Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
Ballet Director / Choreographer:
29 August 2018
“The Opera House will to-night be the scene of a noticeable revival of Meyerbeer’s ‘Roberto Il Diavolo,’ an old favorite with opera-goers, but a work which has not been given here for several years. On the present occasion the cast will include Medori as Alice, little Miss Harris as Isabella, Brignoli as Robert (a part which he played here some years ago), Hermanns as the diabolical Bertram¸ and Lotti as Raimbaut. A pleasing young dancer, Mlle. Ernestine, will be the Abbess. If the house be as full and the performance as admirable as at ‘Faust’ last night, all present will be delighted.”
“At last we have a ‘new’ opera in the repertoire again, which is rather rare here in New York. In Germany a new production is introduced every season, whereas here it has become customary to keep repeating the same operas over and over. “Robert” had not been put on stage at the Academy of Music for four years until last night. It is one of the best, though not one of the most challenging, of Meyerbeer’s works. Except for the Huguenots, none of his operas show his genius as well as this one. The beautiful melodies, the plot, and the powerful instrumentation are all admirable. Meyerbeer knows how to adapt the music to the plot in a way that one cannot exist without the other. The listener is involuntarily drawn into the truth of the musically expressed thought in both Robert and The Huguenots. This is what makes Meyerbeer an exceptional opera composer. His operas will always find an audience, even after Verdi & Co. have already been forgotten.
We find, however, the arrangement and editing of this opera by the Italian troupe not favorable. It was cut from five acts to four, with parts omitted that we consider essential for the understanding of the plot. Regarding last night’s performance we are certain that it can be done better. Signor Brignoli is not at all the ‘Robert’ he should be. Most of the time, he seems very stiff and indifferent in this part. His performance seems monotone and he hardly moves his body. His vocal skills are clearly not sufficient for this part anymore. This seems obvious when he, at times, moves into ‘falsetto’ from the b note in parts where it is very inappropriate. Mme. Medori as ‘Alice’ did not impress. The highlight of this evening was Mr. Hermanns, who excelled as ‘Bertram.’ In the Finale, no. 13, he sang so well that the audience erupted in shouts of applause as was rarely heard at the Academy before. The chorus and orchestra were still a little insecure, especially in the first act.”
The hall “was filled last evening, beyond its capacity of accommodating the public. People were crowded together, uncomfortably, so much so that the management—which was taken by storm on this occasion—will for the future stop the sale of tickets when a certain number have been disposed of. It was almost out of the question for those who had secured seats to get to them. Gentlemen seemed to have forgotten the proverbial politeness to ladies and were rude when requested to make room that they might get to their seats. The steps were crowded, the passageways were jammed, up to the top of the house the same state of crowding existed. To give an idea of the excitement produced by the production of Roberto Il Diavolo it may be stated that after the doors were first opened they were forcibly shut to keep out the crowd. It was necessary to do this that those having secured seats might have a chance of getting in when they came later in the evening. New York has evidently made up its mind that this shall be the most brilliant operatic season ever witnessed and if last evening is a sample of what is to come there can be no doubt that this intention will be fully carried out.
The opera passed off finely. The mise en scene was truly beautiful, the displayof armor being particularly rich and appropriate. The choruses were remarkable for spirit and ensemble, while the orchestra, ably led by Maretzek, executed the music for the chef d’ouevre admirably.
Mme. Medori, as Alice, acted and sang most successfully. She was warmly applauded. Miss Harris, in the role of the Princess, was heard to great advantage. Her fresh voice lightened up the performance. That it gave satisfaction was evinced by the applause bestowed upon the debutante. Miss Harris, though not powerful in her lower notes, shows the most careful cultivation in her upper register, which is pure and sufficiently powerful.
Signore Brignoli, as Roberto, was successful throughout the opera. He seemed animated by the evident favor shown him by the immense audience, and exerted himself to merit it. . . .
. . . Signor Lotti made much of the secondary role of Raimbant [sic] in the duo with Bertram. He was much applauded, and an encore demanded. Herr Hermann [sic], as Bertram, sang and acted the role with all the skill of a finished artist. He was much applauded in the second act, and in the graveyard scene he was also very impressive.
The ballet passed off as well as can be expected here. We have a grand opera house, but no ballet corps, and hence must not be hard to please in the matter. We believe that were the impressario to give us regular seasons, with all the appliances of opera, magnificent mise en scene, ballet, &c., they would meet with ample patronage, and all parties profit thereby. This may not have been feasible hitherto; but at present it would undoubtedly succeed. Some amusement was created during the ballet by the stoical indifference with which Brignoli regarded the sylph who was endeavoring to lure him to his ruin. He was cold as ice, and all her pirouettes were vain, till suddenly the tenor gave way and heartily kissed the face pushed so beseechingly near his own. A laugh of relief was heard through the house, in which the ladies epically indulged.”
