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Advertisement for Verdi’s Aida with the Metropolitan Opera and the (uncredited) Chicago Orchestra on December 10, 1891 (image courtesy of the Newberry Library)

Less than a month after its inaugural concerts in October 1891, the Chicago Orchestra was in the pit at the Auditorium Theatre for performances with the Metropolitan Opera Company (under the auspices of Abbey, Schoeffel, and Grau).

The singers who appeared were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt and mezzo-sopranos Sofia Scalchi and Giulia Ravogli. During the residency, other prominent singers made their U.S. debuts, including soprano Emma Eames; tenor Jean de Reszke; baritones Edoardo Camera, Antonio Magini-Coletti, and Jean Martapoura; and basses Édouard de Reszke and Jules Vinche. Conducting duties were shared by Auguste Vianesi and Louis Saar, the Orchestra’s first guest conductors.

Opening with Wagner’s Lohengrin on November 9, the residency continued through December 12 and included a staggering number of operas: Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula; Flotow’s Martha; Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Thomas’s Mignon; as well as Verdi’s Rigoletto and act 1 of La traviata.

The residency also included a single performance of Verdi’s Aida on December 10 with Lehmann in the title role, de Reszke as Radamès, Ravogli as Amneris, Magini-Coletti as Amonasro, Enrico Serbolini as Ramfis, Lodovico Viviani as the King, and M. Grossi as the Messenger. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus was prepared by its director, Carlo Corsi, and Louis Saar conducted.

Lilli Lehmann

“Jean de Reszke and Lilli Lehmann bade farewell to Chicago last evening by appearing together in Verdi’s Aida,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “It was a performance which for superb solo work, excellence of ensemble, and splendor of scenic and spectacular effects has not been equaled in this city—a performance which marked the highest point on the standard of excellence yet reached by the Abbey-Grau company.”

German soprano Lilli Lehmann—under the guidance of Richard Wagner—created the roles of Woglinde (in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung), Helmwige, and the Forest Bird in the first Ring cycle during the inaugural Bayreuth Festival in 1876. She made her American debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Carmen on November 25, 1885; five days later, she sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and the following year Isolde in the American premiere of Tristan and Isolde. Lehmann regularly performed at the Salzburg Festival—also serving as its artistic director—and her operatic repertoire ultimately included 170 roles in 114 operas. A notable teacher, her students included Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad.

“Mme. Lehmann found in Aida a role which permitted a display of her splendid histrionic gifts, and the music to which was more nearly suited to her vocal powers than has been any she has sung this engagement,” continued the Chicago Tribune reviewer. “Her success was, therefore assured and splendidly she achieved it. Her acting of the slave princess was forceful, intense, at all times free from all exaggeration or extravagance. As for her vocal work, it commands unqualified and almost unlimited praise. The ‘Ritorna vincitor’ was given with marvelous appreciation of its sad, troubled character, and the ‘Numi, pietà’ was beautiful in the purity and simplicity of its interpretation. In the long duet with Amneris in act 2, Mme. Lehmann’s singing and acting possessed great power, and in the climax at the end of the act, her voice stood out with telling effect. It was in the third act that the finest vocal work was done. Anything more satisfactory than her singing of the ‘O patria mia’ and the heavy dramatic music which follows cannot be imagined. The ‘Vedi? . . . di morte l’angelo,’ in the last scene of the opera, was exquisite in its delicacy and poetry.”

Jean de Reszke

Born in Poland, Jean de Reszke began his career as a baritone in 1874, debuting in Venice as Alfonso in Donizetti’s La favorita. By 1879, he had made the switch to tenor when he sang the title role in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable in Madrid. De Reszke was soon a regular at the Paris Opera and at London’s Covent Garden, performing the major French, Wagner, and Verdi roles; the title role in Massenet’s Le Cid—premiered in Paris in 1885—was written for him. His American debut was the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s residency with the Chicago Orchestra in the title role of Wagner’s Lohengrin on November 9, 1891. After his debut the following month with the company in New York—as Gounod’s Romeo on December 14—he was a regular with the Metropolitan until his retirement from the stage in 1904, settling in Poland to breed racehorses and Paris to teach singing. His students included Bidu Sayão and Maggie Teyte.

“Jean de Reszke’s triumph as Radamès was a triumph of voice and vocal art. Not that the dramatic side of the character was not developed. It was developed with the same consummate skill which has made his dramatic treatment of every role in which he has seen truly remarkable. But Radamès makes far greater demand upon a tenor’s vocal powers than upon his histrionic. Much of the music is purely lyrical in character, while other portions are strongly dramatic. A singer to do it justice must, therefore, combine the qualities of a tenore de grazia and a tenore robusto—a combination but rarely found. Jean de Reszke is such, however, and his singing of the music of Radamès is not alone satisfactory but an artistic treat of the highest kind. The famed ‘Celeste Aida’ was sung with a smoothness, clearness, and tonal beauty which were the perfection of pure vocal art, while the impassioned music of the third act was delivered with a vigor and intensity and a display of thrilling high notes which showed how dramatic singing may become and yet never cease to be singing nor degenerate into shouting.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Riccardo Muti leads soloists Krassimira Stoyanova, Anita Rachvelishvili, Francesco Meli, Kiril Manolov, Ildar Abdrazakov, Eric Owens, Issachah Savage, Kimberly Gunderson, and Tasha Koontz, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe) in Verdi’s Aida on June 21, 23, and 25, 2019.

