gentlemen of the orchestra when, having played his little part, he is led off the scene. Another chorus of Druids, followed by one by Druidesses, leads to the buffo concerted piece with which the act closes.
"In the second act there appears an indignant laundress, who is down on the bills as Madame Clementine; but last night the part was taken by one of the male members of the troupe, in whose hands the laundress’s song is a failure. A charming chorus of pages, a quaint ‘Song of the Little Blue Butterfly’ for the tenor, an exquisite pastoral melody, ‘Sur les Coteaux,’ for which Madame Guerretti was encored, a duet for Rose Bell and Carrier, a piquant and fascinating bolero sung by Desclauzas, and an exquisite romance, ‘Loin de ces Lieux,’ of dubious morality but beautiful music, for Fredegonde, are the features of the second act.
“In the third act a drinking chorus and a ‘fandango’—solo and dance—for Desclauzas are worthy of notice; but the gem of this act, if not of the entire opera, is the air nuit fortunée [sic, no caps], sung by Rose Bell, with a responsive chorus behind the scenes. The opera concludes with a burlesque finale, in which the prima donnas paly the trombone, bass-viol, and clarinet, and the other leading characters otherwise imitate an orchestra.
“The music of ‘Chilpéric’ will quickly gain popular recognition, and ought to prove one of the most successful features in the repertoire of the Grau company. The opera is fairly put upon the stage, the dresses being new, and the scenery chiefly selected from that painted for ‘Genevieve.’ The dialogue is generally tame, and might be advantageously curtailed; but not one note of the music should be lost; for if not first-class, it is certainly superior to that of Offenbach, and will not wear out as rapidly as the fascinating yet trivial melodies of the composer of ‘La Belle Hélène.’”
“There has been a long-standing promise of a new opera at the French Theatre, which was redeemed last evening in the production of ‘Chilperic.’ The God of Nonsense is the divinity who reigns at present in the dramatic world, and this opera is one more monument in his honor. It is not a bit less absurd than all the rest of its kind, nor a bit more moral. The plot, of course, is a jumble of absurdities, and it is as difficult to make an intelligible story of as that of the legend of Peter Piper and his pickled peppers, having about as much coherence as that happy history, and being about as satisfactory when one has arrived at its conclusion.
“But, at least, the names are historical: [lists character names] were all characters who lived and breathed, and murdered and loved, and sinned in all conceivable ways in the sixth century Anno Domini, and who certainly never expected to be dug up and made sport of in an unknown hemisphere in the nineteenth. Hervé fished their wretched lives up out of some ancient histories of his country, and, indeed, has followed their general course with more fidelity than might have been expected in an opera bouffist [sic]. He has travestied all that was most tragic, however, in their dreadful stories, and given us a funny, good natured Chilperic, instead of the Hilperic of history (for that is his name as known to English readers), more cruel than Nero and more detestable in every vice than Caligula. The Chilperic of the play (Mr. Carrier) enters on horseback, followed by Ricin (Beckers), the court physician, on a donkey. The quadrupedal element introduced a new and lively feature to the play. In the first act there is some fine music, especially a capital song addressed to Fana the Druidess.
This act contains also an effective chorus of hunters, which was well sung. The other choruses of this act were not of moment, and were only tolerably done, and in the general detail of stage business and fun there was a need of humor which we hope repetition of the work will supply. At present it is dull, and the comic element does not make its appearance much before the close of the second act, on the occasion of a royal May-day moving of Fredegonde’s chattels on a hand cart, the upsetting and smashing of which furnish a most lively scene. But to return to the music. In the second act, and to the close, the composer seems to have given to the work more melody and better treatment than in the first. A chorus of pages in beautiful dresses, a duet of two sopranos, the King’s song, ‘Little Butterfly,’ are cases in point. The duet of the King and Fredegonde is the most spirited of the opera; the last movement in quick time, a lover’s quarrel of an emphatic kind, is original and very electric. The arrival of Galswintha, the Queen (Mlle. Desclauzas), with her bandboxes and travelling companion fresh from Spain, gives rise to lots of fun and a capital bolero movement with tamborines [sic], castanets, and a Spanish dance.
“There is much in the work that merits hearing and its faults are rather in the words than in the notes; but how far it will captivate the public ear is a matter which a second or third repetition will better determine. There were several hearty encores, however, and as the whole strength of Mr. Grau’s excellent company is enlisted, and the scenery and dresses are beautiful, the opera will probably obtain a hearty hold on the musical public. In Paris, Herve, the composer, has the reputation of being a many-sided man, having acquired distinction [illeg.] as an actor, singer, musician, librettist, and composer.”
“Another performance of ‘Chilpéric’ proves beyond question that the music of the work is better fitted for grand opera than for comic. There was at the French Theatre, last night, but little laughter at the far-fetched, wearisome ‘humor’ of the dialogue, at the doggerel Latin of Ricin, or even at the cushion and mattress-throwing finale of the second act; but there was a great deal of genuine applause as the best points of the music were revealed. Hervé excels, especially in chorus writing and in adaptations for male voices. The first act of ‘Chilpéric’ contains admirable specimens of his skill in this respect. In solo writing he is less effective, though almost always quaint and original. The bolero movements sung by Desclauzas are replete with vivacity and characteristic coloring; and the orchestral dance music, which follows one of them, will soon find its way to our concert halls and ball rooms. The sentimental arias allotted to the part of Fredegonde, are Hervé’s most successful compositions in the solo line, and the only objection to them is that they are too good for a would-be comic opera.
