Opening Night: Faust, October 22, 1883

Account and Review of unsigned critic in the Herald


Inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera House --- Mme. Nilsson as Margherita


Mme. Gerster’s Return as Amina --- Debut of Two New Artists


Many surprises were in store last evening for that portion of fashionable and unfashionable New York society which had arranged for itself to go to the Metropolitan Opera House. Perhaps the first notable one was the disagreeable shock received by those who had thought to purchase the luxury cheaply.

These were absent when the curtain rose.

Next came the surprise (to many) of finding when the doors were opened, that although there were signs of haste here and there, everything visible was practically complete.

Next was a feeling of bewildered surprise at the unaccustomed paths to be trodden to go anywhere. And last was the enormous surprise that must necessarily have been kindled in the breast of Mr. Henry E. Abbey when the audience showed itself honestly cold in its criticism.


The audience itself was a complete surprise. Not in proportions. It was certain that the house would be full. But those who were expected by the “habitués” of places of amusement in New York were not there, and those who were not expected were in full force.

“You see such a lot you don't know, you know, and, you know, you don't see the fellahs you know,” lisped one young man, whose attire was as faultless as his imported manner.

Yet, as no one outside of the few who had studied the matter knew exactly what to expect, the surprises were taken as a matter of course, and the praise and criticism freely uttered on all sides seemed entirely spontaneous.

Long before the doors were opened a line had formed by the family circle entrance, and a crowd of idlers gathered to watch those who awaited admission. In the line were those who sought cheap admission. None knew what the price would be, but most thought it would be $1 or $1.50. They waited patiently till at length a single fold of the iron doors was turned back, and then the two policemen guarding the aperture had hard work to keep the crowd back. For the first time in the experience of most of the ladies in the throng (and there were many ladies and more gentlemen there, only a few being “gallery gods”) the terrible locust was brandished close to their heads in most alarming fashion to keep them back. Of course no one was struck, but they expected it, and even that did not stop the crush.

In a few minutes, however, the cry went up, “Three dollars to get in!” There were yells of derisive laughter from the “gods” and the crush was lessened. The cheapest seat in the house was $3.00, and no “standing room” was sold. The inconvenience of this arrangement was speedily apparent after the lower part of the house filled up.


Through the two “covered carriageways” on Thirty-ninth and Fortieth Streets (which are not yet covered) the stream of carriages began at half-past seven, and continued till nearly nine. At the Broadway entrance the large, handsome vestibule was a shelter for perhaps a hundred curiosity seekers and a few early guests, who waited almost half au hour for the gates to open. Then came the expected rush.

Or, rather, then came the people who had secured their seats. Before the curtain rose, tickets could be had of the speculators outside at box office prices, and there was no rush for them at that.

After a brief inspection of the parlors, lobbies, foyer and side rooms by many who had entered, the audience settled itself, and for the first time the New York public saw the auditorium, of which they had read so much.


It is large. The impression looking down from the balcony is that it is enormous. From the parquet each circle above is seen only as a narrow rim. The effect is less, of course. The first and salient criticism—and the words were on all lips—was that the “quiet, subdued effect” had been pursued to an extreme. The total absence of bold coloring, the intricacy and delicacy of the ornamentation that can only be seen from a distance, was enough of itself to check enthusiasm.

“It would be pretty hard to get a house to 'rise' at a singer here,” said a quiet gentleman in a parquet seat to the lady beside him. “It's too quiet for much enthusiasm.”

The great beauty of finish apparent throughout was as freely spoken of. The curtain, itself the most conspicuous work of art in the house, is as rich as a curtain may easily be, and is said to be the most elegant piece of work of the kind in the world. Only one other is at all similar. It is embroidered work—a real draped curtain, and not a painted representation of one. Its material was manufactured expressly and it was constructed by the most skilled embroiderers. Yet it, too, magnificent beyond question, is so subdued that its real elegance is lost on the audience.

“How will it go?” asked one “first nighter” of another after they had both looked over the house and the audience.

“Hard to say,” was the answer. “Each man here may have a bottle of enthusiasm about him, but nobody seems in a hurry to uncork.”


The scene was undeniably beautiful. The three circles of boxes already described in the HERALD were three “glittering horseshoes” of as much glory as could well be shown in evening dress and jewels. Diamonds flashed like stars, and the gay tints of hundreds of the most artistic costumes made the three lines perfect pictures. All this, however, was expected. The audience was waiting, after all, for the opera. The opera house had not been condemned by the public taste. As certainly it had provoked no enthusiasm.

When the curtain rose the first round of applause followed, and the keen observer detected the keynote of the fact just stated. It was honest applause. The scene compelled that. It was not particularly warm. It was not conspicuously faint. Those who applauded said by the applause simply, “It is well. Now let us have the opera.”


The opera selected for the inauguration of the house was certainly well chosen. "Faust" is always popular, and it is particularly adapted to the special talents and vocal temperaments, so to speak, of those who were engaged – as principals in the cast. Mme. Nilsson's Marguerite was certainly ranked as one of her most charming characters; Signor Campanini as Faust has for several years past had no equal on the lyric stage in his interpretation of that part. Mme. Scalchi as Siebel is acknowledged as among the best examples of what may be done by a great artist with an insignificant rôle; Signor Novara's first genuine success was made as Mephistopheles; Signor Del Puente is always a graceful and manly Valentino, and Mlle. Lablache, who last night sang the rôle of Marta at short notice, filled a part in the operas which her distinguished mother (whom she resembles dramatically and vocally) long since made famous. Considering the popularity of the opera and the artists at his command with which to cast it, Mr. Abbey clearly made an excellent selection in forming his first programme. To detail here how the music was phrased and acted by these artists would be to repeat a tale that has long sine become familiar to opera goers. The only questions of importance which the public want answered in connection with last night's performance are:—Were the old time successes repeated? Did Nilsson come back to us with her glorious voice unimpaired? Has Campanini recovered from the severe strain he was subjected to in his last Mapleson season? What kind of a conductor is Signor Vianesi? Are the new orchestra, chorus and ballet at the Metropolitan good? And how did the house acoustics stand the practical vocal and instrumental test of last evening? Now, to answer these questions:—

The triumph or the evening vocally was Mme. Nilsson's.


