Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
25 September 2013
“‘Ione’ will be given in a style of magnificence hitherto unattempted at our
“Card to the Public: In announcing the production of this new grand addition to his lyric repertoire, on a scale of unrivaled splendor and completeness in every department, the Director would state that he does so in fulfillment of the design he announced at the commencement of the season, of producing each work in the most full and complete manner, with the view of restoring the Lyric Drama to that high position it once occupied here, and still occupies in Europe. . .”
“An immense audience filled the Academy last night to hear the new opera. The powerful cast, including all the favorite artists of the Maretzek troupe, as well as the promised display of new costumes and scenery, were inducements which the habitués of our Academy could not resist, and the house was literally jammed. Of Petrella we know but little in connection with Opera save as regards the really fine composition ‘Ione.’ In Italy several of his works have been given successfully, but beyond that home of music his fame scarcely reached till now. ‘Ione’ is an opera distinguished above all by a melody which, from its singular character, rather confuses those as yet unaccustomed to its beauties.
We have no space to review the opera at length. In the first act the most pleasing morceau was the brindisi so admirably rendered by Mazzoleni (Glauco). This melody is indeed charming and dwells upon the ear. The composer, aware of its attraction, introduces it at times throughout the second act with great success. We wish here to dwell upon the admirable acting of Signor Mazzoleni, who added to the attraction of his splendid voice by his dramatic force. We notice that in no case does this artist transcend the natural, and yet he is ever forcible. He is, beyond all singers we have known, graceful in all his actions.
In the second act the public began to appreciate better the peculiar qualities of the opera. The applause was warmer. The duo between Borbo (Biachi) and Nidia (Sulzer) was eminently successful, although the tremolo somewhat marred the latter’s efforts. Mazzoleni (Glauco) in this act was greatly applauded. Having taken the philter administered by Nidia in a fit of jealousy he portrayed its poisonous effects in the most admirable manner. Here again his brindisi called from the public loud applause.
The third act was the great success of the evening. In the commencement the obligato was admirably executed; but the triumph was the grand finale, which roused the audience to enthusiastic applause. The artists were called before the curtain. In fact, a determined effort was made to induce their second appearance.
The fourth act, like the third, was vastly successful. The audience by this time fully entered into the spirit of the opera and applauded boisterously. We regret that want of space forces us to omit mention of the many gems in this work we have passed by unnoticed, but we may safely assert that its success was undoubted. Mme. Medori, as Ione, was truly grand in her personation of the role. She sang it with all her accustomed grandeur of style and voice, and was eminently successful.
Signors Bellini and Biachi fully came up to the excellence which we expected in them.
The mise en scene of the opera was really fine, while the choruses and orchestra were admirable. The chimes, at the commencement of the third act, was most successfully rendered. The instrumental music in this opera is extremely beautiful.”
“The national fondness for novelty was exemplified last night at the Academy of Music, when, notwithstanding the very disagreeable weather, the house was crowded to excess by the most enthusiastic audience of the season.
Petrella’s new opera, ‘Ione—gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii’—was the attraction. Of the composer nothing is known here, and the libretto did not give any information about him. Though several of his operas have met with success in Italy, ‘Ione’ is the only one that has travelled out of the fatherland. Its music shows considerable originality and nervous power, occasional strainings after effect, and many new features of decided novelty—so that at the end of the first act, the audience seemed undecided whether to be pleased or not. The second act gave greater satisfaction, and the delirious scena of Glauco—so superbly sung and acted by Mazzoleni—produced a deep impression. The great triumph of the opera was, however, the superb dramatic finale of the third act, where Ione, protected by Glauco, defies the magician Arbacaces. All the principal performers were twice called before the curtain, and the enthusiasm was such as is rarely witnessed out of Italy.
In the fourth act there is a fine march, an exciting duo, and a great amount of scenic effect, ending with the eruption of Vesuvius and the fall of Pompeii. The scenery is, as a general thing, very good, though the view in Ferrara—painted for ‘Lucrezia Borgia’—is drafted into service to represent a street in Pompeii.
