t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

The Combination performances

Academy of MusicKARL FORMES 

When the Rosas returned for their second American season in August 1871 they opened in October with the English company at the New York Academy of Music and a German company headed by the famous tenor Theodore Wachtel at the Stadt Theatre in the Bowery. Both theatres are shown in the illustrations.

New York Stadt Theatre

The second company was formed in partnership with the conductor Adolph Neuendorff. The reluctance of the Academy stockholders to go to the less fashionable Bowery eventually brought Wachtel to the Academy for one Italian language performance on 21 October. The opera was a spectacular Trovatore headed by Parepa, Wachtel, a specially recruited Marietta Gazzaniga as Azucena, with singers from the English company, supported by the orchestra and chorus of both companies. The venture was financially successful and a further eighteen ‘Combination’ performances followed at the Academy in April 1872 with Parepa and Wachtel joined by Santley Adelaide Phillips, and veterans Karl Formes, and Giorgio Ronconi. This was the company’s only Italian language season and also was their only association with some famous names. The operas were Trovatore, Rigoletto, Huguenots, William Tell, Martha, and Lucrezia Borgia. They were very profitable. The final performance on 30 April, consisting of operatic extracts, was announced as a ‘Farewell Gala Night’ as the Rosas were returning to Europe on the following day. It was an emotional occasion before a huge audience with Parepa introducing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ into an extract from Bohemian Girl as a farewell gesture. Carl made a speech at the end of the evening implying only a temporary farewell. But this was not to be. Parepa and the Rosa company had sung before an American audience for the last time.

Karl FormesKarl Formes, born at Mulheim near Cologne on 7 August 1815 received his early musical training as a member of his local church choir and eventually graduated to organist. Family obligations dominated for a time but he was eventually able to pursue his vocal ambition making a successful operatic debut as Sarastro in the Magic Flute at Cologne’s Stadt Theatre in January 1842. Two years later he was in Vienna and created the role of Plunkett in the world premiere of Flotow’s Martha on 25 November 1847. Appearances in Germany and Holland followed but in 1849 the unsettled state of the continent brought him to Britain where he became a great favourite singing the great bass roles at Covent Garden for many seasons. He was equally successful in America making his debut as Bertram in Robert Le Diable at the New York Academy on 30 November 1857 and he subsequently pursued opera, oratorio and concert on both sides of the Atlantic. He sang Marcel in Huguenots in one combined performance on 15 April 1872. It was one of his great roles and Santley remembered that despite vocal frailties his old colleague’s ‘representaton of the rough old soldier was as perfect as ever’. Formes eventually settled in San Francisco as a teacher in 1875. He died there on 15 December 1889 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Marietta Gazzaniga Marietta Gazzaniga, an Italian soprano born at Voghera in Lombardy in 1824, was a pupil of Alberto Mazzucato of Milan. She made her debut in her home town in 1840 and a decade later she had reached La Scala and the San Carlo and created the title role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller at the latter theatre on 8 December 1849. A year later she was the first Lina in the premiere of Verdi’s Stiffelio at the Teatro Grande in Trieste on 16 November 1850. An international career followed which seemingly bypassed London but she did appear in Havana and America. She was teaching in New York when as a mezzo she sang a dramatic Azucena in Trovatore in the first and her only combined performance on 21 October 1871. She eventually returned to Italy and died in Milan on 2 January 1884.

Adolph Neuendorff Adolph Neuendorff, born at Hamburg on 13 June 1843, came to America with his father in 1855. He studied music in New York, and was by turns solo pianist, violinist, and from 1867 was director at the Stadt Theatre in New York. This was a large theatre on the Bowery owned by Germans, and associated with New York’s German community. Neuendorff had conducted the American premiere of Lohengrin at the Stadt on 3 April 1871 and just a few months later both he and Rosa were planning more opera there with a German season built around the famous tenor Theodore Wachtel. Neuendorff probably conducted all the Stadt performances although he shared the baton with Rosa for the later Academy performances. The partnership ended with the last combined performance in April 1872 although Neuendorff continued to be a busy man. He promoted another Wachtel season, without Rosa, in 1875, and conducted the first American Die Walküre on 2 April 1877. He composed, sometimes conducted the New York Philharmonic and Boston Pops Orchestras, and in 1889 returned to conduct opera with the Emma Juch Opera Company for a brief period. He died in New York on 4 December 1897.