She sang gloriously. Her voice is as rich and full and brilliant as ever. She gave the music much the accustomed phrasing. There was a trifle more audacity perhaps in strong vocal coloring, or a broadly dramatic effect here and there, but as a whole her Margherita vocally was that with which we have long and pleasantly been familiar, and again last night won for the singer the admiration and applause of her hearers. Dramatically she acted it in the earlier scenes with all the old time simplicity and grace, and in the grandly effective climax of the last act fairly rose to the demands of the moment and scored a great popular and artistic success. The house was not inclined during the evening to be over enthusiastic. Indeed, it somehow seemed to have taken on a highly judicial frame of mind, and, instead of aiding the artists to do their best by bestowing friendly recognition wherever it was possible, it “took the papers and reserved the decision,” as it were, wherever it could do so. Consequently the applause which rewarded Mme. Nilsson after the Jewel Song, and created quite a little scene ending with the presentation to her of a golden laurel wreath, may be accepted as quite a triumph for the singer and an evidence of the strong hold she still maintains upon this public.


Signor Campanini was no sooner recognized upon the stage when the curtain went up than the house greeted him almost affectionately, and after his singing of the "Salve dimora" there was a temporary “adjournment of the proceedings” to permit bouquets and baskets of flowers and numerous gifts from his admirers to be passed up to the popular tenor. Of his singing last evening it is difficult to speak at present with the assurance of doing full justice to the artist and his public. Signor Campanini has been absent from the stage for a year and more. He has sought absolute vocal rest. That means the temporary loss on his return of many artistic qualities, or rather effects, in his singing, which any accomplished artist only maintains by constant and almost severe daily practice. The year's rest has benefited Signor Campanini in many ways. It has, perhaps insensibly, at present strengthened his vocal powers, but it has lost to him, for the time, that brilliancy in difficult phrases and resonance in the upper register which once seemed to be in his singing almost matchless gifts. The sweetness of tone, the marvelously delicate coloring, the deep sentiment which always have attached to his voice, are there; but Signor Campanini, better than any one else, knows that he did not sing the “Salve dimora” last night as he once did. No one need shout at the present moment, “Le roi est mort!” The King is not dead; let us hope he is only sleeping and that he will soon awake to renew his former triumphs. Let us wait until he has had a little further chance to recoup himself, and then we shall be able to say what his future on the stage is to be. At present, however, it can easily down that had any other tenor sung as he did last night it would have amply satisfied the operatic world, and that the occasion served to show that even when in poor voice he is still a charming artist.

Signori Novara and Del Puente were met in a most friendly way and greatly added to the success of the evening's performance, and Mlle. Lablache was a very acceptable Marta.


Signor Vianesi, who was pleasantly received, made quite a good impression as a conductor. He has a habit of hurrying the tempi at times, and now and then impresses one as a more vigorous than sentimental leader, but perhaps a disciplinarian rather than a poet was needed last night with the new orchestra. There is good material in the new orchestra, and the quality of the strings and reeds is excellent, but the players want further practice together before their exact worth can be justly estimated. They were nervous last night and played very unsteadily at times, but gave evidence of better things to come in their future work.

The ballet was moderately large, generously costumed and as a rule danced gracefully and well together, with the exception of the alleged male members, who evinced a desire now and then to “go it alone,” to the destruction of the terpsichorean harmony.

Mr. Abbey's chorus is large and well drilled, and last night the strength and roundness of tone in the male voices and the good quality of the female voices were easily apparent. They sang true and in good time, which is more than can be said of all operatic bodies of this kind.

The scenery and costumes were appropriate and handsome. Indeed, the stage appointments throughout were excellent.

As to the acoustics of the house opinions differed. Generally they were favorable, but at one or two points in the house it was stated, and with good reason, that many of the finer vocal effects were marred.


“Oh, it seems to be a success, doesn't it?” said Mr. Abbey, with quizzical affectation of doubt, when a Herald reporter asked him how he felt about the performance.

“Are you satisfied?”
"Does it come up to your expectations?"
"In respect to the house?"
“In respect to the gathering?”
“Up to my best hopes.”
“And the performance?”
“Almost reaches my aspirations.”
“Oh, yes, we shall give it better on Saturday?”
“You have had great difficulties in getting ready for such a success?”
A sigh—“You have no notion of them.”
"You are glad they are over?”
“Over—difficulties—I might say they are only begun. To keep up to the standard set tonight will involve constant work, endless effort.”
“I am told Mr. Mapleson has got out an injunction against Mr. Parry.”
“Well, he'll have a nice time serving it.”
“You don't think he can, this evening?”
“Oh, not this evening.”


Mme. Nilsson assumed the rôle of interviewer herself, when, a HERALD reporter called on her in her dressing room. “Could you hear me?” she asked.

“Oh, perfectly,” she was told.
“In the pianissimo?” “In the church scene?”
“Well, I am delighted.”
“Did you find it hard to sing in this house that you were so anxious?”
“Quite the contrary. I did not strain myself once tonight. I sang with the greatest ease. I am not in the least fatigued.”
“Then you like the house?”
“It is splendid.”
“The stage?”
“Is simply perfect—that is, it will be when they sweep it. I have ruined my white dress, the boards are so dirty—black up to the knees. But then, poor fellows, they have been working since eight this morning.”
“Were you satisfied with your reception?”
“Oh, how could 1 be otherwise? It was charming. But am I not the favorite of the New York people, and am I not theirs? Do I not love them?”


Mme. Scalchi said, “It is a beautiful house.”
“But how is it to sing in?” she was asked.
“It is excellent. I have never known any better.”
“Have you had any difficulty in filling it with your voice?”
“Oh, no; I have done no hard work tonight.”
“How did you like your reception?”
“Oh, I was astonished at it. I had no idea I should have any special notice at all. Why, I must be a—favorite, you call it. Oh, I am so glad!”


Signor Campanini said:—“It is too long—too late. I am fatigued.”
“Then you have found the house difficult to fill? You are tired with your exertions?”
“Not in the least. I am tired waiting.”
“Do you like the house?”
“I am delighted with everything.”
“And the "public, are you on good terms with…”
“I am well pleased with them. My return to them has brought me all the satisfaction I expected.”


