Academy of Music
28 May 2013
"M. Grau is decidedly becoming the providence of the New York public in the matter of opera. He presents himself in the gap when all others have abandoned it.
Thanks to him, this year – the same as last year – we are going to have a musical season at the moment where all hope on this subject seemed lost.
The performances will begin next Monday with La Traviata for the debuts of the new prima donna, Mme Ginevra Guerrabella, who arrives with a good strong reputation acquired in Italy and England."
PEOPLE NOTES: Grau and Guerrabella. Long article on Grau’s ten-night opera season, opera in New York, and the war. “Nixon, who can tame a tiger and control a whole menagerie, failed in his attempt to manage the opera, and was so torn to pieces between primme donne, tenors, chorus girls and stockholders, that no one can find enough left of him (except in the form of unpaid bills) to put in a glass case at Barnum’s, with a label outside inscribed, ‘Remains of a victim of the Academy of Music.’ Since that time our fashionables have had to be content with Wood’s colored opera, and have displayed their rich silks and Parisian bead-dresses in his bijou theatre, accepting Fox, instead of Brignoli, and applauding Horn in Susini’s roles. . . .
. . . Grau, the guerilla manager, steps forward and offers us five new prime donne and ten nights of opera. This operatic raid begins tomorrow evening, with Madame Guerrabella in ‘La Traviata.’ Guerrabella has a fine face and figure, and a history as full of romance as Greeley’s penny-a-line articles in the Independent; but her artistic reputation is not yet established. As a native of New York, she will doubtless be warmly welcomed. . . . For the rest, we are promised an increased orchestra, a better chorus and some new scenery. The promises of managers, however, are often like pie-crust or politicians’ pledges, made to be broken, and we must not disappoint ourselves by anticipating too much. . . .
We understand that Grau has begun his raid in real guerilla style, by forcing both the stockholders of the Academy and the artists engaged to come down to his terms, which are as greatly depreciated as Secretary Chase’s currency. Under these circumstances, then, there can be no excuse for shabby representations. . . . If everything has been arranged in his own way, however, why does not Grau come out like a man and a manager and give us a regular operatic campaign? Our theatres were never more prosperous than now [and] find no lack of either critical or pecuniary appreciation. . . . Grau has plenty of artists and a first rate opera on hand, and could easily construct a regular season from such materials. To limit himself to mere guerilla opera is to give aid and comfort to Jeff Davis, by seeming to despair of the republic. Only ten nights of opera insinuates a distrust of our resources, casts a slur upon our expectations of victory. . . . A regular season, on the contrary, is an evidence of faith in our country. . . . Is Grau a patriot or is he not?
As rebel raids are generally successful, and as John Morgan and General Stuart usually make a nice thing of it, Grau’s guerilla opera may be successful also. The company is good; and there are plenty of people in the city with new bonnets, new jewelry and new kids to exhibit who will certainly attend and put money in Grau’s purse. That there is no great excitement about the affair results naturally from its transitory character.”
“An operatic debut is always an interesting event, and it becomes doubly so when the debutante adds to her artistic pretensions the claims of nationality. The success that has attended several of our native singers abroad naturally tends to increase the interest, and when it happens, as in the present instance, that the fair aspirant to public favor has influential family connections to back her, the more than usual excitement and curiosity that were manifested by the fashionable crowd that thronged the Academy last night will be readily accounted for.
But while all these considerations properly exercise an influence in determining the measure of the welcome to be accorded to a new singer by the public, they should have no weight with the journalist. The interests of art, more especially in a community striving earnestly after musical excellence, demand that he shall perform his duty impartially. We shall, therefore, speak of Madame Guerrabella as if she were an entire stranger to us.
