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In the early part of its history, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was in the pit for an astonishing number of opera performances, first with singers from the Metropolitan Opera on tour at the Auditorium Theatre (from 1891 through 1899) and again with Ravinia Park Opera in Highland Park (from 1912 until 1931). This included fifty performances of Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana featuring some of the greatest singers of the era in the role of Santuzza.

Jane Abercrombie

Wisconsin native Jane Abercrombie (1878–1961, three performances in 1912) was a member of the Lyceum and Aborn opera companies and the prima donna of the first season of Ravinia Park Opera. Over the course of a month in the summer of 1912, she sang the leading soprano roles in multiple performances of La bohème, Cavalleria rusticana, Les contes d’Hoffman, Faust, Lucia di Lammermoor, Madama Butterfly, Martha, Rigoletto, Thaïs, Tosca, and La traviata.

Marguerite Bériza

Marguerite Bériza (1880–1970, four performances between 1916 and 1917) trained at the Paris Conservatory and made her professional debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1900 as a mezzo-soprano, performing mostly comprimario roles. She created the role of Geoffroy in the world premiere of Rabaud’s La fille de Roland in 1904, and two years later, she was Kate Pinkerton in the French premiere of Madama Butterfly; she also sang the role of Suzuki in later performances. In 1910, Bériza created the role of Pénélope in the world premiere of Terrasse’s Le mariage de Télémaque. By 1912, she was performing soprano roles, and she made her U.S. debut with the Boston Opera Company in 1914 as Musetta (with Maggie Teyte as Mimì) in La bohème. In 1915, Bériza made her Broadway debut in Atteridge’s Maid in America and her Chicago Grand Opera Company debut, singing the title role in Février’s Monna Vanna. 

Emma Calvé

French soprano Emma Calvé (1858–1942, five performances between 1894 and 1899) was a student of Mathilde Marchesi and made her debut as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1881. Following debuts at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and La Scala in Milan, she was selected by Mascagni to create the role of Suzel in the composer’s L’amico Fritz on October 31, 1891, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Calvé first performed at Covent Garden the following year before making her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 29, 1893, as Santuzza. “Calvé is a dramatic soprano of the first rank. It is long since New York opera goers have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing an artist of such splendid emotional force,” wrote William James Henderson in The New York Times. “She is at all times eloquent and powerfully influenced; and she knows how to put emotional meaning into her singing, never hesitating to sacrifice mere sensuous beauty of tone to true dramatic significance. Her success was immediate, pronounced, and thoroughly deserved.” She was later hailed for her interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen and performed the role over 150 times with the Metropolitan.

Emma Eames

American soprano Emma Eames (1865–1952, one performance in 1891) studied with Clara Munger in Boston and Mathilde Marchesi in Paris before making her professional debut on March 13, 1889, in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Palais Garnier. Eames made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on tour in Chicago on November 9, 1891, as Elsa in Lohengrin; her performance of Santuzza with the Met on December 4 also marked the company’s first performance of the opera. She also regularly performed at Covent Garden, in Madrid, and with the Monte Carlo Opera in Monaco. Eames was noted for her interpretations of the leading soprano roles in Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Cavalleria rusticana, Don Giovanni, Faust, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Le nozze di Figaro, Otello, Tosca, Il trovatore, Die Walküre, Werther, and Die Zauberflöte.

Florence Easton

A student of Agnes Larkcom at London’s Royal Academy of Music and Elliott Haslam in Paris, English soprano Florence Easton (1882–1955, five performances between 1919 and 1924) made her professional debut as the Shepherd in Tannhäuser with the Moody-Manners company in Newcastle upon Tyne, and she later was a member of the Berlin Royal and Hamburg opera companies. She made her U.S. debut with the Chicago Grand Opera Company in 1915 as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Siegfried; of her performance, Eric DeLamarter in the Chicago Tribune wrote, “with the superb tone, the enunciation, and the style . . . Fresh and most satisfying as to timbre in the scene of the awakening, the voice fell on the ear like a benediction after the three-hour fusillade of declamation,” With the Metropolitan Opera, Easton made her debut as Santuzza on December 7, 1917, and she was chosen by Puccini to create the role of Lauretta—who sings “O mio babbino caro”—in his Gianni Schicchi on December 14, 1918, also at the Metropolitan.

