Manager / Director:
Price: $2; reserved, $3 and $4
17 December 2022
The soprano leaves Europe today; artists accompanying her.
Soprano’s departure by steamer from Liverpool. Forthcoming series of six concerts.
The soprano’s arrival in New York, together with her troupe; forthcoming serenade tonight.
Includes program for forthcoming first concert.
The great event of this week; forthcoming programme for tonight.
Warning against ticket speculators for tonight’s concert.
“To say that Steinway Hall was crowded last night would but faintly express the number of the music lovers that listened to the Swedish Nightingale within its walls. The wealth and fashion of the city, the belles of the watering places, the loungers of the clubs, litterateurs, musical and dramatic artists, theatrical managers, clergymen and professionals of every possible description were present. Even the upper gallery, scarcely ever used before, shone with full toilets and kid gloves, and the lights fell on diamonds and gleaming tresses from the stage to the Fourteenth street door. Never before since it was built did Steinway Hall present such a brilliant and inspiring sight. It was a critical audience withal, not one easily led away by the glitter of any name, but prepared to judge for itself, as might be expected from the crème de la crème of America’s metropolis. Each remembered that the greatest lyric artists that the world ever heard sang in this city, and was prepared to render a fair, impartial verdict on the Nightingale and her assistants. Her triumph was, then, one that she might well be proud of; one that added fresh lustre to her fame and a new chaplet of laurels to her genius.
“Mlle. Nilsson sang ‘Angels Bright and Fair,’ from Handel’s ‘Theodora;’ the celebrated mad scene from ‘Hamlet” and the cavatina ‘Ah! fors e lui,’ from ‘Traviata.’ When she first made her appearance she received such an enthusiastic reception as rarely falls to the lot of any artist and flowers, from the huge pyramid down to the tiny nosegay, were showered on the stage. Her dress was of white corded silk, very rich and elegant, and well adapted to her beautiful, expressive, childlike face and tall, graceful form. The diamonds which gleamed in her fair hair and nestled around her swanlike neck lent lustre to her sparkling blue eyes, her carriage showed the most complete self-possession and her whole soul seemed to be wrapped up in the music she interpreted. The quality of her voice is so different from that of the Italian and English artists we have been so long accustomed to that when the first notes of the simple, childlike little air of Handel fell on the ear a feeling of wonder at first pervaded the audience. The quality of the voice is extraordinarily clear and penetrating; it has none of the voluptuous roundness of the Italian school, but a limpidity, delicacy and transparent depth which is susceptible of the most intense expression and tenderness. This selection from Handel was so simple and touching that it requires a world of soul and feeling to give it the required interpretation. By her artless, unaffected rendering of it Nilsson won at once, not the expressed applause, but what was a higher compliment, the deep attention and sympathy of her hearers. The mad scene in ‘Hamlet,’ where the unhappy Ophelia bids farewell to the gay court of Denmark, was sung and acted with such mingled abandon, childish glee and sad feeling that the entire audience broke forth in an avalanche of applause. But the crowning feature was the exquisite morceau, ‘Ah, fors e lui,’ the sweetest thing that Verdi ever wrote. It is a love poem, illustrating the struggle between love and the consciousness of being unworthy of such a holy passion. The andantino, in which the desolation of the soul of the unhappy Camille is poured forth, was given with such an intensity of passion and tenderness such as the operatic and concert stage has long been stranger to, and the wild, reckless spirit which is conveyed in the cabaletta, ‘Sempre Libera,’ in which the Dame aux Camelias awakens to a sense of her real position, was a whirlwind of mingled despair and gayety. This cavatina is a severe test for any artist. Carlotta Patti, with all her store of vocal pyrotechnics, failed to touch the heart in it; other well-known prima donne have skipped over its surface without sounding its troubled depths, and it remained for Nilsson to bring out its beauties in their strongest light. There were some present at Steinway Hall last night, who, expecting some wonderful sensational vocal displays from Nilsson, were disappointed. They were those who cannot distinguish between true art and humbug—between the genius of music and vocalization of the mitrailleuse order. Nilsson never resorts to inartistic tricks to gain applause. Her style is finished and yet simple. What surprised us most was the breadth of tone apparent in her voice. She rarely displayed it, however, to its full extent, as we have heard from other artists, but kept it under admirable control. This apparent self-abnegation is true proof of art. We can say of Christine Nilsson, as was said of Jenny Lind, whom she resembles much in her voice and style, that we have heard an artist who makes a conscience of her art.
