Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
21 July 2015
“The rehearsals of Fra Diavolo have been frequent and complete, and will, we understand, enable the management to put it on the stage in its new form, with considerable additions to the original score, by the composer, with new scenery, costumes and other accessories, in the early part of next week.”
“The public have been informed that a great musical treat was in store for them in the production of Auber’s highly popular comic opera, Fra Diavolo, for the first time in its Italian version, renewed and enlarged by the venerable composer. In this form it will be given on Wednesday night, Mr. Maretzek having now at his disposal all the artists necessary for the requirements of this light and charming opera. In the English version, with which every one is familiar, it will be remembered how unpleasant an interpolation the frequent prose passages make in the flow of the music. All these have been changed for recitations by Auber when he revised the work for Covent Gardent theatre, London, a few years ago—the only house we may add, at which it has ever yet been played in its present form. The artists who interpreted it at that time were Bosio, Gardoni, Roncini, Tagleficio, Zegler and Maray, and the sensation was immense. Great freshness and novelty was imparted to the composition by Auber, then nearly eighty years old, by some very brilliant new pieces. He added, for example, a new aria for Zerlina, arranged from some of his other compositions; a duo for the two robbers, an aria for the baritone (Lord Allcash)—in this version called Lord Rocburg—a delightful terzette for Fra Diavolo, Beppo and Giacomo, and an entirely fresh tarantella. Thus the opera is almost a new one. While the old music charms by its exceeding beauty, the recent compositions will be enjoyed with unusual interest, from the circumstances under which they were written, as well as for the freshness by which they are marked. The opera will be produced here, after several careful rehearsals, with entirely new scenery and costumes, long in course of preparation, and a largely increased chorus and orchestra. It will in all probability have as successful a run as Don Sebastian.”
“There will be no performance at the Academy to-morrow evening, the house being required for a final rehearsal of ‘Fra Diavolo,’ which will be produced positively on the following (Wednesday) evening.”
“Tonight, for the first time in this country, the amended Italian version of Fra Diavolo will be produced at the Academy. This is the second grand novelty which Mr. Maretzek has introduced this season, and the fact that it follows immediately after Dom Sebastien, the most costly and laborious opera which has been put upon our stage for a long time, speaks satisfactorily for the enterprise of the impresario and his desire to furnish that class of works which is most popular here. We have before remarked upon the novelties introduced by the composer into the opera in the form which will be presented tonight. Always a favorite among the comic operas, as it comes now retouched by the hand of Auber after so many years have elapsed since it was composed—an opportunity, we may say, afforded to few of the great composers—it will be found a gem rendered more brilliant by the workmanship bestowed upon it. It will no doubt be received with pleasure and interest. All the scenery and costumes, we understand, are prepared expressly for this opera. Tomorrow we shall be able to speak of its success, it being already a well established favorite.”
“Auber’s celebrated opera of ‘Fra Diavolo’ will be produced here to-night, for the first time, in Italian. The work is known—in an impoverished condition—to the American stage. It has been played frequently in English; and, even in that wretched form, has been successful. The present version is new to our public. Auber, after nearly forty years’ experience of distinct triumphs reserved a very remarkable degree of strength for a revision of this work. Changing it from the French colloquial to the Italian declamatory form, he achieved a new success only four or five years ago. Instead of being a comic opera, (or work where dialogue is permissible,) it is now grand opera (where recitative is the only medium of conversation.) Five numbers are entirely new, and the connecting links are also written for the present version—which, in fact, is a new opera.”
“Academy of Music.--Production of Fra Diavolo.--In the matter of weather Mr. Maretzek is certainly an unfortunate manager. His best pecuniary intentions are frequently frustrated by the unkindliness of the elements. Whenever, in fact, it seems certain that the ‘house’ will be of a sort to cheer the heart of the Treasurer, the unpitying heavens unbosom themselves, and slush prevails. Such a day as yesterday, indeed, calculated to try men’s soles. The ancient Egyptians, it is well known, were in the habit, on all festive occasions, of passing round a small coffin containing a perfect representation of a dead body. The attendant who performed this cheerful office, exclaimed, 'Cast your eyes on this figure; after death you will be like it; drink then and be happy.' Mr. Maretzek, we are informed, preserves the custom, adapting it to the necessities of the time. In the roseate moments of managerial exaltation, an official approaches him with the effigies of an umbrella and a pair of overthoes. 'Cast your eyes,' he exclaims, 'upon these terrors; after rehearsal you will want them.' The remainder of the exhortation is the same as in the original Egyptian.
