Maretzek Italian Opera: Masaniello

Event Information

Academy of Music

Manager / Director:
Max Maretzek

Max Maretzek

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
14 August 2021

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

04 Feb 1870, Evening
05 Feb 1870, 1:00 PM

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Unidentified


Announcement: New York Post, 03 February 1870, 2.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 03 February 1870, 7.
Review: New York Post, 05 February 1870, 4.

“It is nearly ten years since ‘Masaniello’ was last sung here. It was then given under the direction of Maretzek, with Brignoli and Amodio in the two prominent characters, and for a time was favorably received. The two vocalists sang the bright, melodious music allotted to them in a most agreeable manner, and the introduction of a live horse on the stage was considered a marvelous bit of realistic effect. A year previous to this performance the opera had been sung by Stigelli and Formes, with Madame Fabbri in the comparatively unimportant part of Elvira. In 1856 a German troupe gave the opera at Niblo’s, the singers being Miss Hensler, Brignoli and Amodio in the caste, and earlier in the year it received a superb interpretation for the benefit of Max Maretzek, the performers being Mlle. Bertucca and Signors Brignoli, Badiali and Coletti, with Mlle. Zoe as the dumb girl, Fenella. Earlier still than this, lyric annals record that Salvi sang in this opera to a New York audience; and thus we may trace back this interesting work til it is lost in the mists of remote antiquity that hover about the earlier days of its venerable composer, Auber. Of all the singers in foreign lands who have gained celebrity in the part of Masaniello, the French tenor Roger bears away the palm.

“The opera of ‘Masaniello’ has one great defect, in being deficient in a part suitable for a prima donna. Elvira having but one aria and a few pages of concerted music allotted to her, is generally given over to young beginners and seconda donnas, so that the work always lacks one great element of popular attraction. Last night, when it was revived at the Academy of Music, Mlle. Lami was the Elvira, and revealed a sweet, clear, high soprano voice, which, however pleasant in itself, needs further cultivation to properly assert its real merit. Reyna was the Pietro, and was thoroughly vigorous and picturesque in appearance and manner. Lefranc, as Masaniello, sustained the chief weight of the opera. He is less dramatic than some of his predecessors in the part, but sings as well as any of them. His first song, so well known in the familiar English translation, ‘Behold how brightly breaks the morning,’ was sung with more grace and with a proper attention to the sentiment of the words. The ‘Slumber song’ revealed to the best advantage Lefranc’s method of phrasing, but the spirited duet with Pietro elicited the greatest applause of the evening. At times Lefranc seemed to be overtaxing his resources, and an ugly hoarseness would mar some otherwise faultless passage.

“The minor parts of the opera were well sung, and the chorus was good throughout, especially in the beautiful, unaccompanied prayer. The scenery was new and interesting, and the tableaux at the end of the acts were in several instances strikingly picturesque.”

Review: New-York Times, 05 February 1870, 4.

“Whether it ranks high as a musical composition or not, there is something very inspiring about Auber’s ‘Masaniello.’ In lyrical matters, it sometimes happens that admirable music falls short of its proper effect because it is ill adapted to the story and language it essays to illustrate. It also occasionally happens that, while the music may be of no more than average merit, it is so nicely fitted to the libretto that the opera commands a lasting success. So it has been with ‘Masaniello.’ The music is suited to the words, and the words to the music; and hence arises a harmoniousness of effect, and a capacity, with good artists, for stirring up enthusiasm, which distinguished the opera on its first production, and which, to this day, are never lacking. The story itself contains two well-defined sources of popularity. The aspiration for political liberty and the defense of female honor are strong elements for awakening sympathy and constructing dramatic situations. A sudden rise, too, to grandeur and power always pleases the masses, however ready they may afterward be to topple over the hero of it. That a poor fisherman should, as it were, in a day, become the ruler of a State, delights the crowd—fishermen and others—by indicating the possibility of such exultation for each of themselves. That the scaly vagabond who has donned  the purple should meet destruction at last from his own kind, is of course a foregone conclusion. His overthrow is enjoyed by the rabble almost as much as his giddy ascent. One no better than they may be King, but they will not permanently be ruled over by such an one. Both consummations are therefore relished. There are other things in ‘Masaniello’ that are almost as satisfactory. Among these are a certain flavor of the open air, of sunny Italian skies, of the stretching, blue Mediterranean, and an impression of jocund, elastic life that are all very captivating. The melodies, likewise, are charmingly characteristic. We expect of simple fishermen only simple songs, and these we get, and they are of capital quality. The passion for freedom is sketched in more heroic numbers, and the feeling for the sacredness of the fireside is tenderly and gracefully outlined. On the whole, ‘Masaniello’ is one of the best of the lighter operas, and has always pleased and will go on pleasing much better than many works of more lofty pretensions.

