The great opera impresario,
Maurice Grau, once complained, "No young woman ever comes to me and
says, 'I am the best Nurse in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, the best Inez
in L'Africaine, the best Marta in Faust.' They all want to sing
Juliette, Selika or Marguerite. Yet there is a lifelong job for a first
rate singer of secondary roles."
The German, later British,
soprano Mathilde Bauermeister not only knew her place but was recognized
by her colleagues and the press. For George Bernard Shaw reviewing
opera in London, she was "Bauermeister, the invaluable, the inevitable"
and "probably the most indispensable member of Mr. Harris's Company [at
Covent Garden]." Shaw describes one of the bilingual performances then
prevalent in London and New York: "On Saturday last we had Faust, with
Melba as Margaret. [Fernando] De Lucia accosted her in the second act
in Italian; she snubbed him in French; Bauermeister [as Marta] kept her
in countenance by conversing with her in French in the garden; and
Méphistophélès, at home in all countries, tempted Faust in Italian and
Marta in French."
Both Nellie Melba and Emma Eames
praised Bauermeister in their memoirs, Melba referring to her as "that
dear little soul and great little artist," and Eames including her the
ideal cast of Faust, in which Eames, of course, was the
Bauermeister came to the Met in
1891-92. Her statistics help define the tastes of an era: 142
Frasquitas in Carmen; 199 Marthes in Faust; 100 Ladies of Honor in Les
Huguenots (and one Marguerite de Valois in the same opera); 98
Gertrudes in Roméo. Her 1,061 performances in thirteen seasons make her
the second most frequent female performer in Met history; it took Thelma
Votipka twenty-nine seasons to achieve 1,422 performances.
Perhaps the greatest evening of
Bauermeister's career was the closing night gala on April 30, 1895 when
she was among the stars receiving huge floral tributes and costly gifts
of jewelry. There she was in the center of the stage with Jean and
Edouard de Reszke, Melba, Eames, Lillian Nordica, and Francesco Tamagno
in the background. The New York Times described "the house ringing with
cheers. And for once all the men and women in the house were absolutely
sure that they had applauded at the right time."
Photograph by Falk.
Mathilde Bauermeister in an unidentified role.