Maretzek Italian Opera: Guillaume Tell

Event Information

Academy of Music

Proprietor / Lessee:
Max Maretzek

Manager / Director:
Max Maretzek

Angelo Torriani

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
27 February 2021

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

23 Nov 1869, Evening
24 Nov 1869, Evening
26 Nov 1869, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed


Advertisement: New York Herald, 23 November 1869, 9.

“The public are respectfully informed that the music of the celebrated TRIO in the second act will be sung for the FIRST TIME IN AMERICA, as originally written, and the grand Aria, for Tenor, in the fourth act, which has usually been omitted, on account of its difficulty, will be restored and sung by SIGNOR LEFRANC.”

Announcement: New-York Times, 23 November 1869, 5.

“. . . For every reason we hope that ‘William Tell’ may be as worthily performed as the means at disposal will possibly allow, and that the public will give a generous recognition to its desert.”

Review: New York Post, 24 November 1869, 4.

“Edmund Abott has claimed in some of his critical writings the pre-eminence of ‘William Tell’ overt all other existing operas. Few can doubt that it is the masterpiece of Rossini. More than any other of his works has it contributed to place its composer’s name among the highest in the rolls of fame, and it probably will outlive e any of his other productions.

“The opera has been given in this country from the very earliest period of operatic representations in this country, and has been heard here in French, English, German and Italian—most frequently in the latter language. Great prima donnas have taken the comparatively insignificant part of Mathilde, and superior tenors have essayed the music of Arnold. Of the former Steffanone was among the best; of the latter we recall with special admiration Bolcioni.

“Great expectations had been formed last night in regard to Lefranc’s rendering of the part, but these expectations were not fully realized. The singer was hoarse, and the effort required in the interpretation of the trying music seemed too much for him. At times, as in the aria ‘Oh! Mathilde,’ in the first act, the Muto asile in the fourth act, and whenever he sung sotto voce, he was effective; but in the passionate declamatory passages he failed to create an impression. The great trio of the second act received but little applause, and the quick movement of the aria in the last act—the Suivez moi, in which Duprez made his great hit—passed off unnoticed. Signor Lefranc will undoubtedly fo himself more justice to-night. He was last evening nervous and unequal; yet in thus closely criticizing his performance we assume his real ability to reach a first-class standard, and freely acknowledge that, in spite of the defects in this first rendering of the music of Arnold, no other tenor in the country could have approached him in this part.

“Madame de Briol sang the Selva Opaca, and took her part in the succeeding duet in the style of a genuine artist, and was deservedly applauded. Miss Lami, an American lady, quite new to the operatic stage, did full justice to the music of Jemmy—a part which old opera-goers pleasurably associate with Mlle. Bertucca, now Mrs. Maretzek.

“The William Tell of the opera has seldom been better acted than by Signor Reyna last night; and he sang with much taste and judgment, though without the vocal power of a Badiali or Gassier. The pretty part of the Fisherman was sung last night in guttural German by a Teutonic gentleman whose efforts were not wholly successful. Indeed, all the minor parts of the opera—excepting that taken by Coletti—find but indifferent representatives this season.

“Signor Torriani conducted the orchestra, which played well; and the chorus was effective, especially in the finale to the second act. In the third act there was some graceful ballet dancing.

“There was a large audience in attendance last night, and a fashionable one, some of whom were unfortunate in being subjected to the rudeness of two officials who, like the giants Gog and Magog, guarded the entrance. It is to be regretted that the courteous Max Maretzek or Joel can not instill some of their natural politeness into their subordinates, who are really in need of it.”

Review: New-York Times, 24 November 1869, 4.

“More than a year has passed since the death of ROSSINI. Yet until yesterday none of these grand operas, among which’ William Tell’ is at once the most brilliant and the most profound, has been fittingly brought before the New-York public. The representation of last night, in aim and in execution, deserves something more than passing recognition, and furnishes suitable occasion for a retrospect of the work and career of one of the greatest artistic geniuses of the nineteenth century—in his department by many thought the greatest—prefatory to what we have to say of the present laudable attempt at interpreting his greatest work.

