Brignoli Italian Opera: Un ballo in maschera

Event Information

Academy of Music

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
9 July 2022

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

24 May 1870, Evening

Program Details

Imogen Brown’s operatic debut (citations often spell her name Imogene). Lefranc was scheduled to sing but owing to indisposition was replaced at the last minute by Signor Phillippe. This substitution also necessitated a change in program (Don Giovanni had been scheduled).

Performers and/or Works Performed


Advertisement: New York Herald, 19 May 1870, 9.
Advertises Don Giovanni.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 19 May 1870, 7.

Advertises Don Giovanni.

Announcement: New York Post, 21 May 1870, 4.

“…the part of Amelia [will] be taken by a lady of this city who is well known in amateur circles, and who for some time has been studying for the lyric stage.”

Advertisement: New York Herald, 22 May 1870, 8.

Advertises Un ballo in maschera.

Announcement: New York Herald, 23 May 1870, 10.

“To-morrow night ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ will be presented, and a new artist, Mrs. Imogen Brown, will appear.”

Advertisement: New-York Times, 24 May 1870, 7.

Advertises Un ballo in maschera.

Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 24 May 1870, 4.

Brief. “This evening Mrs. Imogen Brown, an amateur well known in the concert room, will make her debut on the operatic stage. She is to sing Amelia in the ‘Ballo.’”

Review: New York Herald, 25 May 1870, 6.

“Verdi’s opera, one of the most fantastic and, perhaps, labored that ever he wrote, was brought out last night at this house, under very disadvantageous circumstances, which put the calibre [sic] of the troupe to the most severe test imaginable. There was no rehearsal. Mr. Lefranc, the tenor, was indisposed and was replaced at a moment’s notice by a newcomer, Signor Phillippe—who, however, proved a more than adequate substitute—and Mrs. Imogen Brown, a soprano of this city, made her début in public in the extremely trying role of Amelia. There was not even an orchestral rehearsal. The opera is the most difficult of all the composer’s works, for it lacks the spontaneity so eminently characteristic of him. Therefore when we state that it was creditably performed we bear testimony to the genuine excellence of the company. The principal feature was the exquisite impersonation of Oscar by Miss Isabella McCulloch, who looked charming in page’s dress and sang like the true artist she is. Mrs. Brown has a fine soprano voice, but the part under the circumstances was rather too much for her. She gave promise, however, of becoming a valuable acquisition to the ranks of our lyric artists, and experience will do wonders for her. The tenor has a robust, strident voice, which is very effective in tours de force, and is more reliable than that of the gentleman he replaced.”

Review: New-York Times, 25 May 1870, 4.

“Mrs. Imogene Brown’s first appearance on the operatic stage, effected last evening at the Academy of Music, was, taking into account the disadvantageous circumstances which preceded and attended it, a very satisfactory début. The circumstances in question were neither few nor unimportant. To mention the two most potent only we [sic] may point to the choice of the opera, which choice, as the medium for a premier pas, was thoroughly injudicious, and, to the withdrawal, at the eleventh hour, of Signor Lefranc, and the replacing of that artist by a stranger. ‘Un Ballo in Maschera,’ is not only, to our taste, one of the most melodic of the Italian composer’s works, but also one of his most varied in respect of motives and of instrumentation. It will not however please by these merits alone. Its story is essentially dramatic, and is told at too great length not to need histrionic emphasis. Hence its unfitness as a vehicle for the introduction of a person in whom a lack of stage experience must perforce be a conspicuous characteristic. The absence of Signor Lefranc compelled, of course, the representation to occur without previous rehearsal, and the danger of such an attempt, sufficiently apparent in the case of a matured prima donna, became quite appalling to an unfledged songstress such as Mrs. Brown. Yet the impression made by the lady was favorable, if not wholly decisive. Her voice is a light soprano, of fair compass, of more than average firmness, sweetness and purity, and weakest in those notes which, to be candid, an artist who would sing in modern grand opera, and give to declamatory passages their proper weight, ought to posses. That time will enlarge its volume and range, is by no means impossible, and time will also, we are sure, give the lady an appreciation of strict tempo and accuracy of intonation, some departures from which were noticeable on the occasion we write of. The sympathetic quality of the voice, a good power of sustention, and facility in swelling and diminishing the uppermost notes—actual gifts, we should say, rather than ability developed into remarkable talent—were, to be brief, the principal subjects of Mrs. Brown’s first display. Though she was at a disadvantage by a want of rehearsals with the new artist who was Ricardo it must be recorded that at no stage of the performance was its progress impeded by him. Signor Felippe [sic], whose existence was discovered at a late hour yesterday afternoon, is a tenor di grazia, whose voice is not very fresh, but who has taste and skill, and who, by careful management of his resources—‘I’ll husband them so well, they shall go far with little’—got for the popular and proportionally effective parts of the work a cordial reception. Signor Felippe [sic] found favor with his hearers from his first phrase in the delicious romanza ‘La rivedra nell’estasi,’ and he retained it until the end of the evening, by an even and conscientious personation no less than by his remembered good will in obeying such hurried summons as he received. Renato was embodied by Signor Petrilli who sang well throughout, and who was compelled to repeat the cantabile, ‘O dolcezze perdute,’ which he recited with much sentiment. Miss McCulloch represented the page rather heavily, and failed utterly to attain the higher notes of the florid close of the song ‘Saper voreste.’ Miss Frida de Gebele personated Ulrica.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 25 May 1870, 5.

