Cher Public

Spasimi d’amore

“When Vanni Marcoux as Scarpia in Tosca pursued Mary Garden, a Floria Tosca, around his room on the stage at the Boston Opera House a week ago Monday night, seized her in an amorous frenzy and threw her upon a couch, a part of cultured Boston gasped.”

  • Will

    Censorship finally died in Boston during a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on its way into New York City. The Censor submitted a list of things that had to be changed or cut, including Martha’s line, “Well, Jesus H. Christ, George!” Word got into the press. Albee rewrote the line as, “Well, Mary H. Magdalen, George!” and the audience roared in delight on opening night with much coverage in the press. Boston’s mayor wrote the Censor asking him to please stop making Boston the laughing stock of the nation; the position was abolished soon after. Publishing houses all over the country lamented the loss of the “Banned in Boston” stickers on books that tuned them into instant big sellers.

  • havfruen

    Maybe this is the origin of Boston’s “opera dysfunction” as reported in a recent Opera News article?

    • manou

      ….but certainly not of Boston marriage.

    • Flora del Rio Grande

      But, fellow aesthetes, can you imagine that rather faint and by no means thrusting or powerful voice of Miss Garden singing the second act of Tosca? She did not pack the vocal goods for that kind of dramatic role — so, what do you do? You conspire with the stage director to find ways to keep it lively, and that she did with great skill. Listen to her recordings, such as they are, and they are really very sad. The vocal side would not matter much in Debussy, of course, but Tosca? And Louise -- which requires almost as much declamatory singing as Tosca; Mary Garden must have been a genius to get by with them and get so much press attention. If I remember correctly, Mary made three recordings of “Depuis le jour. . .”, one or two by the acoustic method, which does not tell you all that much, and finally one by electrical inscription. Each recording was 1/2 tone lower than the previous. And she got by with it!
      I fear the lady, however, might not slip through the rigorous filters of Parterre.
      Some of our cadre would find very dismal things to say. Garden is surely an example where you must know her time and the context to appreciate it all. The old Boston opera house, for example, was by the same architect that built the 39th St. Met — and they had rather similar interiors, the Boston being smaller. That probably helped Garden. As the Opera News article points out, the destruction of the Boston opera house — when, late 1950s? — was a great loss and probably a contributor to the lack of focus in opera at Boston today. “Build it and they will come!” I wonder if that applies?

  • Jack Jikes

    Ah! La Cieca’s Garden of earthly delights -- I can never get enough.
    The trustees of Northeastern University demolished that very opera house c. 1958.
    In a certain segment there was a collective sigh of relief.
    I once asked a professorial wag who’d been at Harvard some twenty years, why,
    considering the resources of local universities, Boston had a second-rate culture.
    “Hear me!'” he screamed -- “The words ‘university’ and ‘culture’ -- an oxymoron.”
    The demolition site became a parking lot and remained so for the longest time.
    Boston to this very day does not have an opera house. Converted vaudeville theaters are a mere disguise.

  • Ilka Saro

    “A great many disapproved of the scene and soon they were herd from.” A very curious misspelling! One imagines the concerned operagoers of Boston stampeding like bison, or perhaps wildebeests.

    • manou

      Thank you Ilka -- I managed to stop myself from pointing this out because my finding typos in a scanned newspaper clip from the early 20th Century was getting to be OCD of the worse kind.

      • manou

        …worsT kind!!!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Is it necessarily a misspelling, or just a change in convention between then and now? It’s the kind of thing you’d see in an Austen novel (though less surprising in that case, given the greater length of time that has passed).

    • Tory Adore

      When I read that I laughed, as Boston was laid out along cowpaths to grazing lands. Anyone who has driven in that fair city can attest by the narrow, winding one-way streets that criss-cross with no apparent sense.

  • tannengrin

    After all -- Tosca is considered ‘verismo’, isn’t it?

    Trying to tell Mary Garden to ‘tone it down’ must have felt like trying to tell the Puritans to ‘live a little’.

    • Will

      “must have felt like trying to tell the Puritans to ‘live a little’.”

      . . . which, in a sense, is exactly what Garden and Vanni Marcoux were trying to do!

      It is well-know now that the Boston Opera House was not structurally unsound as Northeastern U. claimed but that the University just wanted the land. Its stage was the exact same size as that of the old MET in NYC so that MET productions could tour to Boston. The consequences of that, given the surrounding streets and other properties, would have meant that the stage could never be expanded. The old house would have been as obsolete as the old MET, therefore and would have come down anyway, just a lot later than it did.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        It was always upsetting to know that, for many years, a Brighams Ice Cream Shop had replaced the opera house. Is there still a Brighams left in Boston? They had great ice cream (with Jimmies)

        • semira mide

          Brighams is no more. Although one can buy their ice cream at supermarkets -- have to supply your own Jimmies.

      • Flora del Rio Grande

        Bravo, Sig. Jikes! Well said. I should have read you before writing as I did, but at least we agree on the old Boston house. Damn shame it came down. And, dear Will, with no disrespect, neither the old Met or the Boston house should have been demolished -- “obsolete?” No! Some in NYC still mourn the loss of the old Met, esp when trying to see or hear Mozart or Britten in the new Lincoln Center Met. As has been pointed out many times, in 1929, Chicago opened their new (too large) opera house, which is entirely contained in the former Insull skyscraper built by electric power tycoon Samuel Insull. He simply created a (then) modern theatre and support elements, within the first floors of his 40-story tower. Of course, similar could have been done in NYC and Boston if civic leaders had enough vision to do so. Many cities even now are stuck with those old 1930s municipal auditorium type opera houses (San Francisco, St. Louis, Cleveland — and so on); but many cities have had the leadership and interest to build better houses: Houston, Seattle, St Paul, Ft Worth (maybe), San Antonio (maybe —
        I don’t entirely trust ‘all-purpose’ theaters), Kansas City … and, then, Oslo
        and Copenhagen, where North Sea Oil and transport money is so plentiful cost was/is no object, and all these modern houses are of civilized size, ranging from 1000 to 1800 seats. Oslo is 1400 — all wood-panelled.
        Imagine! Before you correct me on St Louis, yes OTSL does play in a 1000 seat theatre (thrust stage alas), on a college campus; I refer above to the old Keil Opera House, now Peabody Opera house, located downtown — far too big for much opera; the symphony long since moved out, etc. It, like the old Kansas City municipal auditorium, is all limestone, granite, steel and smooth surfaces and acoustically a killer. End of lecture for today (:)

  • reedroom

    So, what finally happened? did the show go on?

    • -Ed.

      Some guy named Hooey (!) mentions the 1912 performance, so if that’s the year of this article the show did go on.

      But that’s not the best part! Hooey also wrote this in the same paragraph:

      “Dalmorès sang the role of Cavaradossi only once in Boston, but left an unforgettable impression, romantic Byronic, virile, he sang with surprising freshness, and with due intensity -- broken by the fashionable sobs, -- and with a new and stirring tang of baritone quality. He was, in short, manlike and not tenor-like.”