Anschütz German Opera: Tannhäuser: Pauline Canissa Benefit

Event Information

Academy of Music

Carl Bergmann

Price: $1; $1.50 box; .50 family circle; .25 amphitheatre

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
10 November 2016

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

20 Jan 1864, Evening

Program Details

Benefit of Mlle. Canissa

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Tannhauser; Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg; Tannhäuser and the Singers’ Contest on the Wartburg
Composer(s): Wagner
Text Author: Wagner


Announcement: Courrier des États-Unis, 18 January 1864.

Announcement: New-York Times, 19 January 1864.

Advertisement: New-York Times, 19 January 1864, 7.
Performers.  “Prices as usual.”
Advertisement: New York Herald, 20 January 1864.

Announcement: New-York Times, 20 January 1864, 4.

Advertisement: New-York Times, 20 January 1864, 7.

Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 20 January 1864, 8.

“Tonight ‘Tannhäuser’ will be repeated, this time as a benefit for Miss Cannissa [sic]. One should attend this opera in order to be able to judge it for oneself. 

It has been cast very well here. Only with difficulty can the opportunity to hear this opera be offered to the German public. Should the weather tonight be favorable, it can be expected that the house will be ‘overfilled,’ in the true sense of the word; on Monday, despite the detestable weather, it was filled so full that even standing room was rare.
The opera company is planning to extend the season a week or two, and during that time should succeed in presenting some novelties."
: Steinway, William. New-York Historical Society. The Diaries of William Steinway., 20 January 1864.
“I am at the Opera.  Tannhäuser given very well.”
Review: New York Post, 21 January 1864, 2.

“Wagner’s ‘Tannhauser,’ as sung at the Academy of Music, by the German opera company, has given rise to a flood of profound and copious newspaper criticism on the part of our city press, quite as remarkable as it is incomprehensible. One critic gasping wildly for smiles, compares the composer to a man “with his nose perked up towards the sky and his two feet in a mud puddle” – a bit of prosaic transcendentalism which would puzzle even the editor of the Musical Review, or any of the critical journals of Faderland. The result of all these various criticisms, when boiled down, is simply the verdict already given by the public: that 'Tannhauser' is a most elaborate work, containing a pleasing Pilgrims’ Chorus, an admirable march and chorus, some few solos conveying no intelligible melody, and dreary wastes of the dullest kind of doleful recitative, all prefaced by one of the most brilliant, original and effective overtures in the whole repertoire. It is furthermore conceded that the German singers, under Mr. Bergmann’s lead, struggle bravely with the difficulties of the score, while the orchestra is admirable in every respect.  Yet with all this, the opera is not adapted to musical taste as it exists at present, and the great majority of people listen to it with a curiosity which, long before the curtain falls, gives place to weariness.  Perhaps twenty or thirty years hence, such music as Wagner’s may be in vogue; but certainly it does not respond to the popular taste of to-day.”

