Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
1 March 2019
“The music is light and pleasing, and the participating artists speak of it in the warmest terms.”
“Finally we will have a genuine premiere production at the Academy of Music next Tuesday. M. Maretzek will give us Crispino e la Comare, that charming opera of the Ricci brothers which, last year, made all of Paris hasten to it. It is a delightful spectacle of puppets, in the best meaning of the word. Readers, if you like the old Italian opera bouffe, this music—flowing, joyous, trivial, but whose triviality all the same has the temperament of an artistic people—go hear the songs and see the adventures of this cobbler-doctor, and you will laugh, you will delight yourself as at the best farces of Molière. We heard, at one rehearsal, the trio of doctors that is sung in the second act, in the shop of the pharmacist Mirobolino; this trio equals all the masterpieces of the genre. It is more merry, more unrestrained, than Rossini himself; to find the model, the ancestor, go back to Cimarosa. And what will the public say when it hears the cavatina of the fritola? A cavatina for singing about frying, and in the mouth of Mlle Kellogg yet! What spirit, what animation at a high level!
[Long discussion of Naples and its milieu, the people living and doing everything outdoors, the “carnival” atmosphere all year, the itinerant sellers of fruit, crabs, sausages, the arguing that is very inventive in its expression, etc.] In Naples everything cries out, from the fish still in the water to the orange still on the tree, from the pulcinella still in the store to the saint freshly coming out of the workshop that makes luminaries. So everything shouts, and it seems that this free and easy [illegible], this grotesque lyricism, have found their esthetic form in the old Italian opera buffa, of which Crispino is one of the last offspring.
Of the two authors of this admirable buffoonery, one alone survives, Federico. The other, Luigi, died insane in Trieste, where he had been made impresario. Federico still lives at the St. Petersburg opera, where he is maestro. Crispino isn’t the only score that he wrote with his brother, but it is the most successful of many. Luigi, who was some years older than Federico, had first composed alone. In 1828, after serious studies in Naples, under Zingarelli, at the royal college of music, he had executed, in the conservatory’s training theater, a small opera bouffe, The Director, Obstructed [le directeur, dans l’embarras], whose subject had to have come back to his spirit, with less of gaiety than of bitterness, in the latter part of his life. One finds there some promise of talent that Luigi turned to profit, far from Naples, in saying to himself without doubt that it is as difficult to be a composer in one’s own country as to be a prophet there. He went back there, but he didn’t get going there. It was to Rome that he returned. . .”
“First Night in America of the new comic Opera, Crispino e la Comare (the Cobbler and the Fairy). . . . Signor E. Irfre, who in order to make the cast as perfect as possible, has accepted the comparatively small part of the Count del Fiore.”
Plot summary and performance history of the opera.
“Rovere, one of the most celebrated buffo singers of the day. [Crispino] contains a wonderful flow of melody, the concerted music is dashing and spirited, and the instrumentation is at once brilliant, melodious and cleverly harmonized. It is just the music to catch the public ear by its rare sprightliness.”
“The brothers Ricci were Neapolitan composers, who in their day enjoyed a fair popularity in Italy. They were best known as composers between 1830 and 1840. They wrote a large number of operas of varied merit, and several extracts therefrom are still frequently used as concert pieces.
It was the success of ‘Crispino e la Comare’ . . . at the Paris Italian Opera House recently, that probably induced Maretzek to produce it here. The work was given last night at our Academy of Music for the first time in America, and with a really hearty and uproarious success.
The plot is simple and easy to comprehend—something quite unusual for an opera. The music is of the same character, being light, graceful and flowing, and never learned or profound. There are passages that suggest Rossini, and others that remind one of Donizetti’s buffo operas. This class of music can never be strikingly original, yet, if there are points of resemblance in Ricci’s music to that of better known composers they are the result of coincidence, not plagiarism.
The first act is principally noticeable for the concluding duet for soprano and buffo basso. Other excellent passages in the opera are the soprano air, Non sono piu l’Anetta [sic], a highly effective concerted piece; Quanti baci, remarkable both for exquisite melody and masterly treatment; a very amusing trio for basso and two baritones, in which a doctor and an ex-cobbler quarrel, gesticulate and scold at each other most elaborately; and the final waltz movement for soprano, a little competition well calculated for pleasing vocal display, and sure to become popular, alike in the concert room and the parlor.
The central figure of the whole opera is Crispino, the cobbler, turned by the intervention of a kind fairy into a rich, successful and pompous quack doctor. In this part Signor Rovere returns to the American stage after an absence of nine years. He is one of the last of a school of singers once numerous, now very limited—the facile, voluble buffo, in whose performances the last generation or two took so much delight. Rovere, moreover, while one of the last, is one of the best of the class. His voice, though somewhat worn, is still powerful enough for his purpose, and his execution is admirable. Besides this, he is a genuine comedian, and in action and mobility of facial expression constantly shows a refined though hearty sense of humor which his audience last night was quick to appreciate.
