Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
1 March 2019
“The announcement of the first production of Petrella’s new opera, ‘The Carnival of Venice, drew a large and fashionable audience to the Academy last evening, mainly composed of the younger class of attendants, the more blasé and mature apparently waiting for the verdict to be given by the public and the press. Those who went to the Academy were in this instance wiser than those who staid away, for no opera produced this season has been so thoroughly enjoyed as was the ‘Carnival,’ last night. The usual hesitancy in approving a new opera was overcome in the first scene of the first act, which gave the key to the character of the whole production, and disarmed criticism by its very unpretentiousness, no less than by the light, joyous, and fluent nature of the music.
In the ‘Carnival’ the composer has wisely attempted no more than he can perform. There is no effort at grand or heroic effects, which would be utterly out of place, neither is there a single melody which is likely to live independently of the opera itself. Instead, there is a succession of airs, concerted pieces, and choruses, entirely appropriate to the plot, full of animation, often extremely pleasant to the ear, and almost always inspiring a delighted interest on the part of the audience. The most effective music is the concerted, the execution of which was admirable throughout. The only solo which is worth particular notice was the aria in the second act—‘Come si puo sonidere’—assigned to Miss Kellogg, who made out of it all there was to be made; but this was not much.
As we gave yesterday the ‘argument’ of the opera, we will not attempt a full review of its incidents. In short, the whole plot turns on the adventures…This gives occasion for the representation of a masquerade ball, which is destined to prove one of the most brilliant and enjoyable stage scenes we have ever beheld. In the grotesque variety of the masks, the beauty of the scenery, and the joyous and animated manner in which this masquerade is carried out, our amateur masquers might find valuable hints.
The destined lovers meet on this festive occasion…Then follows a grand finale, in which the Count Bietola, Signor Bacelli, and Muzio’s sister, Madame Testa, come in for a share in the joyous match-making. The music of this finale is one of the best features of the opera, and was splendidly given. The improvised dance and the final tableau are a fitting and most comical conclusion to the whole piece.
In the ‘Carnival’ the main part of the work is assigned to Signors Ronconi and Bellini, while the ladies are mostly in the background, and occupy a secondary place. It the opera had been written especially to display the humorous genius of these two artists, the composer could not have improved on it. Each of them, however, is, to a good degree, a creator of his part, and makes more out of it than any other artists that we know of could have done. Ronconi’s full powers of pantomime and irresistibly comic intonations were brought out in a manner at least equal to any of his former impersonations here.
It has seemed to us that he never acts so well as when brought in direct competition with Bellini, as he was in the wrangling scene in ‘Crispino,’ and as he was almost continually last night. And there is good reason. Bellini’s powers as a buffo, never so fully revealed as during the present and last seasons, are of the very first order. His humor, while apparently unrestrained, is always well regulated, refined, and enjoyable in the highest degree. In his amicable contests with Ronconi it is often hard to tell which has the better of the game.
We predict for the ‘Carnival’ a brilliant success just as long as Mr. Maretzek may choose to keep it on the stage. It is light, without being trashy, and melodious, although destitute of any melodies deserving even a short immortality. It is just the thing to be sandwiched between the operas which have substantial musical worth, and as such will be keenly enjoyed by all who have any love or humor in their compostions.”
“…The reception of ‘The Carnival of Venice,’ Petrella’s new opera, which had its first representation at the Academy of Music last evening, was warm in the extreme. Much to please the eye, a great deal to delight the ear, and something to satisfy the taste are embodied in the new work, and if those senses give approval little else is wanted, and there can be but little doubt but that the signs of favor which followed each successive scene of the opera will be repeated as often as Mr. Maretzek chooses to have it performed. In his great effort, ‘Ione,’ Sig. Petrella came with the direct purpose of compelling our respect, and perhaps admiration; in this new and merrier work however, dashed off, as might be, to please his good-tempered neighbors who enjoy themselves over the humors of the Carnival, the composer does not appear to be always on his guard, and the familiar view we get of him thus causes us to understand him as we might understand a friend. To hear the ‘Carnival of Venice’ is to hear Petrella at his ease, making music as if for his own amusement and that of the young and light-hearted of his immediate circle, frequently starting a new strain to which the feet may dance as well as the heart, and sometimes remembering himself, but always displaying the characteristic features of his school—which is Verdian, if anything. It is an opera chiefly remarkable for the number and beauty of its concerted pieces. It opens with a barcarola, of charming character, for the tenor and chorus, which carries in every stain [sic] the ardor of love, the reflection of rippling waters and the odor of moonlight—(that is if moonlight can be said to have an odor—and yet everybody must have heard of the poets rosy moon)—following this is a tumult of lively music that falls to the tenor, basso, baritone and chorus, and through which the plot of the opera is suggested; and that, by the way is just as well told here as anywhere else. [Plot synopsis follows.] Although the ensembles absorb all the best music and the best efforts of the artists, nevertheless, everybody acted and [sang?] last evening as though the whole force of the work was upon their separate shoulders. Miss Kellogg was inexpressibly arch in her share of the divided duty, and in the single aria, ‘Come si Puo Sorridere,’ vindicated herself and her composer. Signor Ronconi has also an exceptional bit or two which he enlarged after his own irresistible and wholly enjoyable manner. Of the rest we shall speak after a second or third hearing, for the opera will grow upon the ear and fancy. For the present, we will only mention that the scenery is admirable, and a representation of the carnival which occurs in the second act is as busy a scene, and full of merry life, as any we have had in theatres.”