It would be adding insult to injury to speak thus lightly of a fello-creature’s misfortunes, if that fellow-creature did not himself derive some enjoyment from them. Moreover, although the weather was bad, it did not prevent a very large audience from assembling last night to witness the first performance of Auber’s ‘Fra Diavolo;’ nor did it in any way interfere with the record of a very distinct verdict in its favor. The opera, in some fashion or other, is tolerably well known to our public. Many of the pieces are familiar in our mouths as household words. Not very long ago it was given in English. The sufferers who were present on that occasion will not bear to be more than reminded of this fact. Infinitely more deserving was the burlesque played at the Winter Garden. Mr. Wm. Florence in that amusing version gave us a most ludicrous sketch of a sentimental cut-throat. Years ago, too, the opera was played at the Park Theatre. This was the worst thing we have heard of it. An antediluvian will surely appear in the Sunday papers to write its epitaph.
We mention these facts not because they have any historical value, but merely to prove that ‘Fra Diavolo’ must have a good constitution to go through so much and still live. The brigand and the opera took a new lease of life four or five years [sic]. It was then that M. Auber conceieved the happy idea of retouching the work, and putting it in form for the Italian stage. It was no slight task to undertake. There are few octogenerians who care to tread the hazardous path of their early pursuits. But genius is always youthful. The numbers by the aged composer are as fresh as anything he has ever written. And those numbers, we wish it to be understood, form a very important addition to the work. They consist of five new pieces, and of a large amount of recitative. The opera, in its present form, contains all that was good in the old edition, and a fair third of entirely original matter. A more agreeable and charming work cannot be found. From the opening bar of the overture to the final ‘vittoria’ of the chorus, there is not a tedious moment in it. Everything sparkles with life and delights with the charm of elegance. It is evident that M. Auber went about his task with enthusiasm. The additions are not intended for the benefit of any one singer. They are liberally scattered among all the dramatis personæ—the soprano and baritone a new concerted piece; the tenor and bassi a new terzetto, &c., &c. Something has also been done for the terpsichorean department in the way of a strikingly brilliant tarantella. But of the new pieces generally it must suffice for the present to say that they are all good. The terzetto is fully equal to anything that has ever emanated from Auber’s pen. It is introduced very effectively, and the subject is treated not only by the voices, but by the orchestra. We may here add that those truculent knaves, Beppo and Giacomo, have been very liberally remembered. They have always been favorites with the public. There is an honest fascination of pure scoundrelism about them that cannot be resisted. From their entrance in the first act to the piteous extremity in which we find them in the last, they excite the amusement of the audience. Auber’s new music for these worthies is in an excellent dramatic vein.
Mr. Maretzek has brought out ‘Fra Diavolo’ with great care. The scenery is new and good; the dresses as fine as the style of the present day will permit them to be. The distribution could hardly be improved with the company at Mr. Maretzek’s command. Miss Kellog is an admirable Zerlina, singing the music with graceful ease, and the correct and fluent brilliancy that the composer requires. The chamber-scene of the second act was charmingly rendered, both musically and dramatically. The new piece was encored. In such parts Miss Kellogg is able not merely to preserve the best musical interest of her rôle, but to lend it much piquant liveliness of style as an actress. Mlle. Morensi’s fine voice, although a little too unwieldy for comic opera, was heard to occasional advantage in the varied encounters with her spouse—personated by Signor Bellini. The versatility of this gentleman enables him to sing any sort of music with success, and to sing it well. He, too, is a good actor, and was particularly unctious [sic] as the British tourist. Signor Lotti sang very acceptably throughout. The gentleman has studied the part of Fra Diavolo in less than the ordinary time, and is entitled to high praise for a conscientious and excellent performance. The two brigands were played by Messrs. Weinlich and Dubreuil, and nothing could have been heartier or better. Both gentlemen acted with humor and spirit. They contributed in no small degree to the success of the evening. Finally the orchestra, under Mr. Bergmann, left nothing whatever to be desired; nor did the chorus. We have heard ‘Fra Diavolo’ in many of the principal cities of Europe, but have seldom heard a performance that was so generally good as that of last evening. The opera will be repeated on Friday.”