Miss Kellogg, as Anetta [sic], the cobbler’s wife, also has a prominent part, and fills it most satisfactorily. The music is of the light, graceful character well adapted to her voice, and the action of the piece seems equally well suited to her lively and graceful manner. In the third act of the opera she sang, in the Venetian dialect, a quaint little gondola song, which, curiously though, did not hit the taste of the audience to elicit applause, though charmingly rendered, and in itself an interesting little composition. In everything else Miss Kellogg won that generous applause which is now so familiar to her ears.
All the other parts of the opera may be termed subordinate. The tenor is a mere nonentity, with but one aria and occasional chances in concerted pieces. Irfre made the most of this little part. Bellini, as an indignant doctor of the old school, was very droll and voluble, and aided much in securing the hearty encore of the Doctor’s trio. Marra, Muller and Mrs. Ficher all rendered efficient help. There were some very funny blunders in the scenic department; but they only served to increase the general good humor of the audience.”
“Academy of Music.—The new opera . . . was produced here last evening with complete success. The artists who took part in the performance were in excellent voice, and everything—except the mise-en-scene—was good. The opera has been hastily produced and very badly put on the stage. It is scarcely possible to speak in terms of proper reprobation of the scenery of the work. It is utterly beneath even momentary notice. The singers, happily, redeemed everything. There were many encores, and we shall take the opportunity of the repetition to-night to form an opinion of the musical merits of the work. It strikes us as very pleasantly in the vein of Donizetti, but with a better sweep than we are apt to find in his purely comic works.
Miss Kellogg was the life of the opera. Her admirable skill and exquisite taste saved the first act, and made each succeeding piece acceptable. The trio of the second act was mainly successful on her account. At its conclusion all the singers were recalled before the curtain. The celebrated trio of the third act had an extraordinary success—the separate parts each being encored.
Signor Rovere, who made his rentrée on this occasion, acted and sang with infinite spirit. Signor Irfre was tame to the last degree. Bellini on the contrary was animated and admirable.
We reserve for another opportunity a lengthier notice of the opera, but we record its success unreservedly. We have never been present at a first performance where the public accepted a novelty with such distinct enthusiasm.”
“The new Opera . . . produced . . . last night, proved a great and decided success. The music fascinated all by its plenitude of melody, by its airy hearty gaiety, and by its broad and genuine humor. Of the singing, taking it throughout, it was more perfectly excellent than in any opera we have heard this season, and we can hardly imagine an opera more admirably acted in every particular, both by principals and chorus.
To Miss Kellogg, who has created the character Annetta, we concede our admiration and respect. She sang the music exquisitely and acted the character to life.
Rovere and Bellini in all respects were unimprovable, exceeding all our expectations of the extent and breadth of their vein and humor. To Marra, Irfre and Mme. Ficher, is also due our cordial approbation for their excellent rendering of, and the spirit they threw into their parts. In point of fact, we never saw an entire opera so cordially rendered. The public felt the magnetism of the artists, and laughed and admired, and admired, laughed and applauded to the end.
To the conductor, Mr. Torriani, we accord unqualified praise. Quiet and unassuming, he wielded his baton to good effect, producing a performance of an equality of excellence not often vouchsafed to us. Mr. Maretzek, as the supervisor of the whole, must feel fully rewarded by the hearty concurrence of his artists and the brilliant success with the public.”
The new opera did very well. Doubts that the Maretzek ensemble would not be capable of comic opera, were quickly forgotten in the first act. Rovere did excellently on all levels as the ‘cobbler’, as did Kellogg and Bellini. The best scenes were the duet at the end of the first act, the grand ensemble in the second act, the trio for three baritones in the third act, and most of the fourth act. Last night was confidently performed by soloists, chorus, and orchestra for a first night. The audience applauded after every larger number.
“Crispino e la Comare! Here is, in our opinion, the true genre of the Italians. The current composers of the peninsula forget a bit too much, perhaps, that it was the great success of La Serva Padrona, a bouffe work, that implanted decisively, in Europe and in the whole world, the taste for Italian music, and that it was in the essentially comic operas, such as il Maestro di musica, and I Viaggiatori, of Leo, il Medico ignorante, of Pergolesi, il Paratojo, of Jomelli, gli Artigiani arrichiti, of Gaetano Latilla, and other little masterpieces of the same style, that debuted the young ladies Tonellik Rossi, Lazzari, and the great singers Manelli and Guerrieri, who were the ancestors of the Pattis and the Fraschinis; and finally that at the time of its liveliest explosion, of Barber of Seville, of Italian in Algiers, of La Cenerentola and of Don Pasquale, they were called, above all, Bouffes.