Review: New-York Times, 21 January 1864, 5.
German Opera. — Mr. Richard Wagner’s opera of the ‘Tannhauser’ was played last night, for the second time, at the Academy of Music. The director was Mr. Carl Bergmann, who some years since brought out the work at the Stadt Theatre, where it was a complete failure. Since then, the general public has become familiar with the overture, and through that brilliant pot pourri, with the principal themes of the opera. The advantage of this acquaintance was noticeable last night in frequent and genial bursts of applause. Indeed, we have seldom seen an audience that was more attentive, respectful, and quick to appreciate. We are heartily glad that it was so, not from any particular love of Wagner, but because we should be sorry to see a New-York audience guilty of the rudeness and obstinate blindness that characterized the Parisian audience when this opera was first produced in the gay metropolis of la belle France. The least we can do for a man of study and long effort, is to give him a patient hearing.
It was long before Mr. Wagner received that attention in any part of the world. The composer of many operas, large and small, it has only been his good fortune to participate in one immediate success. This was ‘Rienzi.’ All his other works were positive and unmistakable failures on their respective first nights. Mr. Wagner’s latest production (‘Tristan und Isolde’) is as yet unsung. It was placed in rehearsal at one of the principal Vienna opera-houses, and the artists studied their parts for many months, but they were unable to commit them to memory, and the attempt had therefore to be abandoned. Nevertheless Mr. Wagner can boast at this moment of a very large and intelligent audience. In all the theatres of Germany his music is played, and we think fairly appreciated. Here we are acquainted with small parts of ‘Rienzi,’ the ‘Fliegende Hollander,’ ‘Lohengrin,’ and now with the whole of ‘Tannhauser.’
The composer is a man of about fifty years, who has been reared in a school of the bitterest adversity. He is, in a a [sic] measure, self-taught, and, like all self-taught men, mistakes the irregular discoveries of an inquisitive spirit for the intense inspirations of genius. Chilled by constant failures, by worldly hardships, by pecuniary difficulties, and by political troubles, he has sought not repose, but excitement in himself. The world gave him nothing, why should he care for the world? Thus, from an early extravagance of style, which genial applause might have softened, he has steadily proceeded to greater extravagances until, as we see, his last work is pronounced, even by a friendly tribunal, to be impossible. The championship, too, which the Weimar coterie has generously exercised in bringing Mr. Wagner before the public, has had its evil consequences. Champions generally sympathise [sic] with the meanest attributes of their heroes. In this particular case they have been at particular pains to extol the exuberant vagaries of their friend, rather than to warn him against the excesses which have already, in a manner, terminated his career. A man who cares little for the world, and much for the opinion of a few friends, is in a sad way—philosophy to the contrary, not withstanding.
The ‘Tannhauser’ is a work which, if it has not revolutionized music, has at least precipitated changes in the relations of the great masses of the operatic drama. It is an earnest protest against flippancy; a serious effort to treat an old-time lyric subject in a grand chivalrous spirit; a resolute trial to preserve homogeneity in the orchestra, in the chorus, and among the soloists. It is for the latter, aside from technicalities, that the ‘Tannhauser’ is mainly remarkable. The leading singers are not indulged in the graceful vanities of the Italian stage. They have to put up with the rough of the work; to do the best they can in pushing forward the action. There are no arias romanzas [sic], cavatinas and fal-lalls for them, but solid burdens of sound, beneath which they not unfrequently [sic] stagger, and grow weary, and long for rest, and pray for Verdi. Sometimes the compose [sic] leaves them completely in the lurch; backs out of all responsibility, and isolates them grimly as if for a joke. This is the case in the Shepherd’s song of the second scene, where an unhappy rustic is permitted to go astray in a maddening flux of notes and keys without any kind of accompaniment. But usually he is after them with the orchestra, and chorus, and they cannot complain of want of attention.
Are there no melodies in the opera? No tunes, perhaps, but melodious bits, and plenty of them too. In the overture they are presented in a bouquet, and with a brightness of coloring that can hardly be excelled. There are many other morceaux that may be melodious to a highly trained ear, but have no broad and popular claim to that distinction. Wagner, in fact, is deficient in the symmetries of a poet. He either despises form, or has no idea of what that quality is. Hence he cannot be a first-class melodist. Moreover, he is absolutely deficient in spontaneity. In all that he does there is an inflexible sternness, a dogged deliberation of purpose. Perceiving, perhaps, a wider and better field for art he has set out evidently with the intention of wading to it. He despises the pleasant way, because he has not been able to find it. He is never playful, and his nearest approach to repose is grotesqueness. Gayety is the privilege of genius, as dullness is of stupidity. Wagner, although not gay, is assuredly not stupid. He occupies a neutral ground, and occupies it with his nose perked up to the sky, lest he should scent the flowers, and a couple of sturdy legs in the nearest puddles. The well sustained effort of a worker; the fagging completeness of a drudge are perceptible everywhere; but the happy conceits of a poet, the all illuminating lightning flash of genius are not to be found. When he has a melody he knows how to make the most of it. All the best pieces in the ‘Tannhauser’ are elaborated with consummate skill, and they all seem as if they had come from a foundery [sic] rather than a quarry; suggest the hammer, not the chisel.
