Draper English Opera: The Doctor of Alcantara

Event Information

French Theatre

Manager / Director:
Henry Draper

Julius Eichberg

Price: $1, parquet; .75, dress circle; .35, family circle

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
2 July 2016

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

28 May 1866, Evening

Program Details

First New York performance.

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Eichberg
Participants:  Draper English Opera Company;  Caroline Richings (role: Inez);  Zelda Harrison (role: Isabella);  Edward S. C. Seguin (role: The Doctor);  Henry C. [bass] Peakes;  Sophie Mozart (role: Donna Lucrezia);  David H. Wylie;  Mr. Ketchum [vocal];  William Castle (role: Carlos);  Sherwood C. Campbell


Article: New-Yorker Musik-Zeitung, 21 May 1866, 256.

The well-known composer Julius Eichberg from Boston has arrived here to lead the rehearsals to his opera Der Doctor von Alcantara.

Advertisement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 22 May 1866.
Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 24 May 1866.
Announcement: Dwight's Journal of Music, 26 May 1866, 246.

“Mr. Eichberg is now in the city, superintending rehearsals.  We hope to report a complete success for this clever musician, whom . . . we hope to count among our permanent residents here [New York]. [We hope not.—Ed.]”

Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 26 May 1866, 5.

This opera “has been performed [in Boston] over one hundred times.”

Advertisement: New York Herald, 26 May 1866.
Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 27 May 1866.

“The company is excellent in its material . . . so that for the first time for many years, that unfortunate institution called the English Opera will be given in a presentable shape.”

Announcement: New-York Times, 28 May 1866, 5.

“The work has been played in Boston with much success. The music is light, melodious and agreeable; the text is amusing. Mr. Draper, who has undertaken the arduous task of forming a company, has certainly succeeded in securing the best local talent. Miss Richings will be remembered with pleasure by the public, and her return to the stage to-night will be hailed with satisfaction. Miss Zelda Harrison makes her début in one of the rôles.  The lady possesses a voice which has been greatly admired in the concert room.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 29 May 1866, 5.

    “The first performance of the English Opera Company took place last evening before a very large and brilliant audience.  The first night of an opera is not a fair subject for close criticism, but we can say truly that we have rarely seen a first performance go off so smoothly, in all respects, as this opera Doctor Alcantara [sic].

    The music is sparkling, melodious, and light enough to please the most fastidious.  As to its merits as a composition we will discuss them in a future article. The three ladies, Miss Caroline Richings, Miss Harrison, and Mrs. Mozart, made a very positive success; Miss Richings especially delighted the audience, receiving several encores for introduced songs. The ladies all deserved very warm praise. Mr. Castle surprised us by his excellent acting; he was easy and perfectly at home, in a very difficult and unpleasant character.  He sang, too, with most excellent taste, and was in fine voice. Mr. Seguin as Dr. Alcantara, displayed much comic humor and sang like the excellent musician he is. His make up was excellent.

    Mr. Peakes of Boston, has not much of a part, but he makes it one of the prominent features. He sings well, and acts with spirit, and his make up was one of the most perfect things we have seen on the stage for years.  It was truly artistic.

    The concerted music was performed throughout without any hitch.  There was of course a lack of color, but that will doubtless be afforded on the repetition of the performance. The choruses were efficiently sung, and the orchestra, a small but very competent one, executed the light and brilliant instrumentation very effectively. Mr. Eichberg conducted the opera with much care, and the smoothness of the performance does credit to his skill and perseverance.

    The scenery, at least the one scene, was well painted and well arranged, and the stage management seems to be in very competent hands. One point, however, should be attended to. The opening time is supposed to be dark night. Three ladies appear from different doors to listen to a serenade. They are supposed not to see each other, and yet the stage was in bright dazzling light. The light, in the house as well as on the stage, should be under control, or such scenes are entirely ridiculous.

    The whole performance was very cordially received; even the dialogue, which could hardly have less of point or wit, was listened to with excessive good nature. The performers were called out after the first when the concluding chorus was repeated. Many numbers were encored, and none more heartily than the trifling but intensely ludicrous duo for the serving men in the first act, which is a genuine stroke of broad humor.

    The whole performance was with, with the audience, a complete success, roars of laughter greeting the incidents as they occurred [sic], and very genuine applause all the vocal efforts of the singers.”

Review: New-York Times, 29 May 1866, 5.