Signor Vianesi exclaimed in a great hurry: “Oh, I am charmed with our success. I am satisfied with the whole company, grateful to the public and delighted with the house. Oh, yes, it is perfectly designed, so far as I can tell, for musical performances; but you who were in the audience should know better than I.”

Signor Del Puente said:—“The only fault is in myself tonight. I am not well, but I am better pleased than ever with the house, and the success with the public seems to be complete.” Signor Novara said:—“Everything here, is on a splendid scale. Oh no, I had no trouble.- I sang with the greatest ease. I don't know what the effect was. The Herald must tell us that tomorrow, but I am feeling quite happy tonight.”


The wreath which was presented to Mme. Nilsson was a most beautiful piece of workmanship. It was stated on behalf of the lady last night that she had no idea as yet regarding the personality of the sender. The present was accompanied by a description, written in a small feminine hand, and reading as follows: ---

The wreath is au exact reproduction of a spray of the bay tree, leaves, berries and stalk being closely copied from nature The stem is so arranged that it will bend in any direction, and can be shortened as much as may be required to meet the convenience of the wearer.

In order to enable the wreath to be worn across the front of the dress from the shoulder to the waist, two circular brooches are provided. Those are after the pattern of those used in classical tines to fasten similar wreaths, and bear in their centres the masks of tragedy and comedy.

On the reverse of the clasp is an inscription reading thus: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In commemoration of the opening of the
Metropolitan Opera House
OCTOBER, 1883.

The whole is of gold and must be worth several thousand dollars. The wreath was set in an elegant crimson velvet case lined with white satin and having on a golden plate an inscription similar to that on the brooches


Behind the scenes the bustle between the acts was much less than might have been expected. In fact, compared with the front of the house this place was a realm of peace. While the corridors were a Babel of voices and an eddying mass of men, the only sounds heard on the stage were the footsteps of the hurrying scene-shifters and occasional brief directions given by the various stage officials. Everybody seemed to have a place and to fill it, without standing in anybody else’s way. People went about their business rapidly, but succeeded marvelously in avoiding jostling other people. The fact, is system prevailed. The evidences of experienced management were visible on all sides.

But if the scene was by comparison quiet upon the stage it was at least decidedly queer. Flower beds belonging to Marguerite's garden seemed to have burst their way through the streets of Leipsic, and a Gothic cathedral pillar appeared an unusual support for the vaulted roof of a dungeon. A couple of chorus girls sat knitting on a bench, and a tall “super” or two consumed sausage and rye bread in a quiet corner behind an arbor of roses. Groups of gaudy maidens talked under their breath with soldiers and burghers in equally gay attire. In the midst the carpenters, in frowsy jackets and paper caps, toiled and struggled with heavy fiats and tugged at the ropes of obstinate flies. Their language was not often of the gentlest—sometimes it was as forcible as their efforts.

Once when a terrific crash was heard by the audience a wild profusion of curses was uttered behind the scones. A piano had fallen with a crash. This, by the way, was during the early part of the garden scene, but Mlle. Scalchi's unmoved continuance of her air prevented more than a passing notice being takes of the incident.

*Reference to the Academy of Music which launched its season the same night.

From an unsigned condensed account in The New York Times (W. J. Henderson?)




A very great audience assembled last evening in the new Metropolitan Opera-house on the occasion of its formal public opening. The lines of carriages were so long that the three entrances were unequal to the task of receiving their occupants promptly, and at 8:23 o'clock, when Signor Vianesi lifted his baton people were still pouring in from every side. An outburst of applause greeted the Signor's appearance, whereat he halted, wheeled about, and gravely bowed to every corner of the vast auditorium before repeating his signal for the opening overture. The curtain rose on the first act of “Faust” at 8:30 o'clock, and Signor Campanini was warmly greeted. At this time the house was well filled. The exceedingly comfortable seats in the parquet were all occupied, the rows of boxes were tenanted, the balcony was nearly filed, and the family circle was not full by a good deal.

The artists were all warmly received; Mesdames Nilsson and Scalchi and Signor Campanini particularly. In the second act Mme. Scalchi was presented with six large baskets of flowers. Signor Campanini received a painted banneret, a painting on an easel of flowers, and numerous floral baskets and bouquets. Among the many tributes to Mme. Nilsson was a chaplet of leaves of gold contained in a crimson velvet case. She had just finished the “Jewel Song,” and the applause was deafening. First holding the box down so that the audience obtained a view of its contents she placed it upon the chair in front of the casket, and kneeling repeated the “Jewel Song.” All the other artists received offerings of flowers, and to Signori Campanini and Del Puente were given wreaths of laurel and oak leaves respectively.

Much disappointment was caused by the comparative failure of the acoustic properties of the auditorium. Much of the brilliancy of tone which should have been produced by the band was dulled, even to those spectators seated in the most desirable parts of the parquet, and in the upper rows of boxes and in the balcony only the high voices were distinctly heard. Nor were the facilities for seeing much better in some portions of the auditorium than the facilities for hearing. In many of the boxes the occupants of rear seats had to stand and lean over the ladies in front and from the sixth row of the balcony and above the only animated thing visible to the occupants of a seat was the expanse of Signor Vianesi's cranium. At first the audience knit their brows and cocked their heads, and there was a disposition to lay the blame upon their own ears, which many imagined had suddenly become defective, but during the entr' acte, on comparing notes, it was discovered that persons in each of the various tiers and in all parts of the house —near as well as at a distance from the stage — experienced the same inability to catch the notes of the artists clearly, Signor del Puente had not been beard at all by the majority, and Signori Novara and Del Puente's voices were muffled in a manner that was exceedingly irritating. When judgment had confirmed judgment on this point there was much outspoken grumbling. Fault was found also with the extreme heat of the corridors in the rear of the boxes, the draughtiness of the entrances, and the sub-cellar look of the various passages surrounding the auditorium. The appearance of the latter was highly praised, and much commendation was awarded to the scenery, to the quality of the orchestra, chorus, and ballet, and to the efficiency of the attendants, who wore a uniform of bottle green, ornamented with gilt buttons.