Lois Ewell

Lois Ewell (1885–?, two performances in 1913) was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Before turning her sights to opera, she enjoyed a successful career on Broadway, performing leading roles in Victor Herbert’s Dream City and The Magic Night (a burlesque of Wagner’s Lohengrin), George M. Cohan’s Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, and Lehár’s The Merry Widow. In addition to Santuzza during her single summer with Ravinia Park Opera, Ewell also performed the lead soprano roles in Aida, Lohengrin, Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci, Thaïs (she “does this sort of part very well, according to the Chicago Tribune. “She has abundant temperament for the plentiful theatrical trickery of the part.”), and Il trovatore. She later was a company member with the Century Opera Company in New York, where she performed the title roles in Aida and Tosca.

Bettina Freeman

Bettina Freeman (1889–?, four performances in 1915) was born and raised in Boston, and she made her professional debut as Siébel in Gounod’s Faust with the Boston Opera Company. After moving to New York, she joined the Quinlan Opera Company and later the San Carlo Opera Company. At Ravinia Park in 1915, she also sang the title roles in Aida, Madama Butterfly, Thaïs, Tosca, and Il trovatore. Regarding her performance as Tosca that summer, Musical America reported, “Miss Freeman’s singing of the aria, ‘Vissi d’arte,” and in the duet of the last act was highly artistic. The aria, which called forth outbursts of applause, was delivered with dramatic fervor and style.”

Alice Gentle

Alice Gentle (1885–1958, six performances between 1919 and 1926) began her career performing in the chorus at Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera Company beginning in 1908. She frequently said that, “Mr. Hammerstein ‘discovered’ her and was ‘both my artistic father and my mascot'” (according to her New York Times obituary), and he began casting her in secondary roles during her second season with the company.  At the Metropolitan, she made several appearances during the 1918-19 season, most notably as Frugola in the world premiere of Puccini’s Il tabarro. Later a film actress, Gentle appeared in The Song of the Flame, Golden Dawn, and A Scene from Carmen.

Claudia Muzio

Italian soprano Claudia Muzio (1889–1936, three performances in 1918) studied in Turin with Annetta Casaloni and in Milan with Elettra Callery-Viviani. She made her professional debut in Manon on January 15, 1910, in Arezzo, and debuts at La Scala, the Paris Opera, and Covent Garden quickly followed. Muzio first sang in the United States at the Metropolitan Opera on December 4, 1916, in Tosca, alongside Enrico Caruso as Cavaradossi. During her one summer with the Ravinia Park Opera, she also performed the lead soprano roles in Aida, L’amore dei tre re, La bohème, Faust, Madama Butterfly, Manon, Pagliacci, Il segreto di Susanna, Tosca, and Il trovatore. On October 15, 1932, she performed the title role in Tosca to inaugurate San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House (the first act was broadcast and can be heard here).

Frances Peralta (left) and Florence Easton

Born in England, Frances Peralta (1883–1933, one performance each in 1921 and 1922) and her family moved to California when she was a child. She received her early training in San Francisco and later performed with the Boston and Saint Louis opera companies, in New York’s Globe Theatre, and with the Chicago Opera Association.  Peralta made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on December 25, 1920, as Elena in Mefistofele and over the next ten years, she was a regular company member, performing the leading soprano roles in Aida, Andrea Chénier, Cavalleria rusticana, Così fan tutte, Don Carlo, La forza del destino, La gioconda, Guillaume Tell, Tannhäuser, Tosca, and Il trovatore, among others.

