Grover German Opera: Tannhäuser

Event Information

Olympic Theatre

Manager / Director:
Adolph Neuendorff

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
23 November 2015

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

12 Feb 1867, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed

Participants:  Grover German Opera Company;  Bertha Johannsen (role: Elisabeth);  Marie Frederici (role: Venus);  Franz Himmer (role: Tannhauser);  Wilhelm Formes (role: Wolfram);  Alphonse Urchs [Grover German Opera] (role: Bittrolf);  Wilhelm Groschel [tenor and conductor] (role: Walther);  Josef Chandon (role: Baron);  Erdmann Gross (role: Raimund)
aka Tannhauser; Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg; Tannhäuser and the Singers’ Contest on the Wartburg
Composer(s): Wagner
Text Author: Wagner


Advertisement: New York Herald, 09 February 1867.
Announcement: New-York Times, 11 February 1867, 5.
Announcement: New York Post, 12 February 1867.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 12 February 1867, 7.
Advertisement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 12 February 1867.
Review: New York Herald, 13 February 1867, 7.

“A fair sized audience attended the production of the Tannhauser at the Olympic theatre last evening, and with few exceptions sat it through.  No casualties happily occurred. Mesdames Johannsen and Frederici, and Messrs. Himmer, Formes, Chandon and Groschel were in the principal rôles. The work itself was of rather too formidable dimensions for the size of the orchestra and chorus, but was fairly rendered. The long recitatives of the lovesick minnesinger, his lady love, her father and Walfram are clothed in highly dramatic music; but Wagner tests the patience of his hearers considerably in them, and (spirits of the future, pardon!) is sometimes very tedious and unintelligible. The landgrave and Elizabeth might take an interest in the competition of the minstrels before them; but an American audience, we fear, would consider them a bore. We would suggest the introduction of end men and a challenge dance by way of variety. Mr. Himmer in the last scene was splendid as the returned pilgrim; the magnificent overture and march were unexceptionable; the female part of the chorus, poor; the pilgrims’ chorus, very good, and the moral—don’t visit Venusberg or naked truth exhibitions—explained in the most convincing manner.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 15 February 1867.

“No greater difference of style is imaginable than that between any favorite opera of the Italian school and Richard Wagner’s ‘fiery, untamed” Tannhauser. This is the merest truism, but it is the beginning and the end of the unpopularity to which Tannhauser is singularly but proudly fated. Its utter remoteness from any received idea of melody, and its entire absorption in that harmonic philosophy which now more or less influences all strictly German works, make it as unfamiliar as possible to those whose vision of opera is an artificial paradise of things pretty, brilliant, and high-sounding—of beauty and bombast—growing out of the conventional plot and stage business. The attempt to make a true musical drama is daring, and Wagner must suffer like his Tannhauser. Those who sympathize strongly with Beethoven, Schumann, and the half-realism, half-transcendentalism, in German music will be earnestly inclined to hear the revelations of Tannhauser. They do not come to us, however, with any too sudden flash or shock, albeit Tannhauser is as loud as it can be. We must hear it many times to judge properly its merits or defects.

Tannhauser, as we have hinted, is altogether revolutionary. It is a sincere attempt to make a true operatic drama, in the most absolute sense. Wagner conceives that his music and drama should be of one nerve and mind—hence his music is speech. Hence, also, he wrote his own poem, and translated it word for word, feeling for feeling, into ‘the music of the future.’ No one believes that the motive idea of this music was any dead secret to the grand old masters whose harmony Wagner and his best followers may strive in vain to equal. But none of these ever strove to make a perfect drama in the sense of Tannhauser or Lohengrin. If there are to be, indeed, such recognized wonders as natural, true, ideal, dramas of music, Wagner may well assert his claim to be considered a poet of the future—a poet in the combined sense of drama and music. He has aimed for the liberation of musical form and idea, in the only direction wherein a real progress seems possible. There are many opinions as to his success; not all of those liberal enough to admire a discovery, will agree that Tannhauser is a satisfactory work; but very few will fail to be impressed by a certain vigorous pre-Raphaelitism—we can think of nothing else that so suggests the composer’s eccentricity—which gives to every word of his drama some musical meaning. Wagner’s opera is, in short, a drama literally rendered into musical thought and speech. But to call it literal merely, would be a misinterpretation—it is broadly, and often powerfully, imaginative. There remains, however, the doubt whether the more complex product of modern musical progress, Richard Wagner, has any ideality to make him kindred and peer among those simpler great ones, whose harmonic song was in truth a music of the future, without ever being so patented. The merit of the music of the future, be it more or less, is that which pervades the progressive idea of the century, in literature, the fine arts, and music. The advance of this idea is toward a more literal sincerity of art, and, as Wagner contends, toward a reconcilement of arts.

