Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
18 June 2013
“SPECIAL NOTICE. In consequence of the approaching departure of Madame Medori, for Europe, whither she is called by pressing family affairs, and owing to the earnest desire of the Director to produce I DUE FOSCARI, in fulfillment of his promise, prior to her departure, as also affording the public one more opportunity of hearing her in her unapproachably great rendition of NORMA, he begs respectfully to state that THE POSITIVELY LAST PERFORMANCE BUT ONE of Petrella’s new and brilliantly successful Opera, IONE; OR THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, will take place THIS EVENING.”
“The success of the new opera is now assured beyond all doubt. It attracts audiences which fill the
“The third performance of ‘Ione’ last evening was not only superb in itself, but so far above the average of operatic performances in America, that we are disposed to regard it as one of the finest ever listened to in the Academy. To say that it created a furore, is to convey but a slight idea of the real pleasure that was manifested by the audience, which we may here add, crowded every part of the building. It is now that this work is beginning to be recognized as one of the best of the modern Italian repertoire, and it is now, certainly, that it is heard to best advantage. Artists, orchestra and chorus were alike excellent, and in the splendid finale of the third act, vied with each other to produce a result that was really astonishing. The principals were called out three times after this piece.”
“The man of many sayings, Samuel Weller, esq., asserts that when a citizen of London grows desperate he rushes into the street and eats oysters. Desperation in New-York—and are we not all desperate with war, civil war and civil war—taxation—desperation is shown by the citizens not hustling themselves into the face of the weather and gorging themselves with bivalves, but attacking en masse, so to speak M. Maretzek’s opera. Last night was another proof of this dictum. The Academy presented one of the most magnificent spectacles of a well-dressed overflowing crowd ever presented. Lustrous toilets abounded; and the religion of white cravats showed itself to be crescent. Of the performance of the new opera, Ione, we have nothing special to add to our former notices. Mme. Medori showed her accustomed amazing vigor and sonority of declamation. This lady is about to leave the United States to proceed to Belgium, and there may be therefore good reason for those who have not heard her to seek the present opportunity. The tenor, M. Mazzoleni, exhibited all his wonted earnestness. The basso, Signor Biachi, the baritone, Signor Bellini, the contralto, Mlle. Sulzer, were all in excellent voice and professional order.”
“The Repetition of ‘Ione’ last evening was as satisfactory as ever. A full and brilliant auditory cheered the artists, and they exerted themselves to do more than usual justice to this magnificent production. The opera is long, yet it is hard to say where it can be cut without depriving the audience of some noble passage; but we would suggest that the conductor take his seat at the hour announced, instead of a quarter of an hour later, as has been the case during this week.
Mazzoleni even improved in some particulars on his previous representations. The other artists fell short in nothing, and were called out as usual three times after the great finale of the third act. The gods of the gallery exhibited remarkable taste and pertinacity in applause; the groundlings buzzed, circulated and fluttered fans and feathers.”
COMMENT: Was Nuno seated while conducting? Why does the writer say, “we would suggest that the conductor take his seat at the hour announced”?
“We have heretofore compared Manager Maretzek to President Lincoln. Recent events have shown, that the comparison does not do Maretzek justice. His administration began in very much the same way as that of Mr. Lincoln; but it has succeeded more gloriously. Maretzek has brought to this city the best and most complete operatic troupe which has blessed us since the days of Malibrun. With this company he has revived several standard operas in a style unequalled since Grisi and Mario. He has now achieved his crowning triumph by the immensely successful production of Petrella’s new opera, ‘Ione; or the Last Days of Pompeii,’ and his superiority over all former managers of the Academy from Ole Bull to the imperturbable Grau, is universally acknowledged. We hope to be able to give President Lincoln equal praise before very long; but at present Maretzek is decidedly ahead.
In ‘Ione’ the artists of Maretzek’s company appear to the best possible advantage. They are all superb actors as well as excellent singers, and, while the music of the opera seems to have been written for just such voices as theirs, the dramatic force and fervor of the libretto allow their histrionic powers the fullest scope. Petrella is a new composer, and his ‘Ione’ has not yet been heard in Paris or London. Italy, Havana and New York have the monopoly of this work, which ranks among the sensations of the age. All mere technical criticism fails to convey any adequate idea of the beauties of ‘Ione.’ The music produces the same impression upon the mind as the reading of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ or Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ It is a singular and original combination of celestial melodies and infernal grandeur and sublimity. Without at all imitating Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Rossini, Meyerbeer, or any other maestro, ancient or modern, Petrella has contrived to harmonize the Italian and German schools, selecting the best points of each, and writing equally well for the voice and the orchestra. The result is a masterpiece of genius, worthy of the progressive century in which we live. The libretto follows Bulwer’s novel closely, preserving the strongest and best contrasted scenes, and thus giving to the opera a vivid dramatic interest which Maretzek’s artists admirably depict, and which makes the work doubly popular, since it attracts play-goers as well as lovers of music.