The dramatic statements or solos, with few exceptions, are of preternatural heaviness—dull, prosy, stupid, and the result of nothing in the world but labor. The heaviest of these things are, of course, those which are most praised by the admirers of the composer; and for people who hate melody, love deformity and cling to dreariness, they are no doubt hugely improving. Wagner himself never despises a melody, but nurses it carefully and artistically—witness the love song of ‘Tannhauser,’ the baritone solo of the first act, and again of the third act. The concerted pieces and the choruses are always vigorous. Some of the combinations are really overwhelming. The orchestral partition is exceedingly full and exceedingly well considered. It is here that we must look if we would see Mr. Wagner to the best advantage. The Italian school deals mainly with the voice, the German with the orchestra; Wagner is as truly the representative of the latter as Verdi is of the former.
There are extravagances of harmony to which it is not necessary to refer. They are frightful on paper, but not always disagreeable to the ear; nevertheless, it must be confessed that some of the modulations are abrupt and harsh. Our forefathers used to go from key to key with great dignity and stateliness; Wagner rushes about like a steam engine.
The performance of this difficult work was extremely creditable to the German company, all the members of which are in the cast. Mr. Bergmann conducted with great steadiness and effect.”
Review: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 21 January 1864, 8.
“The sensation that ‘Tannhäuser’ created here, and the attention devoted to it by both the press and audiences, require us to return to a discussion of the work itself. On the whole, Wagner’s style, as expressed in ‘Tannhäuser’ has won very few committed fans here. Although impressive, the instrumental tone-painting, unusual resonances, extravagant sonority and the effect of the mass in Wagner’s works do not warm the heart. In the main, Wagner’s music appeals less to the soul and more to the mind – and nerves. For it is music of the soul which is not only the most valid, but also the most lasting. In music, as in poetry, 
If you don’t feel [art, music], you will not get it.
Only if it flows from the soul
With joyful primal strength
Will it persuade the hearts of your listeners.
And truly, the heart will not be persuaded upon hearing ‘Tannhäuser.’ Judging from the applause on yesterday and Monday, although that is not always a reliable measure, only three numbers captured attention: the grand scene in the second act (march and chorus), the romance, ‘Oh, You, My Lovely Evening Star,’ and the pilgrims’ chorus in the third act. These three graceful, fresh, green islands emerge from the often monotonous sea of sound, oozing with difficult passages and eccentric, crass effects and contrasts. The audience welcomed these, because they were respites for the assaulted ear, and because they were comprehensible, without relying on Wagner’s explanations. The first march in G is unquestionably pompous, but the clear, elegant theme’s originality is contested by various sides. The romance is a delicate, effective composition with a beautiful melody. But we admire even more the pilgrims’ chorus, with its final piano effects, in which individual voices gradually fade and seem to decay at the end. It is a highly characteristic vocal composition in which the composer’s brilliant traits are realized.
We wish to dedicate a few words to the overture, which, as a concert piece, is well known here and at every performance is played with superb understanding, energy and passion. The first section, Andante maestoso, is strong: it has to make a favorable impression, which it does. Unfortunately, however, its impression is obliterated by the Allegro section immediately following. This section’s two-measure motif appears 142 times in the overture, according to Hector Berlioz’ calculations. Beyond that, the violin figure based on this motif, which begins piano and grows to a fortissimo is not original, but is said to have been lifted from the last eight measures of the Andante section in the Magic Flute’s final chorus. The orchestra, which yesterday was more powerful and firmer, presented the Overture well, and to much applause. The chorus sang better than on Monday; entrances were more confident and accurate, and, in general, the piano nuances were clearer.
The vocal solos in this work are very challenging, because they lie almost exclusively in the middle range. The role of ‘Landgraf’ is especially difficult and one of the most thankless parts in German opera.
[Next portion of article is missing from Music in Gotham files]
Mr. Hermanns, however, managed the challenge well. Herr Himmer, though not in his best voice, was a passable 'Tannhäuser.' Frau Johannsen, who was 'Elizabeth,' acted and sang nicely. The pretty ‘Hirtenlied’ was sung too slowly by Mrs. Canissa. Steinecke sang well, however, his vocal skills could be more refined. Of the ensemble performance, we can only mention as well done the septet in the second act, the big chorus in the same act and the Pilgrim Chorus of the third act."