The music of ‘Ione’ possesses so much originality, and is so different from what our audiences have lately been accustomed to hearing, that more than one hearing is necessary to judge of its merits. It leaves an impression of violence, for it exceeds in noise and tumult any of Verdi’s operas. It may be said to lack repose. The characters are, dramatically viewed, always in a state of mental excitement—they do not have time to make love—and so the music has to partake of the characteristic perturbation. There are some very brilliant, striking melodies, among which the highly original and singular bacchanalian song in the first act is most prominent.
The opera was splendidly interpreted, Medori, Mazzoleni, Bellini, and Biachi all finding parts adapted to their vigorous style and large resources. Miss Sulzer was interesting as the slave Nidia, and appeared to better advantage than in any of her previous roles. The repeated applause proved that the audience highly appreciated the efforts of the singers.”
[Detailed description of the plot, in time for opening night.]
“The first performance of a new opera, under any circumstances, is an event of great musical importance, but when, in addition to the novelty of the work itself, we are called upon to assist at the introduction of a new composer, the occasion is doubly interesting. Although Italy is the Mother of the Arts, it must be confessed that in music she has not lately had many additions to her family. Verdi—her favorite child—has for fifteen years supplied the operatic stage with works of general interest, but even he has wearied of the labor, and now writes but seldom. Of Mercadante, Pacini, and other platitudinous old moderns, it is useless to speak. Their works, like certain kinds of Italian wine, are good enough on the spot where they are produced, but they are much too feeble to bear transportation, and hence are comparatively unknown.
It is characteristic of Mr. Maretzek’s watchfulness, that he has discovered and been the means of making us acquainted with the only composer who is young enough in years and vigorous enough in talent to have a future before him. Petrella, the composer of ‘Ione, or the Last Days of Pompeii,’ produced here last evening [sic] for the first time in America, is a Neapolitan, of about thirty-two years of age. His career began half a dozen years ago, when he brought out an opera called ‘Marco Visconti’ with success. This was followed, a couple of years later, by a comic opera called ‘I Precautionii,’ which was also received with favor. Petrella’s third and latest work, ‘Ione,’ was produced two years ago, and has been played with great success at the principal Italian theatres ever since. It has not yet found its way to London or Paris.
The plot of ‘Ione’ is derived mainly from Bulwer’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii. Owing, perhaps, to the dramatic strength of this work, the libretto is somewhat more coherent and effective than such productions are apt to be. The situations are well arranged, although not always pleasing, and the grouping of the ensembles is devised with due regard to logical contrast and stage effect. As everyone will purchase the book for consultation, (surreptitiously or openly,) it is unnecessary to say more on the subject.
Before speaking broadly and briefly of the obvious characteristics of the work, we may mention that it is divided into four acts, and that there is but one finale (that to the third act) where the maestro combines all his forces. How readily he can handle them is amply demonstrated in this fine number. It is bold, massive and melodious, and wrought with a tenacity of purpose and recurrence of idea that we seldom find in Italian music. With a decidedly popular vein of melody, and a naturalness that frequently leads him to the borders of absolute simplicity, the composer, here and elsewhere contrives to pique the taste with odd rhythms and curious figures. He seems in a word to have a distinct purpose in all that he does, pursuing it with a frankness that is charming, and avoiding, as some German writers do, all the suave generalities that lie in his way, and are so irresistibly tempting to Verdi. The grand finale, to which we have referred, the trio finale of the first, and the duetto finale of the second act, display a high degree of constructive talent, and a musical roundness of form which is as refreshing as it is rare. To this must be added the fact that Signor Petrella writes well for the voice; and, although full of affectations, despises none of the ordinary means of producing vehement effects, such as unisons, thirds, &c. Stepping from the stage to the orchestra, we find the best use made of material there, and occasionally such startling freshness of subject and vigor of handling, that little is left to be desired. The preponderance of brass instruments is perhaps a defect, as it is surely an irritation, but the greater part of the orchestration is clear, brilliant and suggestive.