“The representation of ‘Masaniello,’ last night, at the Academy, offered many features that challenged admiration, and some that justify censure. Of the former the singing of Signor Lefranc, although uneven, was often exceedingly fine. We think of this artist as a tenor of force, so to speak, rather than a tenor of graciousness, and the finer passages of his rôle, while given by him on this occasion with exquisite appreciation, were less effective than the thrilling bursts of melody with which he has delighted his audience in Arnoldo and Manrico. Still there were moments last night when Signor Lefranc showed all his power, and when none who look for great things to warrant his great reputation could have been disappointed. Neither the representative of Elvira nor Alfonzo, we are sorry to say, are adequate to the parts thus assumed. Mlle. Sand was a tolerable Fenella, and Signor Reyna a fair Pietro. The appointments of the opera were rather meagre, compared with its exigent demands, although little fault could be found with either chorus or orchestra. There should be something like splendor in the coronation scene, and the noble simplicity that did duty in its place was rather ludicrous than imposing. The overture was well played, and, on the whole, the performance was an enjoyable one.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 05 February 1870, 7.

“The revival of Italian opera last night, after a sleep of several years, was evidently for the sole purpose of allowing Signor Lefranc to be heard in a fresh part which well suits for the display of his most conspicuous merits. In the vigorous and stirring music of the patriotic fisherman his superb voice resounds with more remarkable power than in any other role which he has yet attempted, and the character, if not his best, will become, we are persuaded, one of his most popular. He produced some very charming effects with the famous barcarole, [Italian illegible] (‘Behold, the morn is breaking,’) when he first appears upon the stage, at the beginning of the second act; he kindled a fury of enthusiasm by his vociferous duet with Pietro, O santo ardor, in the next scene. But mixed audiences are never satisfied with a single hearing of what is good, so Signor Lefranc very unwisely yielded to the demand for a repetition. Anybody might have perceived that he had already taxed himself to the utmost, and that a duet like this was not to be trifled with. Signor Lefranc paid the penalty of his good natured rashness, and so nearly lost the control of his voice that the second rendering of the duet threatened to end in a musical catastrophe. This admirable artist is ruining his voice with incredible rapidity, and if he keeps on at the present pace he will hardly outlast two more seasons. Is there no judicious friend to check his needless enthusiasm, no wisdom in the councils of the manager, who is recklessly exhausting a vein from which he might with care draw a good income for years to come? To-day Signor Lefranc proposes repeating his ruinous exercises at a matinee; on Monday he is going through the same process again. To us these exhibitions are about as pleasant as would be the self-mutilations of Hindoo devotees of the combats of gladiators. That the public regard them, however, with a sort of savage delight, is evident from the fact that they applaud them to the echo, ask for them all over again, and fill the Academy even to the back benches.

“Of the performance, apart from Signor Lefranc’s share, charity bids us say little. The fresh and charming choruses went with great spirit and force, and the stage settings were all that we have any right to expect at the Academy of Music under its present system of government. But the solos were not brilliant. Mdlle. Lami, in her opening aria, gave promise of doing better than usual, but she did not keep it, and her Elvira was consequently tame. The other roles were entrusted to Signors Reyna, Reichardt, and Barili, all of whom there is nothing to be said with which the public is not already familiar. The dumb girl Fenella was acted by Mdlle. Marie Sand, whose pantomime was indefatigable—not to say spasmodic. It is an ungrateful part to criticize, for Fenella is expected to do what no human creature could do under any circumstances, to tell by gestures a long and intricate story which is hard enough to understand even with the aid of a book, and to be invariably graceful, which no gesticulating dumb girl ever was in the world. The young lady did her best and gave pleasure to many of the audience. Truth to say, however, this is only a scratch company collected to support Lefranc. It is only the tenor for whom people seem to care, and as he appears to be going so fast to destruction, people had better hear him as often as they can during the present season.”

Review: New-York Times, 06 February 1870, 4.

“No new play and no important revival of an old one has called for notice this week unless we except the production of ‘Masaniello,’ on Friday, at the Academy of Music. Mr. Maretzek’s experience seems to have persuaded him that so long as he has a single pearl of great price the rest of his stage jewels may safely be of glass and tinsel. Lefranc is certainly a superb tenor, but he needs rest, and most of his associates are, artistically, by no means what they should be. It may be true that no money could be made by having a strong company, but we are not justified in saying that the public are satisfied with the present one or think it is what they have a right to expect. No one knows better than Mr. Maretzek that New York will never attain that metropolitan rank in the scale of art to which her people laudably aspire until the conjuncture of a manager willing to bring and audiences willing to pay for first-class operatic talent shall be forthcoming. Pending this, it is perhaps only right that the public should be supplied with the best the market affords; and that the lyrical Academy should not always present an imitation of the bad aspects of the starring system as seen in the ordinary drama.”