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Price: $2; reserved, $3 and $4
17 December 2022
Soprano’s sittings for her portrait at Gurney’s Art Gallery.
Soprano’s visit to Gurney’s Art Gallery to be photographed.
“Steinway Hall presented again last night the same brilliant assemblage of fashion and beauty that characterized the first appearance of Mlle. Christine Nilsson. The house showed that the great metropolitan public are fully awake to the fact that a cantatrice over whom the European public—as represented in Paris and London—went into ecstacies [sic], is among us. It is necessary to hear Nilsson for the second time in order to give a fair, carefully considered criticism about her. When we heard her for the first time the peculiar, we might say extraordinary, voice left a feeling more of surprise and admiration than one of thoughtful, well digested criticism. Last night we were able to form an opinion of her voice and artistic abilities which may be considered as unchangeable. She sang ‘Ernani involami,’ and the celebrated rondo finale of ‘Lucia.’ Her voice is, indeed, exceptional in tone; purity and limpidity are its main features. There is not the slightest similarity between it and the sensuous vocal organs of Southern prime donne. The tones of her voice are like the well-spring of a limpid lake, pure, clear and fresh. She has, beyond doubt, the soul of a true artiste, conscious in everything she undertakes and completely en rapport with the spirit of the composer. We should have preferred any operatic morceau to that eternal ‘Ernani Involami’ which has been sung ad nauseam in public and private in this city. In fact, the programme last night was not, as a general thing, worthy of such a magnificent concert troupe. Many persons have been disappointed in Mlle. Nilsson because, strange to say, of her exquisite art. They want to hear the great prima donna pretty much as if they should visit a museum. She sang within the true principles of art and entirely eschewed all attempts at sensational display. True art, after all, is a very quiet affair and appeals to the intelligent and educated, and forgets the demands of the profanum vulgus. It is a gratifying proof of the advanced state of art in this country to find that a consummate artist like Nilsson can win her way without resorting to tricks so well, alas, known to the dilettanti, and by the sheer influence of good music. A great deal has been said about the magnetic influence of genius; but, after all, this term is much abused. Tricks and sensations from which the true artist shrinks in horror are often mistaken for that magnetic power, genius. Mlle. Nilsson, from the very perfection of her art, is not one to magnetize, to electrify at once; but she, as it were, grows upon the heart and gains more at each hearing. We have not yet heard her to her greatest power, for she does not at once unlock the treasure of her wonderful art; but, depend upon it, the more she sings the more she will be liked. She gave last night, especially in the ‘Lucia,’ glimpses of fresh artistic fields, which will be fully unfolded by and by. The cadenza in the ‘Lucia’ selection with the flute obligato, which we understand was especially written for her, presented her voice in an entirely new light. Every note of those trills and long descending spirals came out clear and pure as from a real nightingale’s throat, and the passionate appeal to Edgardo in the aria was from the soul. We are the last in the world to be caught by mere vocal dexterity. We can admire even the Carlotta Patti pyrotechnics, but we ask soul, feeling, tenderness, passion, where it is required. All this Nilsson possesses to an eminent degree, and she must therefore reach her hearers and make that success which is something more than mere name. We, therefore, hail her as a true, conscientious artist who makes the proper interpretation of music a sacred duty. Would that others, gifted with bea1utiful voices, were equally impressed with the true definition and mission of art.
“Miss Annie Louise Cary is also a conscientious, painstaking artist. Gifted with a superb contralto voice and taught by long experience, everything she sings is faultless. But the selection set down for her in last night’s programme—a trivial Spanish affair—was unworthy of the veriest tyro. It is commonplace and ineffective.
“Brignoli excelled himself in a chanson by Balfe, and for an encore he gave ‘Goodby, Sweetheart, Goodby,’ as he only can sing it. We have yet to hear a tenor of the present day who can equal him in purity and sweetness of voice and thorough artistic cultivation.
“M. Vieuxtemps is certainly the founder of the modern violin school, but he does not give his great talents justice in the works he selects. For instance, he played a ‘Faust’ fantasia of his own, which was of the Beyer potpourri school, without a prevailing idea in it. This custom of stringing irrelevant themes together without a fixed purpose is inartistic in the extreme. The second violin morceau, a Bohemienne, was as aimless and dreary as one of the orchestral works of Liszt or Wagner. M. Vieuxtemps is too great an artist to allow his talents to be frittered away in such compositions.