“Miss Annie Louise Cary, a contralto from the Royal Italian opera, London, sang the well known ‘Ah! quel giorno,’ from ‘Semiramide.’ Her voice is of the Italian order, full, rich and evenly balanced, and trained to the highest degree. She responded to an encore with a beautiful little berceuse, or Cradle Song, which she sung with much expression and tenderness. She is one of the most valuable members of the Nilsson troupe.
“Brignoli was in excellent voice, and did full justice to the charming romanza ‘La Spia,’ by Arditi. The introduction was somewhat marred by a misunderstanding on the part of the orchestra. No tenor has acquired such a strong hold of the affections of the public as Brignoli, and his reception last night evidenced his popularity.
“Verger, a French baritone, made a most successful debut in the fine romance ‘No e su lei’ from ‘Un Ballo en Maschera.’ The three voices—contralto, tenor and baritone—were heard to rare advantage in the touching ‘Gratias Agimus,’ from Rossini’s ‘Messe Solennelle.’ The last time we heard this trio the voices were by no means well balanced, and both at the Academy and at St. Stephen’s church it was fairly butchered. The tones of the voices of Miss Cary, Brignoli and Verger blended admirably, and were tinged with a devotional feeling that evidenced a deep appreciation of the spirit of the sublime words. The quartet from ‘Martha’ (the spinning wheel) was too light and trifling to be placed on such a programme, and should be left to the opera to which it belongs. It would have been much better to have selected the immortal quartet from ‘Rigoletto,’ in which these four great artists have a subject worthy of their talents.
“Henri Vieuxtemps, after an absence of years, made his bow once more before the American public. His finished, classical style, broad tone and rare expression have made him the king on the violin. He played four of his own works—a ballad, polonaise, aria largo and gavotte. Although calmness and sweetness were their principal characteristics, yet the tinge of melancholy and the severity of the style failed to kindle enthusiasm in the audience. The polonaise alone was an exception and gave scope for his brilliancy of tone and execution. A less severe class of compositions would be more grateful in a miscellaneous concert.
“Wehli played his piano fantasia in ‘Faust,’ on which he made such a hit at the matinees at Wallack’s a few years ago. He plays with all his old dash and nervous power, but we missed much of the clearness and [illegible] delivery that formerly characterized his style. He responded to an encore with a fantasia on ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ for the left hand alone, a style of composition which, although to give scope for the display of digital dexterity, we would willingly see abolished from the concert hall
“The orchestra played the overtures to ‘Oberon’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in a rather indifferent manner. The last song which Mlle. Nilsson sang, an encore, was a simple little Swedish air, which she rendered in such a delightful manner that after the concert a number of her countrymen assembled outside Steinway Hall at the stage entrance and on her appearance greeted her with deafening applause. They then unharnessed the horses from her carriage and drew her to her hotel, accompanied by a crowd of enthusiastic spectators.”
“The great event of the musical season, to which all [illegible], and the public generally, have long looked forward to with interest and expectation, has taken place. Nilsson has appeared. The successor to the traditions of Jenny Lind has warbled her first few notes, and one of the most brilliant and distinguished audiences ever gathered in New York has accepted her singing as in all respects worthy of her reputation.
“The charm of this new singer lies in her difference from, rather than in her resemblance to, her eminent sisters in art. Her voice, her manner, and her personal appearance are all in marked contrast to the conventional type of the popular prima donna. Her simple, artless manners, delight everyone and disarm criticism. Her graceful, swanlike movements ensure for her that hearty acknowledgment of her personal beauty which otherwise might be grudgingly given. Her voice is of a peculiar quality, and of exquisite sweetness and purity—so different from other voices that it at once enthralls the attention. A natural actress, Nilsson, even in the concert room, accompanies her vocalization with appropriate movement, gesture and play of countenance. Her scene from ‘Hamlet’ of Ambroise Thomas last night was a flower from lyric drama transplanted in its entirety to the parterres of the concert room. Her singing of ‘Angels ever Bright’ was marked by a religious intensity that was promptly noticed and appreciated by the audience, and as much as the mere vocalization ensured the success of the performance.