“No one conversant with lyric art can see the announcement that ‘William Tell’ is to be performed without a certain feeling of apprehension. Here is a work which, more a turning point in the life, and a new phase in the genius, of its author. Every one knows that it is in what is called ROSSINI’S second manner; that, whereas his early operas, from his crude, boyish attempts up to the culmination of his first style in ‘Semiramide,’ are purely Italian, in ‘William Tell’ and in the ‘Stabat Mater’ can be found on every page the influence of French taste, and the power exercised over a subtle and sensitive temperament by German feeling and German harmony. But few appreciate the labor these productions cost, fewer still in this working generation comprehend what it was to ROSSINI to labor at all. In him, beyond all other men the love of ease amounted to a passion; born at Pesaro, his true home was that passionate ease-loving Naples where were passed the happiest years of his life.

“The key to a man’s character is often found in his tastes, and by help of a knowledge of the preferences which ROSSINI early formed and steadfastly maintained, much is made clear to us. HAYDN, the modest, studious HAYDN, prince of classicists, prince of melodists, the German HAYDN, was ROSSINI’S first and his latest model, and the one other composer of whom he never spoke without emotion was CIMAROSA. This last is to us now but a name, but connoisseurs who have had the opportunity of hearing his numerous works adequately performed, tell us of his gracious dignity, his tenderness, his overflowing joyousness, without a trace of vulgarity. These, then, were ROSSINI’S tastes, and as in his youth he excelled CIMAROSA in melody, in vivacity and in the power of expressing joy, so doubtless would he, if left to himself, have done much in his mature age to rival the scholarly grace and unaffected charms of HAYDN. But in what we venture to call an evil hour for himself, and for us, he was driven by circumstances, growing out, of his unlucky first marriage, to try his fortune in Paris.

“There is no other instance of a man of genius in the very prime of life, and in the full tide of production, being so greatly influenced by new and more civilized surroundings. It would pass our limits to speak of the period of vivid intellectual activity which followed the wars of NAPOLEON, and in the first stir of which ROSSINI arrived in Paris. He found there a taste for music less pure, less emotional, than that of Italy; less knowledge of the capacities and the limitation of the artist; but a keen, critical faculty, authoritative, searching and severe, a school of music and a style of performance in the highest degree artificial yet brilliant, and a supreme intelligence, to satisfy which called out all his ambition. At the same moment he must have suddenly become conscious of two imperative needs, of which he had never been so sensible before. One was money for himself and for the haughty, blasé woman who has left fortune and position to marry him, and still more among all those brilliant men he must have felt the lack of education. All his life ROSSINI was overwhelmed with flattery and adulation, while what he wanted was to be respected. No one, at least for a long time, seems to have understood that he was not at all vain, but that he was excessively proud. Because he was an Italian they mentally placed him in the same category with the singers whom they were in the habit of treating with affectionate contempt; and he had to endure it because he was poor, and because he was too uneducated to take the position that belonged to him.

“There was not then, there is not now, any direct and fair means of compensating a musical composer. When, some four or five years ago, ‘Faust’ was played here nearly the whole season, and whistled, bit by bit, in every street, does any one suppose that M. GOUNOD ever received a dollar for his share in ministering to our pleasure? ROSSINI’S first operas, ‘Tancredi,’ the ‘Donna del Lago,’ the ‘Barbiere,’ &c., &c., sold each for trifling sums. He probably had not a zochin [sic] when he first went to Paris. Yet his immense popularity had provoked enmity and criticism in all quarters. The Germans were angry with him because the stupid public preferred his music to that which they thought better, and with sorrow be it said, even BEETHOVEN refused to admit him within his doors. The ‘frivolous’ Italian rated himself and them more truly than they knew; felt it all deeply, and, when years after, he said to FERDINAND HILLER that ‘if he had been born in Germany, and strictly trained, he might, perhaps, have done something,’ there is no reason to suppose that he was not equally correct and sincere.

