AS the “ season ” gradually draws near, and the various music-purveyors begin to show forth their respective bills of fare, a naturally hopeful disposition and instinctive trust in the better side of human nature for the moment triumph over the less reassuring teaching of experience that impressarios’ promises are not always to be implicitly trusted, and that an exhaustive bill of fare does not always mean a good dinner. But really the list of “ attractions ” is more than usually striking. Well-known names of great singers stand forth in goodly quantity in the advertisements. Nilsson-Rouzaud, Lucca, Ilma de Murska, Tamberlik, Campanini, our own Miss Kellogg, who, it seems, is to appear this time in English Opera, and Miss Annie Cary, who will be associated with Madame Nilsson-Rouzaud, go to make up a most inspiring list, though a thought of the vast amount of money so much worldwide celebrity must cost the adventurous managers suggests a fear that this list of stars will necessitate a meagreness of support of which the two past seasons have been but a foretaste. When shall we have an opera company in America really worthy of the name ? Some hint at an answer may be found in a rather flourishing announcement a few weeks ago in the New York papers, of a grand operatic project of Mr. Theodore Thomas, showing that all his work for the last six years has been tending towards the founding of a permanent opera in New York, in which the orchestra, chorus, and all the accessories shall be upon the same footing as in the principal opera-houses in Europe. From what we know of Mr. Thomas’s musical convictions, we suppose that the production of Richard Wagner’s musical dramas is one of his prime objects. But no doubt we may also expect operas by Gluck, v. Weber, Mozart, Beethoven’s Fidelia, and perhaps the German versions of the most important works of Meyerbeer, Halévy, Gounod, and Cherubini. Mr. Thomas’s well-known scrupulousness in perfecting every smallest detail in the performance of the orchestral works that he and his orchestra have brought before the public during the last six years, as far as the means at his command would allow, implies some solid foundation for the glowing promises of “perfection ” held forth by the papers. However much many people may differ from Mr. Thomas’s musical views, there can be no doubt that he is a man to persist in doing everything he undertakes as perfectly as possible, cost what it may of toil and vexation ; and the reputation he has earned for himself in his past labors would seem to be no feeble guaranty of success in this more daring venture. Even a partial success of his undertaking would be more valuable to the artistic culture of the country than any musical enterprise that we can conceive of.
A11 established opera is the point at which are concentrated the musical executive forces of a community. The opera is the only institution that can afford to keep together a really satisfactory orchestra and chorus at the same time. The poor quality of much of the music almost unavoidably performed at the principal opera-houses all over the world has tended towards giving the opera a worse name than it deserves, yet in almost every capital in the world the opera is the standard of executive excellence. Such exceptions as the orchestra of the Conservatoire at Paris, and some of the orchestras in London (where the opera exists under quite peculiar circumstances), do not in the least go to disprove the rule. We take it as a matter of course that Mr. Thomas’s enterprise is to be exclusively directed towards the production of German operas, with the possible-exception of such French and Italian works as we have named above. And we must confess that, after hearing the Italian operas of the Bellini-Donnizetti-Rossini school performed at the principal opera-houses in Germany, we should not be at all sorry to see them left out of the list. The Germans have certainly not as a rule the faculty of satisfactorily performing these works. But in the mean time, until Mr. Thomas shall have completed his great work, we must look to Messrs. Strakosch, Maretzek, and Co., for our operatic entertainments, and be thankful for what is good, and try not to grumble overmuch at what is bad. And let no one suppose that we undervalue the privilege of hearing the great artists whom their opera troups bring to us, and whom we should in all probability never have heard except through their agency. Many of us must surely count some of the highest musical moments of our lives among the hours we have spent at our opera-houses. It may go to our hearts to see the manner in which great masterworks are cut and slashed and ignominiously rehashed to bring them within the executive scope of some of our companies; to see feminine youth and beauty fall a victim to the fascinations of some roving young blade of sixty, of whose seductive voice there only remain a few wintry notes ; or to see the passionate attempts made by some unhappy maiden to restrain the impetuosity of an aspiring hero whose highest endeavor is evidently to keep his eye fixed on the conductor’s bâton and not to lose his place. There is some consolation in thinking of what old Caffarelli said to the young singer who expressed some trepidation at singing the part of Berenice to his Antigono : “ You will make fiasco ; that is of little consequence to us. I shall so sing as to make the audience forget that the part of Berenice exists.” This is a bad artistic principle to be sure ; but where the secondary, and alas ! sometimes certain of the leading parts are as poorly filled as they often are with us, let us be grateful that there are artists who can, if only for a moment, make us forget that they exist.