Medori and Mazzoleni sing and act the leading roles of Ione and Glauco perfectly. Medori is a great artiste. She sings like Grisi and acts like Mrs. Siddons or Fanny Kemble. Mazzoleni’s history is almost a romance. He was educated at the University at Vienna for a lawyer and a statesman. One night, walking home from the Opera with a few fellow students, he began to sing a romanza, which he had just heard, and was soon stopped by a couple of operatic artists, who told him that a man with such a tenor voice as his should throw logic to the dogs and go upon the stage. Mazzoleni took this kind advice, and the world has gained a fine artist, and lost, perhaps, a leading statesman. In this country Mazzoleni might be profitably employed in both capacities. When the operatic season is over President Lincoln should give him a seat in the Cabinet. His notes are far better than Chase’s legal tender. His acting is equal to that of Talma or Kean, and far superior to that of Forrest or any other disciple of the Black Hawk school. Supported by an efficient company and an increased orchestra, Medori and Mazzoleni have created a positive furor in ‘Ione.’ At every representation the Academy is crowded to its utmost capacity, and the display of toilettes is unsurpassed by any European audience. The artists are called before the curtain two or three times at the end of each act, and the applause is at once appreciative and enthusiastic. It is rumored that Maretzek will give no more opera after this week, and that Medori is about to return to Belgium; but we hope that these reports are unfounded. ‘Ione’ would draw large houses for a month at least.
From the consideration of this subject we deduce, for President Lincoln’s guidance, the practical lesson that the American people know how to appreciate a good thing. Maretzek’s administration of the opera has been a great triumph because he has deserved success. Let the President administer our national affairs in the same style, and he will achieve equal fame and honors. Maretzek placed good artists in the leading roles, and supported them with a large and well appointed army of chorus singers. The President should be as careful in the selection of his commanders, and should put the Conscription act in force, if necessary, to raise a sufficiently numerous army of soldiers. Then, his management should be as enterprising and liberal as Maretzek’s, and his éclat will be as immense, and the opposition to his administration feeble and insignificant. Maretzek’s crowning triumph is the magnificent production of ‘The Last Days of Pompeii.’ President Lincoln has the opportunity of securing even greater glory by the immediate representation of a tremendous spectacular drama to be called ‘The Last Days of the Rebellion.’"
“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.”
“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.”
CEU 04/14/63—“A new opera is always an event, but interest redoubles when it’s a matter of a work and a composer of whom even the name was almost unknown to us. Thus, one wasn’t astonished by the dense crowd assembled for the first performance of Ione. It was a natural and expected effect of general curiosity. But the increasing success that saluted the second and third evenings has a completely different significance: it verifies that the New York public has admitted maestro Petrella’s score in a trice among its preferred operas. That’s good luck that new pieces haven’t always had here, and which in a large part comes back to the artists.
The music of M. Petrella possesses incontestable merits. It has life, it is powerful, often original; it combines, sometimes, in a happy alliance, the expressive rhythm of Verdi with the melodic development of the Rossinian school. The orchestration, above all, is of an almost irreproachable excellence, and treated with an attention to detail that recalls the best masters. But side by side with these eminent qualities it has faults or, to put it better, strangenesses which could have rendered its welcome more doubtful with other interpreters. One has to have a voice of rare energy and great power to sing it. Feebly rendered, it would reveal something rough, irregular, abrupt that disappears under [the influence of] enthusiasm. They’ve spoken of reminiscences, and the reproach is accurate, but only up to a certain point. Sometimes in effect one sees the dawning of preludes of a recognized motif; but the composer perceives it still more quickly than the listener and cuts short the memory that is about to draw him in so as to throw it brusquely off the beaten track. It’s precisely to that perpetual vigilance against the allure of an involuntary imitation that one must, I believe, attribute the types of sudden leaps that present themselves here and there in the score.
Having made that general critique, there are numerous pieces to applaud. One has to list the tenor’s brindisi in the first scene; Ione’s aria in the second, of which one hasn’t perhaps noticed the passionate sweetness; the duet of the contralto and bass that opens the second act, the tenor-soprano duet which follows it and the scene of delirium that crowns it’ in the third act, the duet of the soprano and the baritone, then the finale, which is a masterpiece of harmonic amplitude; finally, in the last act, a new duet whose effect passes too unperceived in the midst of the preoccupation with the cataclysm scene that is brewing. One sees that few operas offer, in sum, such a beautiful sum of remarkable passages.
