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Edition Viva Voce, October 2018

The Opera Guild of Rochester, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with a mission to support opera and opera education in the greater Rochester area.

The Guild presents free opera lectures at local libraries, tours to productions of local opera companies and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and our popular Beat-the-Blahs, Haskell Rosenberg Memorial Series, at Temple B'rith Kodesh in Brighton.

This newsletter is sent via eMail each month, currently to over 3,000 subscribers.  For a free subscription send your contact details, including your eMail address, to operaguildofrochester@gmail.com.

Our Website and Facebook pages serve as a clearinghouse for local and regional opera, concert, and recital information, with links to other music organizations in our area. Please visit our Website at operaguildofrochester.org.   

For up-to-date information on opera-related news and events, please visit us on facebook.com/OperaGuildofRochester.

Some events are now being recorded.  Click the YouTube logo to visit us there.
For OGR Channel
Reader Article submission deadline for the next issue is the 15th of the previous month.


Oct 6            Met HD,   Aida (see essay in September issue)
Oct 14         TriCities,  Madama Butterfly
Oct 19, 21   Syracuse,  Macbeth
Oct 20          Met HD, Samson and Dalilah
Oct 27          Met HD, La Fanciulla del West


From Death to Rebirth
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing
Music by Ricky Ian Gordon, Libretto by Jean-Claude Van Itallie
November 1, 2, and 3 at 7:30 pm; November 4 at 2 pm, Kilbourn Hall

From Sorrow to Joy
Orfeo ed Euridice
In Italian with English supertitles
Music by Christophe Willibald Gluck, Libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi
January 31, February 1 and 2 at 7:30 pm; February 3 at 2 pm, Annex 804 Black Box Studio

From Seduction to Damnation
Don Giovanni
In Italian with English supertitles
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
April 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 pm; April 7 at 2 pm, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

The Voice and Opera Department presents
L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells)
Sung in French and performed with piano
Music by Maurice Ravel, Libretto by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
May 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm, Annex 804 Black Box Studio

Eastman Theatre Box Office (585) 274-3000; To purchase tickets Click Here

Royal Opera House Film Series at The Little

Sunday performances at The Little are followed by informal meet-ups in the café to chat about the opera with other fans. Everyone is welcome.  

Sunday November 25 (Noon)
Tuesday November 27 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 4:50

Sunday February 24 (Noon)
Tuesday February 26 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:30

Sunday March 24 (Noon)
Tuesday March 26 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:35

Sunday April 28 (Noon)
Tuesday April 30 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 4:15

Sunday May 26 (Noon)
Tuesday May 28 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:45

MetHD2018-2019SeasonMetropolitan Opera HD Season 2018-2019

Verdi, Aida
October 6
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Verdi's version of French "grand opera" is a story of love, patriotism, loyalty and betrayal, set amid the splendor of the pharaohs and the beauty of the countryside. Anna Netrebko sings Aida, Anita Rachvelishvili is Amneris, Aleksandrs Antonenko is Radames, and Nicola Luisotti conducts.

Saint-Saëns, Samson and Delilah
October 20, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Mark Elder conducts the Met's first new production of this opera in 20 years, featuring a monumental Temple of Dagon, under which Samson crushes his enemies in the last act. Roberto Alagna and Elina Garança, who sizzled in Carmen together not long ago, play the title characters. For an essay on Saint-Saens and Pauline Viardot, click here.

Puccini, La Fanciulla del West
October 27, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek sings Puccini's gun-slinging heroine in this romantic epic of the Wild West, with the heralded return of tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the role of the outlaw she loves. Baritone Zeljko Lucic is the vigilante sheriff Jack Rance, and Marco Armiliato conducts. For an essay on Fanciulla, click here.

Muhly, Marnie
November 10, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Based on a novel by Winston Graham, this new opera by Nico Muhly was commissioned by the Met. It tells the story of a beautiful and elusive woman and the man who pursues her.  Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and baritone Christopher Maltman sing the principals, with Robert Spano at the podium.

Verdi, La Traviata
December 15, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Michael Mayer's richly textured new production, featuring a dazzling 18th-century setting that changes with the seasons. Soprano Diana Damrau plays the tragic heroine, Violetta, and tenor Juan Diego Flórez returns to the Met for the first time in five seasons to sing the role of Alfredo, Violetta's hapless lover. Baritone Quinn Kelsey is Alfredo's father, Germont, who destroys their relationship.

Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur
January 12, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Anna Netrebko sings the title role, based on the life of an actual 18th-century actress who dazzled audiences with her on- and off-stage passion. Piotr Becsala is her lover, Maurizio, and Gianandrea Noseda leads the orchestra. The story is superbly set by David McVicar in a working replica of a Baroque theater.