Rosa Raisa

Rosa Raisa (1893–1963, two performances in 1925) was born in Poland and in order to escape anti-Semitic persecution, she fled to Naples at the age of fourteen. There she studied at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella with Barbara Marchisio and made her debut in Verdi’s Oberto in Parma on September 6, 1913. Marchisio soon introduced her to Cleofonte Campanini, conductor of the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and he engaged her to make her debut as Aida in Chicago on November 29, 1913. She enjoyed continued success in Rome, London, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, São Paulo, and Milan, where she created the title role in Puccini’s Turandot under Arturo Toscanini’s baton at La Scala on April 25, 1926. She sang the title role in Aida for the opening of the Civic Opera House in Chicago on November 4, 1929. In 1959, Raisa sat down with Studs Terkel, reflecting on her career and successes in Chicago; the interview can be heard here.

Elisabeth Rethberg

German-American soprano Elisabeth Rethberg (1894–1976, twelve performances between 1927 and 1931) studied at the Dresden Conservatory and made her professional debut as Arsena in Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Der Zigeunerbaron at the Dresden Court Opera in 1915. She made her U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera on November 22, 1922, in the title role in Verdi’s Aida. In The New York Times, Richard Aldrich praised “her high, clear, liquid tones of a singular brightness floating above Verdi’s orchestration with unforced ease.” Rethberg’s association with the company continued for twenty years, and she was featured on four Met opening nights. In 1928, Richard Strauss invited Rethberg to create the title role in his Die ägyptische Helena in Dresden.

Ivy Scott

Ivy Scott (1886–1947, one performance in 1914) was born in Java and made her stage debut at the age of five in Sydney Australia. She came to the U.S. in 1910 and appeared at Ravinia Park in the lead soprano roles in Aida, Madama Butterfly, and Il trovatore. On the radio, Scott was the original Mrs. Hudson in NBC’s Sherlock Holmes series, performed on The Goldbergs, and also hosted her own radio show. On Broadway, she appeared regularly between 1932 and 1946, in Music in the Air, Revenge with Music, Three Waltzes, Too Many Girls, Liberty Jones, Sunny River, and Song of Norway. 

On February 6, 7, and 8, 2020, Anita Rachvelishvili sings the role of Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Riccardo Muti conducts. An abbreviated version of this article also appears in the program book for these performances.

Assembly on Parade Ground at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Kauffman & Fabry, U.S. 1918

Thousands of soldiers stand in formation at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in this 1918 image at right from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections.

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During the second decade of the twentieth century, Chicago was an extraordinary hub of cultural activity. Art, architecture, literature politics, music, and sports all contributed to the city’s vibrant landscape.

Chicago Grand Opera Company program and Mary Garden (Herman Mishkin, Library of Congress)

The Chicago Grand Opera Company—the city’s first resident opera company—opens its first season on November 3, 1910, at the Auditorium Theatre. Cleofante Campanini conducts Verdi’s Aida with Janina Korolewicz in the title role, Nicola Zerola as Radamès, and Eleanor de Cisneros as Amneris. The fourth and final season of the company comes to a close on January 31, 1914, with a matinee of Février’s Monna Vanna starring Mary Garden and an evening performance of Flotow’s Martha with Jenny Dufau and Ralph Errolle under the baton of Arnold Winternitz.

Fine Arts Building (V.O. Hammon Publishing Company) and Rue Winterbotham Carpenter (Paul Thevenaz, Collection of the Arts Club of Chicago)

In 1912, Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne establish the Chicago Little Theatre, performing Greek classics, works by contemporary writers, and puppetry at the Fine Arts Building. Founded in March 1916, the Arts Club of Chicago also moves into the Fine Arts Building on the fifth floor, and charter members include Rue Winterbotham Carpenter and her husband, composer John Alden Carpenter, along with Frederick Stock.

Ravinia Park and Poetry: A Magazine of Verse

During the first season of the Ravinia Opera Company in 1912, Gustav Hinrichs leads the Orchestra in acts and extended scenes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and La bohème; Verdi’s Aida , La traviata, and Il trovatore; Massenet’s Thaïs; Gounod’s Faust; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; and Wagner’s Lohengrin. On August 21, the company presents its first full-length production: Masagani’s Cavalleria rusticana with Jane Abercrombie as Santuzza and Henri Baron as Turriddu.