The performance of “Faust,” with which the Metropolitan Opera-house was inaugurated last evening, may be considered from two standpoints. Viewed in respect of its impressiveness upon the public, it was somewhat disappointing. Considered as a lyric and dramatic representation, it contained much that was admirable and little to which serious exception could be taken. The opera, however, moved rather slowly, and its sluggish progress was caused not merely by the long waits, but by a perceptible cautiousness on the part of the singers. Some of the performers, too, were not at their best, and it should be remembered that the public has witnessed so many notable rehearsals of Gounod's work that the least critical spectator often felt that something was wanting to his perfect satisfaction without being able to indicate what was amiss. The two first acts of “Faust” were sung with little or no applause, and but for the encore which followed Mme. Scalchi's “Le parlate d'amor” and the hearty plaudits which came after Mme. Nilsson's “Jewel Song,” the third act would have passed off almost as quietly. The dullness of the audience may have had much to do with this uninspiring state of affairs, but at some stages of the performance there was really nothing to arouse it from its apathy. Of the two features of the representation which call for the highest commendation only one appealed to the average spectator, and this impressed him but mildly. The scenery was very beautiful and the costumes very rich, varied, and accurate. Scenery and dresses, unluckily, are but accessories to Italian opera, and of no overweening importance. The work of the orchestra has less general recognition perhaps than the scenic attire of an opera, but the critic will scarcely rate its value below that of the vocalists. Signor Vianesi's band last night distinguished itself by a performance which has never been excelled for precision and nicety of shading. The defective acoustics of the house robbed the tone of some of its brilliancy, but this can be remedied by the conductor on further acquaintance with the auditorium he is to fill. Meanwhile, it must be conceded that better playing has never been listened to than was done by Signor Vianesi's forces on the occasion we write of. The singers who appeared in “Faust” are well known, and may be dismissed with a brief reference. Mme. Christine Nilsson sang Margherita, Signor Campanini personated Faust, and Signor Del Puente was heard as Valentino a decade ago, and two seasons back Signor Novara came forth as Mephisto, while Mme. Scalchi was greeted a twelvemonth since as Siebel. In appearance Mme. Nilsson has changed but little. She is the same consummate actress who has endeared herself to the public by talent and tact of the very highest order, and it is delightful to mark the skill with which she gives meaning and theatrical effect to every measure of her roles. Her portrayal of Margherita last night was pitched in a somewhat more subdued key than her admirers are accustomed to. Her reserve may have been, and doubtless was caused by her unfamiliarity with the new opera-house, and it extended even to her rendering of the “Jewel Song,” which, spite of the fact that it was redemanded with genuine fervor, was scarcely rendered with the requisite buoyancy and brilliancy. In the church scene, happily, Mme. Nilsson felt encouraged to give full play to her dramatic impulses, and the effect was proportionately vivid and powerful. Signor Campanini's Faust is as well remembered and as highly prized as Mme. Nilsson's Margherita. The popular tenor's cordial reception did not, however, lead him to depart from the caution with which a prudent singer never fails to test the qualities of a strange auditorium, and his performance, though marked by all the delicacies of phrasing and accent which win tae applause of the cognoscenti rather than the favor of the masses, was less effective than it might have been. Signor Campanini's “Salve dimora” was, as usual, an exquisite effort and ought to have been repeated. Had the contributions of the tenor and soprano to the evening's entertainment been equaled in artistic interest by those of their associates, the representation would have gained immeasurably in excellence and interest. Signor Novara, however, was out of condition, and Signor Del Puente either overcome by the newness of the scene or indisposed. Signor Novara, in fact was a most inefficient Mephisto. A devil who cannot secure an encore for the “Song of the Golden Calf” must be accounted a very poor devil indeed. Mlle. Louise Lablache was a feeble representative of Marta. The chorus was numerous and proficient, but the volume and quality of tone it produced was not in keeping with its appearance. At midnight the performance was not nearly ended.

Unsigned Account and Review in the October 25, 1883 issue of The Nation


“Faust” was a good work to choose for the opening night of the new Opera-house. It contains a greater variety of vocal and orchestral effects than any one of the popular Italian opera (except “Aida” and “Mefistofele”), and it therefore enabled the audience to form an estimate of the acoustic qualities of the house, while at the same time it contains a sufficient number of arias to please those whose only desire is to hear the vocalists display their accomplishments. There are many points of interest to be considered in connection with Monday evening’s performance – the return of several favorite singers, the appearance of the new house, the attitude of the audience, the new conductor, with the chorus and orchestra, and the musical qualities of the auditorium. But all these points are logically overshadowed by the question how it is that a number of wealthy people can continue and spend $2,000,000 in erecting one of the largest and most sumptuous opera houses in the world, fitting it up with costly and elaborate scenery, securing some of the most high-priced and highly-prized artists, with a most “brilliant” audience to witness their efforts, and then allow the first night to end in disappointment on account of slovenly stage-management. There was an excuse for beginning half an hour after the appointed time, because the throng of carriages was so great that it was impossible for the 3,000 people unacquainted with the arrangements of the auditorium to reach their seats any sooner. But there was no excuse for having an intermission of nearly half an hour between the acts, thus protracting the performance till nearly 1 o’clock. By that time a large proportion of the spectators had left the house, while those who had remained to the end were hardly in the physical condition to enjoy properly the fine music of the last two acts. If the scene shifters were unable to do their work in less time, they should have had a greater number of rehearsals or less elaborate scenery to deal with. The consequence of this mis-management was that everybody felt bored, and this was a bad omen for such an occasion.

The first of the singers who made his appearance was Signor Campanini. He had the good taste not to acknowledge the ill-timed applause with which he was greeted, at the expense of a fine orchestral passage; and if he had had the tact to ignore likewise the gigantic bouquets with which he and Mme. Nilsson were overloaded, he would deserve an additional compliment. An opera house is not a flower market, nor a tenor a dray horse. Campanini’s voice has not entirely recovered from the effects of over-use, which were so conspicuous before he left us a year age. Occasionally his high notes gave evidence of effort, but in some of the cantabile passages his voice was as clear and sweet as of old. His favorite mezza-voce effects, which are so much admired by some, are lost in the fast space of the auditorium. Mme. Nilsson’s Marguerite was a charming picture of the artless German maiden, and her acting gained interest through many well-studied realistic details, while her voice proved to be the same as last year – rich, pure, mellow, flexible, and expressive. The “jewel” song has been sung heretofore with greeted spontaneity and ease by Mme. Patti, and by Mme. Nilsson too. Mme. Scalchi’s voice pervaded the house better than any other, and she secured warm applause and an encore. Mlle. Lablache took the part of Marta at short notice, Mlle. Lablache having been prevented from appearing by the terms of her contract with Mr. Mapleson. Her efforts were satisfactory, as was also Signor Del Puente’s acting and singing. Signor Novara’s voice seemed to be completely lost in the vast auditorium, and his acting, which was otherwise praiseworthy, was somewhat too exaggerated. Precision and good quality of tone characterized the ensemble numbers, which seem to indicate that the chorus consists of good material. The scenery presented some admirable details – as, for instance, the cathedral in the background of the second act, the vision of Marguerite, and the various retorts, skeletons, and other paraphernalia of Faust’s study room.