“The new opera produced after such ample preparation at the Academy last evening wanted nothing either in the number or the brilliancy of its audience. It has been bountifully heard by the most fashionable of juries—one large enough, beside, to render a popular verdict, and to stamp the popular valuation of the new opera, once and for all. It is the second work of a favorite Neapolitan composer. Signor Petrella, so far as the American public know him; but, of course, we have only heard his successes. The Carnival is a decided advance on the music which this composer has given to Ione, or Bulwer’s Last Days of Pompeii. In that work, as compared to any high standard, he appears to have dressed a good theme vigorously, but trashily. Vigorously we say, allowing, of course, that brass and catgut fiercely used, and voices phrenetically tried in the service of melodramatic passion, combine to make the true idea of operatic energy. That Ione was an effective work, not without practical and theatrical ability, none have ever disputed. The growing objection has been to its essential falseness as the manifestation of a school or style—as another nursery of vitiating mannerisms familiar to the lovers and condemners of the grandiosely inspired Verdi. The Carnival is a broad advance on Ione; and this is significant of all that we have to say in favor of the former.
“’The Carnival of Venice’ is the full dazzling title of Petrella’s work. It might be a Carnival anywhere else, for there is nothing characteristically local in the story, and to this extent the title is pretentious. The story is slight, and only to be prized for a number of telling situations which it furnishes the composer. Its dialogue is vivacious, though its scenes are not uncommon, and Petrella has every chance to score the boldest buffo music, neither scene nor dialogue constraining him. The first act tells us…[plot synopsis and description of the scenes and numbers follow]. As a whole, the work is a popular success. Its music, if wanting alike in color and warmth, and if in no single instance a profound or splendid exhibition of genius, is never unattractive or weak. This is much to say. The Carnival will take rank with such operas as Crispino, but will hardly justify the enthusiasm which ranks it with the Barber of Seville. Its place in favor is certain, and we may have yet more or less to learn from its merits. The performance last evening must be praised as a whole, so careful and animated was every part. With Ronconi’s superb buffo characterization, it was doubtless as good a rendering of the work as could be had anywhere in Europe.”
The first time performance of Petrella’s opera last night completely filled the house. It was a big success with its excellent cast and stage design. Even a non-connoisseur of opera would have recognized the influences of Jone in this new work; a significant number of themes as well as the same instrumentation re-appear here. (Description of plot follows …)
The masked scene in the second act is grand; the music is noisy, yet not without melodic appeal. Petrella has a gift for something other composers envy him for: inventing melodies. Because of this talent, one can condone his at times rough instrumention and his favoring the convenient unison. We consider the barcarole for tenor and chorus in the first act, the finales of the second and third acts, and the dance music in the second act the best numbers in this all together entertaining and interesting opera. The performance was excellent, and we could imagine this opera might be as popular, or even more so, than Crispino; mainly because it is so easily understood. The masked scene impressed with its sensational stage design and scenery, which included golden gondolas with colorful lights. The audience applauded enthusiastically.