“The want of education hampered ROSSINI all his life, though his manner was so fine that few would have suspected him of any deficiency. The lack of early musical training could be remedied by study—by labor, and he labored. The fruits remain to us in the ‘Soirées Musicales,’ ‘Stabat Mater,’ and in ‘William Tell.’ The fruits of his ignorance, his mortifications, his struggles with malevolent cliques, his wounded pride, remain in the lamentable facts that after these efforts he became avaricious of money, and in the height of his powers ceased to compose.

“‘William Tell’ was barely a success the first season; was not fully appreciated till ROSSINI had turned his back on Paris and settled himself in retirement at Bologna. Yet it is as a great, and immortal work, and it probably arrived at the ripeness of its fame when lately it was performed in Paris before the Emperor and a brilliant audience, including ROSSINI himself—who sent for the score next morning and altered a single flat which had been played wrongly for thirty years. The overture, the march, the Tyrolienne, the thousand and one sparkling melodies with which it is filled, are known and repeated all over the world; yet so great are the difficulties of presenting the work entire, that as we have said, the announcement that it is to be given awakens more apprehensions of failure than anticipations of delight.

“It affords us sincere pleasure to say that the first act of ‘William Tell’ last night fairly dispelled any serious apprehensions of failure, for although its performance was uneven, it exhibited many points of genuine excellence, showed palpable marks of careful rehearsal, and above all, evinced so conscientious a determination to do their utmost on the part of every one concerned, as to put the audience at ease and to justify the expectation of a good, if not great representation. There were certainly imperfections. One of those consisted in Signor (or Herr) DIEHM singing the pretty music of the Fisherman in German, which, not withstanding the recent precedent of Mr. HABELMANN, produced no agreeable effect. This gentleman was, moreover, betrayed into forcing his voice in a manner that exaggerated the blemish of the incongruous use of his native tongue. The chorus was, however, well up to its work, the overture had been played with a dash and vigor that that put the audience in good humor, despite the paucity of the strings and the preponderance of brass, and Signor LEFRANC succeeded in the duet with Tell, more especially in the charming passage beginning ‘Ah, Matilde, io t’amo, e amore,’ in awakening the sympathies of the house. The chorus, ‘Alziamo, alziamo insieme il canto’ had previously been warmly applauded, and the principals and subordinates in the difficult bustling action and uproarious ensemble that ends the act managed what they had to do with spirit and effect. In the concerted pieces Mme. REICHERT, Mlle. LAMI and Signori REYNA, COLETTI and FOSSATI rendered zealous and worthy aid.

“In the second act Mme. BRIOL was in very fine voice, and acquitted herself admirably. The scene with Arnoldo (Signor LEFRANC) left scarcely anything to be wished, and strongly suggested the advantage accruing to the east from this lady’s good-natured acceptance of an inferior part. After the great trio that followed between Tell, Arnoldo and Walter—‘La Gloria infliammi—i nostri petti’—public approbation was warmly and deservedly expressed, and from this point it became clear that the Rubicon of success had been honorably crossed, and that unless something untoward should happen thereafter ‘William Tell’ was to be the operatic ‘hit’ of the season. The subsequent arrivals of the people of the Unterwald, of Uri, and the others, was nicely arranged, and the stirring conclusion ‘All armi!’ brought down the curtain with auspicious éclat. We had been led to expect not a few deletions of the score, but of those very few were thus far noticeable, and the opera had been given with as much fidelity in this regard as of painstaking in all others.