The impression created by the work, apart from general saliencies of melody, is a favorable one to the capacity of the author. His style lacks the fluency of the present school of Italian music; but, as a substitute, it possesses a quaint and pleasing originality of its own, which will, undoubtedly, improve on acquaintance. There is not, perhaps, the same amount of inspiration that we find in the best of Verdi’s works; but the ideas are treated with unusual skill, and elaborated with the knowledge of a thorough musician. That Sig. Petrella is this admits of no doubt. The treatment of the orchestra in several of the numbers, notably the slow movement of the soprano cavatina in the first act, the whole of the third act, and the end of the opera, leaves no doubt on this subject. There are portions of the work, indeed, that have not been excelled by any Italian composer.
The performance on Monday evening in all leading respects was excellent. We have seldom heard Mme. Medori to greater advantage. She was in admirable voice, and acted with more than her usual grace and power. Signor Mazzoleni was simply superb in all his rôle, singing and playing with a degree of spirit that could not be excelled without destroying the merit of the performance. Mlle. Sulzer, Signors Biachi and Bellini, were thoroughly good. We lack space to dwell on the special excellencies of the various artists; a brief mention of their success must suffice. The orchestra, under the able direction of Signor Nuno, was efficient, but the chorus was neither steady nor strong. New scenery and costumes have been prepared for the opera, and it is by all odds the best mounted work we have had for many years. It was received with much applause; the principal artists being called out after each act, and receiving a double recall after the finale to the third act.”
“The death, burial, and resurrection of Pompeii is the most startling even in human history. It is out of the range of epic grandeurs and terrors; war, pestilence, and famine are all cheap common-places in comparison with the arch-horror of the fate of the ancient city, overwhelmed in the hellish vomit of Vesuvius, and its grace, pride, and glory extinguished in a moment; and then exhumed after an interment of two thousand years.
The lively talent of Mr. Bulwer has taken Pompeii for the scene of a novel. If he has failed to vitalize his characters, he has made a story of certain merit, owing to the romance of the time and place. On this tale Signor Errigo [sic] Petrella of Naples has constructed a four-act Grand Opera. The composer is a new name, but not a young man. Some sixty winters have passed over his head; why he has not been before the public sooner, does not appear.
All his musico-academic work is artistic and intellectual. He evinces a complete training in lyrical rhetoric, and in the uses of the voices and instruments. The plot he has selected to treat tends all toward tragedy—both in the classic nature of the characters and their serious looks and statements; and yet there is no tragedy—for the death of Nidia is rather a sad incident than an element of the work. It might have been put off and no harm done to the business generally. We have accordingly, much tragic music, but leading to a happy conclusion;--that is the lovers are finally set right and, as the children say, live in peace and die in Greece. We therefore experience a certain disappointment at the denouement. It would be highly gratifying to have all the people on the stage killed.
In regard to the music, there are two main things necessary for the opera: first ideas, which are clear cut and memorable, and next the setting of the melodic diamonds. We never venture an opinion on the promise of enduring popularity as to melodies; that can only be determined by the public and by time. But as regards the function of the artist, we are prepared to state that this composer has distinguished himself by his constant and conscientious efforts to give rich coloring to his orchestral work and to the form of his pieces. We have, accordingly, the modern resources of the orchestra in great sonority and dramatic emphasis, and a regard for the business of the scene in connection with the music.
The plot of the piece can be readily understood from the following Argument, contained in the published libretto: [Provides plot synopsis.]
The heroine, Ione, was performed by Madame Medori. She displayed all her customary energy, and moreover, more vocal flexibility than in her previous efforts. The slave, Nidia, was intrusted [sic] to Mlle. Sulzer, who gave much pleasure by her delineation. The high priest was acted and sung by Signor Bellini in a commanding style. The tavern-keeper, Burbo, answering to the “gentlemanlike proprietor” of modern times, brought out the wonderful vocal training of Signor Biachi. Of Signor Mazzolini [sic], it may be truly affirmed that he never more distinguished himself than he did in his mode of rendering the part of Glauco. We may particularly instance the scene where he is supposed to be under the influence of the witch’s deception.
