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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.

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Wishing a very happy ninetieth birthday to the celebrated American mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias!

A stalwart at the Metropolitan Opera, between 1954 and 1996, Elias performed 687 performances of fifty-four roles. Also at the house, she created the role of Erika in Samuel Barber‘s Vanessa in January 1958.

The following year, she made her only appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in the following programs.

March 5 and 6, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RAVEL La valse
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 10, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche miniature from Suite No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 43
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche slav, Op. 31

On March 7, RCA was on hand to record Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer, and the recording recently was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set of Fritz Reiner’s complete recordings with the CSO on RCA.

Happy, happy birthday!

The advance notice for the November 9, 1891, performance of Lohengrin included the names of producers, principal singers, conductor, and stage manager, but not the accompanying orchestra.

Following the third subscription week of its first season, the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then known) was in the pit of the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company from November 9 until December 12, 1891, including three run-out performances at the Amphitheatre Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on December 7 and 8.

The first opera given was Wagner’s Lohengrin—sung in Italian—led by Auguste Vianesi, the Orchestra’s first guest conductor. That performance featured no less than five singers making their U.S. debuts: soprano Emma Eames, mezzo-soprano Giulia Ravogli, baritone Antonio Magini- Coletti, and tenor and bass brothers Jean and Édouard de Reszke.

On November 10, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that even though several patrons were late in arriving due to “the fact that carriages approached in single file and the process of unloading was rather slow . . . [they] failed to dismay Sig. Vianesi, who began his calisthenic exercise with the baton promptly at eight. Eighty-five musicians of the Chicago Orchestra played the graceful Lohengrin prelude in a style which in the show-bill style was ‘alone worth the price of admission.’”

Wood engraved print by Fred Pegram of Jean and Edouard de Reszke—as Lohengrin and Heinrich—from The Illustrated London News in 1891

In the title role, Jean de Reszke “has the dignity and aplomb of an artist to the manner born and the glittering armor of the Knight of the Grail becomes him well. . . . [He] is an artist to the tips of his mailed boots and gloves. He has immense personal magnetism, and when he casually conveyed to Elsa the information, ‘Io t’amo,’ there was a responsive thrill under many a pretty corsage bouquet.”

On November 14, The New York Times reported from Chicago. “It was though reason for not a little regret both in New York and this city when it was announced that the management of the Metropolitan Opera House, which in a measure seems to control the operatic destiny of the country, had decided to discontinue German opera this year and to substitute therefore Italian opera. By selecting Lohengrin as the opera with which to open the present season, Messrs. Abbey and Grau made a praiseworthy compromise. All fears that the season would be composed of a series of repetitious of hackneyed Italian operas were thus allayed. It is too early to pass any judgment, but, according to the indications to be found in this week’s performances, it is almost safe to assume that in many respects this year will witness some of the most brilliant performances of grand opera ever given in this country.”

Regarding Édouard de Reszke as Heinrich, the Times continued, that he was “endowed with a voice which for power and quality, richness and warmth, range and volume, has seldom been equaled. He displayed the highest art in the use of it. His acting also was artistic, and dignified, and his impersonation was in every respect a regal one.” As Ortrud, Giulia Ravogli, “displayed histrionic ability of an exceptionally high order and a mezzo-soprano voice of extensive compass and considerable power.”

Additional singers who appeared during the residency were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt; mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi; tenor Fernando Valero; baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura; and bass Jules Vinché. A staggering number of operas were performed, including 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; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

The final offering of the residency on December 12 was a fourth performance of Lohengrin, and changes in the cast included Valero in the title role, Albani as Elsa, and Vinché as Heinrich; Louis Saar conducted. Two days later on December 14, the company was back in New York for the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening: Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet featuring Eames and the de Reske brothers with Vianesi on the podium.

After two run-out performances on December 15 (at the Odeon in Cincinnati) and 16 (in Indianapolis), founder and first music director Theodore Thomas and his Chicago Orchestra resumed the regular season with the fourth subscription week at the Auditorium on December 18.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the program book for the December 14, 15, 16, and 19, 2017, CSO concerts led by Jaap van Zweden. Special thanks to our colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera and their performance history database.

Amelia Earhart standing under the nose of her Lockheed Model 10E Electra on March 1, 1937 (public domain image)

On May 20 and 21, 1932, Amelia Earhart flew a Lockheed Vega 5B from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to Culmore in Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On January 11 and 12, 1935, she became the first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. And on July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were reported missing over the Central Pacific Ocean during their attempt to fly around the globe.