“‘The Doctor of Alcantara’ was played for the first time in New-York. We are happy to be able at once to record its complete success. Boston has already accepted this light and agreeable production with somewhat more than its usual staid approval. It has been played there for more than a hundred nights. Mr. Eichberg is the musical conductor of the Museum, and in writing this work he was not anxious to overshoot the modest musical capacities of that well-conducted establishment. He has depended on melody and rhythm—both strongly marked and generally vivacious. There are but few combinations that require exactness of musical intelligence, and the orchestra and chorus are heard to advantage only in the finales.  What is noticeable, however, is that Mr. Eichberg has touched all his effects with consciousness of his own resources, and without in any instance overdrawing them. The melodies are generally good, if not always perfectly fresh, and the concerted pieces are spirited and interesting. We speak now, after a single hearing, of the whole effect, and shall take another opportunity of referring to particular numbers. It is, we think, in the highest degree encouraging to know that so good a musician as Mr. Eichberg , and one so entirely free from lugubriousness, is at the command of American opera.

    The performance was in every way good, if we except the occasional tendency to loudness. We can hastily refer to the cast last night. Miss Caroline Richings was the Inez, and merited the applause which she obtained in her two principal morceaux. There were two debutantes. Mrs. Mozart, a lady who has repeatedly proved herself to be an excellent concert singer, and who, on this occasion, exhibited considerable merit as an actress, was the Donna Lucrezia. The presentation was capital. Miss Zelda Harrison was the Isabella, and this young artist’s pure and beautiful contralto voice has rarely been heard to such advantage. She has of course everything to learn as an actress, and it would be vain to deny that in comic opera the best of acting is required; but with her quiet and earnest intelligence she will, we doubt, not conquer all Mr. Castle as Carlos acted with spirit and sang acceptably. Mr. Edward Seguin was superbly ‘made up’ as the Doctor, and filled the scene most amusingly. The little that falls to the lots of Messrs. Ketchum and Peakes was rendered artistically. The representation, it will be seen, was creditable to all parties concerned, and we urge out readers to witness it on its second evening, to-morrow, Wednesday.”

Review: New York Herald, 29 May 1866, 5.

    “The season of the English Opera at the French Theatre was inaugurated last night under the most favorable auspices. The house was crowded to its utmost capacity. The audience comprised a fair portion of the fashionable elements of metropolitan society, and a good deal of the intellectual also. The opera bouffe of Eichberg, the Doctor of Alcantara was rendered in a manner with which little fault can be found. The first presentation of a new piece by a company hastily organized cannot be perfect. Some of the artists were entirely new to the stage, Mrs. Mozart and Miss Zelda Harrison for example, and therefore were manifestly wanting in those effects which are necessary to the perfect rendering of their parts. But the stiffness consequent upon inexperience was in a measure counterbalanced by their good singing.  The contrast was perhaps rendered more prominent by the proficiency of Miss Caroline Richings, who had the leading female part to sustain and did it admirably. There is very little in the opera to commend it, except the fun which is incident to the absurdity of its situations, and that was very well sustained throughout. The audience were immensely pleased, and repeatedly applauded the artists, to the extent of several encores and calls before the curtain. Mr. Castle maintained his reputation as an excellent tenor, as far as the light part of Carlos offered him an opportunity. The choruses were well given, the finale of the first act especially so. It commanded a repetition, and not undeservedly. The first performance of a new company is not a fair test of its capacity; but making allowance for all the disadvantages of an opening night in a new theatre, the opera was very acceptably rendered. The orchestra could be improved by reducing the force of the brass instruments; but we presume that the conductor, Mr. Eichberg, has observed this defect and will correct it in future.  Upon the whole the performance was most enjoyable. The acoustic properties of the theatre were well tried last night and certainly were not found wanting. Every word of the prose part of the opera, which forms rather a large portion of it, could be distinctly heard through the house, a fact which may be consoling to those who anticipate the pleasure to be derived from the dramatic performance of Ristori at this theatre in the fall season.”

Review: New York Post, 29 May 1866.

    “The opening night of the English comic opera at the French Theatre was in every respect a success, such as must have been extremely satisfactory to the management and encouraging to all who have desired the establishment of the English opera here as a permanent institution. The compact and cosy little theatre was filled from the orchestra to the uppermost tier, and with an audience representing the intellect as well as the fashion of the city.

    ‘The Doctor of Alcantara,’ which was the piece selected for the first experiment in English opera, was presented, as a whole, in a manner worthy of the favor accorded to it throughout. It has many of the requisites of a successful comic opera. The plot is not a complex one, yet gives enough of absurd and ridiculous situations to afford opportunity for laughable effects—the of [sic] most which were well improved.

[Extensive plot summary given]

    The music of the opera requires a second or third hearing to be well appreciated, but makes at first a most pleasing impression. There are passages which seem somewhat suggestive of airs that we have heard before, but no more than that.  The general conception of the piece is good, and entitles Mr. Eichberg to a high standing as a composer. The melodies are full of lively movement, and appeal to the ear most favorably.