“The ‘Carnival of Venice’ seems to be as favorite a theme with opera makers and composers of all sorts—as the ‘Rebellion of ‘98’ has been with dramatists and storywriters. There are about half a hundred plays founded on the latter seemingly inexhaustible theme, while the songs, stories, and novels which have ‘nate lads’ of the period for subject and hero, are nearly as numberless as seashore sands. And the ‘Carnival of Venice’ has not escaped with less notice. It has been fiddled and thumped to death in ‘arrangements,’ ‘variations’ and ‘reveries,’ ever since Paganini published his odd conceit upon the subject and any number of operas have it introduced in more or less degree. Rossini’s ‘Mathilde de Salbrau,’ and Gounod’s ‘Faust’ are the more recent works in which it forms of forward feature—both in the story and music. In neither of these, however, is it the absorbing element. But in Petrella’s new opera, which Mr. Maretzek produced at the new Academy on Wednesday evening, the Carnival may be said to be the beginning, the middle, and the end; the body and bones; the very life and soul. It is named the ‘Carnival of Venice,’ the story belongs to the Carnival, its merriest scene is amid the Carnival, the denouement is the result of incidents and humorous blunders that happen at the carnival, and the music is the veriest[?] jubilee of sound that has been put into harmony for a very long time. It is from first to last a thoroughly exhilarating opera, full of those vigorously lively airs which the ear will be certain to take a fancy to, and which the lips will be repeating. In view of the multitude of treatments which the subject has received from previous composers it is surprising that Petrella has been able to start any new strains on such a hackneyed theme. But his music is all singularly fresh, and like that in ‘Ione’ (his only other work with which the New York public is familiar), has an individual character which may be said to be an interesting medium between the Rossini and Verdi schools. The prominent feature about many of the numbers of the ‘Carnival’ is their eminent fitness for dances. Some crusty creatures have even calls [sic] it ‘circussy.’ But circussy it is not. There are one or two noble pieces which might be made into marches, for the strain is heroic. There is also a charming boat-song for Signor Baragli, and chorus, ‘O! Longa, Tuna!’ with which the opera opens—it is a delicious piece, and will do admirably for a serenade. Miss Kellogg, too has a cavatina, ‘No, la Menis,’ in the second act, which has all the softness and beauty of any love song we know, of recent composition. The best of the rest are concerted pieces, and of these a wrangling number for Signor Bellini and chorus, and Signore Ronconi, Bellini, and Marra in the first act; and a quartette for Miss Kellogg, Madame Testa, and Miss Ronconi in the second act, with the merry finale to the opera, are infectious, and will carry the work to the long popularity which it is certain to have. We have not told the plot, for there is none;--it is simply a necklace of numerous intrigues, by which three young damsels, who are ever-closely watched by their father, escape through the connivance of a soft-headed servant, into the carnival, where they meet their lovers, who, in turn, follow them back to their abode, demand their hands of papa, and are blessed. Between this servant and the father there are several farcical encounters, which Signor Bellini and Signor Ronconi elaborate with the most amusing exaggerations. But then, all of the artists take a share in the fun-making, and between Miss Kellogg’s irresistible coquetries and coaxings, Madame Testa’s exquisite affectations of prudishness, and pretty Signorina Ronconi’s bewitching modesty, the audience on the first night was kept in a fever of ectasy. Mr. Maretzek has not sent the new piece forth undressed either. The scenery is excellent and the view we have of the Carnival is a busy, lively and entirely grotesque one. The ballet is also good.”
(…) The opera score is poor in arias and the few that are there are insignificant. (…)
“A novelty at the Academy of Music (Maretzek’s troupe) has been Petrella’s comic opera ‘The Carnival of Venice.’ The Albion says of it:
The plot is simple, but wisely selected in respect of comic opportunities…‘Il Carnivale’ differs from ‘Crispino’ chiefly in this very absence of detached arias for individual artists, and in the great amount of ensemble music. The music is throughout of the lightest and most dance-like, and the composer has caught the facile gaiety of the national character in its ‘hours of ease.’”
(…) (Musical analysis and interpretation of the critic plus a summary of the plot) The opera was a success, first, because of its abundant comical scenes, and secondly because the performance left little to wish for.
“The musical event of this month is the debut of Petrella’s new opera, ‘The Carnival of Venice,’ which had its first representation at the Academy, April 3d. It was well received, and bids fair to be welcome, as all merry-makings are. The story is the old, old story, of a blind old father, particularly blind to the faults and foibles of two lovely daughters and a young sister. Lovers they have by dozens, of course; and as every father knows, with the lovers comes trouble. The Carnival offers a long-sought for opportunity of clandestine meeting. The father discovers their flight; but all comes out right in the end, which our young friends will all be glad to know. The characters are nicely drawn, and the music interprets them well. It is merry—the very liveliest of music—and much of it partakes of the character of the dance, to represent the ‘Carnival.’”