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The Americanization of the European Opera Stage.

BY GEORGE CECIL.

The so-called American invasion of the European lyric stage is a comparatively recent event. Sixty years ago, when the Jenny Lind furore was at its height, American opera singers were scarcely known in Europe; towards the latter end of the last century, the pay-sheets of the Metropolitan Opera Co., New York, and of Covent Garden, London, contained a large proportion of American women artists; and to-day, though transatlantic tenors, baritones and basses are seldom heard away from their own country, the American prima donna has become a most important personage in the operatic world. She is to be met with in Paris, Monte Carlo, Nice, Marseilles, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Milan, Naples, Madrid, Algiers, Cairo, Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, Vienna, Bucharest, Munich, Dresden; in fact, in almost every town on the Continent and elsewhere where opera is given, and the hyper-critical Frau Cosima Wagner has accepted her at Bayreuth! Nor do American singers aim only at appearing in the most famous opera-houses; for, if they cannot secure an engagement at Covent Garden, the opera at Paris, or at an equally noted theatre, they are not averse to performing in English opera. Several excellent artists have been members of the Carl Rosa and Moody-Manners Companies, among them being Zèlie de Lussan, Ella Russell, the late Julia Gaylord, and Esther Palliser, while Caro Roma was for some months the bright particular star of a remarkable combination entitled “The Turner Opera Company,” which tours the provinces (England) with a truly British repertoire for it includes that invulnerable work, “The Bohemian Girl,” the equally indispensable “Maritana,” “The Lily of Killarney,” “Satanella,” “The Amber Witch,” “The Puritan’s Daughter,” and other productions which were probably inspired by “The Idiot Boy, or Dumb but Innocent”—a play which is said to have appealed to our ancestors.

During the time of Mapleson, who for many years controlled the destinies of Her Majesty’s—and who gave operatic performances in America—the preference was chiefly given to Italian singers, the American contingent being represented by Emma Abbott, Albani, who, though a Canadian by birth, counts as an American; John Clark of Brooklyn, U. S. A., who, on joining the company at Her Majesty’s theatre, transformed himself into “Signor Giovanni Chiari di Broccolini;” Annie Louise Cary, the admired “Azucena” of a past generation; Marie van Zandt; Clara Louise Kellogg, who, in the final scene of “Faust,” was wont to interpolate “Nearer, my God, to Thee;” Minnie Hauk, according to some authorities, the perfect Carmen; the unrivalled Emma Nevada, who took her name from the State in which she was born, and whose fiorituri enchanted the most exacting critics throughout the operatic world; Nordica, who is, some say, by far the greatest of the women singers whose names adorn the American scroll of fame, and Kate Rolla, who afterwards formed one of an Italian opera company which toured through England about the year ‘88.

When the late Augustus Harris took over Covent Garden, he, too, showed marked partiality for the American contingent. In the mid eighties Ella Russell, who sang almost every rô1e in the Italian repertoire, including Zerlina (“Don Giovanni” and “Fra Diavolo”), Astrifiammante, Margherita (“Faust”), Violetta, Leonora, (“II Trovatore”), Susanna, Leila, Rosina, Lucia, Amina and Linda, and Albani, then in her prime, were engaged. Some ten years later Susan Read, a successful Zeda and Zerlina (“Don Giovanni”); Susan Strong; Marie Engle, who appeared in “Marta;” and David Bispham, whose distinguished singing, and acting were one of the chief attractions of the Harris seasons, were constantly heard. Later, Suzanne Adams’ scale singing charmed the habitués of Covent Garden, while Louise Homer and Edyth Walker, both of whom sang so delightfully during their London engagement that their return is eagerly awaited by the cognoscenti, represented the American contralto element some five years ago.

Emma Eames is another American prima donna whose singing has enchanted London audiences; Pauline Donalda, who made her dèbût at Nice a little over a year ago, met with an extraordinary degree of success during last Covent Garden season, subsequently being engaged at the Théàtre de la Monnai, Brussels; de Cisneros is kept busy filling her London and Continental engagements; Alice Esty’s satisfactory singing has been most helpful to the cause of English opera—in which Lucille Hill has put in equally good work. Alice Nielsen’s Mimi, Suzel, Norina and Rosina will long be remembered as excellent impersonations; Bessie Abbott has sung Juliette at the Opèra, Paris; Allen Hinckley and Clarence Whitehill have appeared successfully in Germany and at Covent Garden; and Hedmondt, Canadian, is as well-known to German audiences as he is to his British admirers. Highly successful, too, is Geraldine Farrar, who was for some time retained by the Hof Oper, Berlin, and who was specially engaged to create the rôle of Arnica in Mascagni’s disappointing opera of that name at Monte Carlo last year and to sing Marguerite in “La Damnation de Faust.” So well received was she that her services again were secured for the season which has recently closed. She is now bound to the Opèra, Paris, for three years.

Among other American women singers who are well received by Continental audiences are Bernice de Pasquali, who has sung Margherita (“Faust”) at La Scala; Tiziano, an established favorite in Lisbon, where her flexible voice is greatly admired; Yvonne de Trèville, whose Juliette and Gilda are particularly delightful impersonations and who has sung two consecutive seasons at the Bucharest Opera; Lilian Blauvelt, who was some years ago engaged to sing Mignon, Juliette, Marguèrite (“Faust”) and Lakmé at the Théàtre de la Monnai, Brussels, and who appeared at Covent Garden three years ago; Elizabeth Parkina, a Kansas City girl, who has sung small parts at Covent Garden; Fremstad, who came to London with a German reputation; Marie Brema, than whom there is no better actress, though her singing, even in its best days, left something to be desired, being marred by a laborious portamento, and Minnie Tracey.