“Nilsson losing her simplicity would lose half her charm. Her voice is ravishing, but in brilliancy of execution and the use of dazzling staccato notes she is the inferior of Carlotta Patti, of Lagrange, of Laborde, and of several others as well known. Nor does she belong to the same class with Grisi and others of the really greatest prima donnas of the century. In taste, delicacy and sentiment, in grace of person, and in ravishing beauty of voice, however, she is unsurpassed; in all of them taken together, unapproached. She has every element of popular success, and whatever may be hinted in dark corners by musical professors as to her musical deficiencies, the public generally recognize in the fair Swede the most delightful singer we have heard since Jenny Lind.
“As a woman of taste Nilsson must have been much offended with the hideous forms in which the floral offerings of last night were presented. There was first a clumsy, fat little ship, then several great meaningless trays and an ugly contrivance some five or six feet high, and looking as much like the Dragon of Wantley as anything else—all made of flowers, beautiful in themselves, but made unpleasing by these distorted forms. The young vocalist also must have been astonished to find that—without a protest from the management—a number of silly human creatures were encouraged to take the place of her horses and draw her carriage to the hotel.
“She should, however, remember that the Americans who act in this childish manner are but a few, while the vast majority are intelligent men and women, who will welcome her as she deserves to be welcomed, without either adulation or fault-finding.”
“It is a long time since the Old World sent us any of her great singers. It is twenty years since she sent us so great a one as the lady who has just come to us, and then it was, as in this case, a Swede. If an exception were to be made to this broad statement, it would have to be in the case of Madame Parepa, whose greatness in certain directions of her art is supreme. The audience that gathered at Steinway Hall last evening was certainly duly impressed with the artistic importance of the occasion. It was not a common audience, or an indifferent one, but represented fully the critical, literary, and artistic portion of our citizens. It was great in numbers, overflowing the large hall and filling half the smaller one, the connecting doors being thrown open. It was attentive, excited and expectant. The programme opened gravely and seriously. It was so arranged that nothing frivolous or even light should precede the entrance of Miss Nilsson. First came the ever lovely Oberon overture, into which Von Weber has woven so much of his romantic spirit. Then the “Gratias Agimus Tibi,’ the fine trio from Rossini’s mass, full of dignity and devoutness of spirit. After these, Mr. Vieuxtemps played his ballad and polonaise—a work that he performed here in his last visit, and with which his brethren of the bow have kept his memory green at many a concert since. It is a composition nobly conceived, and was finely executed, and certainly would have won its author a recall under any other circumstances. But the audience was waiting with intensity of expectation for the prima donna, and all the other member of the company, even Vieuxtemps, for this evening at least, stood in her shadow. Hardly had the doors closed behind Mr. Vieuxtemps than they swung open again to admit upon the stage as fair and noble and gentle a presence as ever passed their threshold. Miss Nilsson’s pictures look like her in form, but they fail even to suggest the animation and brightness and sunny beauty that glows upon her fair face. She is tall and slender and graceful. A blond like most of her country women, and yet not what Dr. Holmes calls a washed-out blonde, but one in whom the color comes and goes. She was perfectly at her ease, and made herself at home with her audience. There are some persons, as we all know, who have the happy faculty of placing themselves at once in harmonious relation with their public, while others remain forever cold and isolated and unsympathetic. Miss Nilsson is eminently one of the former class and will carry the popular enthusiasm with her wherever she goes. As she stood before the audience, dressed with the most scrupulous simplicity in white, even the loopings of the dress and the ornaments in the hair being plain white flowers, her blue eyes looking with kindliness about her, and her face radiant with good nature, a picture was presented of purity and beauty that satisfied every expectation. The lady was greeted with the heartiest of welcomes. When these had subsided, the audience composed itself to listen.
“Miss Nilsson had chosen with exceeding good taste and feeling to introduce herself to the public through the medium of one of Handel’s most religious and spiritual songs—the familiar aria, ‘Angels ever Bright and Fair.’ It was sung by Miss Nilsson after her own fashion, quite unlike the way in which it is ordinarily given—with more liberties with the time and phrasing, with greater elevation of sentiment and religious feeling. It showed the great beauty of her voice, the perfect evenness of its register, her entire command over it, and capacity for singing broad, large cantabile movements. Subsequently Miss Nilsson sang a great scena from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, full of transitional emotion, being, in fact, Ophelia’s mad scene. And in this she manifested so much dramatic power as to make every one regret that the prospect of seeing her in opera is so remote.