Newly rediscovered image of what may be Noonan and Earhart on a dock in the Marshall Islands (National Archives photo)

However, a photographic image—recently rediscovered in the National Archives—may dispute that long-held belief. According to Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, produced by HISTORY, this image may prove that Earhart and Noonan actually survived. The program airs this Sunday, July 9; to watch a preview and read more, click here.

A little more than a month after Earhart’s January 1935 solo flight, she was in Chicago and presented a lecture on February 15 at Orchestra Hall entitled, “My Pacific Flight.”

Headline from the February 16, 1935, Herald & Examiner

“Women fliers have a definite place in the air transport service as pilots, Amelia Earhart, America’s first lady of the air, declared yesterday as she arrived in Chicago, her old home town,” William Westlake reported in the Herald & Examiner. “The arrival of the smiling modishly-attired former Hyde Park High School girl, who has twice flown the Atlantic and made a solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland, was without fanfare. . . . Tonight she speaks again at the South Shore Country Club, tomorrow night she talks at the LaGrange Sunday Evening Club, and then she is off to Kansas City and Omaha.”

In the Chicago Tribune, Wayne Thomis reported that the Orchestra Hall audience, comprised largely of women, heard Earhart speak, “deprecatingly of her flight’s value as an advancement for aviation. . . . Although Miss Earhart spoke appreciatively of a few grim moments when she took off with a heavy load of gasoline downwind from a muddy field on her Pacific flight, it was the lighter side of ‘my pleasant evening in the air’ that she stressed. There was a bit of pride, too, in her reference to the fact that she had flown exactly on her course throughout the 2,038-mile voyage although she made the flight by dead reckoning. Soon after leaving the islands behind, the commercial program broadcast from a Honolulu radio station on which she was tuned was interrupted, she said. ‘I was listening to the music and then the announcer said: “Miss Earhart has taken off on her flight to San Francisco.” And as I sat up there at 8,000 feet with the motor just in front of me, I thought: “How impertinent of that radio man to be telling me.” ’ ”

(According to Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon’s 1997 book Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer, some of the music Earhart enjoyed included “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.” The Met’s performance history database indicates the Saturday, January 12, 1935, broadcast as Wagner’s Tannhäuser featuring Lauritz Melchior, Maria Müller, Dorothee Manski, Richard Bonelli, and Ludwig HofmannArtur Bodanzky conducted.)

Program book advertisement for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1897 residency at the Auditorium Theatre

During the Chicago Orchestra’s first decade, the ensemble frequently performed in the pit when the Metropolitan Opera’s touring company traveled through the Midwest.

One of the most extensive residencies during that era occurred during the 1896-97 season, when the Met collaborated with the Orchestra over a six-week period—from February 22 through April 3, 1897—spending four weeks in the Auditorium Theatre followed by a two-week tour to Saint Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Together they gave over forty performances of fifteen different operas, including Bizet’s Carmen; Flotow’s Martha; Gounod’s Faust, Philemon and Baucis, and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Massenet’s Le Cid; Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Aida and Il trovatore; and Wagner’s Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan and Isolde.

The touring company included some of the most important singers of the day, many performing multiple roles, including: Emma Calvé as Carmen, Marguerite, and Santuzza; Jean de Reszke as Don José, Faust, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan; and his brother Édouard de Reszke as King Marke, Leporello, Mephistopheles, Ramfis, and the Wanderer. Other singers included Mathilde Bauermeister, David BisphamGiuseppe CampanariFélia Litvinne, and Eugenia Mantelli, among many others, and Metropolitan Opera house conductors were Enrico Bevignani, Luigi Mancinelli, Louis Saar, and Anton Seidl.

Boito’s Mefistofele was performed once during the residency, on March 2, 1897, with the following cast:

Mefistofele Pol Plançon, bass
Faust Giuseppe Cremonini, tenor
Margherita and Elena Emma Calvé, soprano
Wagner and Nereo Igenio Corsi, tenor
Marta and Pantalis Eugenia Mantelli, mezzo-soprano
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Carlo Corsi, director
Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 

Pol Plançon, photographed in Paris in 1881 by Wilhelm Benque

In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described Plançon—who also performed the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust on the tour—”M. Plançon as Mefistofele was forceful and majestic. In much of the detail he was the creature of Gounod’s libretto, but for one important exception, Boito’s Devil is thoroughly Italian. He is more noisy, impetuous, vindictive. The French composer has treated his subject with greater elevation of satire. Gounod’s French suavity and politeness never forsook him even when he set about depicting the Devil. Boito, true to Italian instinct, made his a personage terrifying, from the melodramatic point of view,. His Mefistofele never for a moment is allowed to forget what a bad person he is, and that is the chief thing he has to do in this entire opera. He is like a picture by [Gustave] Doré, red drapery, piercing eyes, and a background of smoke.”