“M. Verger is a well cultivated, pleasant baritone, who never offends, and still is innocent of feeling in his interpretation of music. Mattei’s ‘Non torno’ is a piece in which an artist can touch the heart, but M. Verger, albeit he has a fine voice and knows how to manage it, only skimmed the surface of the aria.
“Mr. Wehli had a better piano last night than that which was placed before him on his first appearance. The rich tones of the Steinway grand came out clear and pure beneath his emotional touch and he seemed to gain back all that delicacy of [fingering?] and brilliancy of execution that won him an enviable reputation some years ago at the Wallack matinees. His transcription of the Naiad’s prayer, ‘Sweet Spirit, Hear My Prayer,’ and the wonderful finale of the second act of ‘Lurline’ was played in such a [mingled?] forcible and dainty style that an uproarious encore followed. Then came a little fluttering, fairy-like idealization of Longfellow’s Minnehaha,’ a gem like a shower of dewdrops.
“The next concert will be given on Friday. Mr. Strakosch should certainly place the grand quartet from ‘Rigoletto’ on the programme. The ‘Mezza notte’ from ‘Martha,’ last night, was childish and inappropriate. In conclusion, we advise all lovers of music to hear Christine Nilsson.”
“In an entirely new programme, Miss Nilsson, at Steinway Hall last night, again asserted most successfully her supremacy in vocal art. Her singing was last night listened to by an immense audience, and attended with the same demonstrations of applause as on the night of her debut.
“She sang the aria ‘Ernani Involami,’ taking the first movement in much slower time than the traditions of the piece would authorize. In the opening recitative, and in one passage of the aria, the music was altered so as to avoid a low note which should have been sung, but was evidently below the vocalist’s compass of voice. This alteration was the only blemish in an otherwise faultless piece of execution. The mad scene from Lucia, beginning from the Alfin son tua, and omitting the preceding recitatives, was noticeable for its exquisite vocalization, and for the introduction of a new and very elaborate cadenza sung in thirds with the flute. The brilliant and sparkling duet from ‘Don Pasquale,’ sung with Verger—who, by the way appeared to much better advantage last night than at the previous concert—and the rather subordinate soprano part in a quartet from ‘Martha,’ completed Miss Nilsson’s contributions to the enjoyment of the evening.
“Next to the prima donna of the evening, the tenor made the most favorable impression. Our ever-favorite Brignoli never sang more delightfully. To a voice as fresh and melodious as it was ten years ago, he seems to add a greater finish and delicacy. He sang a delicious French song by Balfe, and in response to the call for a repetition, the popular ballad, ‘Goodby, Sweet heart, goodby.’ The applause was worthy of the performance.
“Neither Miss Cary nor M. Vieuxtemps made as felicitous selections as on the opening night, but their respective parts in the programme were well [illegible]. Vieuxtemps played his ‘Faust’ fantasia, which introduces the ‘Flower song,’ the ballad of the King of Thule, and the waltz. As played by the composer, it is a marvel of graceful and finished execution.
“Wehli played last night a fantasia on ’Lurline,’ in which occur the chorus of Nymph’s ‘Peace to the spirit of the brave,’ and that most admired melody of the opera, ‘Sweet spirit, hear my prayer,’ the latter enveloped in a shower of runs and trills, yet distinctly audible through all. Mr. Maretzek’s orchestra showed an improvement, and gave their part of the programme with zest and effect.”
“The triumph that Miss Nilsson gained on Monday evening she strengthened last night. When the first impulses of enthusiasm have quieted down, and one listens more calmly at a second concert, the impression of her great artistic worth is deepened.
“To the question, is there no fault, no break anywhere in the voice no one can note; that is not quite so good as the rest, and has to be favored and hurried over; no crude singing of rapid passages; no doubtful habits of phrasing, or questionable liberties with the composer’s text? The critic can only answer, None. The voice is rich in quality, the tone liquid and pure and full and strong, the execution facile and beautiful. We have heard cadenzas more elaborately executed, more clear-cut and precise and bird-like, but not necessarily more pleasant to listen to. Miss Nilsson is more than a bird or a flute, she is a great singer. Whether the exacting Handel, who used to throw his wig at offending prima donnas, would have permitted her to sing his ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ with that freedom as to time, and also as to the phrasing, that Miss Nilsson took on Monday evening, may perhaps be questioned; but he surely would have conceded almost anything to that spirit of true devotion and that reverence which she breathed into her execution of his great aria.