The list of operas promised us contains some interesting novelties. Of these Richard Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin will probably excite the most curiosity, if nothing more. Concerning these two operas, and for the benefit of those people to whom Wagner is only known as a theorist, the following passage from a letter of the composer to M. François Villot of Paris may be not uninteresting: “The first three of these poems, The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin, had already been written, composed, and also, with the exception of Lohengrin, produced upon the stage, before the drawing up of my theoretical writings, In them .... I could show you the process of development of my artistic productiveness up to the point where I found myself prompted to account to myself theoretically for my proceedings. I only mention this to call your attention to what a great mistake people make when they imagine that these three works are to be explained by my having composed them with a conscious purpose, according to abstract rules formed by myself. Let me much rather say that even my most daring conclusions concerning the feasible dramatico-musical form forced themselves upon me through this, that I carried in my head at the same time the plan of my great Nibelungen drama, of which I had already written a part, and was developing it in such fashion that my theory was hardly anything else than the abstract expression of the artistic productive process that was developing itself in me. My real system, if you would call it by that name, thus finds in those first three poems as yet only a very limited application.”
Rossini’s Otello is an opera which, we believe, has not yet been produced in Boston. The beautiful swan-song, Assisa in piè d'un salice, is, however, quite familiar to most of us. Mozart’s Magic Flute, an opera which ranks only second to the mighty Don Giovanni, will be welcome to us all. It is in fact the greatest of his German operas, and has been most shamefully neglected in this country. That the part of the Queen of the Night has been one of Madame Nilsson-Rouzaud’s most brilliant successes will perhaps act as an inducement to those Verdified and sensationloving beings to whom Mozart sounds “tame and antiquated,” to go and hear the opera. Verdi’s Aïda, written by order of the Khédive of Egypt, will be at least a curiosity. Various contradictory reports have come to us about this opera, some saying that in it the composer has outdone all. his previous efforts, others that in attempting to elaborate his ideas in the modern French style, and to give something to the world that should show him to be not behind the spirit of the age, he has so overladen his ideas with elaborate writing, that the ideas themselves, none of the best at the outset, have literally gone to pieces. The only number of the opera — a tenor song, Celeste Aïda — that we have yet seen points rather to this latter supposition than to the former. Upon the whole, unless Messrs. Strakosch and Maretzek fail to perform a very large percentage of their promises, the “ season ” looks rather hopeful than otherwise.
The Triennial Festival of the Handel and Haydn Society comes this year. Let us hope, for the honor of Boston that Mr. Paine’s “ St. Peter ” will find a prominent place among the good things performed. May we not also hope for a complete performance of Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion ? After so many years’ coquetting with this colossal composition, such a hope may not be deemed unreasonable. The symphony concerts of the Harvard Musical Association we have always with us, and we may no doubt expect a visit from Mr. Theodore Thomas’s orchestra, perhaps the last one.
— In recently published sheet-music,1 we notice a quite graceful, though perhaps rather drawing-roomy transcription by Sidney Smith of the fascinating Nocturne in Mendelssohn’s “ MidsummerNight’s Dream ” music. Louis Meyer of Philadelphia is also publishing, under the style of Album d'Artiste, a collection of excellent salon pieces by the best modern piano-forte writers. The edition is exceedingly well got up and the engraving of the very best. A set of eight short pieces called “ Arabesques,” by Isidor Seiss, are also worthy of sincere commendation.
In songs we notice Lost, by Virginia Gabriel, as better than most songs of its class, and So the Children say, by Berthold Tours, as quite fascinating, graceful, and singable. The accompaniment of the latter is much better written for the piano-forte than usual, and adds greatly to the effect of the song.
We would also recommend to all Mezzo-soprani to whom the German language is not a sealed book a thoroughly charming ballad, Er hat vergessen sein schönes Weib, from Carl Reinecke’s opera of König Manfred.
- Nocturne from Mendelssohn’s MidsummerNight’s Dream. Transcribed for the piano-forte by SIDNEY SMITH, Op. 76. Philadelphia ; Louis Meyer. Arabesken, Short Pieces for the piano-forte. By ISIDOR SEISS. Boston : Oliver Ditson & Co. Lost. Song by VIRGINIA GABRIEL. Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co. So the Children say. Song by BERTHOLD TOURS. Boston : Oliver Ditson & Co Er hat vergessen sein schönes Weib Romanze aus König Manfred. Oper in fünf Acten von FRIEDRICH ROBER. Musik von CARL REINECKE. Op. 93 Liepzig : Breitkopf und Härtel.↩