If the undeniably fine cast which was employed on Monday did not produce so favorable an impression as had been anticipated, this must be in part ascribed to the fact that the vocalists were as yet unaccustomed to their surroundings, and also apparently to the acoustic defects of the house. We say apparently, because it is impossible to pronounce an absolute judgment after hearing a single opera from one part of the house. So much, however, seems to be clear: that only the strongest voices have an opportunity of asserting themselves, and that even they will have to make a constant effort, which in the long run will prove detrimental to them. Florid Italian operas, with their simple guitar accompaniments, are not suited for such a place; but if this should speed their departure from the repertory, we should be the last to complain. There is, however, a class of works, like the comic operas of Auber, which must be preserved; and for these another house house must be found – which suggests the possibility of the co-existence of two opera-houses, provided a proper division of labor is made, instead of both managers harping on the same tune. We only fear that the auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera House is too large even for grand opera. The projectors have been carried too far by the American craving for having the largest of its kind in the world. There is a limit to the size of a hall in which music can be properly enjoyed. Superb effects were indeed produced at Mr. Thomas’s May Festival in the immense Seventh Regiment Armory but this was done by augmenting the orchestra to just four times the size of that presided over by Signor Vianesi. Sound, of course, can be heard at a greater distance from the top gallery of the new house, but as Berlioz says, the “musical fluid” of the unknown cause of musical emotion, is without force, warmth, or vitality at a certain distance from the point of departure. The hearer must “vibrate” with the instruments and voices to be deeply moved, and we must confess, for our part, that on Monday evening we did not “vibrate.” We were bored.

In justice to the architect, it must be stated that the conditions under which ‘Faust” was heard on this occasion were not in every respect those intended by him. He had followed Wagner’s excellent plan (already suggested by Goethe and Grétry) of lowering the orchestra so as to place the scraping and blowing musicians out of sight of the audience, and give the vocalists, in contending with the orchestra, a better chance of sending their notes with unabated force to the ears of the spectators, and enable them to understand the words of the text. But Signor Vianesi objected to this arrangement and the orchestra was raised almost to a level with the parquet. It is to be hoped that this arrangement is only temporary and that when “Lohengrin” or one of Meyerbeer’s operas is given, the orchestral will be put again in the place assigned to it by the architect, so as to give the critics and the public an opportunity to test the justifiableness of Signor Vianesi’s arbitrary proceeding. In one other respect the architect deserves credit, for following, at least partially, the precedent of the Wagner Theatre at Bayreuth. There the auditorium is completely separated from the stage by an “abyss” which produces a stereoscopic effect and greatly adds to the illusion. The abyss Mr. Cady has not introduced, but he has, at any rate, refrained from building his proscenium boxes right up to the stage, and this is a great advantage to those in the audience who care more for the artistic aspect of opera than for the social. In the Paris Opéra some of the boxes are actually built on the stage, but Paris has long ceased to be a model for imitation in musical matters.

Next to perfect acoustics the most important desideratum in an opera house is physical comfort and safety. The most sublime performance cannot be appreciated by one who feels as if he were in a Turkish bath, and who does not know what moment he will be roasted alive. The facilities of the Metropolitan Opera House for exit and extinguishing a fire are unsurpassed by those of any similar house in the world. The seats are the widest and most comfortable ever introduced in a theatre, and there are arrangements for cooling the atmosphere by means of a large fan. The aspect of the house is cheerful if somewhat monotonous. The ceiling produces a pleasant impression, and the dome, with its wide circle of brilliant gas jets, is an immense improvement of the ugly chandelier which disfigures so many auditoria and impedes the view of those who occupy the best seats in the upper galleries. The absence of ornament and the prevailing yellow tint are more noticeable when the house is empty than when it is occupied by the fashion and beauty of the metropolis. The reproach of monotony in tint and ornament cannot be made on good grounds. The less there is in the auditorium to distract the attention of the audience the better for the opera and singers. For this reason Wagner dispensed with all ornaments in his theatre, and even arranged his seats in semicircular fashion, so as to take away all temptation for making a display of millinery. From an artistic and musical point of view the large number of boxes in the Metropolitan Opera House is a decided mistake. But the house was built avowedly for social purposes rather than artistic, it is useless to complain about this, or about the fact that the opportunity was not taken to make of the building itself, externally, an architectural monument of which the city might be proud.

Account and Review Henry Krehbiel in the New York Daily Tribune




The season of Italian opera for this winter was opened last evening at the Metropolitan Opera House and at the Academy of Music. The new house was filled with a brilliant audience, representing much of the wealth and beauty of New York. The Academy of Music also had a full attendance, and Mr. Mapleson expressed himself as well satisfied. The performances at both places passed off smoothly.


In its social aspect, the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House last night was brilliantly successful. In its artistic, it was full of pleasure for the moment and of pleasurable promises for the future. All expectations were not realized to the critical among the auditors and spectators, but it is agreeable to be able to note that all the managerial promises were kept. The accessories to the opera-house were not all finished, but the audience room and vestibules and corridors were and they were all in this department that were needed to make the first night a success. The audience crowded the house; the interior glowed with light and blossomed with gay toilets; there was a reasonably prompt beginning, and though the waits were long and the performance of "Faust" lasted five hours, there was so much to talk about that this was easily forgiven.