“Let the reader then take it for granted that in Miss Nilsson’s he will find one of those exceptionally beautiful voices that it will fall to his lot to hear not more than twice or thrice in a lifetime. Also, that to any but the most fastidious and hypercritical ear there is nothing with which fault can reasonably be found. There is beauty of form and feature; a voice that rings as clear as a bell from B flat below the lines up to E or F above them; a nature full of life, sprightliness, and vivacity, that shows itself at every moment; a truly artistic temperament, that enables her to sing with equal ease the soulful music of Handel or the brilliant trifles of Flotow; a capacity also to reach and charm every hearer. What more than these can be required?
“We shall not weary the reader by referring in detail to the programme. It included an aria from ‘Ernani,’ and a scena and aria from ‘Lucia.’ Into the latter was introduced a cadenza for flute and voice, which showed what a shallow-toned and foolish reed the instrument was, however well played, when contrasted directly with so fine a voice.
“There was the usual amount of flowers, but flowers are purchasable affairs—enthusiasm is not; that happily also was present. In noticing the first concert Miss Nilsson so engrossed the attention that the merits of her associates were somewhat hastily passed over. The audience has shown itself by no means indifferent to Mr. Vieuxtemps, or unmindful of the good impression that he had left in his former visits. When he first came to this country twenty-seven years ago, he was a young man of twenty-three. Even then he had made a European reputation, for he has played the violin as a public performer since he was eight years old. He revisited this country with Thalberg in 1857, and was then in the prime of his life. Since that date, Time seems to have dealt gently with him. He presents the same erect, dignified bearing and gentlemanly presence. Father Time has not forgotten, however, to mark his brow with an occasional line, but has left his wrist as supple and his arm as vigorous as ever. Mr. Vieuxtemps has received perhaps fuller artistic than popular recognition. He has always deeply respected his art and his instrument, and has never sought a momentary applause at the expense of the dignity of either. His playing has been called classical, and so it is in great part, but it is never cold. The characteristics of this artist are the purity of his tone, its sonority—almost massiveness—and the exquisite finish of his execution. His bowing is free, vigorous, and flexible. Whatever he does is done purely and for art’s sake. There is no useless legerdemain for the sake of mere show. Not that Mr. Vieuxtemps is not a master of every device of the player. His delicate skill with harmonics, his double and triple chord playing, his combinations of bowing and pizzicato, are all fine, but all subordinate to legitimate effect. His playing is the true school for the violinist, and to listen to him is the best lesson the learner could have.
“Miss Anna Cary, the contralto, has won also golden opinions from all who have heard her. Her merits deserve more than a passing notice, and to them, and also to Mr. Wehli and his pianoforte playing, we will refer more at length on another occasion.”
“New-York has a new goddess; a goddess with a brow of alabaster, with eyes of turquoise and with golden hair; with the sweetest of smiles, and, more potent and delightful still, a voice which this side of Paradise few mortal ears are likely to hear surpassed. We can recall Jenny Lind, and remember that she was an idol too. But the new divinity is made of finer stuff than her compatriot and predecessor. She has in her not less of the angel—and very much more of the woman. She is more lovely in person, more versatile in ability, and, to our perception, more exalted in soul. This likewise seems to be the conviction of an audience more critical and fastidious than that which listened here to the former nightingale, while including many of the same individuals. Both singers must be accounted wonderful, indeed phenomenal, as mistresses of their art. Perhaps Jenny Lind, in some technical aspects, should be called the superior. But far more important than this advantage, if indeed it exists, Mlle. Nilsson’s passion, tenderness and dramatic fire place her in a loftier and grander niche than her rival. Handel is of a higher order of composers than Verdi, and probably Mme. Goldschmidt can sing, or could once have sung, ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ as superbly as Mlle. Nilsson; but it is certain that the former could never have equaled the latter in ‘Ernani Involami.’ Now, comparative excellence is to be measured not by degrees in one style alone but in all styles. In other words, superiority is to be adjudged, in art as in physiology, by the totality of functions. Thus, if we find one artist equal to another in a single department, and far outshining him in others, the laurel goes with versatility. And this must be emphatically so where the ampler breadth of scope takes in the strongest and deepest passions of our nature.