Founded by Harriet Monroe, the first edition of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse is published in Chicago in October 1912.

Roosevelt in the Auditorium Theatre (Moffett Studio, Library of Congress)

The 1912 Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Convention culminates at the Auditorium Theatre on August 6 with Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 until 1909, proclaiming, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” He had attempted and failed to wrangle the Republican nomination from his successor and incumbent president William Howard Taft, so Roosevelt’s supporters declared their independence and formed a third party behind their candidate, who boasted he felt “strong as a bull moose.” Democratic New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson won the November 5 election in a landslide against the divided Republicans.

In April 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art is mounted at the Art Institute of Chicago, introducing local audiences to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso, among numerous others. Students at the School of the Art Institute hold a mock trial of “Henry Hair Mattress” (Henri Matisse), finding him guilty of “artistic murder, pictorial arson . . . and contumacious abuse of title” and burning copies of his Blue Nude, Luxury II, Red Madras Headdress, and The Red StudioThe articles are here and here.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s subscriber card and Morton’s Jelly Roll Blues William and Frederick Starmer, Will Rossiter Publishing)

An occasional Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscriber, Frank Lloyd Wright also has an office in Orchestra Hall from 1913 until 1916. (It has long been rumored that he skipped out without paying his final months’ rent.)

While living in Chicago, Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton publishes his Jelly Roll Blues in 1915, widely acknowledged as the first published jazz composition.

On October 14, 1917, composer and pianist Ignace Paderewski gives a speech to over 40,000 people— “the largest Polish assemblage ever seen in Chicago,” according to the Chicago Tribune—at the Dexter Park Pavilion (a horse racing track located next to the Union Stock Yards) advocating for a Poland free of Austro-Hungarian rule. The article is here.

“King” Oliver and his band  (Frank Driggs Collection)

In early 1918, Joe “King” Oliver moves to Chicago, bringing his New Orleans brass and dance band style with him. To win over northern audiences, many jazz bands played up their southern roots while drawing on stereotypes made familiar through minstrel shows, as can be seen in this image. Oliver’s style also was called “hot jazz,” later inspiring the name of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands of the 1920s. By the end of the decade, Chicago develops a style all its own, emerging as an important center for the genre.

Geraldine Farrar (Bain Collection, Library of Congress) and Carl Sandburg (National Park Service)

Geraldine Farrar is the star of the Chicago Opera Association’s first season opening in November 1915, appearing in the title roles in Puccini’s Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Bizet’s Carmen, and Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust.

In 1916, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems is published. He is soon awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Cornhuskers, published in 1918 and written while he lived in Evanston and Elmhurst, Illinois.

Chicago White Sox (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

The Chicago White Sox win the 1917 World Series on October 15, defeating the New York Giants in game six. The winning team included outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Shano Collins, Happy Felsch, Eddie Murphy, and Nemo Leibold.

War Exposition (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

The U.S. Government War Exposition travels to Grant Park and nearly two million Chicagoans visit between September 2 and 15, 1918. Designed to encourage public support of the war, the exposition includes displays of new technologies, trench warfare and weaponry, and medical treatments.

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

Step into Your Place, David Allen & Sons, England, 1915

The recruitment poster at left, from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections, shows men in civilian attire falling into formation, joining ranks of soldiers marching into the distance.

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Walter Guetter and Wendell Hoss

Bassoon Walter Guetter (1895–1937) was hired by Frederick Stock in 1915, after auditioning at Willow Grove Park, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra regularly performed summer concerts. He was promoted to principal bassoon during his second season and temporarily left the Orchestra in 1918 to serve in the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. After the war, Guetter returned to the principal chair through 1922 until he was invited by Leopold Stokowski to join the Philadelphia Orchestra, also as principal bassoon.

Wendell Hoss (1892–1980) joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s horn section in June 1917 for the Ravinia Park and subsequent downtown seasons, and he joined the U.S. Navy the following summer, serving at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. After his year in the Navy, Hoss played in the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra before returning to Chicago for one season as principal horn in 1922–23. He later taught at the Eastman School of Music, performed in the Disney recording studios, and was a co-founder of the International Horn Society.

