Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
29 August 2018
“The last performance of Petrella’s grand opera, ‘Ione,’ drew an immense audience. The first act was marred by the breaking of the orchestra, while Signors Bellini and Biachi sang out of time. At one moment this was quite evident. The second act passed off with more eclat, while the grand finale of the third excited the enthusiasm it always does. We refer to the short comings of the first act, because unused to them since the commencement of the Maretzek grand season.”
“Academy of Music.—‘Ione; or, the Last Days of Pompeii,’ was given at the Academy for the fourth and last time last evening. The house was crowded, and received the performance with the utmost enthusiasm. Mme. Medori sang with as much sustained power as ever, and Mazzoleni and Biacchi [sic] were in more than usually fine voice. Mlle. Sulzer, of course, came in for her share of the honors. This was Mme. Medori’s last appearance but two.”
“'Ione' was performed for the last time last evening at the Academy, and of course drew a crowded audience.”
CHRONIQUE DE NEW-YORK
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 [a kind of] good luck that new pieces haven’t always had here, and which in 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] spirit. One has spoken of reminders, 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 him 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 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 total 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, underlying this connection, something of the precious gift that Rachel possessed; and no one, since that great tragedienne, has captured, in my opinion, the mystery of ancient passion to the same degree. 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, moreover, follow her step by step through the role 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—as the tavern-keeper Barda. 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 pleasant actress.
As for M. Mazzoleni, the composer has given him such a beautiful part in the first two acts, that he only has to gather up a completely prepared success. He would deliver it up yet grander and even more fully if he succeeded in shading further the too-uniformly accentuated manner in which he portrays the [different] 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 [as these] 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. 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 Lyonnaise factory was not yet sending its products to the fashionable folks 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 Maretzek, will show her to us in a work that hasn’t been done here in ten years, I Due Foscari; 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 has been 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.