“The third act was well set, and the costumes, scenery, ballet—in fine, that which can only be briefly expressed by the phrase mise-en-scene—were very creditable indeed. The difficulties of which we have spoken appeared to be appreciated by the crowded and uncommonly attentive audience, and as those difficulties were one by one surmounted or avoided the general satisfaction was liberally noted. Signor REYNA in this act did uncommonly well with his trying music and situations, and Mlle. LAMI deserves praise for singing in her own and her father’s great scene, with much earnestness and feeling. The former in the affecting passages ‘Ti benedico, figlio mio, piagendo,’ and ‘Resto immobile, e ver la terra,’ succeeded in filling the situation more satisfactorily than was generally expected. The omission of Matilda’s scene at the end of this act constituted the first ‘important’ ‘cut’ that calls for mention. This portion is, however, often indeed usually left out. The fourth act, devoted as it almost exclusively is to Arnoldo, was passed over very swiftly, and it was obvious from its beginning that Signor LEFRANC was suffering from hoarseness, and consequently was unable to do his noble powers full justice. He, notwithstanding, made a splendid effort in the final adjuration, ‘Corriam, voliam, s’affretti,’ better known by the French ‘Suivez-moi!’ wherein DUPREZ was wont to rouse the excitable Parisians to such frantic enthusiasm as to lead them to insist that the opera should stop then and there—which, indeed, it should do as a matter of course, since there is no further interest about the action, and it is a thing understood that the cruel tyrant is promptly overthrown and the virtuous Swiss are as instantly triumphant. When Signor LEFRANC is in good voice, as we trust he may be to-night when ‘William Tell’ is repeated, he will electrify the public in this song—and then they will do well to imitate the Parisian example.

“Everything considered, the performance last night was a capital one. Of course, it would be easy to point out faults. We might indicate the slenderness of the chorus and orchestra, as compared with Old World standards; the inferiority of the minor singers, the deficiencies of the ballet, and other drawbacks from absolute perfection. That which we have to consider, however, is the material with which the management have worked, what the New-York public is at present willing to pay for, and some other lesser details which enter into the arrangement and substantially regulate the scale upon which grand opera can now be given here. When these things are properly and generously borne in mind, this representation of ‘William Tell’ at the Academy will be set down as highly honorable, and one that even the great maestro himself would assuredly regard with indulgent approval. We are glad in concluding to say that the plaudits last night were constant and sometimes tumultuous, and that we doubt not the repetition of the opera tonight will be still more attractive and successful.”

Advertisement: New-York Times, 25 November 1869, 7.

[NY World review excerpt] ‘Mr. Maretzek was met last night, in the production of the work, with every demonstration of emphatic approval. Mme. Carolina Briol appeared  the role of Matilda. She sang the ‘Selva Opoca’ in the second act with much more tenderness and pathos than she has heretofore shown, and was rewarded with an encore. Signor Lefranc exhibited to much better advantage than in any previous effort, the capabilities and graces of a rich and powerful voice—remarkably pure in its intonations and surprisingly flexible for one of so much calibre.”

Advertisement: New-York Times, 25 November 1869, 7.

[NY Tribune review excerpt] “Up to last night the feeling so difficult to define was strong in musical circles all through the country even that a great artist had been found, the performance of last night has fixed it into an abiding conviction. From the moment that the soft rich tones of the Tenor, in his opening aria of O Matilda, had stolen over the senses of the house, it subsided into a settled sentiment of delight. Mr. Maretzek will feel it his interest to give many repetitions of performance which is in every sense an honor to art in this country.”

Review: New York Sun, 26 November 1869, 2.

“Rossini’s masterpiece will be given for the third time this evening at the Academy. The public have shown a due appreciation of this great work. The Academy has been filled to its utmost on both occasions on which it has been given, and the audiences have listened with interest and even with enthusiasm.

“No higher test could be made of the strong love of music and the capacity to appreciate it on the part of our citizens than this. For Rossini has composed in no light spirit. He had made trivial works before this, but finally determined to put his whole power in one that should be the expression of his highest genius to is most serious mood.

“Unfortunately, he had an immensely dull libretto to contend against. It sticks fast from the very start. The subject was a noble one, but it was badly treated by the lyric dramatist. The first act is a dramatic standstill, but the music is of the most noble kind, and, for the musicians, sweeps over all defects. The very spirit of Switzerland is crystallized in the overture, which, save for the ignoble finale, would be perfect. The opening chorus overflows with sweet calm and peace, and is full of melody and repose so tender and beautiful that it is one of the most harmonious numbers in the whole score.