This lady, as we have before had occasion to state, is no novice to the stage. She has appeared in opera in several of the leading cities of Italy and in London, with more or less success. In presenting herself, therefore, to a New York audience for the first time, she had none of these drawbacks to plead which arise from inexperience or timidity; and in other respects she possessed some exceptional advantage for the character which she selected for this occasion. A fine face and figure, a certain grace and distinction of bearing, and an entire freedom from stage conventionalities, are all features that we look for but generally fail to find in the personators of Violetta. Though fallen from the path of virtue, there is no reason why Alfredo’s mistress should not retain the manners of a lady, and the air of delicacy and refinement with which they invest her unquestionably help to work out the destiny the librettist is representing her as a being of gorgeous and elevated features.
So far as its dramatic features are concerned Madame Guerrabella amply realizes our ideal of the character. There are indeed but few lyrical artists on the stage who unite so many personal qualifications for it. As, however, there is nothing like perfection in this life she has one weak spot, and that is her voice, which is wanting in volume and somewhat worn. Still she vocalizes beautifully, her phrasing being unexceptionable and her trills and runs executed with brilliancy and precision.
In the opening scene, her voice was slightly veiled from emotion, but this soon wore off, and in the graceful and delicate phrase of the first duo with Brignoli ‘Ah se cio o ver,’ she displayed excellent taste and feeling, as indeed all other passages of the same character throughout the opera. The grand air ‘Ah forse lui’ was given with much delicacy and the cabaletta was brilliantly executed. The scena with Alfred at the close of the second act we liked less The ‘Addio del Passate’ and the ‘Parigi o Cara’ made, perhaps, the best impression of anything which she sang during the evening.
At the end of the opera Madame Guerrabella was called before the curtain, and, in response to the demands of the audience, delivered the few following sentences of thanks:--‘You can hardly imagine how deeply I feel this flattering, this kind of reception in my native city. I can do no more than thank you with all my heart.’
Brignoli was not in as good voice as usual, and Amodio occasionally sang out of tune. The chorus and orchestra exhibited evidences of improvement upon last season, but will require some drilling.”
Spends first long part of article talking about the decline of men’s fashions at the opera, then some on the war. “Guerrabella acquitted herself exceedingly well – at times most effectively. She is to begin with – a fine looking woman: will not disappoint under the gaze of the lorgnette. She is thoroughly accustomed to the stage, never for an instant betraying any verdancy, awkwardness, or incoherence of action. Her movements are graceful and lady-like. Her enunciation of Italian is distinct and satisfactory. Her method good, so, too, her style. Her voice is pleasing, but is not a great, astounding voice, as regards expression and volume. It is, however, cultivated to the degree that it makes the most of its resources. . . .
The house was well filled. The applause considerable. The other parts were done by Messrs. Brignoli and F. Amodio, to the satisfaction of the hearers.”
“Academy of Music.--There is so much pleasure in the opening night of the Academy that Mr. Grau has heretofore had a new season and a new opening night for almost every week of his management. The agreeable excitement of meeting familiar faces in well remembered spots, the pleasant pressure at the doors, the immense display of new things that help to drape the fair, and a general and seeming meritorious abandonment to a new regime, are some of the characteristics that mark the event, and disappear forever afterwards. Toward the end of the season (except when Mr. Grau saves sinners by having the beginning and the end unsymmetrically near to each other) one gets tired of always sitting next to Jones, with that fright of a Smith diectly in front, and the gentle pressure is referred to as a disgraceful crowd and the new things act as irritants, provoking wrathful reflections, and the manager is unanimously voted to be a humbug. Let us hope that these awful changes of sentiment will not be produced by Mr. Grau’s season of ten nights – the first of which series came off last evening, and was brilliant and delightful as such things could be. The house was well filled, every desirable seat being occupied. The opera selected for the opening, was Verdi's 'Traviata'--a work which is always popular with a New-York audience.