“If an audience perhaps without parallel in numbers in our operatic annals be any proof of popularity, Meyerbeer must be the favorite composer with New York public. At half-past seven last night the announcement ‘Standing room only’ was placarded at the ticket office, and even then the standing room was so crowded that those who had held checks for seats found much difficulty in reaching them; and many went away utterly unable to get in. The upper tiers were correspondingly full.
Maretzek conducted, and the first act was listened to, it must be confessed, with more attention that satisfaction; for neither did Medori in her air Vanne, or Brignoli in the Sicilienne, elicit much applause. The second act was noticeable for the admirable singing of Hermanns and Lotti, who as Bertram and Raimbaud [sic], won an encore for their opening duet. The subsequent acts increased the enthusiasm of the audience, though the ballet was as melancholy an exhibition of salutatory[sic] old age as the traditions of the venerable ladies who officiate as dancers on the New York stage can record. The amusement of the audience was much increased by the stolidity of Brignoli—quite pardonable under the circumstances—and his utter indifference to the fascinations of Mlle. Ernestine, until he suddenly woke to the necessity of bestowing an unexpected kiss.
In the fourth act Miss Harris as the Princess was warmly applauded, though timidity prevented her from appearing to her best advantage. The grand trio of the last act was finely given by Medori, Brignoli, and Hermanns.
The great feature of last night’s performance was the magnificent conception and representation, by Hermanns, of the part of Bertram. In ‘make-up,’ in singing and in acting, it was truly a lyric ‘creation,’ and the only drawback was the fact that Bertram sang in German, and everybody else on the stage in Italian.”
“It is pleasant to know that there is one opera at least that ‘Faust’ has not staled. The distribution, last night, was exceedingly strong, and, in fact, introduced most of the leading artists of Mr. Maretzek’s splendid company. . . . . [T]he performance was generally good.”
“[W]itnessed by an audience that, in point of numbers, has hardly been surpassed.”
The performance “drew a vast crowd.” Hermann [sic] sang in German; the other parts were done in Italian. “This is a new style of producing effects; and we suggest that it do not stop with only two languages. Let there be a different language for every singer, and there will be an amount of variety in the prosody and declamation not possible under the old slow system. There might be some difficulty in finding a prompter. But if one could not be discovered sufficiently mezzofantiish [sic], several might be impressed into the service; and instead of one portentous box from which are not infrequently heard rasping sounds all over the house helping the singers to the amore and dolore, there might be several emitting gutturals, labials, dentals, all in the confusion of a delightful lyric babel.
Robert le Diable is an opera not well-domesticated out of Paris. The proper mode of producing it requires dancing equally with singing forces, and an account of Parisian tradition which we have never encountered except in the French capital. The plot is so supernatural—no episode—but bone and flesh made up of the supernatural, that we cannot feel any interest in the characters. They seem to be impelled by nothing possible, and to be acting without motive or meaning. Bertrasm’s love for his son draws forth as much sympathy as a lugubrious wail from a cargo of brimstone.
Mr. Hermann [sic] is a good illustrator of his school and sang satisfactorily. The voice of Signor Brignoli has come back to him, but he does not understand the character of Robert—presuming it to be capable of interesting interpretation—which we doubt, never having seen the actor who could invest it with interest.”
“The first performance of Robert attracted, on Friday, a large audience that eclipsed even the most successful evenings of Faust. The artistic success wasn’t less than the financial success, despite the singularity of having a bass singing in German amid the all of the Italian. Mme. Medori, L. Harris, Brignoli and Lotti form an ensemble that the opera by Meyerbeer has never experienced in New York. Mlle. Ernestine has gracefully mimed the ‘scène de la fascination.’ In a word, the performance was a complete success.”
“Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert’ was performed twice at the Academy of Music, by Signora Medori, Miss Harris, Signor Brignoli, and Messrs. Hermanns and Lotti. The duett between the bass and tenor (the most fluent music Meyerbeer has written), was the feature of the evening. With regard to execution, Mr. Herrmanns, although deficient in the highest and lowest register of his voice, yet quite skillfully managed to make a favorable impression with the part of ‘Bertram.’ Mad. Medori (Alice), excelled again by the power of her voice and the intensity of dramatic expression, which is at her command. The mere art of signing is, however, not her forte. It is no use veiling the fact, that Signor Brignoli has lost considerable of his voice. As he had never anything else but voice, the interest he formerly inspired is entirely gone, even with the public at large. Miss Harris (Princess) sang her two arias acceptably, but can we not require a little more than this? Her performance reminded us very much of one of those exhibitions our school girls give once or twice a year.”
Brief mention, with no exact date given. “The Italian Opera (Maretzek’s) keeps on in its usual course—Faust and Ione, relieved occasionally by some of the old stock pieces. Robert le Diable has been given several times of late, with Medori as Alice, Miss Harris as the Princess, Brignoli as Robert, and Herr Hermanns as Bertram.”