Portions very difficult to read.

“The ‘Ballo in Maschera’ was announced last night for the debut in the part of Amelia of Mrs. Imogen Brown, a lady who has already become favorably known [in] New-York by her performance in sundry semi-public concerts. As it turned out, we were also favored with the debut of a new tenor, Signor Le Franc being too ill to appear. Both were successful. Mrs. Brown has a sweet [illeg.] delicate style, and though she is hardly equal [to] the demands of the more passionate scenes of the [illeg.] the gentler passages she sang always well and [illeg.] charmingly. Although she had not been [allowed?] a full stage rehearsal, and was obliged, moreover, to accept a tenor with whom she had never sung a [note?], very little embarrassment was perceptible in her manner, and her action was better than that of many [illeg.]. The new tenor is Signor Filippe, who [came] here about three months ago from Brazil, and [has] ever since been trying in vain to be heard. We have [no] doubt he will now be heard often, for he has made his [mark]. He is not an accomplished artist but his voice is [illeg.] sweet and pleasant quality, and in the upper register he produces some excellent fortissimo effects [that] hardly ever fail to bring down the house. Miss McCulloch was the Page—a character in which she is [al]ways good, and the other parts were acceptably rendered by [lists cast].

“The orchestra, as usual, was coarse.”

Review: New York Post, 25 May 1870, 4.

“Mrs. Imogen Brown has been known in sacred music circles as a vocalist in one of our fashionable church choirs. At a few concerts, and notably at that recently given by the Church Music Association, she showed a promising degree of vocal skill. Her friends knew that she was studying for the stage under a popular professor; but the public was rather surprised to see her announced as the prima donna in the ‘Ballo in Maschera’ last night. It was a bold undertaking for a lady unaccustomed to the stage to assume at first so difficult a part. There were also special difficulties which the public is not expected to know. On the day of the performance, Lefranc sent word that he was too sick to sing, and his place had to be taken by a stranger tenor, with whom the prima donna had never rehearsed. Under these circumstances Mrs. Brown did more than well. Her voice is musical and velvety, and we are disposed to attribute to the effects of timidity the occasional deflections from correct intonations. Mrs. Brown in other respects reminds us more of Mrs. Van Zandt than of any other recent American debutante; and there is every reason to expect for her an equal measure of success to that already achieved abroad by that estimable vocalist. She is of course only at the beginning of her career. Long study and ample stage practice are required before she can claim the rank of a metropolitan prima donna; but she should be encouraged by the friendly reception of last night to continue on the new path she has begun to enter. The ‘Ballo in Maschera’ is, however, by no means an opera adapted for a debut. It is exacting and highly dramatic; and in a more tender and sympathetic work, like Bellini’s ‘Sonnambula’ or Donizetti’s ‘Lucia,’ the young vocalist is surer of enlisting more readily the sympathies of an audience.

‘The performance of the opera last night was otherwise mildly satisfactory. Petrilli, the baritone, sang very tastefully in the favorite scena of the last act, and was encored. The place of the sick and absent Lefranc was filled by Signor Fillippi, a singer who has just arrived here from South America. He has a fine robust voice and a handsome stage presence, and seemed well up in the part. His chief fault is his atrocious manner of attacking the high notes, as if he wished to attract the attention of people in Hoboken. Such vehemence is inartistic. Otherwise the stranger gave satisfaction, and was kindly received. Miss McCulloch as the Page, and Mrs. de Gebele as the Sorceress, added much to the interest of the performance. The attendance was small.”

Review: New York Sun, 25 May 1870, 1.

“At the Academy of Music last evening, the opera of ‘Il Ballo in Maschera’ was performed. The occasion was one of special interest, being the first appearance of an excellent tenor (Filippe) and the début of a lady (Mrs. Imogene Brown), who showed her good sense in nothing more pointedly than in not calling herself Signora Bruno. The audience, if not numerous, was at least enthusiastic. Mrs. Brown’s appearance is attractive. She has a good figure and an intelligent, sympathetic face. Her actions were easy and discreet; her exits and entrances—most difficult of management for novices—were very proper. In the matter of voice there was the purity and facility which seems so usual in the better order of American voices, but the volume was wanting which is necessary to insure for the lady a leading place as a prima donna. Stage training will develop many tones that are now uneven, and the intelligence and poise which the lady has already shown is a promise of her becoming a charming operatic singer in a house of more moderate dimensions than the Academy. At the last moment it was found that the treacherous voice of Le Franc had deserted him, and a newly arrived tenor from Europe via Brazil, named Filippe, volunteered in his stead.Without rehearsal, and on a new stage many allowances are demanded; and it is in view of these that the success of the debutante, as well as that of Signor Filippe, may be considered as decided. His voice is a high tenor, not of great volume, but clear and true; his style good and bright. The page’s part of Miss McCulloch was more than ordinarily well done. The season is announced as closing. It would be well to give so good artists as these late comers a further hearing under more advantageous conditions as to rehearsal and preparation.”

Review: New York Clipper, 04 June 1870, 70.

“On Tuesday evening, the weather made the attendance slim, and the cast not embracing the name of Kellogg also militated against a full house. The opera presented was ‘Un Ballo in Maschera,’ in which Mrs. Imogene Brown made her first appearance in opera. No rehearsal was had and Sig. Filipi, a new tenor, had to replace Sig. Le Franc, who was indisposed; therefore, it would be unjust to criticise [sic] a performance given under such disadvantageous circumstances.”