The female chorus of pages is a pretty feature of ‘Chilpéric;’ but the individual members of the chorus—who, collectively, sing well and brilliantly—are inadequate to the little solo passages distributed among them. The same might be said of two or three of the ladies who take the minor female parts, were it not for the fact that the tact and grace of a French woman enables her to produce effects that American or English singers seem quite unable to reach.
Rose Bell and Desclauzas gave the most satisfaction last night, and Carrier was not far behind them. M. Beckers does not find in Ricin a very felicitous part. M. Chopin as Diviaticus again attracted much attention from the rich, manly quality of his voice. The song of the washerwoman was omitted last night.
Mr. Grau’s engagement with his artists closes this week, after eight months’ duration, and the season will be soon brought to a [sic] end. ‘Chilpéric’ will be given on the few nights yet remaining, Desclauzas taking a benefit next Monday night.”
“Mr. Grau has closed his season, and has not deemed it expedient to renew his engagement with his artists; so that New York loses Rose Bell, Desclauzas, Carrier, Beckers and the other popular favorites. They have sung well and faithfully during their engagement, and, at first, were entirely successful; but of late the taste for opera bouffe seems to have died away, and the performers find their occupation gone. Though ‘Chilpéric’ was an artistic success, and though the critics were unanimous in conceding the merit of the music, the opera did not make such an impression on the public as to case them to crowd the house.”
“We are about to lose one hall of our opera bouffe force. Mr. Grau’s company, or at least the most of it, will sail for Europe on Saturday. It is due to Mr. Grau and his artists that in leaving us they should receive a final word of praise. They have dealt faithfully with the public. What the manager has promised he has performed, and in this result the members of the company have coöperated with zeal and ability. Laying aside the question of the moral tendency of the French opera, and judging the company from a musical and not from an ethical standpoint, they are certainly deserving of commendation. Mme. Rose-Bell, Mlle. Desclauzas, Mr. Carrier, Mr. Beckers, are artists of the highest accomplishments. Whatever they have undertaken they have illustrated with great dramatic as well as musical ability. And we can certainly bear witness to the proverbial thoroughness of the French training, as shown in the general excellence and correctness of their singing. False intonation is all too common on the Italian stage and in grand opera, but little of it has been heard in opera bouffe at the French Theatre.”
R: NYC 06/12/69, p. 78 – “‘Chilperic’—Herve’s opera bouffe—was presented as the French Theatre on June 1st, but failed to receive one fourth as much applause as ‘Genevieve de Brabant,’ or make any decided impression upon the audience. The scenery is fair, while the dresses are appropriate, but the opera is not one that will become popular, for there is scarcely an air that is catching, and the melodies are ‘few and far between;’ neither is the music of a high order.”
Part of larger article; to read in full see event entry of 06/14/69: Article on the relative success of French theater productions.
“. . . . We haven’t said anything yet about Chilpéric, and for good reason. In good conscience we wouldn’t know how to affirm whether this insane and ludicrous thing was or wasn’t a hit, because they played it only three or four times and, over and above the market, everyone produces this ease, this likeable freedom (let’s be lenient), that signals the end of the season when everything goes helter-skelter and everyone seems to say: ‘Let’s hurry up real quick and finish!’ Played in the middle of winter, with expenses paid by M. Grau, the conscientiousness that the artists of his company generally bring to the interpretation of their roles and the good disposition of an audience fond of spectacles, it could be able to crawl along for two or three weeks, but that’s just about all.
“We haven’t analyzed the piece, for it doesn’t deserve more than the few lines we’ve already dedicated to it the day after the first performance.
“The authors have taken a historical title, that’s all that the story has furnished them. In the words of M. Hervé, Chilpéric, king of the Francs, following the counsel of his brother Sigebert and sister-in-law Brunehaut, dismisses Frédegonde, his favorite, in order to marry Galsuinthe. There’s the whole thing.
“As for the proceedings, the audience knows: it’s always the same claptrap. They pile Pelion upon Ossa, fantasy upon anachronism, vulgarity upon platitude, schtick upon anti-schtick, and from this jumble they claim to extract comic results. It’s possible that it could be very funny to see the haughty barons play tennis with long-handled frying-pans and hatboxes on their heads, to hear them, in the sixth century, talk about steam and electricity, to hear them argue, in the throne-room, over a laundress’s bill with an error of five centimes, to contemplate the daughter of the king of the Visigoths dancing the cachucha to recover from the fatigue of travel, but that drollery, I confess, doesn’t make me laugh. They’ve worn it out too much. I forgot to say that there are also a horse, a donkey and a cat, very much alive, in this piece, a real menagerie! At first, to stimulate audience sentiment, they created pieces with women, are they now going to create pieces with animals?
“M. Hervé’s music doesn’t displease his admirers (for this maestro has his enthusiasts, without counting the roistering blades of the Faubourg [St.-] Antoine who make him a democratic success in a spirit of opposition to the fast young aristocratic fellows who acclaim Offenbach in the Boulevard des Italiens), Hervé’s music is monotonous and, if one could explain it thus, incomplete. You find at moments some ideas that seem promising, but it doesn’t develop. And, a bizarre fact, this Homer of stunts, this Shakespeare of senselessness, doesn’t have a cheerful muse. He would have succeeded probably in a pastel genre, sweet and graceful; his romances, his choruses are generally melodious; in [the] disorder [of bouffe], he achieves and goes beyond the object and produces only clamor. He has neither the verve, nor the color, nor the suppleness, nor the variety of tone of Offenbach.
“Leaving aside for a moment all absolute appreciation for the value of the genre that these two composers work in, you have to declare this because it’s the truth: at home and abroad, Offenbach succeeds everywhere; everywhere, Hervé fails....”