“It almost seems as though Maretzek wants to make the last week of the current season into a downright interesting one. So just before its conclusion, he produces a novelty, for which Auber’s revamped ‘Fra Diavolo’ qualifies. In its original form, ‘Fra Diavolo’ is shy five numbers; in place of nothing less than beautiful dialogue, recitatives have stepped in: an improvement that is certainly appropriate. The new pieces are an aria for the baritone, a duet for Beppo and Giacomo, a trio for the tenor and the two basses, and a tarantella. The work’s performance was laced with many difficulties: it lacked the tenor who was supposed to assume the title role. Even though the part is meant for a heldentenor, it had to be assigned to Mr. Lotti. He will have deserved the part when he becomes surer of it; in some places his abilities are not in step with his good intentions, in hindsight he is certainly to be forgiven.
Yesterday’s performance suffered a host of insecurities: in the first act, only Bergmann’s presence of mind saved the whole thing from winding up in the stocks: he directed the opera with discretion and understanding. As ‘Zerlina,’ Kellogg was exceptionally good; her grand aria in the second act was requested da capo. As Pamela, Morensi stood out, with her insecurity and false entrances. The part of the Englishman was beyond the domain of Signor Bellini, although last night the versatile artist fulfilled the role adequately, which is more than can be said about Signor Lorini and other cast members. The second performance of ‘Fra Diavolo,’ which takes place tomorrow night, in any case will be noticeably better, and, for the listener, richer in enjoyment. Incidentally both the [stage] direction and Mr. Bergmann personally deserve the public’s appreciation for the [illeg.] and production of this piece, so rich in melodies and comic situations. Finally, we’d like to put forth that the overture to this work was admirably executed.”
“ACADEMY OF MUSIC.—Mr. Maretzek has done good service in presenting the Italian version of ‘Fra Diavolo.’ Without reference to the manner of its production last Wednesday night, which we really cannot compliment, and to which we shall presently allude more particularly, we are willing to recognize a certain amount of enterprise in the mere introduction of such delightful an opera, even under very imperfect and unsatisfactory conditions. The repertory of the Academy is in great need of amplification, and any respectable addition to it is always welcome. Upon an addition so important as that of ‘Fra Diavolo’ we may especially congratulate ourselves. It is, to speak with moderation, worth more than all Mr. Maretzek’s other recent novelties put together. That it ranks as positively the finest of Auber’s comic operas we should hesitate to say, but although he may have produced its equals, he has certainly never surpassed it. It is a glow of inspiration from the first note of the overture to the climax of the chorus with which it closes. It has more fertitlity, more invention, more creative strength in a single scene than are displayed in the entire bulk of an average modern Italian opera. As in the ‘Domino Noir,’ or the ‘Fiançée,’ or the ‘Sirène,’ it is impossible to listen without astonishment to the unbroken series of fresh, piquant and captivating melodies which follow each other in such swift succession that it seems as if the composer’s resources must inevitably be exhausted before the end, and yet each of which rivals all the rest in perfect grace and brilliancy. It contains concerted pieces which Mozart might have been proud to have written, and of which Rossini has pleasantly declared himself envious. And although it has no longer the stamp of novelty, excepting in a few fragments of the Italian version, its qualities are so enduring and unchanging that they not only defy time, but appear with age to gather new buoyancy and beauty.