Mention also should be made of Charles W. Clark, the baritone, who, when singing in England, has used his beautiful voice so artistically that he has received offers from the Covent Garden Syndicate to sing Wolfram. In this connection, it may be added that admirable artists though Charles W. Clark and David Bispham are, the majority of American tenors, basses and baritones who seek Continental and English honors scarcely compare favorably with the prime donne who hail from the same country. Some years ago, Packhard, the tenor, sang Don José and other robust rôles in England without achieving fame; “The Chevalier” Scovell has tried his hand at English opera, to retire from the ordeal; Francis Maclennan sang Don José, Wilhelm (“Mignon”), Erik, Faust and in that impossible work, “The Lily of Killarney,” leaving his hearers unimpressed, and others have made fugitive appearances in Germany and Italy. For every American male singer, who has made a success abroad, there are a dozen women singers of the same nationality who have eclipsed him.

The general success of American women-artists is a bitter pill to many a British performer, whose battle-cry is, “England for the English.” They foolishly argue that the Covent Garden preserves should be strictly set apart for home-made singers, no matter how incompetent they may be. Such persons inundate newspaper offices with letters on the subject, and the malcontents find ready sympathizers on the staff of the cheap musical journals. Being incapable of forming a judgment, they cannot be made to understand that the English singer is seldom in a position to compete with the American prima donna, for the former, in at least ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, uses a dry, toneless (and usually throaty) voice in an absolutely meaningless manner. There are, of course, exceptions. Fanny Moody, for instance, has as beautiful a voice as the most distinguished American soprano, and she brings with it a warmth and intelligence which cannot be too highly praised; her attainments fit her to appear in any opera house and with the greatest artists. Her Isolde, Susanna, Santuzza, Micaela, Alice, Catherine, Margaret, Elizabeth, Elsa and Tatiana are, in many ways, as admirable as anything on the lyric stage. Excellent also are the Senta and the Rachel of Clementine de Vere, while her Violetta, Mignon—which she has sung at the Metropolitan to Plançon’s Lothario, and her Aída are particularly fine impersonations. Impressive, too, is Kirby Lunn, England’s leading contralto; an artist of the first rank is John Coates, who may be described as the primo tenore assoluto of these isles; and Santley, the veteran, puts every other baritone in the shade. But with the exception of the above mentioned artists, Thomas Meux and a few others, amongst whom may be included Ludwig, who, in spite of his age, sings in “The Flying Dutchman” in a manner which his compatriots vainly try to copy, England produces few singers whom one would wish to hear outside of the concert hall, while, apart from everything else, their ignorance of languages renders them unfit for the wider field which is so successfully exploited by the American prima donna.

Though most English singers are unsuited to the exigencies of the lyric stage, France and Italy provide—so far as men singers are concerned—artists who carry on the traditions of the vanishing past. The mantle of Duprez, Nourrit and Capoul may be said to have descended upon the shoulders of Saléza, Affre, Clèment, Alvarez, and Rousselière, who has just concluded a highly successful season in America; and the baritones are ably represented by Fugère, than whom there is no more perfect singer; Renaud, finest of artists, when he refrains from relying too much on the helpful portamento; Notté, whose upper register is so extensive that he has, at a pinch, sung the rôle of Il Duca in “Rigoletto;” Layollo, who has a truly splendid voice, and Dufranne of the Opèra Comique, Paris. Admirable, too, is Delmas, the basso cantante of the Opèra, Paris; while Plançon and Journet are, as the opera habitué knows, unrivalled. A few of the women singers also (though in a lesser degree) contribute to the prestige of artistic France, for Brèval, Carré, Charlotte Wyns, and one or two others have successfully competed with the American prima donna contingent.

Italy also makes a brave show of male singers, for she has produced the unique Caruso; Bonci, who can sing a rapid scale passage in a manner which fills with envy many a light soprano; Anselmi Giorgini, who should have a most distinguished career before him, and DeLucia. While Battistini, whose singing of “Deh Veni Alla Finestra” and of “Dio Possente” sends all London wild with delight, Sammarco, noted for his beautiful, round, sympathetic voice, Stracciari, Costa, Ancona, Scotti and Tito Ruffo are admitted to be amongst the pick of the baritones available for opera. Of the Italian prime donne, though Giachetti, Bellincioni and Buoninsegna have done much to keep up the prestige of the Italian lyric stage, it cannot be said that the majority of Italian women singers merit equal praise. Russia, Germany, Austria, and other countries also contribute several tenors, basses and baritones who compare favorably with the French and Italian artists, amongst them being Van Rooy, Knűpfer, Sobeenof, Bertram, Chaliapine, and Deiple, while Wedekind, Kurtz, Bosetti, the admired Wittich, whose Brünhilde and Isolde are so splendid, Destinn, a particularly fine artist, Gadski, Schumann-Heink, the incomparable Sembrich, and Litvinne, than whom there is no more distinguished artist, are amongst the few Continental prime donne who equal the singers of a past generation, and the American women artists of to-day.

It will thus be seen that though Italy and France give to the world of song tenors and baritones of the first rank, America easily distances them in the matter of sopranos, mezzo sopranos and contraltos, and that though Germany and other Northern countries produce a certain number of good voices, they, too, have to bow to the inevitable—so far as the prima donna is concerned.

 

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