The Don Quixote Of Opera

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Now and then Maretzek worked outside of New York. There was a three-year period when he was head of the new Academy of Music in Philadelphia while Maurice Strakosch (Max Strakosch’s brother) and Bernard Ullmann ran the Academy of Music in New York. Back in New York in 1860, Maretzek took over the Winter Garden Theatre and then resumed direction of the Academy of Music. The building was destroyed by fire in 1866. Unbowed, Max promptly announced a season for 1867 and set to work raising money to rebuild the house. Said the Times , admiringly, when the new Academy of Music opened over the ashes of the old one: “A great loser by the fire and its unavoidable results, Maretzek held on to his company, engaged new artists, and before the smoke had ceased curling above the blackened walls of his ruined temple, reorganized his troupe and laid plans for the coming season.” To celebrate the reopening there was a promenade concert—an opera ball, as Max called it. Three New York orchestras were engaged for the Saturday afternoon event, and the program tells a good deal about the popular tastes of the day:

  1. 1 March from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète
  2. 2 Potpourri from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine
  3. 3 Wagner’s Rienzi Overture
  4. 4 Valse, Le Guard
  5. 5 Selection, Ione [an opera by Enrico Petrella that Maretzek had introduced to America in 1863]
  6. 6 Trio, Crespino e la Comare
  7. 7 Yacht Club Waltz [composed for the occasion]
  8. 8 Selections from Donizetti’s Gemma di Vergy
  9. 9 Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture
  10. 10 Selection from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable
  11. 11 Jockey Club Gallop [composed for the occasion]
  12. 12 Aria from Verdi’s Nabucco
  13. 13 Potpourri from Gounod’s Faust
  14. 14 Marien Gallop
  15. 15 Six-in-Hand Lancers
  16. 16 Musical Telegraph
  17. 17 Potpourri of Marches
  18. 18 Medley

Said the New York Times of this program: “The music could not be more choice.”

There was great excitement in 1872 when Maretzek brought Pauline Lucca to his company. She was one of the important sopranos of Europe, and she lived up to her reputation. Maretzek alternated her with the famous American soprano Clara Louise Kellogg. Even more exciting was the 1873 season, when Maretzek had Enrico Tamberlik and lima di Murska in addition to Lucca and Kellogg. For this Max took over the Grand Opera House at 114 Broadway. Tamberlik may have seen his best days by then, but he was still an imposing stentorian tenor; and his high C and even C sharp rang out as brilliantly as ever. (It was not a high register to everybody’s liking. Tamberlik once asked permission from Rossini to visit. Rossini, whose ideal of singing was flexible bel canto, who hated high notes and loud attacks, told Tamberlik that he would be happy to receive him, but would he kindly check his high C sharp with the concierge.)

Max did not have many years left as an impresario. He was growing a bit old, was losing his zest, and times were changing. Strakosch and the others—the most formidable new entrant was an energetic Englishman named James Mapleson- were providing too much competition, and Maretzek was regarded as oldfashioned. It was not that Maretzek and Strakosch could not get along. Maretzek may have attacked Strakosch professionally, and gave some sizzling interviews about him, but they were really comrades-in-arms and could work together. Strakosch sometimes engaged Maretzek as conductor for his own companies. New York observers were amused. A strange combination, wrote one critic, “one day engaged in pitched battle, the next day walking arm in arm along Fourteenth Street, discussing some prodigious scheme to bring them nearer to bankruptcy than they both already were.” At one time Strakosch had a company with such international headliners as Alice Nilsson, Italo Campanini, Joseph Capoul, and Victor Maurel—the same season that Maretzek was offering Tamberlik and Lucca.