For more details on the Metropolitan Opera’s Chicago residencies, check out the company’s performance history database.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir, and bass Riccardo Zanellato in the Prologue to Boito’s Mefistofele on June 22, 23, 24, and 25, 2017.

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

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James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

As a last-minute replacement conductor for the opening concert of the Ravinia Festival’s thirty-sixth season on June 24, 1971, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Mahler’s Second Symphony. Having just made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera leading Puccini’s Tosca on June 5, he conducted both the rehearsals and the performance of the Mahler without a score.

In the Chicago Daily News, Bernard Jacobson reported that the reverberations of Mahler’s symphony “were matched at the end of the performance by the ovation that greeted conductor James Levine. And indeed, this gifted twenty-eight-year-old musician earned every last resounding cheer. He had taken the concert over at a week’s notice from István Kertész (who was himself a replacement for the originally scheduled Eugene Ormandy), and everything he did was proof of thorough preparation, fine artistic judgment, and the ability to communicate ideas to an orchestra and, through it, to the audience.”

By February 1972, the Metropolitan announced that Levine would become its first principal conductor, and that October, Ravinia announced that he would be the festival’s second music director, succeeding Kertész, who had served as principal conductor from 1970 through the 1972 season.

Levine launched the first of his twenty years at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1973, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. His tenure was marked with an astonishing range of repertoire: cycles of symphonies by Brahms and Mahler; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Beethoven’s piano concertos; choral masterworks by Berlioz, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Orff, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky; and concert performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner, all with the leading singers of the day.

Carmina burana

Levine amassed an extensive discography with the Orchestra and Chorus (including several Grammy winners) on Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, and RCA, recorded at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple, including Beethoven’s five piano concertos with Alfred Brendel; Berg’s Violin Concerto and Rihm’s Time Chant with Anne-Sophie Mutter; Brahms’s four symphonies and A German Requiem with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (conducting from the keyboard); Holst’s The Planets; Mahler’s symphonies no. 3 with Marilyn Horne, no. 4 with Judith Blegen, and no. 7; and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

Twenty years to the day of his first concert as music director, Levine capped his tenure on June 27, 1993, leading the Orchestra and Chorus in Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

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Less than a month after its inaugural concerts, the Chicago Orchestra was in the pit at the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company (under the auspices of the Abbey-Grau Company) from November 9 until December 12, 1891. Conducting duties were shared by Auguste Vianesi and Louis Saar, the Orchestra’s first guest conductors.

Wagner's Lohengrin (sung in Italian) was the first opera presented in collaboration with the Chicago Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1891

Wagner’s Lohengrin (sung in Italian) was the first opera presented in collaboration with the Chicago Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1891

The singers who appeared were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt, and mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi. During the residency, several prominent singers made their U.S. debuts, including soprano Emma Eames, tenor Jean de Reszke, baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura, and basses Edouard de Reszke and Jules Vinche. A staggering number of operas were performed, including 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; Verdi’s Aida, Rigoletto, and act 1 of La traviata; and Wagner’s Lohengrin. The residency also included the Metropolitan Opera Company’s first performance of Verdi’s Otello, on November 23.* The cast included Jean de Reszke in the title role, Albani as Desdemona, and Camera as Iago.

During Theodore Thomas’s tenure as music director, the Metropolitan returned in March 1894, February-April 1897, November 1898, and November 1899.

* There only had been four previous performances of Otello (all with tenor Francesco Tamagno, who had created the title role at La Scala on February 5, 1887) in Chicago, given under the auspices of Henry Abbey’s Grand Italian Opera Company on January 2 and 3, and March 12 and 14, 1890 (Abbey was not the official impresario at the Metropolitan that season). The Grand Italian Opera Company also gave three performances (also with Tamagno) at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on March 24, 29, and April 4, 1890, while the resident German company was on tour.

This article also appears here.

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Maria Callas (Angus McBean photo)

Maria Callas (Angus McBean photo)

Maria Callas was scheduled to appear with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Civic Opera House on January 15, 1957, in a benefit concert sponsored by the Alliance Française de Chicago for Hungarian relief following the recent Soviet invasion. Karl Böhm was to conduct, and the program would include several opera arias and a few orchestral selections.

However, as reported extensively in the press, there were several disputes between Callas and Böhm, and they were unable to come to an agreement regarding the program. Four days before the concert, it was announced that Böhm had withdrawn, having “reached a stalemate in program arrangements with the soprano.” Fausto Cleva, a house conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, was quickly engaged as his replacement; Callas arrived in Chicago three days before the concert, but by some accounts was more than two hours late for the first rehearsal.