“An aria from Verdi’s ‘Traviata’ completed the solos sung by Miss Nilsson. The difficult selections showed how varied were her powers; how flexible her voice, how faultless, smooth and pure in tone, and also how powerful. In this latter quality it was most of all a surprise, for the reports from abroad spoke of her’s as an organ of medium power. Steinway Hall may have been peculiarly adapted to it: certainly its volume was all sufficient there. Miss Nilsson undoubtedly stands on the threshold of as great achievements here as she has made in Europe. The close of her concert last evening was a real ovation. The stage was barricaded with flowers, from prodigious harps requiring three men to lift them onto the platform to the smallest bouquets. This was not much, however. The genuine test of appreciation was in the way in which the audience rose to meet her when she appeared in response to the final recall.
“The wild waving of handkerchiefs and the vivas that rang through the hall showed plainly that Miss Nilsson had struck the key note of American sympathy.” (Reprinted DJM 09/24/70, p. 319)
“Mlle. Christine Nilsson has come, has been seen, and has conquered. Hardly any other report will be expected from us; since the grounds of a musical fame so great across the sea in mouths of greatest censure may here be closely examined indeed, but scarcely challenged. We of the New World claim to be independent, to be sure, in our judgment of artists. But sound aesthetic canons are everywhere the same, and the seal of admiration so universally set by the best European critics must be estimated at its proper value. Mlle. Nilsson is in truth rather a product of nature than of art. Wartel may have done wonders for her, but without nature his wonders would have been but trivialities. And what has nature done for this new Swedish songstress? She has made her, in the first place, a beautiful blonde—‘Grande, svelte, gracieuse,’ some French adorer called her—with the golden hair ancient painters thought angelic, and modern chemists vainly try to imitate; with azure eyes of the blue of a starry night rather than of the paler day; with a figure above the middle height and a carriage which is imposing without being meant to do so. These are not of themselves the possessions that make a great singer, but, added to them, is a voice of rich, of almost incomparable quality. It is the pure soprano sfogato, of consummate clearness, strength and evenness of tone; a voice profoundly sympathetic in the lower register—a quality sometimes lacking in the voices of famous northern sopranos—and with the soar and sweetness of a skylark in the ascending scale. We have lately heard singers whose execution has awakened astonishment, who, by attacking and surmounting prodigious difficulties, have led to the belief that they have arrived at the ne plus ultra of art; and we have heard singers whose vocal and technical defects were forgotten in their magnetic sway over the feelings and passions. It is a great but true thing to say of Mlle. Nilsson that she combines with surprising perfection the merits of both these classes of artists. She blends exquisite method with abundant passion and imagination. She is no icicle, as some would have us think, but a warm, sympathetic woman, as full of soul as of native genius and elaborate cultivation.
“Last night was a memorable one in our metropolitan history of art. People are apt to think of first nights, as well as other things which are present, that they surpass all similar things that have gone before. We need not go so far as this, but may say that few who were present last night at Steinway Hall are likely to forget it. The numbers, the color, fashion, beauty, and enthusiasm were all of the first order. No more brilliant assemblage lives in our memory. Its suffrage was something to be proud of, even within the recollection of triumphs in European capitals. There was not an ordeal to go through which was exactly to define Mlle. Nilsson’s artistic position. With all patriotic deference to native taste and culture, we need not claim that. But the affirmation of a favorable verdict from an audience vast, new, eagerly interested and not incapable of intelligent judgment, was yet something to desire, to strive for, to rejoice in obtaining. And, waiving any effusiveness that is born of novelty, or of witnessing and so being affected by enthusiasm, this affirmation was fairly won. The first night of Jenny Lind, organized as it was by the Magnus Apollo of showmen, might have been in its way a triumph as well deserved, but it was surely less legitimately compassed. There was last night none of the indefinable but unmistakable flavor of humbug which used to delight the many and disgust the few, and now, we are happy to believe, in high-class concerts at least, has an inverse effect among us. Apart from the transcendent merit of the central attraction, the features of the evening were all first-rate of their kind. Disregarding the stellar habit that rules our modern dramatic firmament, the spectator was not invited to admire one gorgeous luminary whose surrounding train falls short of even a Milky Way of twinkling nonentity. The programme of the occasion will attest this fact. It ran as follows: [see above].