Review: New York Herald, 22 January 1864, 4.
The first paragraph is difficult to read.
“Poetry and romance are more attractive with the [illeg.] than the [illeg.] studies of astronomy or mathematics, and yet it is conceded that the latter are, with other equally important and dry researches, the foundations of human knowledge and [illeg.]. As the lullaby, or the shepherd’s song to [illeg.], was the first germ of Italian opera, who can assert that the great work of Richard Wagner, the Tannhauser, is not the [illeg.] announcement of a musical epoch which shall conduct future generations to the understanding and enjoyment of [illeg.] music—bearing the same relation to the music of today as does ‘Newton’s Principle’ or ‘[illeg.]’ to ‘Mother Goose?’ The production in this city of the Tannhauser is an event of interest to our musical circles. This opera has been sung in Europe with different success. It was produced in Paris under the most advantageous circumstances. The composer himself led the orchestra, and [illeg.] mouths overlooking the mise en scene, and attending the rehearsals. Artists of undoubted ability sang the principal roles; in fact, all that could be done to render the performance a success independently of the merit of the music, was lavishly accomplished.
The opera was pronounced a bore by the Parisians, and, beyond doubt, was a failure. There are some very beautiful things in Tannhauser. The overture is fine, there is a march which has become popular everywhere, and there is a fine chorus; but, takes as a whole, the opera is d[illeg.], tedious, and at times positively provoking; there are great [illeg]merations of sound without melody, which last so long that the ear pines for relief and would welcome any changes. We have no prejudices in the matter, do not feel inclined to belittle this opera even if it were in our power, but simply state that we deem it very tiresome. To our thinking there are too few plums in this huge and indigestible pudding.
We are quite ready, however, to admit our inability to understand or appreciate the ‘music of the future,’ and merely state the fact that we were among the number of those who at the two performances of the opera which have taken place at our Academy of Music wondered at the enthusiasm displayed by persons who, it seems, are fully conversant with the beauties and grandeur of Mr. Wagner’s style. It must be recorded that about this period the eccentric composer was agitating all Germany with his new ideas. Musical circles here were likewise tormented by the production of American musical eccentricity. Mr. Fry brought forth an opera which people wondered at, and could not understand. But Fry and Wagner, in their different styles, will no doubt be better understood by posterity.
We append a synopsis of the plot of Tannhuaser — [Includes synopsis of each act.]
Large audiences have attended the performances of this opera, curiously drawing together even those who are not partial to German music. On each occasion there were hundreds of persons in the Academy of Music who came there evidently with an idea that a feeling of hostility was entertained against Mr. Wagner’s productions, and with the [illeg.] purpose of applauding the opera through thick and thin. The injudicious demonstrations of these persons rendered it quite impossible for us to judge how the public liked the work. The artists, one and all, acquitted themselves creditably of the arduous task of singing this heavy opera. The mise en scene was rich. Some of the choruses were attractive, while the instrumentation was really fine. The great merit of Tannhauser is the orchestral music. Herein Mr. Wagner evinces genius. Tonight the opera will be given for the third time. The case includes the whole of the German troupe.”
Review: Musical Review and World, 29 January 1864, 36.
Brief mention.
Review: Musical Review and World, 13 February 1864, 55.
“That their season was not successful, was simply owing to bad management.  As everybody knows, the performance [sic] of ‘Faust,’ ‘Tannhaeuser,’ and ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ were witnessed by very crowded audiences.”