Adelaide Phillips Adelaide Phillips was born on 26 October 1833 at Stratford on Avon. When she was seven years old the family emigrated to Boston where she made her stage debut as a child singer and dancer. Jenny Lind heard her in 1850, recommended advanced training and the following year with some support from Lind and the Boston community, she became a pupil of the celebrated Manuel Garcia in London. Three years later on 5 November 1853 she made her debut at the Teatro Grande in Brescia in the contralto role of Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide. Her American operatic debut, as Azucena in Trovatore, was at the New York Academy of Music on 17 March 1856. Five years later she created the role of Ulrica in the American première of Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera in the same theatre on 11 February 1861. Her subsequent career, apart from a European tour in the autumn of 1861 was opera, concert and oratorio in America. She never sang with the regular company but made fifteen combined appearances, in Trovatore, Rigoletto, Huguenots, Lucrezia Borgia, and Martha. Santley remembered her as a good singer and actress although he thought she was past her best vocally. This could have been due to health problem as she was only in her late thirties. She died at Carlsbad in Germany on 3 October 1882 where she had gone to take the waters.

Giorgio Ronconi Giorgio Ronconi, born at Milan on 6 August 1810 came of a family of singers and was taught by his father. His debut at Pavia in 1831 was followed over the next decade by appearances at La Scala and other Italian houses including seven Donizetti premieres en route. He created the title role in Verdi’s Nabucco at La Scala in 1842, made his London debut in the same year, was subsequently at Covent Garden for almost every season from 1847 to 1866, and was the jester in first British Rigoletto there in 1853. Ronconi despite his outstanding career was not one of the great baritone voices; his success stemmed from his superb acting skills coupled with a charismatic stage presence. The Madrid Conservatoire of Music appointed him as professor of singing in 1874 and he died in that city on 8 January 1890. He appeared in one combined Don Giovanni on 5 April 1872 singing Leporello to Santley’s Don when Santley’s sole concern was a performance worthy of his old friend. For once the master sought to please the servant!

Theodore WachtelTheodore Wachtel, the famous German tenor born at Hamburg on 10 March 1823, does not appear to have had a musical background although details of his early life are sparse. However he was gifted with a natural voice which was eventually recognized and in his early twenties he studied in Hamburg and Vienna. He made his debut in 1847, sang in German and continental opera houses, and acquired a reputation as a tenore robusto with a brilliant top to the voice although critics sometimes complained that the artistry did not match the vocalism. He reached London and Covent Garden in 1862 and sang there for three seasons during the 1870s before sailing to America in September 1871 where Rosa and Neuendorff promptly engaged him for the Stadt Theatre on a percentage basis. Wachtel would received forty percent of the gross receipts after deducting four hundred dollars nightly. The season opened to a packed house on September 18 with Wachtel in his most famous role, Chapelon, in Adolphe Adam’s Le Postillon de Lonjumeau (illustrated) sung in German with Neuendorff conducting. The ‘whip song’ brought the house down; he displayed his renowned upper register to great effect in both chest and mixed voice and, as he was reputed to have once been a stable boy, knew how to handle the whip. The season continued successfully but tensions were mounting with the temperamental Wachtel, despite initially averaging six thousand dollars weekly, questioning receipts, trying to dictate repertoire, and sometimes threatening not to sing. The Rosas eventually had to threaten legal action to bring him to heel. Salary arrangements for the combined performances are not known but he would have been well paid as he sang in all of them. The last performance featured an extract from Le Postillon de Lonjumeau, the only time that the Academy audience heard him in his signature role. He never sang for the Rosas again. He retired in the 1880s and died in Frankfurt on 14 November 1893.

© 2017 John Ward

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