“The overture to ‘Oberon,’ daintily played by a well-balanced orchestra, under the firm baton of Mr. Max Maretzek, ushered in the programme. The trio following introduced, besides the welcome figure of Signore Brignoli, two strangers in the persons of Miss Annie Louise Cary, contralto, and M. Verger, baritone, of whom more anon. M. Vieuxtemps was heartily welcomed, and played with a spirit and vigorous mastery that captivated his auditors. These preliminaries, excellent in themselves, received perhaps less attention than they might have commanded but for the universally eager expectation of what was to come. The appearance of Mlle. Nilsson was greeted by acclammations [sic] of the most enthusiastic character, and the lady’s exceedingly prepossessing manner protracted these plaudits for an unusual time. It would not be easy to exaggerate the impression wrought by Mlle. Nilsson’s first public vocal effort in America. Her voice is certainly wonderful. It possesses what may be called a velvety breadth, a luxurious abundance which, in parts of her register, we have never heard matched. Her power, too, is extraordinary. With the ease of an ordinary organ in a drawing-room, she fills the vast area of Steinway Hall with a wealth of melody hardly credible. The superlative certainty and finish of her diminuendo, the artistic chastity that omits in Handel’s song all ornaments save the charming shake on the word ‘virgin,’ and its repetition in the concluding phrase, the sweet and pious abandon of her whole treatment of the noble theme, thoroughly warrant Mlle. Nilsson’s claim to the rank of a great artist. But the grand triumph of the singer was reserved for the scena from ‘Hamlet’ which concluded the part. Here, truly, we were forced to regret the determination which prevents Mlle. Nilsson from appearing, during her present visit, on the operatic stage. In the acting, as well as in the singing of Ophelia, she exhibits astonishing variety, force and dramatic feeling. Partly because of her Scandinavian face, partly because of the grand passion she threw into the character, we can say that no attempted realization we have ever seen of the piteous aberration of Shakespeare’s heroine has approached that of Mlle. Nilsson. We can well understand, after listening to this magnificent scena, how justly it was said that such an Ophelia saved Ambroise Thomas’ opera on its first representation. The only difficulty is to understand how any Hamlet could have abandoned her. One of the most arduous passages in the lyric drama, the scene affords admirable opportunities for the display of Mlle. Nilsson’s splendid powers. The effect produced by her in her opening selection was one of general delight; in the second it was something electric. Mlle. Nilsson’s third solo, ‘Ah! Fors’e Lui,’ was equally impressive, and the second movement was given with so much spirit as to elicit another demonstration even more enthusiastic than a previous and almost unprecedented one.
“It is simple justice to say, as we implied above, that Mlle. Nilsson was surrounded by the best artists to be gotten. It would have been an easy matter to dazzle the public with a single diamond, set in gems of lesser worth, and perhaps it would have been deemed more shrewd by many managers to give the larger gem the benefit of contrast, rather than make it one element of a cluster. For the sake of art, and for the sake, in our mind, of the trusting director also, there could be no doubt as to the best course to pursue. The concert company, whereof Mlle. Nilsson is the most conspicuous member, is a thoroughly good one. Miss Cary, the contralto—and almost the mezzo-soprano-- of the troupe, won great favor before the evening was ended. Her voice is even, extended, and of a most sympathetic quality, and she uses it in a manner indicating a culture very complete, when the comparative newness of the artist to the lyric stage is taken into account. Miss Cary filled her part efficiently in the tuneful trio from Rossini’s ‘Messe Solenelle,’ the thankful words of which are at strange variance with the plaintive character of the piece, and she was heard with equal satisfaction in the quartet from ‘Martha.’ But a triumph awaited her in the aria ‘Ah! Quel Giorno’ from ‘Semiramide,’ both the allegro and the andantino being sung with equal ease, surety and variety of expression. M. Verger, the baritone, also a new comer, was made heartily welcome, though his voice is not to be written of from a first hearing as notable for richness or firmness. M. Verger, however, is so young in appearance that we are not inclined to believe that his notes are worn beyond hope of refreshment, but rather that the fatigue of an unpleasant and perilous voyage has as yet not been wholly dispelled. That he has talent is unquestionable, and his singing of ‘Non é su lei,’ from ‘Il Ballo,’ and his delivery especially of the phrase ‘O dolcezze perdute,’ denoted a performer of solid merit and taste. Of the remaining artists we can speak with brevity. It is twelve years since Mr. Vieuxtemps came before American audiences. Many momentous events have occurred since those pleasant days, and still it seemed from the reception given him that every spectator was quite aware of his artistic rank, and of his claims to esteem as an early favorite. If a slight sensation of disappointment did occupy some minds ere the last note of the concert died away in the air—and we offer the supposition only in the belief that pleasure absolutely unalloyed is rarely attainable by the most critical minority—surely Mr. Vieuxtemps gave birth to no particle of it. More trickful contributions to an entertainment have been made by many violinists, and the noblest of instruments has been tortured into an emission of sounds, suggestive not of difficulties overcome with a right purpose in view, but of labor as worthy of respect as that of the man who pitched peas on the point of a needle. As quiet, classical—so to call it—and faultless a performance, however, has never been listened to as Mr. Vieuxtemps’ rendering of the compositions alluded to above constituted. The bravura playing of the polonaise was quite sufficient to indicate the vitality of the player’s skill, while the more simple ballad, and the calmness of the largo preceding the gavotte—a work full of character—were marked by a beauty and equality of tone which perhaps a very few of his habitual hearers are fitted to rate at its real value. About half the number of years that have gone by since Mr. Vieuxtemps last drew the bow in this country have elapsed since Mr. James M. Wehli quitted it. Mr. Wehli’s qualities as a pianist are unchanged to this hour. The correctness and volubility of his execution, and the advantage he possesses in being gifted with two right hands are the qualities in question. If they do not secure him the highest standing among pianists, they are at all events too infrequently to be found to be overlooked. Mr. Wehli was kindly received, last night, and was encored after executing a rather puerile fantasia on motives from ‘Faust.’ Responding to the demand for a repeat, he interpreted his arrangement of ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ for the left hand.
“In a desire to greet the artists just now arrived from a land distant many thousand miles from that one in which they will leave, we are sure, ere they depart, many friends and many bright recollections, we have deferred a recognition of the return of Signor Brignoli to the concert-room until the last lines of this notice were to be penned. Signor Brignoli’s presence is as cheerful as ever, and his voice is as sweet. He sang last night but one solo, ‘La Spia,’ by Arditi. It is a rather meaningless aria, but the singer was cordially recalled at its close. The subject, of course, is not one demanding at this period many words of reference, but, in connection with Signor Brignoli’s engagement, it may be remarked, in compliment to him, that the absence of a stranger and the return of an artist so long held in friendship here is a convincing proof of his position with respect to more vaunted singers abroad.
“On the minor incident of the concert we have no intention to dilate. We have observed already that plaudits were plenty, and shall note now that more substantial tokens of approval were lavished by the audience, principally upon Mlle. Nilsson, in the shape of flowers. Boquets [sic], wreaths, baskets, ships, and structures of every kind, were ever being borne in the hands and arms, and on the shoulders and heads of amazed ushers. And finally, after the spectators had left the hall, a supplementary ovation was had. Fifty or sixty Swedes awaited the entrance of Mlle. Nilsson into her carriage, and then quietly cut the traces, and substituting themselves for the quadrupeds, drew the lady through Fifteenth-street, Irving place, Fourteenth-street and Fourth-avenue, to the Clarendon Hotel.”
