Famous Singers of To-day and Yesterday - Part 10

Part 10

With this slight sketch of an interesting career we must be content, for a word must be added about Mlle. Zelie de Lussan, who made herself popular to Americans during her connection with the Boston Ideal Opera Company, from 1885-88, when she secured an engagement in London, and is rapidly building a great reputation. Her great part is Carmen, and in this and Mignon she has delighted the Parisians. She is piquant and brilliant, and has the faculty of charming the audience by her grace and personal magnetism. Mlle. de Lussan was born in New York of French parents, and received her musical education from her mother, who was once a well-known singer.



The operatic tenor is frequently as much of a trial to the impresario as the soprano. Brignoli would feel hurt unless he received what he considered the proper amount of applause, and then he would have a sore throat, and be unable to sing. Ravelli had a mortal hatred of Minnie Hauk, because she once choked his high B flat with a too comprehensive embrace, and his expression of rage, being understood by the audience as a tremendous burst of dramatic enthusiasm, was, in consequence, loudly applauded. Nicolini, in behalf of Patti, once went out and measured the letters on a poster. It had been agreed that Patti's name was to be in letters half as big again as those used for any other singer. It was discovered that the name of Nevada, who was also a member of the company, was a fraction over the stipulated size, and all the posters had to be cut in such a way that a strip was taken out of Nevada's name, and the middle dash of the E and of the A's was amputated.

Some tenors have travelled with numerous retainers, who always occupied seats at the theatre for the purpose of directing the applause, but nothing of the kind has ever been heard of with a contralto or ba.s.so.

Ernest Nicolini, who made his debut in 1855, was for some time considered the best French tenor on the stage, but he is better known as Madame Patti's husband than as a singer. Nicolini died in January, 1898.

Fancelli and Masini were tenors of merit, with beautiful voices; also Brignoli, who for twenty years lived in America. Fancelli was a very ignorant man, scarcely able to read or write. According to Mapleson, he once attempted to write his name in the alb.u.m of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, with deplorable results. He wished to write "Fancelli, Primo Tenore a.s.soluto," but after great efforts, which resulted in overturning the ink-bottle, the signature appeared thus: "Faneli Primo Tenore a.s.s--"

Masini's voice was more sensuously beautiful than Fancelli's, and he was more full of conceit. He travelled with a retinue of ten people, including cook, barber, doctor, and lawyer. He also distinguished himself in London by sending word to Sir Michael Costa, the conductor of the orchestra, to come around to his apartments, and run through the music of his part, as he did not care to attend the rehearsal. Costa did not go, and Masini returned to Italy in great wrath.

Joseph Victor Amedee Capoul, who made his debut in 1861, was for many years considered one of the best tenors on the French stage. He was born in 1839, at Toulouse, and entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1859, gaining the first prize in comic opera in 1861. He was good-looking, and had a pleasant voice, somewhat marred by vibrato, and he was an excellent actor in both light and serious parts. He visited America first in 1873, as a member of Strakosch's company, which included Nilsson, Miss Cary, Campanini, Maurel, Del Puente, and others not so well known, and to which were afterwards added Pauline Lucca and Ilma di Murska. He was also chief tenor of a French Opera Bouffe Company, which visited America in 1879-80. During the past few years M. Capoul has lived in New York, where he has become a teacher of singing.

Theodore Wachtel was for a long time one of the leading German tenors.

He was the son of a stable keeper in Hamburg, and began life by driving his father's cabs. He was born in 1823, and obtained his first operatic engagements in 1854, singing in several German cities. His first appearance in London was in 1862, when he sang the part of Edgardo in "Lucia," and made a complete failure. His later appearances brought better results, and yet his popularity was gained more on account of the fine quality and great power of his voice than from any artistic use of it. His high C was his chief attraction, and this note he produced from the chest with tremendous power.

Wachtel sang in America during several seasons. He died in Berlin in 1893.

The greatest German tenor, however, for many years was Albert Niemann, who was blessed with a magnificent voice and a fine appearance, suitable for the impersonation of Wagner's heroes, in which he excelled. He was born in 1831, at Erxleben, Magdeburg, and went on the stage in 1849. At first he sang only small parts, or else in the chorus, but, as he improved with study, he attracted the attention of Herr von Hulsen, General Intendant of the Royal German Theatres, who took him to Berlin.

He enjoyed a great reputation for a quarter of a century in Germany, and was selected by Wagner to sing Siegmund at Bayreuth, in 1876. Until he came to America in 1886, and 1887, when his voice had long since departed, his only appearances out of Germany were in the unsuccessful production of "Tannhauser" at Paris, in 1861, and he sang in London in '82. In 1887 he formally retired from the stage.