    The brisk and beautiful mazurka sung by Miss Richings, in the first act, and the romanza sung by Miss Harrison, are among the gems of the opera, and were both sung in the best manner by these accomplished artists. Miss Richings, both in her singing and acting, showed more ease and abandon, and won the laurels of the evening, but Miss Harrison has a voice of great sweetness and power, particularly rich in the lower register, and will acquire greater self-possession with successive appearances.

    Mrs. Mozart was more at ease, and was able to display finely the excellent qualities of her voice.  Mr. Seguin’s personation of the Doctor was admirable, and Mr. Castle went through the trying requirements of his part with great success.  Mr. Peakes, both in his vocalization and acting, was extremely happy.  The chorus was small but effective, and the performances of the orchestra all that could be expected on a first night.

    Altogether the play went off remarkably well and smoothly, and the audience were entertained and amused as they have not been for some time.”

Review: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 29 May 1866, 8.

The performance was pleasing. The press reserves a more detailed review for later to give the performance time to evolve.

Announcement: New York Clipper, 02 June 1866, 62.
Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 04 June 1866, 5.

For years past every attempt to produce English opera has been a comparative failure—the failures would have been positive, but for the intervention of some one lady vocalist, whose talent and popularity sufficed to give them a brief vitality. All English opera enterprises have been got up on the cheap slip-shod plan. Any chorus would do, any orchestra and any kind of scenery and appointments was good enough. The English operas were generally bold translations of the semi-modern Italian or French operas, with half the music omitted, rapid dialogues in place of the recitatives, and wretched singers in all but one or two of the principal roles. Then, too, there was no permanent home for the undertaking; its position was that of a vagrant seeking lodgings for a night or two at such places as would take him in so that the public, even if inclined, had no time to be reconciled to undertakings which were so unpromising in their beginnings, and had no time to improve.

The new enterprise at the Theatre Francais, commences, apparently under very favorable auspices.  It was planned and worked out by Mr. Henry Draper, who having great faith in its success if carefully managed, induced some gentlemen of capital to join him, to secure the New French Theatre, and to engage the best artists that could be procured in the city, in order to present operas in the highest language in a style of excellence which should meet the requirements of the present exigent state of the public state.  Mr. Draper’s task was laborious and ungracious, for, warned by the past, every one was doubtful of the success of the undertaking. Vexatious delays occurred in consequence of the failure to complete the new theater at the time specified, which still further tended to discredit the enterprise. But all difficulties were at length overcome, the first performance was given, and was received with the warmest approval by a crowded and fashionable audience.

The company is well selected, the material is all good, possibly the very best that could be controlled at the time. Miss Richings is an experienced vocalist and actress, with undiminished powers.  She has perfect stage command, and never allows the action to flag.  Though not a perfectly trained singer, she has many of the graces of the art, singing with taste, piquancy and infinite dash and spirit. Miss Zelda Harrison, a novice in all respects, possesses the most telling stage requisites, a fine voice, a handsome face, youth and good appearance; she sings sweetly and expressively, and although she does not always use her low tones in the best taste, her whole manner is attractive and will secure her in the popular favor.  Both Miss Harrison and Mrs. Mozart are the merest tyros in acting and stage business, but neither of them betray awkwardness or embarrassment, only the least bit of stiffness, which will soon wear off.

The tenor, Mr. William Castle, has exhibited far more ability than we had hoped to find in him. He sings very charmingly, and throws a great deal of spirit and passion into his music. He also acts with spirit, and in a nonchalant easy manner which is effective, and only needs a little more grace and polish to deserve unrestricted praise.  Mr. Seguin is not gifted with a very powerful voice but what he has is of good quality, well under control, and he sings in a style to show the man of taste and the musician. He is a judicious actor, and interprets the part of the Doctor in good style. He also dresses and makes up well.  Mr. Peakes of Boston has a good, sonorous voice, and sings the little he has to well.  He is a capital actor, and is a thorough master of the art of ‘making up.’

With such material, it may well be imagined that the opera is well represented. Comparing it with any of its predecessors, the present, as a whole, is the best working company that we have had for years, and their efforts are thoroughly enjoyable, and are certainly proving highly attractive.

