SOME BACKGROUND NOTES
NEW YORK—THE GILMORE GARDEN
The Fifth Avenue Hotel at Broadway and Fifth Avenue had been completed only two years before Offenbach’s visit. Some New Yorkers, amazed at its size, predicted that it would fail for lack of patronage. It succeeded, however, and was the leading hotel of the city for many years. Gilmore’s Garden was named for Patrick S. Gilmore, the most popular musician of his time. He was an excellent bandmaster and showman and composed many band numbers, dances, and songs.
THE THEATRES OF NEW YORK
Teresa Tietiens, the famous German soprano, appeared in New York during the 1875-76 season; Max Strakosch and his brother Maurice presented Anna de Belocca in the role of Rosina in II Barbiere di Siviglia in April 1876. Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson made her New York concert debut in 1870-71, appearing in operas the following season. Soprano Pauline Lucca, an Italian born in Vienna, first appeared in opera in New York in 1872-73. “Morel” is undoubtedly Victor Maurel, a singer who made his debut in New York in 1873-74; Don Giovanni became his most popular role. Victor Capoul, a French tenor, first sang in New York in 1871-72; Italo Campanini—Offenbach’s “Camposini”—made his first appearance in New York in 1873-74 and became one of the most popular tenors of his time. Nilsson, Maurel, Capoul, and Campanini were all members of the Strakosch Opera Company in 1873-74.
Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera, UÉtoile du Nord, was first performed in Paris at the Opéra Comique in 1854; its main characters are Peter the Great and Catherine.
Clara Louise Kellogg, born in South Carolina, made her New York debut at the Academy of Music in 1861 as Gilda in Rigoletto. She had most of the soprano roles in her repertory and toured successfully in both Europe and the United States. In 1873 she organized her own company to popularize Italian and French opera in English in the United States. It is said that during the 1874-75 season she sang no less than 125 nights. In 1887 she married Carl Strakosch, her manager and the conductor of the orchestra at her performances.
Charles Rignold, imported from England, appeared in New York as Henry V in the spring of 1875; he returned in the same play in April 1876.
All three plays mentioned as playing in the Union Square Theatre were murder mysteries. Ferréoly a new play by Victorien Sardou, ran for fifty performances in the spring of 1876. The authors of Conscience were A. E. Lancaster and Julian Magnus. Rose Michel by Ernest Blum had been adapted by J. Steele MacKaye for the New York stage. Blum and Hector Crémieux wrote the libretto for Offenbach’s La Jolie Parfumeuse.
The misspelling of “The Mighty Dollard” may be a typographical error. Having set it down this way in English, Offenbach translated it into French as “le Puissant Dollar.” The four hundredth performance at this time is an exaggeration. Opening the season at the Park Theatre in September 1875, the new play closed after 104 performances; returning to Wallace’s for the summer, it was played 118 nights before going on tour. The popular play, condemned by all the critics, was designed by Benjamin E. Woolf as a vehicle to exploit the talents of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Florence. Bernard Cönlin had assumed the name Florence for the stage, playing first in stock companies and showing considerable ability in Shakespearean roles. He married Malvina Pray in 1853, and they teamed in a play he had written called The Irish Boy and the Yankee Girl, which after an American tour was successfully performed in London. Florence and his wife for some time thereafter confined themselves chiefly to Irish-American comedy. During almost forty years as a star Florence made not one failure. Bardwell Slote in The Mighty Dollar has been said to be his most enduring character.
La Dame aux Camélias is Alexandre Dumas fils’ famous tear-jerker of the mid-nineteenth century. Fechter also appeared during this season in L’Abîme, a translation of Wilkie Collin’s No Thoroughfare.
Charles Fechter, born in London, spent his early years in France. His greatest triumph as an actor there was as Armand Duval in this Dumas play. Performing in London, he broke with tradition and portrayed Hamlet as a man of action. In 1869 he came to the United States, appearing as an actor-manager.