Otto, Edward, and Henri Hyna

Czechoslovakia native Otto Hyna (1886–1951) emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and later served in the National Guard as a member of the First Wisconsin Regiment of Field Artillery in 1917. Following his military service, he was principal bass of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1921 until 1923. Hyna joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s bass section in 1930, where he remained until 1950. Otto’s brothers Edward and Henri also were members of the Orchestra’s string section. Edward (1897–1958) served as a violinist from 1929 until 1943, and Henri (1901–1955) also was a violinist from 1928 until 1932.

For the final concert of the 1917–18 season, Frederick Stock opened the concert with America and closed with his Festival March and The Star-Spangled Banner. A new stage decoration recognized musicians serving the U.S. military. The article is here.

Frederick Stock led the Orchestra in a concert at Fort Sheridan on October 21, 1917. According to the Chicago Tribune, Company 21 celebrated after the concert with a dinner that included: “Turkey à la Cook (in honor of company commander Captain Louis H. Cook), oyster dressing à la Smith (in honor of company instructor Captain Horace Smith), first platoon gravy, Murphys [potatoes] à la pick and shovel, shrapnel peas, dugout olives, bayonet celery, grenade cranberry sauce, trench coffee, [and] periscope pie . . .” The article is here.

During the 1919–20 season, Frederick Stock inaugurated three major initiatives to cultivate future generations of musicians and concertgoers: a regular series of Children’s Concerts, Youth Auditions, and the Civic Music Student Orchestra.

Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1920

One of the goals of the Civic Orchestra was “to reduce the dependence of this country upon European sources of supply for trained orchestral musicians” as well as to function as a reserve of talent from which to draw into the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The article is here.

First Civic Orchestra Program, March 29, 1920

Five hundred young musicians auditioned in January 1920, eighty-six were accepted, and the first rehearsal was held in Orchestra Hall on January 27.

Stock and the Civic Orchestra in March 1920

The ensemble made its debut on March 29, 1920, and the roster included future Chicago Symphony Orchestra members (including John Weicher, who became concertmaster in 1937). Frederick Stock, Eric DeLamarter, and George Dasch (also a member of the Orchestra’s violin and viola sections from 1898 until 1923) shared conducting duties, leading works by Halvorsen’s Triumphal Entry of the Boyards, Godard’s Adagio pathétique, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Grieg’s Suite no. 1 from Peer Gynt, Keller’s Souvenir and Valse, and one of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches.

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

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November 20, 1905

November 20, 1905

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the Ravinia Park Theater (now the Martin Theatre) on November 20, 1905, in a program that included Wagner’s Huldigungsmarsch, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, Saint-Saëns’s Phaeton, Massenet’s Scène religieuse from Les Erinnyes, and Liszt’s Les préludes.

Ravinia Park had opened the previous summer to great fanfare. “The first patrons to enter Ravinia’s gates arrived on August 15, 1904, to enjoy the entertainment offered by an amusement park that boasted a dazzling electric fountain, a baseball field with a grandstand, a merry-go-round, a theater with a pipe organ, a casino for dining and dancing, and soon a concert pavilion,” wrote executive director Edward Gordon in 1985, in the foreword to Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century.

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra on the steps in front of the Ravinia Theatre in November 1905

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra at Ravinia Park in November 1905

The first orchestra to perform at the new park was the New York Symphony Orchestra* under Walter Damrosch on June 17, 1905. “Not since the Summer Night Concerts of blissful memory given in the old Exposition building by the local seeker for summer pleasures been offered musical entertainment so satisfying in quality and so delightful in environment,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra appeared at Ravinia Park semiregularly—frequently performing as part of the popular seasons of grand opera that began in 1912—through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression. In August 1936, the Orchestra helped to inaugurate the first season of the Ravinia Festival, and it has been in residence every summer since.

*Founded as the New York Symphony Society by Walter Damrosch’s father Leopold in 1878, the orchestra merged with the Philharmonic Society of New York in 1928.

This article also appears here.

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