The Italian adaptation of ‘Fra Diavolo’ was prepared in 1857—nearly thirty years after the production of the original—for the company then performing at the Lyceum Theatre in London. The changes in the libretto were arranged by Scribe, and a number of entirely new pieces of music were added by Auber, together with the whole of the recitative, it being the usage on the Italian lyric stage to avoid spoken dialogue altogether. Whether this is a change in all repsects beneficial to the comic opera is a disputed question. In grand opera, the purpose of which is more highly and purely artistic, spoken words are naturally abandoned, for the sake of aesthetic unity, but there are many cases in which the effect of the lighter lyric drama is hightened [sic] by the more rapid action which the absence of recitative allows. The Germans do not use it any more than the French. Mr. Maretzek, alluding in his programmes prose [sic] to this alteration, states that the ‘tedious prose portions’ have been happily transformed by Auber. We respect Mr. Maretzek’s hardihood if we cannot sympathize with his taste. There are few men who would venture to apply the epithet of ‘tedious’ to anything written by Scribe as late as 1830. It might accomdate itself to the persiflages of his ‘Bachelier de Salamanque’ or his ‘Redingote,’ but certainly not to the sparkling colloquy of ‘Fra Diavolo.’ The employment of recitatives in comic opera is simply a matter of individual fancy. Italian audiences insist upon them while a Prisian public would receive them reluctantly, if at all. Auber once ventured, we believe in ‘La Niege,’ to introduce a peculiar Italian denouement, and the opera was hissed night after night, until the obnoxious feature was displaced. There is no denying, however, that the new recitatives of ‘Fra Diavolo’ are most skillfully and judiciously distributed—and the writing of recitatives, it must be understood, is no trifling art, simple as their utterance may seem. But what is most remarkable about this version is the harmonious adjustment of the new duet, trio, and other freshly composed pieces. Notwithstanding the interval between the period of the original work and that of these additional, there is no trace of abruptness in transition, and no perceptible variation in the spirit and coloring of the whole work as it now stands. That Auber’s later operas, spite of his eighty years, should equal in spontaneity and vivacity those of his early youth, is a sufficient wonder; but that he could thus retrace his steps, and repossess himself of the exact feeling and sentiment of a composition so strongly characteristic and of such peculiar vein as this, and one of which he had almost had time enough to forget the existence, is a marvel without parallel in operatic annals. The song of Lord Rochburg, describing his adventure with the brigands, the trio of Fra Diavolo, Beppo and Giacomo, and the rest, are not only radiant with life and brightness, but also are so throroughly in sympathy with the general tone of the opera, that nothing but perfect acquaintance with the original would enable an audience to distinguish them. It is of these alone that we need speak. The old music being thoroughly familiar to this community—as indeed it is to every civilized community under the sun.
The representation on Wednesday evening was not credible to Mr. Maretzek’s reputation, nor to the reputation of any opera house claiming, we will not say the highest, but ordinary, rank. The scenery was good and sufficient, but beyond this we have very few words of praise to bestow. The artists to whom the principal roles were intrusted were, with two exceptions, totally inadequate to their duties. Signor Lotti sang with considerable fluency, but his voice is altogether unfitted for the dashing, fervid music of the gallant highwayman. Signor Lorini was worse than incompetent in the part of Lorenzo. This character should have been represented by Signor Lotti, while Signor Massimilliani should have sung Fra Diavolo. These gentlemen are certainly not to be considered superior to roles personated in London by Cardoni and Nori-Beraldi. Miss Morensi, we regret to say, could hardly deliver a single phrase of the music of Lady Rocburg [sic] with even tolerable accuracy—which reminds us once more of the unsatisfactory circumstance that Mr. Maretzek’s company is practically without a contralto. Signor Bellini, as Lord Rocburg, was extremely good. His singing was all that could be wished for, and his acting was in fair accordance with the conventional European idea of the English nobleman—which, by the by, about as nearly resembled the type of the living reality as a chimpanzee resembles humanity. It is easy to imagine the enormous effect which Ronconi’s performances must have given to this part. Miss Kellogg’s Zerlina was an agreeable and unaffected performance. Her singing was perfect in accuracy, and full of grace. Miss Kellogg’s obvious and unvarying fault, however, is her want of allumination [sic], and this was peculiarly conspicuous on Wednseday evening by reason of the extreme versatility of the rôle and the dainty conquetry which sparkles in every phrase of the music. Zerlina is a rustic soubrette, not a fine lady-in-waiting. Miss Kellogg’s performance was warmly applauded, and she was encored in an air of the second act. We are in some doubt as to whether this particular air, as Miss Kellogg sings it was really supplied by Auber, among his new additions. Madame Bosio used to introduce cavatina from ‘Le Serment,’ in the same situation, be the interpolation was not liked, its object evidently being rather to exhibit the lady’s rare vocal dexterity, than to properly assist in the illustration of Zerlina’s character. If our memory serves us—we are unable to verify it by examination of the score of the Italian version—there is a new duet for Zerlina and Lorenzo, in which, under the circumstances not unlike those of her namesake in ‘Don Giovanni,’ she endeavors to remove her lover’s jealous suspicious. This was not sung on Wednesday. In view of the incapacity of Signor Lorini, the omission is not, perhaps, to be [portion of paragraph missing from MIG files] but seemed to please. Two ladies, however pretty and nimble, do not constitue a ballet.