The special attraction was, of course, the début of Mad. Guerrabella. This lady, an American by birth, has sung in Europe with more or less success, and returns to her native country while in the height of her popularity and prime of her youth. It is a pity that she did not select a smaller theatre for her début; the Academy being much too large for a voice of such delicacy. Mad’e Guerrabella sings well, and with excellent taste; she acts also with spirit, especially in the opening scenes where the real beauty knows how to mimic the coquettries of the theatrical one, but she lacks voice, and this, we fear, will mar a career, which otherwise could hardly fail to be gratifying. Impressions of a first night are not always verified by subsequent experience. Madame Guerrabella's performance was excellent in the first act, and also the fourth (the Brindisi and Parigi o Cara being the best sung morceaux of the opera;) her conception of the part is sufficiedtly large without being overwrought. It is seldom that one sees on the Italian stage a Violetta who so completely charms the audience, and wins their sympathies. Madama Guerrabella was called out after each act.
Among the artists who were welcomed back with cordiality, Signor Brignoli necessarily and properly carried off the palm. In nearly every desirable respect he is a tenor who cannot redily[sic} be replaced, and is assuredly one of that limited number who never make the listener uneasy. His Alfredo is too well known to need comment. It was well given, and with good effect. Signor Amodio was a respectable Germont, but seemed to be laboring under a cold, and perhaps for this reason sang frequently out of tune. The chorus and orchestra under Signor Muzio, were good.”
“Mr. Grau’s receipts last night were very nearly two thousand dollars--quite enough to leave him, after all expenses of the ‘opening’--a handsome margin of profit. The large and fashionable audience included many personal friends of Madame Guerrabella, whose debut before a New York public was the chief feature of the evening. This lady covers the defects of a thin, cold voice, by the most artistic management and consummate acting. She is favored with a fine stage presence and an expressive face, while her experience before the footlights has removed every shade of awkwardness. Indeed, a more graceful and easy action has been attained by no prima donna who has yet visited us. Her vocal execution is brilliant and striking, and some of her cadenzas are really remarkable--almost bizarre. In the last act she played with great energy, and gave the Gran Dio with real intensity. Madame Guerrabella’s claims to public favor are that of an accomplished, experienced and graceful prima donna, in whom skill and art quite overcome other drawbacks. In other parts--for instance, Leonora in 'Trovatore,' which she sings on Wednesday--we anticipate for her still greater applause than that which liberally attended her efforts last night and induced her, after the fall of the curtain, to address a few words to the audience, thanking them for the kind reception to her native city.”
"The reopening of Irving Place auditorium was a party last night in all senses of the word. The public had rushed in crowds to this reappearance of one of its favorite pleasures, which it was deprived of for a long time. The artists, for their part, seemed to rediscover in the fires of the footlights and the harmony of the orchestra an atmosphere in which they were most anxious to return. . . .
Under similar auspices, the debut of Ms. Guerrabella could only be a happy one . . . considering the charming ensemble of qualities that she possesses. As a woman and an actress, she conquered the public at once."
"The Academy of Music was crowded both on Monday and last evening, and the audience was even moved to little bits of enthusiasm by the performance. Guerrabella, the prima donna of these occasions, is a capital actress and a very enjoyable singer. Her popularity is doubtless of that sort which follows, rather than precedes, her appearance. With no preliminary puffing, she made a decided impression, and may achieve a great sensation as her powers are more fully developed in other operas. Certainly her face and figure are in her favor, and her perfect self-control and knowledge of the business of the stage show the finished actress. Beside this, her history is a romance in itself, and she has been a greater heroine in real life than upon the boards of the Opera. All these recommendations to public interest cannot fail of their effect, and La Guerrabella may yet win her way to a furor, as she has already secured a succes d'estime. Brignoli sings better than ever, and is always thoroughly enjoyable. The other parts in the opera are well sustained. The fear of the draft has doubtless scared some of the able bodied male members of the chorus into enlisting for the war, and the female members do not make a very good show in old dresses, some too large and others too small for them; but on the whole this department is satisfactory. For the orchestra, it is sufficient to say that Muzio leads. That little giant, Ullman, divides himself between selecting the scenery and attending to the numerous goats who apply at the stage door for an engagement of "Dinorah." With so good a company, and such excellent audiences, Grau cannot but be prosperous and delighted, and he consequently dresses much more stylishly and unlike poor Greeley than ever."