Offenbach’s account is substantially correct. James Fisk, known as “Jubilee Jim/’ made an immense fortune in the good old buccaneering days when Commodore Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and he were looting the Erie Railroad. Fisk spent his money on good living and made many adventurous expeditions into the theatrical field. He bought the Grand Opera House in which to produce dramas and French opera bouffe, and leased the Academy of Music to present grand opera. He purchased the rank of colonel of the Ninth Regiment of New York militia in 1870. After keeping several mistresses, Fisk singled out the actress Josie Mansfield as his favorite. The rest of the story was brought out at Stokes’ trial: He and Josie had tried to blackmail Fisk; the latter had ruined his rival on the stock exchange; Stokes then shot Fisk in the Grand Central Hotel on January 6, 1872, and he died the next day. There was a spectacular funeral, with a cortege including the Ninth Regiment and a band of two hundred pieces.
Pique by Augustin Daly, manager of Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, was based in part on a contemporary novel and also on the story of the kidnapping of Charley Ross which had caused much public excitement. This popular play ran for 238 performances in 1875-76. Offenbach erred in attributing the play to Dion Boucicault, an actor-playwright of the time.
The San Francisco Minstrels, according to George C. D. Odell’s Annals of the New York Stage (vol. X, pp. 98-99), was the only permanent company still in New York in 1875-76. Their program consisted of songs, parodies, and the regular minstrel chorus. They honored Offenbach by parodying him in a skit entitled “The Happy Moke.”
The good old American institution of “free lunch” went out with the noble experiment of Prohibition. When cocktail lounges, cafés, and bars were substituted for the old saloon, free lunch was not revived. Only oldsters can recall nostalgically the profusion which Offenbach describes.
Offenbach was always greatly annoyed by whistling, -which he considered unnecessary noise. He once dismissed a valet who whistled while he helped his master dress. The composer, capable of the utmost concentration when he was writing, was disturbed only by whistling and whispering.
Charles Frederick Worth, the most famous Parisian couturier of the Second Empire, was, like so many French dress designers, a foreigner—an Englishman.
THE STORY OF TWO STATUES
The New York Herald, April 20, 1876, said “The statue of Lafayette, colossal in size, eleven feet high and weighing 6,000 pounds, from the atelier of M. Bartholdi, has recently arrived at the port. It is a gift to America from the Republic of France and is to be erected in Central Park on the anniversary of the birthday of that faithful friend of the young Republic, September 6, 1876.” It was not placed in Central Park, however, and after considerable debate was finally erected in Union Square, the park at Fourteenth and Broadway. «
Regarding the Statue of Liberty, the Herald said that the Americans were to provide the foundation of the monument, and that several vessels of the French navy would be present for the laying of the cornerstone on July 4, 1876. There were many delays, however, and it was not until 1886 that the great statue was finally placed on Bedloe’s Island.
In Offenbach’s time Le Figaro was the outstanding newspaper of Paris, very often in opposition to the government. Edited by Jean Hippolyte Auguste Carrier de Villemessant, the paper first (1854) as a weekly and later (1866) as a daily was the outlet for the progressive element of Boulevard society, for artists, and musicians. The editor had grouped around him the most brilliant reporters of Paris. With his usual eye for publicity, Offenbach often contributed.
David Livingstone, the missionary-explorer, had disappeared in central Africa, and several newspapers sent reporters to find him. Bennett financed the 1871 expedition led by Henry M. Stanley, who finally met Livingstone deep in cannibal country, greeting him with the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) was born in Germany and came to this country as a lad of ten. He became a conductor in 1860 and seven years later organized an orchestra of his own, giving concerts of serious classical music in the Terrace Garten and in Central Park Garden. The Philadelphia Centennial concerts were so poorly attended that the sheriff finally stopped them; Thomas assumed all responsibility for the debts and paid them off in two years. Conductor of the New York Philharmonic for several years, he took the leadership of the newly formed Chicago Symphony in 1891.
Thomas was a true Teutonic personality, intensely serious and conscious of his mission as an apostle of “good” music. It was inevitable that he and Offenbach should be at swords’ points, and, of course the latter had the best of the verbal exchanges. They were in competition both in New York in May and in Philadelphia in June, 1876. A friend once asked Thomas why he never put any of the French composer’s works on his program as a mark of respect for the visitor. “What!” shouted Thomas, “Me conduct an Offenbach composition! Never will I do anything so degrading.” Jacques, when told of this remark, replied, “Please tell Mr. Thomas that I will not be so particular. I shall be most happy to conduct any composition of Theodore Thomas when he reaches the dignity of becoming a composer.”