“We believe it is fully two or three years since the heralds of the opera-lobby announced the approach of the lovely Swedish syren, who has been for six seasons the bright goddess alternately of Paris and of London, the only one who could divide with Adelina Patti the empire of the lyric stage. We forget how many successful managers have from time to time engaged her for prospective operas at our unfortunate Academy, and failed before she could pack her trunks for the voyage. We hesitate to tell how often the mention of her name has raised a flutter of expectation, to be followed only by disappointment, until men grew sour and skeptical and at the oft-told tale that ‘Nilsson was coming,’ only shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. Repeated delays of course sharpened our impatience and piqued our curiosity; so when Mr. Strakosch (whom the fates always seem to favor—at least in the way of advertising) presented the fair singer last night for the first time to an American audience, there was such eagerness of the people to get in at the door, and such enthusiasm in their shouts of welcome and spontaneous tributes of premeditated bouquets as no other singer had inspired since the days of Jenny Lind. Foreign critics had told us that Nilsson was almost the counterpart of her elder countrywoman, and connoisseurs who retained something of the ancient enthusiasm for Jenny Lind, and had been regretting for the last 20 years that we had no such voices nowa-days, came prepared to renew the pleasures of their youth. Common fame and photographs told us of her personal grace, youth, beauty, winning smile, and lustrous eyes, and our jeunesse d’orée prepared to cast itself at her feet. Musicians knew that there must be something marvelous in the singer who had not only captivated the most critical capital of Europe, but actually appropriated some of the finest roles of the operatic stage, such as Gounod’s Marguerite and Thomas’s Ophelia, and forced the unwilling Parisians, for the first time in their lives, to listen to ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘The Magic Flute.’ It will be easily believed, therefore, that we do not exaggerate when we describe the debut of last night as the most important and exciting musical event which has occurred in this city for 20 years.
“If we may judge from outward demonstrations, the vast majority of the two or three thousand people who thronged Steinway Hall were not at all disappointed of their expectations. When Mr. Maretzek led the prima donna upon the stage they saw a slight and graceful figure, beautifully dressed in white, with a few simple trimmings of green leaves and white blossoms; a fair sweet face, a charming smile, deep eyes, and the light golden hair which is the glory of the Northern women. She bowed gracefully before the storm of welcome, but with a little discomposure which was not unpleasant to see; and then, after a few notes of prelude from the orchestra, she burst into the introductory recitative of the ‘Angels ever Bright and Fair,’ from Handel’s ‘Theodora.’ For all our expectations, the first tones took us by surprise. From one so young, so delicate, we were not prepared for anything like the volume and richness of sound which the first measures displayed. As the song went on, and from the stately prelude she passed to the ethereal tenderness of the touching old song, breathing out its tender and pensive strains with such rare purity, such perfect intonation, such incomparable softness, our wonder grew that in this young girl should thus be united excellences which it has seldom been given the greatest singers to combine in their highest perfection—majesty, richness, power, and delicacy like the breathing of a gentle breeze. As a mere piece of vocalism, the song was imperfect; as an interpretation of the composer no lover of Handel could like it; the phrasing was not always natural, and the sentiment was exaggerated. But it was an admirable test of some of the best qualities of Mlle. Nilsson’s phenomenal voice, and an indication of what exquisite effects she must be capable of producing on a stage where heartfelt inspiration is less required and great dramatic talent has a better scope for its exercise. The same extraordinary gifts of voice were equally well displayed in her second piece, the mad-scene of Ophelia from the ‘Hamlet’ of Ambroise Thomas; but in this she showed more fully than in Handel’s song the true refinement of her style, the extent of her vocal culture, and her marked talents as an actress which not even the restraints of the concert-stage could wholly conceal. We can imagine what an effect this scene might have had upon the Paris stage, with its sudden alternations of brilliancy and sorrow, the fine pathos which overshadows every phrase, the snatches of half-remembered themes caught from earlier numbers of the opera, and fragments of simple melody, such as the mad Ophelia may have sung in happy youth. Yet there can be no harm in saying that in Steinway Hall the scene is a very dull one. At the opera it comes in the fourth act, and the preceding three are such unmitigated dolefulness that Ophelia would come like a vision from the realms of the blest, if she came singing nothing better than ‘Old Dan Tucker.’ Taken out of its somber setting, the scene lacks the advantage of contrast with surrounding gloom, and suffers accordingly. While its performance may have been relished last night, by musicians capable of appreciating the peculiar ability which it served to display on the part of the singer, it was far less keenly relished by the audience generally than the Ah! fors ‘e lui from ‘La Traviata’ which closed Mdlle. Nilsson’s share of the programme. It was in the part of Violetta that she won her first successes both in Paris and in London, and we are not sure but we ought to call this aria her principal success of last night. She was recalled, of course, after it—she was recalled, indeed, after all her pieces—and gave a simple little ballad, singing it very sweetly. Her participation in the rest of the concert was limited to her share in the Spinning-Wheel quartette from ‘Martha.’