Heinrich Vogl won distinction as an interpreter of Wagner roles. He was born in 1845, at Au, near Munich, and was instructed in singing by Lachner, and in acting by Jenk, the stage manager of the Royal Theatre, Munich. At this theatre he made his debut in 1865 as Max in "Der Freischutz." He was engaged at the same theatre almost permanently after his debut and was always immensely popular. In 1868 he married Theresa Thoma, also a singer of renown, and from that time they generally appeared together.

Vogl played Loge, in the "Rheingold," and Siegmund, in "Walkyrie," when they were produced in 1869 and 1870, and his greatest triumphs have been gained in Wagner's operas. When the Trilogy was produced at Bayreuth, in 1876, he played the part of Loge, and was highly praised for his admirable declamation and fine acting.

Theresa Vogl was the original Sieglinde, at Munich, and was very successful in Wagner opera. She was born in 1846, at Tutzing, Bavaria, and studied singing at the Munich conservatory, appearing first in opera at Carlsruhe in 1865.

As Mario's powers began to wane, people wondered who would succeed him, and many based their hopes on Antonio Giuglini, a native of Fano, Italy. Giuglini was born in 1827, but did not appear in England until 1857, when he sang at Her Majesty's Theatre. He possessed a sweet, high tenor voice and an elegance of style which some critics complained of as cold, languid, and drawn out. His singing was without variety and his acting colorless and tame. Notwithstanding all this, he was called by one eminent critic "the best that has been heard since the arrival of Tamberlik," seven years previously.

Giuglini's career was, however, of short duration, for he became insane in 1862, and died at Pesaro three years later.

In 1872 a tenor appeared who at first seemed to be a worthy successor to Mario,--Italo Campanini, who was born at Parma in 1846. He first attracted public attention by singing the part of Lohengrin when that opera was produced at Bologna, in 1871, and beginning with 1872, he was engaged every season for ten years in London. His first engagement in America was in 1873, when he was a member of a company organized by Mapleson, which included Nilsson, Annie Louise Cary, Capoul, and Maurel.

In America he became very popular, although he was considered in Europe to have disappointed the high expectations which his early career had justified. He had a pure tenor voice of richest quality, but owing to some fault in his method of production it decayed rapidly, and his declining days were a succession of unfortunate and unsuccessful attempts to regain his lost powers. As an actor he was melodramatic rather than powerful, and he was looked upon as a hard working and extremely zealous artist.

Campanini had a varied and highly interesting experience of the triumphs and vicissitudes of life. He was the son of a blacksmith, and was brought up to his father's trade, which he first left to go soldiering with Garibaldi. He returned after the war, and his vocal powers were soon discovered by a musician who happened to hear him sing, and secured for him a course of free tuition in the Parma conservatory. At the age of twenty-one he commenced his career as an opera singer. He met with some success, and was engaged to travel in Russia for twenty-four dollars a month. On his return to Italy, Campanini went to Milan and took lessons for a year with Lamperti, when he appeared at La Scala in "Faust."

His repertoire was remarkable, consisting of over eighty operas.

Beginning his career with a salary of eighty cents a night, he rose until he received, under Mapleson's management, $1,000 a night, and in one season with Henry E. Abbey he was paid $56,000,--yet he died poor as well as voiceless. He was simple and unaffected in his manners, and, like many of his fraternity, careless and improvident, but he had many friends and with the public was very popular on ample grounds.

Mapleson relates that when he first engaged Campanini to appear in London, he was one day sitting in his office when a rough-looking individual in a colored flannel shirt, with no collar, a beard of three or four days' growth, and a small pot hat, entered and announced that Campanini had arrived in London. "Are you sure?" exclaimed the impresario, wondering how it could interest the individual before him.

The strange-looking being burst out laughing, and declared that he was quite sure, as he was himself Campanini. It was a terrible crusher for Mapleson to find that his great star was such a rough-looking customer, but Campanini more than justified the reports about his singing as soon as he made his first appearance on the stage.

An American who had the honor of being for three years first tenor at the Royal Opera House, Berlin, and nine years first tenor at the Vienna opera house, is Charles R. Adams. He was born in Charlestown, Ma.s.s., in 1834, and after some study with Boston teachers went abroad, where he became a pupil of Barbiere in Vienna. After acquiring a high reputation in Europe, he came to America as a member of the Strakosch opera company in 1878, being a.s.sociated with Miss Kellogg, Miss Cary, Miss Litta, and others. In the following year he decided to remain in Boston, and has since devoted his time chiefly to teaching.