“Steinway Hall was again crowded last night to excess. The house was otherwise as brilliant as that of Mlle. Nilsson’s first appearance on Monday; and the tokens of satisfaction were apparently more rapturous and decidedly more spontaneous than on that critical occasion. On Monday there was blended with the expectancy of being pleased and the purpose of generous hospitality a certain tentative expression with which New-York is very apt of late years to receive new artists. There was joy, but it was chastened with doubt; thunders of applause, but with an implicit reserve touching the distinction between welcome and indorsement. But last night the public were literally at Mlle. Nilsson’s feet. The programme of the occasion was, like that of the first concert, adroitly selected. Its numbers are subjoined: [see above].
“Mr. Max Maretzek led the overture to ‘Der Freischuetz’ with his customary precision and verve, and the duet from ‘Il Barbiere’ was then heard to the satisfaction of the audience. M. Verger lacks unction, breadth and humor for Figaro, but he sang the music artistically, and Signor Brignoli, who was in capital voice, delighted his admirers in the tenor notes of the duet. Mr. Vieuxtemps next played his own fantasia on themes from ‘Faust,’ which was received with hearty pleasure. The execution of this sterling artist has not before been more capably displayed or more universally approved. The romantic cavatina from ‘Ernani’ is, perhaps, most effective when sung by a mezzo-soprano. As given by Mlle. Nilsson, however, the impression could hardly be bettered. The sweetness and strength of her incomparable organ were heard to advantage in the opening aria, but in the brilliant cavatina succeeding she introduced some passages of execution truly astonishing, reaching the high F on the finishing phrase after an extraordinary exhibition of range in the lower register before. The encore to this selection was responded to by Mlle. Nilsson, who sang a Swedish ballad with charming simplicity, accompanying herself on the piano. We hope soon to have the satisfaction of hearing the cantatrice sing a ballad in English. Mr. Wehli now played his fantasia from Wallace’s opera in the thorough and masterly style which has established his fame. Miss Cary secured a vigorous encore for the quaint Mandolinata, singing the pretty English song, ‘Looking Back,’ in reply, and the melodious quartet from ‘Martha’ wound up the part. In this we were again favored with a glimpse of Mlle. Nilsson’s operatic powers, and again called on to admire the wonderful facility, never seemingly born of effort, that distinguishes all her performances. This facility, indeed, in grappling with supreme difficulties is perhaps the prime characteristic of Mlle. Nilsson’s art. Art is a hard mistress. A woman can play Juliet, said an old actress, only when she is past forty. The true cadence of declamation—the true eloquence of action, can only by that period be comprehended and attained. Alas! that the divine passion should only be rightly depicted by those who have passed, the time to inspire it; that a genuine picture ‘The bloom of Young Desire and purple light of Love’ should be possible only to the artist for whom the charm and aureole of youth have vanished forever [reviewer continues in this vein for several more sentences]. Of such genius is Mlle. Nilsson the possessor. She has studied hard enough, no doubt. No one wields a scepter as she does over the details of her vocation without work. But what is finest and most enchanting in her comes like the glories of the lilies of the field, without labor and without price. ’Poets,’ says Joubert, ‘are children with much grandeur of soul and with a celestial intelligence.’ Mlle. Nilsson, as a singer, reminds us constantly of this admirable definition.
“To the second part of the programme, the main features of which evoked more demonstrative recognition than the first, we must give but brief notice. Each of the numbers was smoothly and pleasantly rendered, but the scena from Lucia was generally reckoned the grandest achievement of the evening. Mlle. Nilsson here showed her consummate merit as a lyric artist, as she has scarcely showed it before, superb as was the passage of Ophelia, heard on Monday. Her magnificent tones, her perfect delivery, her thrilling passion, the trumpet-like power of some passages and the exquisite delicacy of others, the mellowness, purity and volume so easily and so lavishly displayed, were assuredly worthy of the most earnest praise that could be bestowed upon them; and eulogy that would be unmeaning as applied to others, to Mlle. Nilsson appears not allowable only, but legitimate. It is easy to merge appreciation into hyperbole, and we do not forget that deliberate opinion is looked for at our hands rather than extravagant encomiums.”