Whatever may be the merits of the opera-house in other respects it is a question of taste whether it is a success as a setting to a brilliant audience. Its coloring is soft and subdued, and in perfect harmony with the architecture – it has a lightness and airiness about it that seem to lift one's spirit and make one forget anything like business or care, to put one just in the mood to listen to the music or to he as sociable with his neighbors as the laws of a music room will allow, but it would not seem as if it were not calculated to show off beautiful dresses and fair faces to advantage. From the orchestra chairs last night the boxes that encircle the room tier above tier had the appearance of cabinet frames half open, revealing brilliant living pictures – almost embedded in flowers – but the background to these was not dark enough to show half their loveliness. Golden heads seemed to blend with the old gold of the silk curtains, and the pale ivory tint that prevailed elsewhere failed to emphasize the soft silks and satins that rested against them. Diamonds glittered in all directions like crystals upon snow; but there was not that flashing and blazing of rays that come from a darker setting. Everybody was in full dress and in the glorious good spirits that a consciousness of elegant clothes inspires. When the opening notes of the overture sounded through the house there was a momentary hush, and then as if everybody had made his bow and done his duty by that everybody turned to his neighbor and began to chat in the liveliest manner, or turned completely around in his seat to get a full view of the house. A more sociable gathering it would be hard to imagine. Everybody seemed to know everybody and everybody seemed to have something to say. But when the curtain arose the conversation ceased at once and from that time forth, except between the acts, the audience was attentive to that which was taking place upon the stage, applauded heartily, if not with the greatest enthusiasm, and seemed to be generally satisfied with everything,

The performance of the opera was on the average plan of performances of the same work by Mr. Mapleson and his admirable artistes – not better as whole nor worse as a whole. The fears which lad been generally felt that Sig. Campanini would not show a complete amendment of the faults which were so conspicuous during his last season at the Academy of Music were unfortunately realized. Occasionally the old-time sweetness and again occasionally the old-time manly ring were apparent in his tones but they were always weighed down by the evident labor, and the brilliancy of the upper tones with which he used to fire au audience into uncontrollable enthusiasm, was gone. The rest of a year which he has taken has not repaired the ravages of the last five years. Such a result is peculiarly unfortunate in Gonoud’s music. The third act speaks the very ecstasy of passion; given the voice and no music ought to be snug easier. Its sentiments crowd forward eagerly for utterance, and every phrase is impassioned eloquence. One could think that the singers would only need to open their mouths and the entrancing sounds from the orchestra would lure the melodies out. When, instead of sure spontaneity the music is given with indications of hard work, the life is gone out of it at once. This weight rested on much of the love music last night and whenever it did the spirit took flight and the melodies and harmonies were of the earth earthy,

Of Mme. Nilsson Margherita there is little to be said that has not been said over and over again. For the transformation which the poetical character has undergone, not she, but the authors of the opera are responsible. The villiest controversy that could be carried on concerning the comparative excellence of the impersonations of such singers as Nilsson, Patti, Lucca and Albani, is as to which is the nearest the ideal of Goethe. A very near approach to the ideal is out of the question; the bar was put up at the outset by Barbier and Carre, and though Gounod has put an ecstasy of expression into some of Margherita's words in all respects worthy of Goethe's original, he has not been able to reproduce her. Some of the tender grace of the unfortunate child is in the Frenchman's creation, but there is none of the simplicity, none of the rusticity, none of the coarser fibre, which make Gretchen a national type. That which Goethe's Gretchen does with deliberation Gounod's Margherita does in a moment of passion, and there has not been wanting even a German critic to place the Gallic maiden on a higher ethical plane than the German because of this fact. All that Mme. Nilsson sings, as all that she does, is so imbued with a current of sympathy that there is no resisting her whether she be reproducing the ideal of the author or giving instead her own conception of character. We would not that Goethe's sweet child should do as Nilsson does, but we would not that Nilsson should do otherwise. Yet the verities of art are not violated, for opening such an incongruous and irrational art form that it makes and shifts its standard with every new production.

Madame Nilsson's triumph came in the jewel song, where it was expected, for it is the golden link with which last year she established the connection between her concert room and the memorable night at the Academy when she first sang her way to the hearts of the people. After she had sung it last night the last film of ice that had held the public in decorous check was melted, and an avalanche of plaudits overwhelmed the fair singer. Bouquets rained from the boxes and baskets of flowers were piled over the footlights till it seemed as if there was to be no end. In the midst of the floral gifts there was also handed up a magnificent velvet casket inclosing a wreath of gold bay leaves and berries, ingeniously contrived to be extended into a girdle to be worn in the classic style, and two gold brooch medallions bearing the profiles of Tragedy and Comedy with which to be fastened. The donor was not mentioned, but an inscription told that the gift was in commemoration of the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House. Signor Campanini was also remembered in profuse flowers and other marks of kind appreciation, and Mme. Scalchi, who did the most artistic singing of the evening, was not forgotten through her guerdons were not commensurate with her merits. For Mlle. Louise Lablache, who took the place of the mother who was under the ban of the law, and did her work cleverly, and for Signors Del Puente and Novara., we have time only to chronicle….

formed the air is the ordinary medium through which sound is conveyed. I was as well posted in the things as most masters of science and thought that when later I should want to put my acoustical book-learning into practice a few simple formulas would do the business easily enough. I had read diligently in my books, and conferred industriously with philosophers – nowhere did I find a positive rule of action to guide me; on the contrary, nothing but contradictory statements. For long months I studied, tested, questioned everything, and after all this travail I made finally this discovery: A room to have good acoustics must either be long or broad, high or low, of wood or stone, round or square, and so forth."

Thus deserted by his teachers Gamier abandoned theory for practice, and made an inquisitorial pilgrimage to all the European theatres, but only to find that best results were obtained in one place from wood construction and in another from masonry, and that rooms built after the same model were widely different acoustically. Chance seemed as supreme in the theatre world as it was in the dream world into which Hafid entered in the story printed in the reading book of childhood.

Whether Mr. Cady mortified his flesh with much of this study into the nature of this elusive something we do not know. Probably with the example and confession of Gamier before him he was content to follow in the main, the conventional lines of theatre interiors and trust to chance for a happy result. If so he can echo his colleague's "Eh bien! Je suis arrivè!"