The latter half of the nineteenth century has witnessed the growth of the Wagner opera. In several ways has the doctrine of Wagner made itself felt in musical art. Operas no longer consist of a series of solos, duets, and concerted numbers, with an opening and closing chorus, all strung together in such a manner as to give the greatest opportunities to the soloist. An opera at the present day must be a drama set to music. The action of the play must not be interrupted by applause, encores, and the presentation of flowers. This continuity of action is noticeable in every opera of modern times, whether German, Italian, or French, and in itself marks a decided forward movement in the annals of lyric art.

[Ill.u.s.tration: _Ed. de Reszke as Mephistopheles._]

There have been many complaints that the singing of Wagner opera ruins the voice, but to contradict this statement we have only to look at the careers of the greatest Wagnerian singers,--Materna, Lehmann, Brandt, Niemann, Winkelmann, Vogl, the De Reszkes, Nordica, Brema, and others who have sung the music of Wagner for years without any unlooked-for deterioration. The fact is that they learned the art of vocalization, while many who have come before the public as Wagnerian singers have been practically ignorant of the first principles of voice production.

To shout and declaim does not by any means const.i.tute the Wagnerian idea. The music is as singable as the most mellifluous Italian opera of the old school, although it does not call for the flexibility and execution which were considered the great charm of singing in the time of Malibran, Jenny Lind, and Grisi. An eminent London critic writes: "We were tired to death of German coughing, barking, choking, and gargling, when suddenly Jean de Reszke sang Tristan beautifully."

Jean de Reszke is a native of Poland, having been born at Warsaw in 1852. His father was a councillor of state and his mother an excellent amateur musician. Their home was the centre of attraction for many notable artists and musicians, so that the children were brought up in an atmosphere of art. Jean was taught singing by his mother, and at the age of twelve sang the solos in the cathedral at Warsaw. He was educated for the profession of the law, but his love of music was such that he decided to prepare himself for the operatic stage, and began to study with Ciaffei, and later on with Cotogni. He made his debut in 1874 at Venice as a baritone, and for some years sang baritone parts, until he found the strain telling upon his health. He phrased artistically and possessed sensibility, and his voice was of excellent quality; but feeling that he was not fully prepared, he retired from the stage for a time and studied with Sbriglia in Paris. In 1879 he appeared again, but as a tenor, in "Roberto," at Madrid, when he made a great success, and from that time he was regarded as one of the greatest tenors of the age.

Of recent years his successes have been chiefly in Wagnerian roles. He is an ideal Lohengrin, and has added to his laurels as Tristan and as Siegfried.

Probably no tenor since the days of Mario has awakened such widespread public interest. His estates in Poland, which in 1896 were extensively improved for the reception of his bride, the Countess Mailly-Nesle, his love of horses and of sport in general, as well as the jealousies of the numerous ladies who vied with one another for his smiles, all in their turn formed themes for newspaper and magazine comment. The personal appearance, as well as the geniality of the great tenor, helped to make him an object of interest, for he is a man of great physical beauty and grace.

Jean de Reszke created a furore in America, and has visited the country several times under the management of Abbey and Grau. When that company failed in 1896, De Reszke attempted to form an opera company to finish the season, and in so doing he incurred a great deal of popular indignation by his treatment of Madame Nordica, who felt obliged to leave the company, and by inducing Madame Melba to a.s.sume Wagnerian roles, in which she proved to be a failure. He became the object of newspaper attack on account of the large price which he demanded for his services, but much of this indignation is unmerited, for the simple reason that the remedy lies with the public rather than with the singer.

An opera singer is justified in getting as much money as his services will bring, and as long as he finds people, whether managers or public, who are willing to pay that price, he will ask it. When the price is refused, it lies with him to determine whether he will sing for less money or withdraw, and it seldom happens that it is necessary for a thoroughly popular artist to withdraw, except at the end of his career.

Patti received her highest prices when she was past her prime, and the same may be said of almost every great artist. The reason may be found in the fact that their greatness does not dawn upon the general public until years after their position is earned.

In 1896 Jean de Reszke married the Countess Mailly-Nesle, to whom he had been engaged for several years. She is an amateur musician of exceptional ability, and a lady of much personal beauty.