The execution of Crispino, by M. Maretzek’s company, leaves nothing to be desired. Mlle Kellogg is charming, delightful, from one end of the piece to the other. She has verve, she has grace, she has sparkling vocalization. M. Rovere, who debuted in the role of Crispino, has conquered the votes of the public since the first evening. Excellent actor and good singer, he gives the stamp of perfect comedy to this bungling upstart, without ever overdoing anything, without ever exceeding the charge of good taste. M. Rovere has the breadth and the comic fire of the best comic opera singers of the old school; we can compare him only to Zucchini, who in the same moment is singing Crispino in Paris.
M. Bellini equally revealed himself as a consummate comedian in the role of Mirabolino. The role belongs to him henceforth like a flag belongs to a soldier who has seized it [in battle]. One wouldn’t know how to do better in the third-act trio, when the virtuous doctors argue with vehement verbal stabs and virulent gestures. Imagine, in the present day, an allopath and a homeopath bandying insults back and forth in bad Latin, and you’ll have an idea of this quarrel. That’s the principal success of the whole work. The audience waited for this as though it were the last bundle of a fireworks display. We have to mention, among other remarkable bits, the duet sung by Rovere and Mlle Kellogg, at the end of the first act, and the Rossinian septet of the second act, comparable, in volubility and comic wit, to the best ensembles of the Barber or the Italian in Algiers. We would do wrong to Mlle Kellogg if we didn’t recall at all the cavatina of the Fritola, which she sang to perfection. We can only mention in passing Mlle Fisher, and MMs. Irfre and Marra, who only had insignificant roles.”
“‘Crispino a la Comare’—the ‘Cobbler and the Fairy’—was given at the Academy for the first time on the 24th ult. A fellow feeling among some of the habitués of the Academy made them take kindly to it at first sight. A great many shoeys have been in attendance to see the new opera, and they waxed warm as the thread of the story began to wind up, and the end approached, they sympathized with the cobbler in his troubles, but when his misfortunes began to mend, their sympathetic souls burst forth in enthusiastic applause, and the best (?) taps were brought down with true shoemaker vim. Miss Kellogg, shoey’s wife, is none of your half souled artists; she made a great hit in her role, as did Bellini in his. In fact, all the artists could not have been better fitted if their work had been cut out for them to order. We are sorry to hear that we are to see the last of the Cobbler on Tuesday Evening, Oct. 31st.”
“Max Maretzek, having slain the Herald dragon, opened with his new company at the Academy of Music on the 25th Sept. ‘Elegance and fashion,’ ‘best of New York society,’ plenty of applause, enthusiasm, white kids, universal satisfaction, and all that, of course. . . .
Monday, Oct. 23 [sic], brought with it the first novelty, the comic opera, of which we copied a description in our last, ‘Crispino e la Comare’ (The Cobbler and Fairy), by the brothers Ricci. We copy what the Albion says of it:
The music is the most charming of its kind, that can be heard or conceived. It is not perhaps so brilliant and rapid as much of the comic writing of Rossini, but is equally melodious, and in style somewhat larger. There are frequent traces that the Brothers Ricci were familiar, not only with this master, but even more intimately so with Donizetti. There are two or three numbers in ‘Crispino,’ which might be transferred bodily to ‘L’Elisir d’Amore.’ It must not, however, be supposed that the work is marred by plagiarism. In this style of writing, imitation of preceding models is inevitable, and there is no more in ‘Crispino’ than in any of its predecessors. The rest is fresh and exquisite, displaying an easy invention, an abundant flow of melody, a good and humorous arrangement of the characters (as in the trio between the two Doctors and Cobbler) and a thoroughly clear and intelligent use of the orchestra. The spirit of the work is unflagging. Indeed had the last act been put on the stage in anything like a decent way, it would have excited merriment even from the Sphynx.
We have rarely heard a first performance that was so completely successful, in a musical point of view. Miss Kellogg is the heroine, not the Fairy—who, to speak the truth, is rather a forbidding person dressed in somber raiment. She, Miss Kellogg, is Crispino’s wife—a ballad-monger, with what may be termed a decided turn for flirtation. The music of the role is of course brilliant. Miss Kellogg’s rendering of it was simply perfect. Her acting did not impress us so favorably—although it was lively and good. The lady is sometimes a little too easy and unrestrained, and it appeared to us to be the case on this occasion. Nothing is so unacceptable on the stage as nonchalance. In the august presence of the public, the greatest genius may well tremble and feel abashed.
Signor Rovere, an admirable comic actor, made his re-appearance as the hero. The part could not have been entrusted to more competent hands. Signor Bellini, in a small part, was equally good. It was a small part too, that was entrusted to Signor Irfre, who did not in any way increase its proportions. Signor Marra, on the other hand, felt confident that he was doing a great deal for the Brothers Ricci—who, we have no doubt, groaned uneasily at his attentions. We are always gratified when Marra sings. It seems as if he might be so mountainous, when really he is so mousey. With a little study, there is reason to believe that he will speedily become the worst singer in New York.
The choruses and orchestra were alike good and reflected much credit on the careful conducting of Signor Torriani. The piece is excessively enjoyable, and they who miss it are musical suicides.”