Thomas undoubtedly deserves credit for his insistence upon the best music, but tastes change and the writer of thesfe lines can remember hearing the Chicago Symphony perform Schumann’s “Tralimerai,” written for the piano, but scored for brass choir by Theodore Thomas.
Max Maretzek (1821-1897) was born in Moravia. At the age of twenty-two he arrived in Paris where he became a conductor and later in London was assistant conductor for a ballet troupe. In 1848 he emigrated to New York and soon was conductor of the Italian Opera Company at the Astor Place Opera House. Until 1879, when he retired, he was active as an impresario and producer of Italian opera in the United States, often conducting the orchestra for his productions.
Albert Weber (1828-1879) manufactured fine pianos, notable for their excellent construction. Born in Bavaria, he came to New York at the age of sixteen and served an apprenticeship in piano manufacturing. At the age of twenty-three he went into business for himself. He is said to have originated the term “baby grand” to designate a short grand piano. He was one of the first manufacturers to recognize the advertising value of concerts and often engaged famous pianists to play his instruments.
Esmeralda Cervantes made her New York concert debut at Chickering Hall on June 6, 1876. She was one of the performers at Gilmore’s Garden on June 9 when Dom Pedro was advertised as making his “last appearance in public.”
John Morrissey (1831-1878) was born in Ireland. When he was still very young, his family emigrated to Canada, moving later to New York. There he took up prizefighting. The Gold Rush took him to California, but he soon returned to the East and boxing. Bare-knuckle heavyweight champion in 1858, he defended his title successfully in his last fight. Having retired from the ring, he gained considerable power as a gambler, a saloonkeeper, and a politician in Saratoga, New York. He served two terms in Congress (1867-71) and was twice elected to the Senate of the State of New York (1875, 1877).
The hotel was located at Ninth and Chestnut streets, convenient to all railroad stations. Six stories in height on the front, eight stories in the rear, it had seven hundred rooms with accommodations for a thousand guests.
The program was anything but “sacred,” since, with the exception of Gounod’s and Schubert’s “Ave Maria’s” and the “Deo gratias” from Auber’s comic opera Le Domino noir, it was made up of selections from the very secular works of Offenbach himself. In “dis-moi, Vénus” the goddess is asked by Helen why it is her fate always to be unfaithful to her husband; “dites-lui” is a letter from la Grande-Duchesse to a common soldier with whom she has fallen in love; the “Hymne” from Orphée is the famous bacchanal; and the other selections are of the same type.
THE DAUPHIN ELEAZAR
The lake can be identified as Lake George in upper New York since Howe Point is near its outlet.
RETURNING FROM NIAGARA - SLEEPING CARS
The Pullman (Offenbach spells it “Pulmann” or “Pullmann”) cars were relatively new in 1876. Although there had been “bunk cars” as early as 1838 on the Pennsylvania Railroad, they were by no means the “hotels on wheels” of later times. One of the oldest, built in the style of the Erie Canal packets, had three tiers of bunks on one side of the car only; there were no bedclothes and the men threw themselves down on the mattresses and slept under their own shawls and coats. In later models bedding was furnished and each passenger selected the cleanest sheets and blankets he could find and made his own bed.
George Pullman constructed his first sleeping car in 1858—old Number Nine. He remodeled a daycoach, installing sleeping sections, a linen closet, and two washrooms. It was finished in cherry with plush upholstering; the brakeman made up the beds. The upper berths were of the swinging type used for many years and the sections were divided by curtains. Six years later Pullman built his first real sleeping car and named it “The Pioneer.” It had all the characteristics of the car still in use today: By day there was no sign of berth or bed; every night the linen was changed; and the berths were closed from the corridor by curtains.
THE TORTURES OF A MUSICIAN
It is very unlikely that Offenbach went as far as Chicago. There is no evidence in the newspapers of the first week of July 1876. It would have been quite possible for him to stop at any of the cities between New York and Niagara Falls, and the unnamed town might therefore be Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, or several others.