The principal burden of the performance rests on Mme Medori, and there has to be no less a talent than hers, at once so vigorous and so flexible, to carry it without faltering. During the three final acts, she holds the stage almost without interruption, a formidable task that few prima donnas could brave with the same success. It is, moreover, easy to see that she has studied the role with a predilection that has permitted her to master it completely and to forget its crushing fatigue. Here, as in Norma, one recognizes in her that powerful dramatic instinct that alone enables an artist to delve into a character’s deepest recesses, and to identify with her, so to speak. She has, beneath this connection, something of the precious gift that Rachel possessed; and no one, since that great tragedienne, has captured the mystery of ancient passion to the same degree, in my opinion. The aria with which she enters the stage is a pearl of delivery and feeling; the love duet in the second act and the duet of despair in the fourth present one of the most moving and admirably rendered contrasts that I’ve seen in the theater. One would have to follow her step by step through the role, moreover, to do her justice completely.
The same unreserved praise can be addressed to Bellini, who gives the high priest’s role a sustained amplitude, to very powerful effect. Biachi is no less perfect—even though perhaps bordering a bit too much on treacherous melodrama—in [the role of] the tavern-keeper Bardo. These two roles are played and sung from one end to the other with rare perfection, and form, with that of Ione, a trio such as one does not often find.
The slave Nidia is certainly, for Mlle Sulzer, one of the most successful creations that we’ve seen from her up to now. Along with Adalgisa from Norma, this role is the one that shows most favorably the qualities of her voice and her abilities as a singer. As always, furthermore, she is a graceful and sympathetic actress.
As for M. Mazzoleni, the composer has given him such a beautiful part in the first two acts that he only has to collect a completely prepared success. He would deliver it up yet more grandly and even more fully if he succeeded in shading further the too-uniformly accentuated manner in which he portrays the [various] situations. His duet with Mme Medori and the scene of delirium would gain a lot by not being sung, from one end to the other, in full voice, with a vigor of tone that never softens by the slightest halftone. This policy, which has unfortunately become second nature for the young tenor, removes the resource of contrasts from him, which Mme Medori, at his side, knows how to draw on so admirably. He loses, through affected execution and momentary fatigue, the portion of the audience that demands from the art of singing something other than a sustained utterance from full lungs. In this, Mazzoleni only falls onto the same reefs where the artists who have veered exclusively into the Verdi cult have already been dragged.
As an ensemble, I repeat, it would be difficult to find a group of artists who are as adept at putting M. Petrella’s work into high relief, and the spontaneous success they have obtained in New York is doubly justifiable.
The costumes and scenery surpass what one rightfully demands from an ephemeral production, for which the yield of a new work is comprised of the receipts from three or four performances. The situation isn’t the same here as in a European theater, where one mounts an opera with a view toward an unlimited number of performances. In taking account of this circumstance, Maretzeck [sic] merits more than ordinary praise for the manner in which he has done things. The décor of the first act and that of the final scene give honor to M. Calyo’s brush, in which we recognize an excellent pupil of Allegri. It is regrettable, from the point of view of chronological accuracy, that economic necessities have forced the borrowing of certain backdrops of pointed arches and some crenellated towers from the old storeroom, which constitute two specimens of architecture ever so slightly premature for the year 79 A.D. Another type of anachronism, less excusable, is the velvet robe in which M. Bellini is clothed in the first act. The Lyonnais factory was not yet sending its products to the fashionable swells of Pompeii.
The success of Ione is like those [types] that last, because they are of good quality, and it promises still more than one sparkling evening. For the moment, however, a fact of absolute necessity has come to interrupt its run. Struck a couple of months ago by intimate grief [the death of her husband], Mme Medori finds herself imperiously called back to Europe, to set the financial affairs of the family in order. She leaves the 22nd of this month aboard the Africa and can give us only two farewell performances. One, a benefit for Maretzeck [sic] that will show her to us, hasn’t been done here for ten years, I Due Foscari [sic]; in the second, she will appear for the last time in Norma. It’s a long time since an artist will have left behind so many brilliant memories and keen regrets. For her part, Mme Medori leaves with sadness a scene where each of her appearances was a triumph, and a public that knew so well how to understand her. It has to be nothing less than the particular situation she finds herself in that determined that she delay her departure as much as possible, but that it became inevitable. One can hope that the memory of the welcome that she has found in New York will send her back to us at least for next autumn. Her absence will leave a void that’s extremely difficult to fill.”
“In opera matters, we have had the production of the grand opera, in five acts, entitled ‘Ione, or The Last Days of Pompeii,’ composed by Petrella, a Neapolitan composer of considerable merit. The plot is taken from Bulwer’s novel, and follows the story pretty closely. 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. His Brooklyn experiment failed entirely, on this account; the promised and much-lauded excellence that marked Max’s first few nights’ performances, being not on the programme at the Brooklyn Academy presentations. The fact is, managing the opera in the United States is what Sam Slick would call ‘a pesky risky operation.’ In Europe, and in Mexico and Cuba, the managers of the opera either receive a government subsidy, or are insured from actual loss by their experiments. But here, the opera, if it succeeds, barely pays a dividend of ten per cent, and if it fails, it is a dead loss to the unfortunate impresario. From the results of some of the experiments made at the New York Academy, the following conclusions have been drawn:--
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.”