Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
30 December 2015
The chorus is much larger than usual.
The completely newly-cast and staged opera has re-gained its old attraction; the house was completely filled.
“As we predicted, the revival of ‘L’Africaine’ at the Academy last evening called out one of the largest and most brilliant audiences of the season. The resons for the worldwide popularity of this opera are not at once obvious. It is deficient in clearly expressed melody, and the music throughout is rather of an ideal and suggestive character. The cultivated ear will detect and appreciate the underlying sentiment which pervades the opera and gives it a consistency of development only attainable by a profound musical genius like Meyerbeer. Unfortunately, however, the number of those who can penetrate beneath the surface of musical expression is small anywhere. To please the vast majority the composer has given opportunity for the introduction of scenic effects which appeal to the dullest imagination, while the very race of the title character adds immensely to the dramatic interest.
The production of the opera last night calls for no comment save where it differed from the former representations given here under Mr. Maretzek’s direction. The main difference was in the substitution of Senora Poch as Selika, in place of Madame Zucchi. With all our admiration for the unquestioned vocal and dramatic powers of the former, we hardly think that she came up to the admirable personations of the latter. Senora Poch’s ‘make-up’ was more in accordance with the popular American notion of ‘L’Africaine’ than that of Madame Zucchi, who came up to what was undoubtedly the composer’s conception of an uncultured Cleopatra. Still her spirited acting attoned for a great deal, and she held the interest of the audience throughout. Mlle. Ortolani made a pleasing and acceptable Inez, but her voice is rather thin in the high notes. The unexpected substitution of Signor Orlandini for Signor Bellini was not an agreeable surprise. He did his best to fill the place of the most thorough artist we have on the operatic stage, and succeeded in winning several tributes of applause, but he was not Bellini. Signor Mazzoleni acquitted himself more creditably than usual.
The choruses were, in a few instances, given with a lack of precision, a fault that will undoubtedly be remedied at the next production of the opera. In the main, however, the choral singing was worthy of very high praise. The orchestral performace was in every respect satisfactory, and in this opera the orchestra has, for the greater part of it the most to do. Some of the orchestral passages are altogether unsurpassed for the beauty of their harmonic development, in any opera with which we are familiar. The scenic effects were brilliant and beautiful in the extreme, and reflect the highest credit on the manager’s skill and enterprise.”
“Mr. Maretzek redeemed the third promise of his season last evening, and reproduced Meyerbeer’s famous ‘African Girl.’ The revival seemed to excite an interest quite equal to that which followed its original representation. It certainly deserved to do so. The story of the opera is peculiarly attractive. The most beautiful piece of romantic history which the world ever read—our own story of Pocahontas—is scarcely more absorbing, sad and touching than the narrative of Vasco and his Pagan sweetheart. The melodies which illustrate the sentiments of the romance are multitudinous, rich and dreamy. The fourth act gushes with them, and we recall at present no single act of any opera where the contrasts are so delightful and rapidly successive, the airs so varied, and the melody so full alternately of passion, tenderness and heroism, and at the same time always so fluent and so graceful. ‘L’Africaine’ in a word is thoroughly picturesque in story, in music and in scene and with such happy surroundings may be looked upon as a very lucky girl. The luck extended to the representation last evening that was eminently satisfactory. Senorita Poch rendered a careful account of her duty as Selika and was only a trifle too cautious. As she became more confident she became better. The farewell aria, ‘Da qui is vedo,’ was given with all the sensuousness appropriate to its impassioned strains; in the duet with Vasco ‘E qual giofa,’ Senora Poch was also satisfactory. Sig. Mazzoleni was as ardent as before in the sunny music that makes up Vasco’s part, he gave the ‘O ridente sual’ with well-affected transport—and was in all his duty capable. Signora Ortolani as Inez was heard to best advantage in her share of the finale to the second act, ‘They told me thou wert faithless.’ Sig. Orlandini was the Nelusko taking Bellini’s place for the occasion on account of the illness of that artist. Sig. Antonucci as Don Pedro, was, as of old, Sig. Antonucci and like Wordsworth’s primrose by the river’s brim, he was ‘nothing more.’ The scenery of the revival is far superior to the original. The ship is now something like a ship, and the deadly [?] looks grim enough to be, like apples of that color, thoroughly bad. The scene of the temples in the fourth act is also very beautiful. ”
“The African, Meyerbeer’s maturest work, was reproduced last evening at the Academy, with a cast not so powerful as that of a season past, but nevertheless efficient and spirited. In respect of the poetic and ideal quality, this work of Meyerbeer is excelled by no other product of his inspiration and science. The choral scene of the Inquisition; the orchestral tempest that follows the chorus in the great ship scene; violins in the last scene—we do not know in what other work of Meyerbeer’s they are altogether equaled. More we shall have to say concerning this excellent reproduction, which in scenery and appointments was as magnificent as ever. Madame Poch has made an acceptable Selika; and the Inez of Mlle. Ortolani has the same pure vocal quality which, in spite of a want of breadth, has heretofore impressed us in the most charming music of the part. Signor Orlandini’s Nelusko does not supply the place of so vigorous a baritone as Bellini, but his performance was in all respects intelligent, and the impression he has made is a good one.”
The stage design and scenery were noteworthy and much appreciated by the audience. Poch sang “Selika” for the first time and exceeded our admittedly low expectations. However, the lack of range and strength in her voice make her unsuitable for this role. Orlandini replaced the indisposed Bellini and was no improvement in the role. Chorus and orchestra played well under the energetic direction of Bergmann.
(…) The musical value of the Afrikanerin compared to the Hugenotten is much less. The plot is thin and that means no drama, which results in the music merely being “situation music”, which does offer a variety of attractive effects, however.
The performance was quite good. Mazzoleni as Vasco was excellent; Poch is not a magnificent singer; she is, however, diligent and ambitious, and that can take one a long way. Certainly, a comparison between her and her predecessor in this part cannot be in Poch’s favor; yet her earlier successes might give her comfort. The replacement for the ill Bellini was also not convincing. The orchestra under Bergmann’s direction was very good.