It is to be hoped that Signor Vianesi will speedily give an adequate test to Mr. Cady's innovation in the matter of the orchestra. With the earnestness which was shown last night in the scenic department there should be consorted equal earnestness in the musical. There are a great many things traditional to the opera houses of Italy which American audiences are willing to forego. In all matters of art this country has shown itself decidedly progressive, because so little hampered by conventions and traditions, and so important an event as the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House ought to be signalized by the adoption of such devices as will ennoble and dignify the art to which the house is dedicated. No aesthetic want is supplied by the exhibition of the baud. As a rule, musicians, whether Italians or Germans, are not beautiful to look upon; and if they were, such a view of them as one gets during a performance would hardly satisfy an aesthetic desire. Miss Maud Morgan, in a Grecian robe and fillet, plucking the strings of her harp, is a picture to behold, a classical…separate wrested, catch-as-catch-can, with his double-bass. And it is questionable whether even the features of an Apollo would be attractive when distorted with the grimaces that seem necessary to compel mellifluous sounds from the stubborn brass and reeds, The ancient, artistic lawgivers invented the “phorbeia” for the purpose, it is thought, of concealing the grimaces of the flute-players; what would they have done with the big-paunched tuba and trombone!

Moreover, while the band does not add to the interest of the spectacle framed by the proscenium, it does distract the attention of the audience and mar the illusion of the play. It was this consideration which led Wagner to construct the "Mystic Gulf" in his Bayreuth theatre, and the reform is conceded by even fanatical opponents of his art to have yielded most beneficial results, both spectacularly and acoustically. Mr. Cady did not go to the extreme of a wholly concealed orchestra. He adopted a plan similar to that tried in the Munich theatre before the erection of the theatre in Bayreuth, and amplified it by a device to improve its resources. He sank the floor of the orchestral space far enough to conceal the players from all the spectators except those in the topmost tiers, and then to make up for the possible loss of volume, he at great expense built under the floor a large elliptical round chamber of masonry. The musicians were ranged on a series of rising platforms so that all might have a direct view of the conductor, who was to sit in a neat stand which he was to reach by a winding staircase. A brief test made in the hurry and noise of a performance of work of the high degree of merit to which they in part have accustomed us.

Of the mechanical parts of the performance nothing is to be said except words of praise. The pictures were beautiful all of them. Nothing was shirked, and the highest skill and most delicate ingenuity seemed combined in constructing scenes of fascinating beauty and almost perfect illusions. Among the few regrets that the evening caused was this; that in spite of the magnificent apparatus which Mr. Abbey and his musical director have at their disposal they did not go beyond the conventions in the manner of the production in anything except the stage settings. It would have been a pleasure, for instance, after so many years of the incongruous in the presentation of “Faust” to have seen the proper order maintained between the church scene and the murder of Valentine. It is the same spirit that cuts up the drama of today into acts one scene long and calls down the curtain upon a studiously arranged tableau that has changed the order of the two scenes in “Faust.” Originally the fourth act closed with the scene in the church as the progress of Goethe's argument requires; now the scene is almost frequently universally placed before the death of Valentine in order that the more sensational finale may be gained. Gounod has himself sanctioned the change. Applied to a few years ago for his views on the question, he said to the director of a French theatre, ‘I have no choice in the matter—both readings are possible and good. As a musician I prefer the death of Valentine as a finale; if you make it to precede the church scene you will be more in harmony with Goethe-choose.” This has always seemed to us a mistaken judgment on the part of Gounod. If a dramatic climax is the need, there is surely more power in Gretchen's agonizing “harin! euer Flaschchen!” and her swoon amidst the pomp of the holy office, than in the vulgar killing of a brutal soldier. But the composer's embarrassment grew, perhaps, out of the fact that the librettists had already robbed the episode of all its purpose, character and sentiment by exchanging the “evil spirit” in which the poet personified Gretchen's tormenting conscience, with Mephistopheles, who disguises himself as a monk to upbraid the maiden, and then appears in all his ridiculous scarlet like a bug-a-boo to frighten the child into a faint. After such a travesty of the original it is no wonder that Gounod was willing that it should be put anywhere in the performance.

So far as a single performance under such circumstances could demonstrate the fact, the new house was shown to be not only satisfactory, but really admirable in its acoustic properties. The fear of failure in this respect is one which weighs like a nightmare on conscientious architects, for nothing is more generally and frankly admitted nowadays than that in this province the architect is wholly the slave of chance. All the authorities on acoustics, from Pythagoras down to Tyndall, have failed to lay down a rule which might insure to designers of theatres even an average or moderate degree of success. This was most ingenuously conceded by M. Gamier after he had made the discovery that his masterpiece, the Grand Opéra in Paris, was in the van of all the theatres of Europe in respect of acoustics. In his book on the subject he disclaims all credit for the accomplishment. He confesses that he trusted entirely to luck, like the acrobat who closes his eyes and clings to the ropes of an ascending balloon. “Eh Bien !” he concludes, “Je suis arrivé!” The audience-room of the Grand Opera has good acoustics, the best, probably, of all theatres; the credit is not mine. I merely wear the marks of honor.” But not recklessness or ignorance led the French architect to this course: it was simply the outcome of a world of study which he had given to the subject in all the years of his career that preceded his great work.

“It is not my fault,” he remarks, “that acoustics and I can never come to an understanding. I gave myself great pains to master this bizarre science, but after fifteen years of labor I found myself hardly in advance of where I stood on the first day. True, out of books and from my colleagues I saw that sound is propagated thus and so, and such manner…

In the last days of construction convinced Vianesi of what his prejudices had already prompted probably, namely: that the arrangement was problematical. Mr. Abbey was of a mind with directors of the Opera House Company, it is said that the new feature should be retained if it should turn out to be a practicable one, but he wasn't willing to take any risk on his first night, and gulf was bridged over. One result of this was to place the drums and brass outside the orchestra-rail, but ruin the view from one or two of the baignoirs and hope, in the interest of the reform to which Cady gave so much care and the directors so much money, that the sunken orchestra will be tested soon at a performance before an audience, so that the acoustical conditions may be complete, and that if it be not found seriously wanting it be retained.

