Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
19 February 2019
Last night was the debut of Jennie Van Zandt as Gilda in Rigoletto. She was already known as a concert singer.
“Mrs. Van Zandt is small and slight in figure, with expressive though not regularly handsome features, and a manner that interests at once. She is very young—probably not more than one or two and twenty—and is connected with some of our best families by marriage. This fact, as well as the well merited reputation which she has gained as a concert singer, drew an audience which for numbers and fashion equaled almost any house of the season.
The opening passages of the score, with the exception perhaps of an aria by Massimiliani have nothing of marked interest, and it is the appearance of Gilda which may be said to arouse the attention of the audience. On her entrance, notwithstanding the warmth with which she was received, Mrs. Van Zandt completely lost her self possession. An almost total extinction of voice, arising from stage panic, led the audience to apprehend that she could not recover herself sufficiently to proceed. Soon, however, the faint and tremulous notes became firmer, and after a while they rang out with a birdlike sweetness and clearness which reassured the doubters, and the finished character of her execution soon converted their apprehensions into a feeling of the most thorough enjoyment. In the scena with the Duke the beautiful qualities of her voice and the exquisite taste and feeling of her style were at once made apparent. Although still trembling from emotions, she gave the beautiful aria, 'Gualtier Malde,' in a manner that drew down a perfect tempest of applause. Her inexperience of the stage and consequent embarrassment prevented her turning to account as she might have done, the hearty enthusiasm of the audience; but it made no difference as to the general result. From that moment her success was decided, her voice and manner becoming more assured as she proceeded, carrying her through the opera with self-possession which showed that she was fully equal to the task she had undertaken. Mrs. Van Zandt’s voice may be described as a light soprano of very high range and of great freshness and purity. It is managed with unusual skill for so young a singer, and is exceedingly sympathetic. In the concerted parts its qualities told with admirable effect.
Massimiliani was in splendid voice and did full justice to the gems with which the part of the Duke abounds. The La Donna e Mobile was never better given than by this accomplished artist.
Bellini was the Rigoletto of the evening, and Morensi sang the role of Magdalen [sic]. Mrs. Van Zandt and Massimiliani were repeatedly called forward to receive the tributes of the audience."
“Friday, we heard a debutante, Mme. Van Zandt, in Rigoletto. This singer has a good voice and a lot of skill. It was easy to see that terror paralyzed her in the second act, but the good will of the audience reassured her, and she showed herself at the height of her role in the third and fourth acts. Mme. Van Zandt naturally lacks the customs of the stage, but we hope that she will get them; she isn’t in the least an actress, and that failing was palpable in the third act; we advise the debutante to direct her studies to that area."
“Mrs. Van Zandt, who has been favorably known as a concert singer during the past two years, made her debut on Friday evening, as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. This lady, whose appearance is very prepossessing, is the owner of a light soprano voice, which she has cultivated to good purpose, under the guidance of Signor Abella. On the evening of her début, fright partially paralyzed her efforts at first, but towards the end of the opera she became more herself. Future performances will no doubt place her among the first of American soprano.”
“Mrs. Van Zandt is the name of a new American Primadonna, who made her debut as ‘Gilda,’ in ‘Rigoletto.’ The lady has been singing previously in concerts, and has been, we believe, successful. She has a soprano voice of good compass, the middle and lower registers of which do not shine by brilliancy of tone. In fact, as is often the case with American sopranists, at least as far as we have been able to judge them in public, the chief attraction of Mrs. Van Zandt’s voice lies in the fine tones which constitute the highest register of her voice. Her method is good, and she had already acquired a very acceptable execution. But is this all that is necessary for a dramatic singer? Is it enough to have learnt the lesson, and be able to say it tolerably well, to claim place as an artist on the stage? We are afraid most of our young aspirants to the position of a Primadonna think so. . . . The mere ability of singing certain passages correctly, does not make an artist, and even the highest proficiency in the art of singing does not constitute a Primadonna. . . . It is really time that [young American sopranos] become a little more impressed with the dignity, the importance, and the enormous difficulties, of musical art in general, and theirs in particular.”