January 15, 1957

January 15, 1957

The concert was notable for a variety of reasons. “Returning to the still reverberating scene of her American opera debut [in the title role of Bellini’s Norma in November 1954] to sing her first American concert on that same Civic Opera House stage, she knew the audience was wondering what really had happened to that stratospheric voice, of late winning headlines for the wrong reasons,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “So she took that voice, rammed it down their throats, and looked justifiably triumphant when they cheered.”

Cleva and the Orchestra began the concert with Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, and Callas performed arias from Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, and Verdi’s Il trovatore (not all of the program is confirmed, as there are discrepancies between the program book and newspaper accounts). Near the end of the first half of the program, “Callas showed her mettle. She put down her bouquet, rested a foot on the podium, folded her arms, and sang ‘In questa reggia’ from Puccini’s Turandot, [which] as all operagoers know, is plain dynamite,” continued Cassidy. “It meant that a superb singer who is also an artist, and so doubly valuable, sang that cold, cruelly beautiful aria with every ounce of strength she could summon, driving it like nails into the consciousness of the audience. It was not beautiful, for it was forced to a degree altogether perilous to the human voice so mistreated. But it was, for sheer courage and determination, for winning at all costs, magnificent.”

Callas returned for another Alliance Française benefit the following year on January 22, 1958, again performing with the Orchestra at the Civic Opera House. Nicola Rescigno conducted.

This article also appears here.

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He canceled his remaining appearances for the calendar year to recuperate and was able to return to the CSO podium in March 1961 to lead the season’s final five weeks of concerts. However, his health continued to decline and he was forced to curtail many of his conducting duties, and it was announced on April 20, 1962, that he would become “musical adviser” for the 1962-63 season. Two weeks later on May 3, The Orchestral Association announced that Jean Martinon would become the Orchestra’s seventh music director beginning with the 1963-64 season.

As musical adviser, Reiner was scheduled to conduct seven weeks of subscription concerts in December 1962 and February, March, and April 1963. On April 18, 19, and 20, he led Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, Brahms’s Second Symphony, and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn as soloist (the Beethoven was recorded by RCA on April 22 and 23; see here and here for more information). Reiner was scheduled to close the season on May 2 and 3 with an extensive all-Wagner program (featuring several excerpts from Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung); however, the CSO press office announced on Monday, April 29 that “on the advice of his physician, Fritz Reiner must withdraw from this week’s concerts.”

Reiner retreated over the summer and arrived in New York in October to begin rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera, scheduled to open on November 14. However, he fell ill with bronchitis on November 11 and withdrew from the production, being replaced by Joseph Rosenstock. Reiner’s condition gradually worsened and he succumbed to pneumonia on November 15, 1963, at the age of 74 (his Chicago Tribune obituary, written by Claudia Cassidy, is here).

On Saturday evening, November 16, Martinon led the Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture, his own Second Violin Concerto with Henryk Szerying, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. According to the Sunday, November 17 Chicago Tribune: “Orchestra Hall, filled for a golden decade with the music conducted by Dr. Fritz Reiner, was silent for a minute Saturday night as the audience and musicians bowed heads in tribute to his memory.” Merrill Shepard, the new president of the Association, had signaled the moment of silence.

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Funeral services were given on November 18 in New York. Attendees included Reiner’s former student at the Curtis Institute and music director of the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein, tenor Lauritz Melchior, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Rudolf Bing, impresario Sol Hurok, and Van Cliburn. William Schuman, composer and then-president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, delivered the eulogy, calling Reiner, an “artist who set an example for all his colleagues.”

Martinon had programmed the Thanksgiving week concerts (on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, November 28 and 29) to include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem (Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus had been rehearsing the two works since early September). Reiner’s seventy-fifth birthday—December 19, 1963—was to have been celebrated with him leading the Orchestra in four weeks of subscription concerts in late December and early January. It was only appropriate to designate the Stravinsky and Mozart concerts as memorials to Reiner, and the program page for the November 21 and 22 concerts included an announcement. A four-page program insert was prepared to be used for the following week’s concerts and included tributes from Martinon and Shepard, a chronology of Reiner’s career, and a list of his previous orchestral affiliations.

On Thursday evening November 21, Martinon led Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis. The program was scheduled to be repeated the following afternoon, Friday, November 22, 1963.

Stay tuned for part 2 . . .

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert back cover

Reiner memorial insert back cover

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Theodore Thomas

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