The music which made the most impression on the house, was the large, well-emphasized finale to the third act. The duet between the high priest and the soprano received the next best applause. The Academy audiences are not distinguished for fervor, but on Monday night, marked cordiality was bestowed at certain points of the work, and the singers were loudly called before the curtain.
There is some classic addition to the scenery-painting after Pompe’s Models—which added to the romantic interest of the work.
There were some additions to the ordinary stage forces: a band behind the scenes, and some ballet dancers.
From the manner in which the opera was received by a magnificent audience we should judge that its prosperity is assured, and the liberal enterprise of Mr. Maretzek promises to meet with a competent reward.”
"The success of Ione more than strengthened the second performance; it grew and was visible with a characteristic of unanimity that it didn't have at first. In familiarizing itself with this new music, the ear discovers numerous and real beauties; pieces that passed almost imperceptibly the first evening were covered with applause. One must say that the execution was truly admirable, as to both singing and acting. In feeling the public less cool, the artists became more sure of themselves and trusted themselves entirely. Mme Medori, Mlle Sulzer, Mazzoleni, Biachi, one must name them all in the same rank to be accurate.
The encores could only follow one another, and there were up to three consecutive ones at the end of the third act.
The scenery worked as desired, and thanks to some modifications [it] earned new praises."
“A much better impression [than that of the performance of Semiramide in March] was produced by the new opera Mr. Maretzeck [sic] brought out. Its name is ‘Jone, or the last days of Pompeji’ [sic ] and its contents are based upon Bulwer’s well-known novel. The following is the argument of the libretto:— [Provides lengthy synopsis of the plot.]
Our readers will see, that this libretto (by Giovanni Peruzzini) compares rather favorably with a great many others of modern times. There is less nonsense in it than, for instance, in ‘Trovatore,’ and certainly as much scope for effects. The music is written with great talent, which, if belonging to a young man, promises for the future. If Signor Errigo Petrella has given us one of his first efforts in this opera he promises to become a successor of Verdi in the favor of the public; if he has composed already his twenty or thirty operas, and this ‘Jone’ is his best, then his chances are but poor. For it cannot be denied, that the inventive powers of the new composer do not shine to such an advantage, as for instance in Verdi’s earlier scores. There are a great many modern composers all over the world, whose ideas are only original by means of good memory. They commence a melody, but suddenly remembering, that somebody else commenced just in the same way, they finish it in their own fashion. Signor Petrella often falls into this trap, but this does not prevent him of finding occasionally the true musical expression for the poetical idea of the book, and to be on the whole very effective.
The second act seems to be musically the best, there is more fluency, more real melody in it, than in the other acts. There is also a brindisi of the tenor, which may be favorably mentioned, and a funeral march in the last act of a very effective coloring. The orchestral treatment is poor, and sometimes awfully thin; some of the introductions to the different arias are so queer, that one does not exactly know, whether they are not meant to be some of the modern Italian jokes. A solo for the clarionet [sic] might have been left out with advantages.
The performance was excellent. It was acted by Signora Medori and Signors Mazzoleni, Bellini and Biachi with great spirit, and sung accordingly. Mlle. Sulzer, too, gave a very true picture of the loving slave Nidia. The audience seemed to be highly satisfied with the new opera, and we have no doubt, that the latter will prove an attraction for some time to come.
Just before going to Press, we hear from a gentleman, who has seen Signor Petrella several times at Naples, that he is a man of about sixty years, that he has lived most of his time at Naples, and that he became principally known by a little comic opera ‘Gli Precauzione.’”