The plot of the opera is the same as that of the beautiful and very popular opera buffo, ‘Bon Soir Monsieur Pantalon,’ composed by Grisar, which every Parisian knows by heart.  Mr. Julius Eichberg has wedded the translation to very pleasant and appropriate music, which without claiming anything on the score of originality, is ingenious in its construction and adaptation to the sentiment of the characters and the situations of the plot. The melodies are not so prononcé as they are familiar, and those which are the best remembered are embodied in the concerted music. The finale to the first is a number of great merit. The opening subject is charming, and it is well developed and enforced in the instrumentation, all the following subjects are broad and free, the action never flags, and the interest is sustained throughout. The ‘good night’ quartette is a most ingenious and effective composition, the refrain ‘Good night Señor Balthazar,’ being both beautiful and appropriate. The orchestration of this number is replete with varied figures, which render it both brilliant and effective. There are many other clever and pleasing numbers in the opera, which as a whole, we must pronounce clever in construction, pleasing in melodies and admirable in the spirit of genuine fun which so distinctly characterizes it. Its success is fully deserved, and we should think that it would attract crowded house for several weeks if the roars of laughter and warm applause which have greeted its first performances are faithful indications of the approval of the public. Mr. Eichberg conducts his own music with much spirit; he keeps the performers well together and up to time, but his directing is not distinguished by either delicacy or refinement. There is scarcely any coloring throughout the work, although it offers many points for fine shading and contrasted effects. Mr. Eichberg will have to tone down his exuberance of manner and attend more closely to the refinements and details of performance before he will be acceptable to our public in the capacity of Operatic Conductor.

We must not forget to give a just meed of praise to Mr. Ketchum, who as Señor Balthazar acted with so much spirit and point that he fully sustained the fun and drollery which seemed to rule the hour.

The English opera speculation is most favorably launched, seemingly on a flowing tide of prosperity, and if there is unanimity of motion and good faith among those concerned in the management, there is no reason why the success should not be permanent. Internal jealousy and dissentions have destroyed more promising undertakings than we could name. We hope that this will prove an exceptional case.”

Review: New York Clipper, 09 June 1866, 70.

“[D]raws like a poor man’s plaster.”

Review: Dwight's Journal of Music, 23 June 1866, 263.

    New York, June 19.—The Concert Season is now over.  Artists and artistes hasten to leave the city; some for the country proper; some for those hybrid resorts, the fashionable watering places; others for Europe; all in order to recover from the fatigues of the past, and to recruit for the future season.  Our streets are already half deserted by their usual promenaders, and remain in almost undisputed possession of business men, mechanics and other worthy classes chained to the heated city by various necessities, but having at least, the Park, and many suburban gardens, in which to indulge their desire for fresh air and their taste for light music and more corporeal necessities.
    We are happy to chronicle Mr. Julius Eichberg’s comic operetta, ‘The Doctor of Alcantara,’ as a success. . . . It is still in the course of a protracted and successful ‘run.’  This opera possesses all the elements of popularity; a merry libretto; and melodies of a light and pleasing character, in the working up and instrumentation of which we discover the taste and study of an experienced conductor, and a clever musician.  If we cannot accord the merit of great originality to the music of ‘The Doctor of Alcantara,’ neither can we stigmatize it as a copy.  Its melodies, moulded in the accustomed form, are yet always flowing and nicely fitted to the situation.  Mr. Eichberg has evidently adapted himself to the small frame and means at his disposal, and has the done so in a most satisfactory and effective manner.  The general approbation with which Mr. Eichberg’s work has been deservedly received, leads us to hope that he may feel encouraged to write others in the same pleasing style.  His ‘Two Cadis,’ also an opera buffa, is spoken of as the next ‘to be.’  The production of the ‘Doctor’ has been very fair on the whole; the most meritorious performance, both in singing and acting, being decidedly that of Miss Richings as Inez; her natural manner, pleasing appearance and correct costume, are always refreshingly welcome.  Mrs. Mozart also displays unexpected dramatic talent.  

    Now that the ice has been once broken, and we have a thoroughly successful operatic production, calculated for, and performed by resident singers, we trust that our native composers will no longer ‘be backward in coming forward’ in the right way, and that they may be sustained by the public in a genuine manner.
    The ‘Rose of Castile’ was also sung once or twice, and as we hear, not satisfactorily by the English company, ‘The Bohemian Girl’ and others of the same namby-pamby cast, were threatened.  People condemned to stay in the city during the dog-days, want clever musical fun, and not such heavy and yet shallow works as have passed current for ‘English Opera’ during the past twenty years.  Let the company at the ‘Theatre Francais’ make voyage of discovery into the realms of comic French Opera: Gretry, or Adam, or the Italian Pergolesi.—Miss Richings would make a name in the ‘Serva Padrona.’  

    There is nothing more to chronicle, musically speaking.  Comic opera will probably run on light and easy wheels through the summer; in autumn we are promised the fine Italian actress Ristori, Madame Parepa again, and much besides; but let the future show.  For the present.—as Hfiz [sic] saith,--‘this is the time of roses,’ and the most salutary and most welcome music is that which messieurs professors the birds discourse ‘in the woodland school,’—so also thinketh your correspondent.”