So far as the orchestra is concerned there is reason why Signor Viauesi should insist on keeping it sprawled on a level with the auditorium. The highest pitch of praise cannot be sounded with relation to the quality of the baud, though it has many admirable features; but it surely is sufficiently powerful to be effective even though some of its sound be cut off. In the upper portions of the house there were some complaints last night that at times the baud overbalanced the singers and that the body of tone which ascended was not perfectly balanced and homogeneous. This was neither helped nor hindered by the arrangement of the baud, and inasmuch as the volume was always sufficient it is fairly open to belief that had the somewhat obstreperous brass and the unmusical drums been placed in the pit designed to receive them the general effect would have been better. The band has a noble volume of string tone, but its wood is thin. The distribution of instruments is as follows: Violins, 23 ; violas, 8; violoncellos, 9; double-basses, 9; flutes, 2; oboes, 2; clarinets, 2 ; bassoons, 2; horns, 4 cornets, 2 trombones, 3 ; harp, 1; and the usual battery. It will be noticed that the distribution is not that of a symmetrical symphony orchestra, and if it is feared that the inequality would be intensified by sinking the players out of sight the proper remedy would seem to be to improve the weaker portions of the orchestra.

Unsigned Account from The American Architect and Building News, Volume XV—No.425

No building of recent years – not even the much-discussed Vanderbilt houses – has attracted half the attention in New York that has been bestowed upon Mr. Cady’s new Opera-House. The fact is not remarkable when we remember that it is a structure in which the public at large feels a direct personal interest quite different from the second-hand interest it takes in the private residence of an individual, or in the civic buildings in which its deputies transact its business. Toward the criticism of these it is moved by impulse of merely aesthetic sorts, but its own comfort and possibilities of pleasure are too intimately bound up with the success or failure of the new lyric theatre for this to be judged in so languid a way. It is satisfactory to find that the general verdict is one of approval – satisfactory, not so much because that verdict is to-day any very valuable testimony, but because it is a pleasure to see the public eye able to appreciate for once the merits of a building that is architecturally very good, and this in a most quiet, reserved, and unpretentious way.

Even those non-professional critics who most highly approve Mr. Cady’s work, however, are usually far from realizing what a success it is, because far from realizing the novelty and difficulty of the problem that was set before him. The building of theatres of any sort is not a task which often comes in the way of any man, and the building of a lyric theatre of this size and importance scarcely occurs in any country more than once in a generation.

Here in America, of course, the architect was doubly left to his own immediate inspiration, since, however his memory may have been charged with the results of European effort, he did not have them at hand for direct consultation. If Mr. Cady had been set to build an opera-house after the conventional foreign pattern his task would thus have been no easy one; but, in fact, it was rendered still more hard by the novel requirements connected with the work —requirements which were undeniably restrictions in appearance, and which he has sometimes turned into opportunities only by the exercise of much fertility of invention and originality of execution.

The house, as is well known, was planned by a number of persons dissatisfied with the unequal accommodations of the old Academy, and desirous of creating a building – in which each and every stockholder should have an equal chance of seeing — and of being seen. No variations of plan were to be allowed the architect in favor of architectural effect which would be at the expense of this perfect equality. All the boxes were to be of the same character and the same size, and, in so far as it was possible to human skill, all were to be equally advantageous as regards seeing the stage, and being seen by the rest of the audience. This demand excluded the introduction of the proscenium loges, upon which all former builders, without exception, had chiefly relied for the effect of a large interior. Add to this that the house was to be entirely and literally fire-proof, thus excluding the use of wood, and depriving the architect of its aid either as a means of construction or of decoration; and, further, that the funds at his command were insufficient to allow of the employment of costly stone and marble, and we shall have some idea of the difficulty of the task to which he set himself. The structure was to be of a most monumental class, yet utility and economy were to be his first concerns, and his chief effort was to be given not to the production of a beautiful, but of a fire-proof, convenient, and comparatively inexpensive building. To say that he has succeeded to so great an extent in satisfying these main ends, and also in securing so good an architectural result, is to say that he has achieved a triumph of no mean sort. I must insist once more on the novelty of the task presented to him, since without its clear realization no adequate idea of the worth of his work can be obtained. Of course the aim in all opera-houses is that all spectators shall see and hear as well as possible, but never before had this been insisted upon with so entire a disregard of the requirements of architectural effect. And of course fire-proof houses have often been planned and discoursed about, but, with the exception of M. Viollet-le-Duc's not-too-successful and never-executed design, I know of no house in which this end has been so completely sought.

To speak now of the building in detail. It occupies the block bounded by Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Thirty-ninth and Fortieth Streets, measuring 200' x 260'. The main entrance is in the middle of the Broadway block, but the façade of the house itself only occupies a portion of this front, being a comparatively low structure to be flanked on either hand by taller masses now in process of construction. These are to contain shops below, above large ball-rooms and restaurants, and above these again bachelors' apartments. The carriage entrances are on the side streets, and on Seventh Avenue rises the immense wall which makes the back of the stage. It is impossible as yet to decide what will be the effect of the whole block when completed, but the portions which strictly belong to the opera-house are very satisfactory, if not marked by many specially noteworthy features. The material employed throughout is a light yellow brick, of beautiful quality, though perhaps a trifle paler in tone than might have been desirable — a trifle paler, I think, than the new Post building, downtown, which shows the most successful employment of the material of which New York as yet can boast. The color is quite unrelieved, since the sparsely-applied ornamentation is of terra-cotta almost identical in tone. The style adopted is that of the Italian Renaissance, and whatever its intrinsic beauty, all will agree, I think, that it is the most appropriate for a theatre devoted to Italian opera. And seeing the refinement and unobtrusive excellence of the work, we may be glad that Mr. Cady chose just the quiet, early type he did. Three large round arches, with a space of plain wall on either hand, form the entrance on the street. Above these come three large window-arches, grouped together with a balustraded balcony of projection in front of them, and on each hand a single smaller window. The third floor shows again three smaller grouped round-headed windows, with a square-headed one on either side, and the fourth a closely-set row of openings, all round-arched, the whole being crowned by a free balustrade. Flat pilasters mark the divisions of the front, embracing the second and third rows of windows. The ornamentation is very delicately modeled, and if it does not “carry” very well, and if the clever terracotta bas-reliefs of figures are placed too high to be easily perceived, we may at least congratulate ourselves that the general effect is one of extreme quietness, good taste, and reticence, in striking and grateful contrast with the showy, confused and scrappy efforts at exterior ornamentation which characterize too many of our other recently erected structures.

Christine Nilsson as Marguerite in Faust.
Photographs by Mora.

Franco Novara as Méphistophélès in Faust.
Photograph by Mora.

Sofia Scalchi as Siebel in Faust.