“The new opera, Ione, affords excellent opportunity to Madame Medori for the marvelous gush of vocal sonority which is the source of her preëminence. Fine vocalists, in ordinary, are content to give their fullest tones occasionally, for the best of reasons: they would break down if they attempted more. But Madame Medori appears to be beyond the fixed and settled rules of schools and the letter of the law, and to be a fountain of resonance, and not a reservoir. Nothing seems to daunt or weary her in puissant declamation.
Signor Mazzoleni has the same order of apparently inexhaustible vocal strength. He never reserves his forces for last moments, but jumps into medias res, and seems as fresh in the fourth act as in the first.
Signor Biachi is one of the few living masculine bass voices that can undertake Rossini’s music with its multitudinous notes. Bass voice as he is—with all the essential drawbacks of the slow vibrations belonging to sonorous depths—he executes with the agility and certainty of a light feminine voice. As the race of such artists tends toward extinction, amateurs may do well to take advantage of his presence.
The other artists distinguished themselves in the satisfaction of as brilliant audiences as ever were assembled within the walls of the Academy.”
“[A] magnificent cast and with very fine scenic effects.” Signed T.W.M.
“The name of Petrella, the composers [sic] of ‘Ione,’ is little or not at all known here. He is a man of more than fifty years of age, who has attained a certain celebrity in Italy as the composer of five or six tolerably successful operas. The book of this opera, written by Peruzzini, and partly founded on Bulwer’s novel ‘The last days of Pompeii’—with the plot of which all who read are well acquainted—is highly dramatic, while some of the verses are written with considerable poetic feeling. As to the music—it is certainly not all of the stereotyped Italian cut, but often original in melody (nevertheless, reminiscences abound), and some of the recitatives are truly expressive of the words and situation. The finales to the second and third acts are remarkably effective. The instrumentation is fine at rare intervals; and again, often below mediocrity. The opera is, throughout, of unequal merit; but its beauties counterbalance its defects; and, partly owing to its dramatic plot, the interest never flags. It strikes us as the work of a man, who, had his knowledge at all equaled his natural gifts, might have made a great composer. The reminiscences to be found in the work, go to support this conclusion. Was it not Lord Bacon who said, that the more a man knows, the more original he becomes (provided, of course, that the matter that makes the foundation of originality be already there)?
Mme. Medori sang superbly as Ione, and Mazzoleni sang and acted admirably the part of Glauco; his fine and distinct enunciation of the words being, as usual, one of the greatest charms of his singing; would we could say as much of Mlle. Sulzer; but her pronunciation is so vague and imperfect, that the whole tone-coloring of her voice becomes monotonous and tame, principally from this cause. The opera was well put upon the stage; and, if we may trust to encores, recalls, applause, and three performances, has been extraordinarily successful.”
“The opening performances were very successful, both as regards the attendance and reception of the opera. There are some decided gems in the opera, but also some similar musical defects to those so frequent in Verdi’s operas. By the way, we regret to notice a falling off in the excellence that has characterized the production of the first two or three operas under the Maretzek management. We have no doubt Max would—if he could afford it—characterize every operatic effort with the same regard for completeness of appointments, &c., that marked the opening of his repertoire, but the fact is, it ‘don’t pay,’ and that fact is disgraceful to the patrons of opera in this country. . . . The fact is, managing the opera in the
Expenses of one good operatic representation . . . . . . . . . . $1,600
Receipts of one good operatic representation (average) . . . . 1,200
Excess of outlay over income . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $400
Now, carry this calculation through a season of twenty nights, and a loss of $8,000 is the result. This is enough to startle the most enterprising manager, and ‘give him pause, ‘ere he proceeds in any undertaking. Just think of having to foot the bills of the following interesting items of expenses:--To Madame Medori, $3,000; to M’lle Sulzer, $1,000; to M’lle Ortolani Brignoli, $1,000; to Signor Mazzoleni, $2,000; to Signor Bellini, $1,000; and to Signor Biachi, $1,000; the above being monthly payments, made with all the risks of the numerous ‘indispositions’ these artists are so prone to.”