“The music is full of admirable coloring. Mendelssohn even envied Rossini the great gift that had enabled him to reflect so perfectly in tone the whole atmosphere of the Alps.    

“In the great assembling of the cantons the composer rises to the highest expression of his powers.  But nothing is written to merely catch the ear, and those who would enjoy ‘Tell’ must listen to it patiently and critically, content to know that it has received the stamp of approval of the greatest musicians, and that every bar of it was written with the most painstaking care, and deserves to be studied in a like spirit.

“On the whole,  Mr. Maretzek has given the opera an admirable setting. The inferior parts are somewhat weak, but the superior ones are in strong hands.

“Signor Lefranc  is truly a great artist, and will make his mark in Europe if his voice holds out. The music of ‘Tell’ puts it to a severe strain, for Rossini has written much of this Arnoldo part extraordinarily high, keeping his tenor above the staff constantly, pushing him even up to C sharp and constantly up to C, which in these days of a high diapason is enough to tear any ordinary voice to pieces in a week. He is young and fresh, and uses his power to the full, even inserting an aria in the fourth act usually omitted in mercy to tenors.

“The soprano röle in this opera is not one of special consequence. The one great aria that falls to her share Mme. Briol sings admirably well.

“It certainly is a matter on which we may congratulate ourselves, that we have a manager who has the enterprise to produce so great a work, and a public so willing to lend him the encouragement of their cordial support.”

Review: New-York Times, 27 November 1869, 6.

“The third representation of ‘William Tell’ at the Academy of Music last night, was far better than the first. The nervousness incident to an initial performance was no longer perceptible, the artists knew precisely what to expect from each other, the general desire to do their utmost was as manifest as on Tuesday, and the consequence was that a smoothness and precision resulted which were the theme of universal comment and approval. Signor LEFRANC was in splendid voice and his ‘Arnoldo’ was, therefore, an improvement on his previous excellent personation. This sterling artist is gaining rapidly on public esteem, and it is gratifying to see desert so genuine meet with flitting and speedy appreciation. His two songs of last night in the first act, the duet and the noble trio in the second act, and especially the magnificent call to arms at the end of the fourth, were each and all superior to the same efforts as witnessed on Tuesday, and richly merited the enthusiastic encouragement of an audience which seemed to us to excel in numbers as well as in intelligence that of the first occasion.”

Review: New-York Times, 28 November 1869, 5.

“As we anticipated, ‘William Tell’ has proved a trump card for the Italian Opera. It has been sung three times this week with steadily increasing popularity, and on Friday the performance was in some respects truly admirable. Signor LEFRANC was on this latter occasion in capital voice, and his spirit and force were such that the delight of the public was sometimes quite irrepressible, and burst forth in and out of season in tumultuous acclamations. We are anxious to see ‘William Tell’ run, believing that for the interest of both public and manager such will be the best possible policy. But, if Signor LEFRANC will pardon a comparison which obviously applies to but a solitary point, it will not do to kill the goose who lays the golden eggs. No tenor in our recollection has a freer method than Signor LEFRANC. He literally never spares himself. His singing of the first act of ‘Arnoldo’, such is his abandon, is precisely as if it were the last and his only work for the evening. But not even his remarkable strength can be expected to hold out if taxed with such tremendous efforts as the tenor part in ‘William Tell’ three and four times a week. This will, we hope, be fairly considered, and the requisite work so adjusted as to press with all attainable evenness upon the various artists concerned. The need for another baritone is palpable. Signor REYNA has done better with the arduous part of Tell than with any other he has attempted; but what with the demands of Brooklyn and Newark, in addition to those of the Metropolis, there is really too much in his line for any one human being to get through without, if not injury, unpleasant symptoms of fatigue.”