‘Fra Diavolo’ deserved a better interpretation. It is true that Mr. Maretzek’s company is a very inferior and imperfect one—one that ten years ago would barely have been tolerated in New York—but he could at least have devoted its best materials to the production of a work of this value. ‘Don Sebastian’ was brought out with much grater care, and there is more genius in one act of ‘Fra Diavolo’ than in a wildneress of ‘Don Sebastian.’ But as Mr. Maretzek’s troupe now stands, it is completely inadequate to the thorough representation of almost any important opera. He should diligently reform it. We believe there are artists of distinction in New-York who could amply supply its most palpable deficiencies. Mr. Maretzek has collected, at different times, a score or more of operatic troupes in this city. He has never, within our recollection, had so bad a one as the present. Looking back at the names which he clustered together in former years, and comparing them with those now at his disposition, he must feel that to invite scrutiny to his entertainments as first-class operatic performances would be equally unwise and unprofitable. In organizing for the new season he will best consult his own permanent interest by consulting the real artistic inclinations of the public.”
The future entrepreneurs of comic opera in New York should be highly satisfied with the results of the performance of Fra Diavolo at the Academy of Music; the success was complete, and there is no doubt that this opera, executed with complete respect for tradition, should succeed even more. As it was given by M. Maretzek, it prodiced the greatest pleasure, and there isn’t a French person in New York who wouldn’t go to revive himself and to recover France in the sounds of this delicious music.
We won’t do our readers the injustice of analyzing Fra Diavolo for them. We will content ourselves with saying a few words to them about the interpretation. As we feared, M. Lotti is inadequate; not only does he lack the manner and doesn’t resemble in the least the polished brigand who has become legendary, but he appears not even to understand the music he’s singing. He is very inferior in the first-act duet, where he pays court to the lovely Englishwoman in order to carry off her diamond-encrusted portrait; he sings the ravishing serenade in the second act, Agnès la Jouvencelle, without the slightest nuance; he dies in the larger part of the great aria in the third act, etc., etc….
Mlle Kellogg, devoted to Zerlina roles, is charming, and vocalizes admirably the aria in the second act which, if our memory is correct, was borrowed from the Serment of Auber; she relates—one could not do it better—to the pretty scene in which she gets undressed, but one sees that she never has understood how to sing the famous ballad with the nuances the composer indicated.
We arrive at the heroes of the performance of Fra Diavolo, at the artists who have obtained the most success, and with justice. We wish to speak of M. Bellini and of Mlle Morensi. The first revealed himself as a consummate comedian in the role of Lord Allcash, and with this rapport Mlle Morensi was at her height. Not only did M. Bellini show himself an excellent actor, but he also sang the role as it ought to be, modifying his vocal habits, his intonations and even the timbre of his voice. In front of the French, M. Bellini and Mlle Morensi were sure of a dazzling success. We will make only one observation” the syllable-verses of the first act should be sung a bit faster than they were at the first performance. The tempo which was indicated or imposed on M. Bellini and Mlle Morensi was not the real one. Since we are on this topic, we will add that M. Bergman [sic], perhaps for compensation, caused the first-act finale to be sung too fast, which on the first day lost all its character in this unwonted rapidity. We are certain that M. Predigam, whose advice should be the authority for the staging and the performance of Fra Diavolo, had not been consulted. A man who holds the traditions of Auber himself would not indicate such tempos. Let us say in finishing that MM. Dubreuil and Weinlich were quite suitable for the roles of Beppo and Giacomo.
To sum up, as an ensemble, the performance is good without being irreproachable. It is already a great deal, and that’s one reason why M. Maretzek persists in the path he has chosen. We recall the time when one imagined that French opera-comique would not have been able to succeed in New York in the least. The contrary is proven today, and we believe likewise that the public will end up preferring this genre to that which, in place of charming the listener, tires him in demanding of him an attention too unremitting and a perpetual tension of mind. In all cases, we will have a great variety at the Academy, which is the essential condition for a lasting success.