“It is not difficult, even after a single hearing, to pronounce upon the secret of Mlle. Nilsson’s success. She is young, she is beautiful, she is charming in her ways, and she has one of the most exquisitely lovely voices ever given to a woman. It is a voice altogether exceptional. Its purity is perfect; its quality is without a flaw; its evenness, from the lowest tones of the soprano register even to those empyrean hights [sic] which Carlotta Patti glories in scaling, has no parallel within our existence. There is not a harsh, nor a shrill, nor a husky note in its whole range. All is exquisitely sweet, all is fresh and beautiful as the singer’s own face. Her transitions from the upper to the lower register are not always perfectly managed, and as a mere vocalist she is certainly surpassed by many singers who have visited this country; but there can be no question that she is an artist of very high accomplishments and almost unlimited capabilities.
“We must defer to another day a more adequate notice of the other artists who compose Mlle. Nilsson’s company. Next to the prima donna herself, the artist whose appearance attracted most interest last night was Miss Annie Louise Cary, the contralto. She is a Boston young lady, who has spent some years in Europe, studying under good masters, and singing with marked success in London, where she was engaged with Nilsson at the Royal Italian Opera. She has an admirable voice, full, deep, round, and mellow—a voice like that of Adelaide Phillipps, with a great deal of the peculiarly sweet and touching quality which seems to belong more or less to all American girls who have any voice at all. She has been trained in an excellent school, and is likely to prove a credit to her country. She sang last night the Ah! quell Giorno from ‘Semiramide,’ and took part in the Gratias Agimus trio from Rossini’s Mass. Mr. Verger, the new male singer, has an agreeable and moderately strong baritone voice, ranging toward the tenor, and carefully cultivated after the imperfect French school. He was very well received. Viexutemps, the king of violinists, has a royal welcome. He gave a well-known Ballad and Polonaise of his own and (for the first time in America) an Aria and Gavotte, described in the programme as his own, but really arranged from Bach’s Suite in D. Of his playing, and that of the pianist, Mr. Wehli, and old New-York favorite, we must defer more particular mention to another time.”
“On Monday the first appearance of Mlle. Christine Nilsson created a sensation among lovers of music rarely paralleled. The concert was in every respect splendidly successful. Not only did Mlle. Nilsson fully meet the great expectations formed of her powers, but the other performers proved so uncommonly excellent in their various departments as to produce among the vast audience a feeling of thorough satisfaction. Mr. Max Strakosch has done himself abundant credit by the organization of these admirable entertainments, and the public fully appreciate the fact. We regret to say, that Mlle. Nilsson, after singing superbly on Monday and Wednesday, was prevented by indisposition from appearing on Friday, so that the concert advertised for that night has been postponed until Monday. We have already dwelt at such length upon Mlle Nilsson’s magnificent powers, as to render it superfluous just now to comment upon them further. She has certainly made a genuine and profound impression upon the public of New-York, and will, without doubt, make a brilliantly successful tour through the country. Among the artists who have lent valuable assistance to Mlle. Nilsson’s concerts, the names of Messrs. Vieuxtemps, Brignoli and Wehli, and of Miss Annie Louise Cary, deserve renewed laudatory mention and nothing less is due to Mr. Max Maretzek, whose spirited and thoroughly trained leadership has never been more advantageous to artists or public than on these occasions.”
Appears farther down in the same column as the review.
"You would like to know how Nilsson and Seebach have made out, for the daily papers have gotten to be such inordinate puffers, that you can’t rely on them. Well, if Nills. hadn’t been ‘written up’ to order, at so much a line, cash in advance, she might have made a very fair impression; but as these paid puffs promised so much, there is a feeling of disappointment regarding the lady’s abilities. She is a good singer—there’s no discount on that; but she is by no means great. You have heard several who surpass her in voice, execution, judgment, etc., and it didn’t cost you more than half of what it costs to hear this new comer. After the performance, on the first night, when the lady and her escort were seated in the carriage to be conveyed to the hotel, the horses were taken away and a number of jackasses substituted. And that is the way American people are to be gagged by European celebrities. It is not likely that the ‘nightingale’ will make Strakosch’s fortune.”