The orchestra of Tannhauser, as has been often said, is extraordinary. Some things are greater, but nothing is like it. It suggests no such wonder as the ‘heaven-storming’ orchestration of Fidelio; but it is vividly graphic and dramatic. Such music was exactly calculated to take certain German audiences by assault, and to force a Parisian audience on the other hand, to cry it down in rage. Its wind-whistling, gale-blowing, and passion-braying instrumentation must have set Paris by the ears. The breath of an Arctic blast piping full in their faces, when invited to a Summer-feast, could not have been more impertinent. How to understand the contest of the minstrels—each minstrel apparently trying to make the least music—must have sorely puzzled the light-hearted Parisian. Tannhauser was, accordingly given up as a terrible succession of conundrums put into sound, and all Paris broke into fury. Wagner’s tremendous sphinx was nicknamed humbug, and Paris quieted its mind. Since then the world has made a march toward the future, with Tannhauser’s accompaniment. It is impossible to cry down a work of great element, as it is to combat the wind. Wagner is voted a musical philosopher, and from that day to this, though he has no imitations, though his influence, for the sake of the real truth which he has carried through a storm, has been felt on the mind of music.

The production of Tannhauser at any time is an event.  We dare hope that the good effect at its performance by the German company will be repeated, if possible.  Though as given a night or two ago it was not always intelligible, or correctly sung, there was evident pains to perform its difficulties well.  Madame Johannsen and Mr. Himmer, the latter especially, deserve credit for their earnest assumptions of the parts of Elizabeth and Tannhauser, and scarcely less is to be said of Madame Frederici’s Venus and Wilhelm Formes’s Wolfram.  There was an uncertainty of delivery even in these parts which another rehearsal would doubtless overcome.  The overture was admirably played; the choruses, once or twice, badly sung.  The depth and breadth of the Pilgrim’s Chorus was nevertheless appreciable; and, spite of defects and incoherence of chorusing, to which Tannhauser is more sensitive than any other opera, the performance was interesting.  The living, acting accompaniment to the drama was capitally sustained by Mr. Neuendorff’s excellent orchestra, and the formidable dramatic passage of the last act intelligently worked. It remains to be said that Tannhauser, as a drama, has a simplicity and massiveness of element suited to the genius of a composer whose aim, as witness the grandeur of the legends he has operatized, is toward universality.”

Article: New-Yorker Musik-Zeitung, 16 February 1867, 440-41.

Grover’s German opera has not been very successful. This time the mistake is the management’s lack of emphasis on the attention from the press. We were told that the press does not receive tickets for the performances. To not involve the press in the only country in the world where almost everybody reads the paper, is not very productive. Last week’s performances were rather acceptable and supposedly better than what is offered in Germany. Today Tannhäuser is on the program, which could mean that the season will be finished right after it. The last three times Tannhäuser was performed, the season ended.

Review: New-York Times, 18 February 1867, 4.

“If Mr. Grover does not win success, he certainly deserves to do so. He leaves nothing untouched, however much it may be undone. German opera, which has never stood the pressure of critical opinion, but has simply staggered under it, followed, as our readers are aware, the happy venture of English opera. The latter—notwithstanding many execrable traits—succeeded. The Teutons were not so fortunate. They came to the surface for a few nights, but gradually sank. It was in vain that the manager essayed to drag them up by the hair. They went down. Let it be recorded of them that they worked hard, and struggled bravely against a fate which they had already learned to fear. The noticeable feature of last week’s effort was Wagner’s opera of the ‘Tannhauser.’ It was given on Tuesday night. Considering the talk the work has made one would naturally suppose that its representation would interest a large portion of the German community. This did not seem to be the case. The house was poorly attended, and the few who were present took furtive opportunities of escaping to the open air, and of cautiously wending their ways home. It is yet a question whether Wagner’s music can be made acceptable to the masses. That it possesses unusual vigor, and certain attributes which appeal to musicians, is beyond peradventure. But these characteristics are entirely obliterated by a hasty performance. The orchestra and chorus were singularly inefficient. The principal singers were respectable in the concerted music—especially in the septette and sextette; but in their separate solos there was evident incompleteness of study.”

Review: New-Yorker Musik-Zeitung, 23 February 1867, 456.

The performance was excellent. The chorus should have been stronger. The effect of the march in the second act was completely lost.