Johan Botha, Tenor

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of tenor Johan Botha, who died earlier today in Vienna at the age of 51 following a long illness.

A remarkably versatile singer, Botha was known for a vast number of roles in works by Beethoven, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner, among others. During his nearly thirty-year career, he appeared regularly on many of the world’s opera stages, including La Scala; the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Staatsoper, where he made his home; and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he most recently appeared in Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 2015.

Born on August 19, 1965, in the northern South African city of Rustenburg, Botha studied at the Technical College Pretoria. He made his debut as Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Staatstheater Roodepoort in 1989, and the following year traveled to Germany, where he sang with the Bayreuth Festival Chorus before making his debut as Gustavus in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in Kaiserslautern. Botha made his United States debut in 1994, as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and he first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998, as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La gioconda.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Botha appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two occasions, as follows:

September 13, 1996 (Royal Albert Hall, London)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Deborah Voigt, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
BBC Singers
London Voices
Terry Edwards, director

April 24, 26, and 28, 2001 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Margaret Jane Wray, soprano (April 24)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (April 26 and 28)
Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

Boulez & Grammy awards - December 1995

Did you know that Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez is the third all-time Grammy Awards champ? He received his first two Grammy Awards in February 1968, the same evening The Beatles won Album of the Year for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, won thirty-one Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—more than any other recording artist. Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones tie for the number two slot with twenty-seven awards each, and Boulez is number three, with twenty-six Grammy Awards, including eight with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Following is a complete list of Pierre Boulez’s Grammy Awards† to date:

Album of the Year—Classical (1)
Best Opera Recording (2)
BERG Wozzeck
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Walter Berry, Ingeborg Lasser, Isabel Strauss, Fritz Uhl, Carl Doench
Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
(For Album of the Year—Classical, there was a tie that year. Boulez’s recording of Berg’s Wozzeck tied with Leonard Bernstein‘s recording of Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 with the London Symphony Orchestra, also for CBS. Soloists included Erna Spoorenberg, Gwyneth Jones, Gwenyth Annear, Anna Reynolds, Norma Procter, John Mitchinson, Vladimir Ruzdiak, and Donald McIntyre; and the choruses were the Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Orpington Junior Singers, Highgate School Boys’ Choir, and the Finchley Children’s Music Group. John McClure was the producer.)

Debussy Philharmonia

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (3)
DEBUSSY Jeux, La mer, Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New Philharmonia Orchestra

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (4)
DEBUSSY Images for Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (5)
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Bartok New York

Album of the Year—Classical (6)
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (7)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New York Philharmonic
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (8)
RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New York Philharmonic
Camerata Singers
Abraham Kaplan, director

Berg Lulu

Best Classical Album (9)
Best Opera Recording (10)
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Teresa Stratas, Yvonne Minton, Hanna Schwarz, Franz Mazura, Kenneth Riegel, Toni Blankenheim, Robert Tear, Helmut Pampuch
Paris Opera Orchestra
Gunther Breest and Michael Horwath, producers
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Opera Recording (11)
WAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Donald McIntyre, Gwyneth Jones, Heinz Zednik, Hermann Becht, Jeannine Altmeyer, Manfred Jung, Matti Salminen, Ortrun Wenkel, Peter Hofmann, and Siegfried Jerusalem
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus
Andrew Kazdin, producer

Boulez Prince

Best Classical Album (12)
Best Orchestral Performance* (13)
Best Performance of a Choral Work** (14)
BARTÓK The Wooden Prince* and Cantata profana**
Pierre Boulez, conductor
John Aler, tenor
John Tomlinson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Bartok Concerto

Best Classical Album (15)
Best Orchestral Performance (16)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra and Four Orchestral Pieces
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Classical Album (17)
Best Orchestral Performance* (18)
DEBUSSY La mer*, Nocturnes, Jeux, and First Rhapsody for Clarinet
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Franklin Cohen, clarinet
Women of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Gareth Morell, director
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Explosante

Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without a conductor) (19)
BOULEZ . . . explosante-fixe . . .
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Ensemble InterContemporain
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Orchestral Performance (20)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique and Tristia
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Gareth Morell, director
The Cleveland Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Bluebeard

Best Orchestral Performance* (21)
Best Opera Recording** (22)
MAHLER Symphony No. 9*
BARTÓK Bluebeard’s Castle**
Jessye Norman, soprano
László Polgár, bass
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Repons

Best Classical Contemporary Composition (23)
Pierre Boulez, composer
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Orchestral Performance (24)
VARÈSE Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation
Pierre Boulez, composer
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Mahler 3 Vienna

Best Orchestral Performance (25)
MAHLER Symphony No. 3
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Women’s Chorus of the Wiener Singverein
Johannes Prinz, director
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Gerald Wirth, director
Vienna Philharmonic
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Small Ensemble Performance (with our without a conductor) (26)
BOULEZ Le marteau sans maître, Dérive 1, Dérive 2
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Hilary Summers, contralto
Ensemble InterContemporain
Deutsche Grammophon

A database of former Grammy Award winners can be found here; category titles have changed over the years. For opera recordings, only principal soloists are listed.

Numerous upcoming programs celebrate Pierre Boulez, including Beyond the Score: A Pierre Dream on November 14 and 16, 2014, and Boulez’s Piano Works on March 15, 2015, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich.

the vault

Theodore Thomas


The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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