One of the more recent stars in the operatic firmament, and which is at its height, is Ernest Marie Hubert Van Dyck, born in Antwerp, 1861. He at first intended to become a lawyer, and for a time studied jurisprudence at Louvain and Brussels. His musical gifts and love of art could not be repressed or hidden, and whenever he sang his voice created so great a sensation that, in spite of family opposition, he went to Paris to study. As a means of helping himself he was for a time a.s.sistant editor of a Parisian paper, _La Patrie_.

In 1883 Ma.s.senet heard him sing at a private party at which they were both guests, and was so much struck by his voice and style of singing that he asked him then and there to act as subst.i.tute for a tenor who was ill, and could not fill his engagement. The occasion was the performance, under Ma.s.senet's management, of a cantata, "Le Gladiateur,"

by Paul Vidal, at the Inst.i.tut de France.

Within two hours Van Dyck studied and sang the tenor solos with such an effect that he immediately became the topic of conversation among musical Parisians.

He was now engaged by Lamoureux, the champion of Wagner in Paris, for a term of four years, during which he sang the roles of Tristan, Siegmund, etc. In 1887 he sang Lohengrin, but its production caused a great deal of excitement, owing to political causes. Nevertheless, the performance formed a golden epoch in the history of Wagnerian art.

Van Dyck was now induced by Levy and Goo, of Bayreuth, to take part in the production of "Parsifal," in 1888. For this he was drilled by Felix Mottl, and he made so great a success that he was at once engaged for the following year.

He has proved himself the finest representative of the character of Parsifal that has yet been heard, even Winkelmann not being excepted.

Since 1888 Van Dyck has been engaged at Vienna.

Mr. Van Dyck married, in 1886, the daughter of Servais, the great violoncellist and composer. He is a knight of Baden of the order of the Lion of Zahringen, and an officer of the Academy of France.

Of Wagnerian tenors, Anton Schott and Hermann Winkelmann gained a high reputation. The former made his debut in 1870, but his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-German war, through which he served, as he had also served through the war of 1866 against Austria.

Although his reputation was high in Germany, he made a comparatively small impression in England. Winkelmann took the part of Parsifal at Bayreuth, when, in 1882, sixteen performances of that work were given under Wagner's supervision. He also came to America with Materna and Scaria, making a good impression.

Max Alvary also was well known in the United States as a Wagnerian singer. He made his operatic debut in 1881, and appeared in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, in 1885, since which time he has been heard in America during several seasons. His best parts were Siegfried, Tristan, and Tannhauser, and he was for many years leading tenor at the Opera in Hamburg. His death, in November, 1898, at the age of forty-one, was the result of an accident.

[Ill.u.s.tration: _Alvary in Rigoletto._]

Of the Italian school, Francisco Tamagno holds a high position in the operatic world of to-day as a robust tenor. He excels in dramatic roles, such as Otello and Arnoldo, and he made a great success in "Cavalleria Rusticana." In heroic roles he sings and acts with a simplicity, power, and authority not surpa.s.sed by any other tenor of this generation. He was born at Turin, and began his musical education at the age of eighteen. His debut was made in Palermo, at the age of twenty-three, his studies having meanwhile been interrupted by military duties. In Venice he sang with Josephine de Reszke, the sister of Jean and Edouard, who had a short but brilliant career. For many years he remained at La Scala, where he was immensely popular. He is tall, big-chested, and erect, always imposing, and, unlike most Italians, he has fair hair and blue eyes. An American critic wrote of him as "hurling forth his tones without reserve, and with a vocal exuberance not reached by any living tenor. He quells and moves by overwhelming strength and splendor."

Tamagno was once the defendant in a lawsuit brought against him by the manager of the opera in Buenos Ayres. It appears that in 1890 the tenor was engaged for a season of forty performances, for which he was to receive $130,000. Of this sum $31,000 was paid in advance before he would leave Italy. When he arrived at Buenos Ayres a revolution broke out, and only four performances of opera were given. The manager endeavored to recover his money. An interesting feature of the trial was that it brought out the fact that Tamagno always travels with a claque of eight, and that it is stipulated in all his contracts that he shall have eight tickets for their use. This, however, has been denied, and it is stated that Tamagno has not read a criticism of his singing for years, knows nothing about the critical opinion of him, cares less; also that the eight tickets are intended for his family. He is said to be the highest-priced tenor of the age.

Before leaving the tenors a word should be said concerning Edward Lloyd, who in England seems to have inherited the mantle of Sims Reeves. He was born in 1845, and was educated as a chorister in the choir of Westminster Abbey. He has devoted himself entirely to concert and oratorio singing, and possesses a voice of the purest quality, with a style noted for its excellence and finish.