“A second hearing of Mdlle. Nilsson last night showed us no reason substantially to modify the opinion which, with the enthusiasm of our first impressions, we expressed on Tuesday morning. Her voice is so strangely beautiful that we never think of comparing it with that of any other prima donna. We have heard greater artists—Grisi, for instance, and Parepa, and the Pattis, all of whom are superior to Nilsson, not only in the accomplishments of art, but in some of the gifts of nature—yet it does not occur to us to measure Nilsson’s merits by theirs, for the difference between her and them is one not so much of degree as of kind. The fair young Swede, with deficiencies that are obvious to the least experienced critic, has come to us like a new experience, and by the witchery of her wonderful tones has taken us all captive. No other phrase so well expresses the characteristic of her voice as absolute purity; no other word so well denotes the peculiarity of her style as delicacy—a delicacy carried sometimes to the extent of a fault, but according so well with her sweet face, her pretty figure, and her graceful manner, that in the concert room it is almost always delightful, and on the stage it must be irresistible. We say that she carries delicacy sometimes to the point of a fault; and this is because it is a delicacy of style rather than of feeling, and the tenderness (or, to be more accurate, the expression) which she throws into such songs as Handel’s ‘Angels ever Bright and Fair,’ is rather a musical exercise than an impulse of the heart. She is not in the true sense of the word a sympathetic singer; she is not one who can easily move an audience to tears, as many inferior artists can. Miss Cary is such a singer to some extent; Adelaide Phillipps and Zelda Seguin possess the gift in a much higher degree; Minnie Hauck probably will have it as she grows older—perhaps has it already. Yet Nilsson moves our sentiments by the mere perfection of her notes, just as sensitive persons are sometimes profoundly touched by beauties of inanimate nature. One part of her performance last night for instance, a mere cold and meaningless piece of art, was so perfectly polished as to be absolutely affecting. It was that passage in the Sparghi di qualche pianto from ‘Lucia’ where the voice carries on a florid and difficult duet with the flute. The wonderful purity and sweetness of her tones were here submitted to a terrible test, made all the more severe in this instance by the clearness and excellence with which the flute was played; and at the end her triumph roused the audience to more exciting demonstrations than any she had previously awakened. It was a striking instance of the power of pure art and pure voice to move the feelings.
“The company which supports Mdlle. Nilsson during this engagement is, all things considered, one of remarkable strength. It has no mediocre members, and contains several artists of no slight celebrity. Signor Brignoli, being an old acquaintance, has perhaps been less noticed than his companions, but that is only because we take his merits for granted, and enjoy his fine voice and his excellent method of producing it, without giving ourselves the proper trouble to thank him for his pains. He is singing uncommonly well this season, and adding a great deal to the success of Mr. Strakosch’s venture. Mr. Verger, the baritone, has a very agreeable voice, and sings with sweet expression; but he was unwise to undertake last night the duo from the ‘Barbiere’ with Mr. Brignoli, for he lacks the vis comica for a good Figaro, even on the platform. There is no change in Vieuxtemps since we heard him 15 years ago. The same clear, brilliant, sonorous tone; the same wonderful management of the bow, the same broad and noble style, the same exquisite composure, and the same pure taste still make his playing a rare delight to cultivated ears. In the history of the violin, Vieuxtemps marks an epoch as distinctly as Tartini, or Spohr, or Paganini, and far more distinctly than his master, De Beriot, whose fame he has fairly eclipsed. Ole Bull, an exceptional and wholly irregular artist, has more of the fire of genius, but less of the perfection of classical art. Ole Bull, however, cannot be justly weighed in comparison with any other player, living or dead. He is a phenomenal performer, and will never have an imitator. Vieuxtemps is on the other hand a great master, and now stands at the head of the best school of violin playing, and will exert consequently a permanent influence upon the art. His ‘Faust’ fantasia last night was beyond all praise. The violin is an instrument whose capabilities are almost unbounded, but in the Notte d’amor of ‘Faust’ and the second movement of the waltz, Mr. Vieuxtemps seemed to get at its very soul and draw forth its full powers of deep and pathetic expression. Miss Cary strengthened the favorable impression she made on Monday night, especially with some rather simple songs, and in the Dormi pur quartette from ‘Martha.’ Mr. Wehli’s characteristics are extraordinary facility of fingering, wonderful rapidity, and mastery over the left hand. He played a fantasia of his own on ‘Lurline,’ which, as a composition, is much better than the transcription from ‘Faust’ presented on Monday. He certainly has lost nothing of his art since he was here some years ago, and we rather think he has even improved.”