Bizet, Carmen
February 2, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine reprises her remarkable portrayal of opera's ultimate seductress, a triumph in her 2017 debut performances of Bizet's masterpiece. Tenor Roberto Alagna is her lover, Don José, in Sir Richard Eyre's powerful production, a Met favorite since its 2009 premiere. Louis Langrée conducts.

Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment
March 2, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Tenor Javier Camarena and soprano Pretty Yende team up for a feast of Donizetti's bel canto vocal fireworks-including the show-stopping tenor aria "Ah! Mes amis," with its nine high Cs. Maurizio Muraro is the comic Sergeant Sulpice, with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as the outlandish Marquise of Berkenfield and Enrique Mazzola in the pit.

Wagner, Die Walküre
March 30, 12:00 
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
In what is expected to be a Wagnerian event for the ages, soprano Christine Goerke plays Brünnhilde, Wotan's willful warrior daughter who loses her immortality in opera's most famous act of filial defiance. Tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek play the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. Greer Grimsley sings Wotan, Fricka is Jamie Barton, and Hunding, Gunther Groissbock. Philippe Jordan conducts.

Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmélites
May 11, 12:00 PM 
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the classic John Dexter production of Poulenc's devastating story of faith and martyrdom. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sings the touching role of Blanche and soprano Karita Mattila, a legend in her own time, returns to the Met as the Prioress.

Nickel City Opera Season

The Saturn Club, 
Thursday December 6 at 7pm

Hits from Carousel, Les Miserables, A Little Night Music, Don Quichotte, The Sound of Music and many more! 
$25 per person, limited seating
For more information, please send an eMail to Valopera@gmail.com.

Villa Maria College, May 24 and 26, 2019


The beloved classic opera by Verdi about a woman who is misunderstood and misguided. Violetta falls in love with Alfredo and loses everything. Memorable and popular tunes abound including the drinking chorus 'Libiamo!' Don't miss a full opera with costumes, sets, chorus and a full orchestra at the majestic 1250-seat Villa Maria College Theatre in Buffalo near Pine Ridge and Doat St. Plenty of parking, easy access and a great acoustic will leave your ears ringing with opera. 

Crouse-Hinds Theater at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center
Free conductor's talk an hour prior to each performance

Christian Capocaccia, Conductor
Symphoria Orchestra
Syracuse Opera Chorus, Ensemble

To purchase a subscription, Click Here
Verdi, Macbeth  
Friday, October 19, 2018 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, October 21, 2018 at 2:00 PM
Sung in Italian with projected English titles

R.B. Schlather, Director
Anthony Michaels-Moore, Macbeth
Alexandra Deshorties, Lady Macbeth
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Friday, February 1, 2019 at 8:00 PM  
Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 2:00 PM
Sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Ophelie Wolf, Director
Marcus DeLoach, Don Giovanni
Julia Ebner, Donna Anna
Pamela Armstrong, Donna Elvira
Robert Mellon, Leporello

Weill, Three Penny Opera
Friday, April 12, 2019 at 8:00 PM  
Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM  
Sung in English with English surtitles.
Cara Consilvio, Director
Peter Kendall Clark, Macheath
Ron Lloyd, Peachum
Melissa Parks, Ceila Peachum
Gregory Sheppard, Tiger Brown

To purchase single tickets, Click Here



Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, EUGENE ONEGIN
For more details, Click Here
Rufus Wainwright, HADRIAN
For more details, Click Here
Richard Strauss, ELEKTRA
For more details, Click Here
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, COSÌ FAN TUTTE
FEBRUARY 5 TO 23, 2019
For more details, Click Here
Giacomo Puccini, LA BOHÈME
APRIL 17 TO MAY 22, 2019
For more details, Click Here
Giuseppe Verdi, OTELLO
APRIL 27 TO MAY 21, 2019
For more details, Click Here


October 14th, 2018 - 3pm
The Forum Theatre
236 Washington St.
Binghamton, NY 13901

Tri-Cities Opera opens its season with the tragic opera Madama Butterfly. Cio-Cio San, a 15 year old geisha, decides to renounce her occupation and religion to find true love in an American naval officer B. F. Pinkerton. Three long years pass and Pinkerton does indeed return but not to reunite with his ever faithful Butterfly.

For details and tickets, Click Here

Nov 9th, & 16th, 2018 - 7:30pm
Nov 11th, & 18th, 2018 - 3:00pm
Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church
44 Main Street
Binghamton, NY 13905

Suor Angelica is a unique one-act opera set in a 17th century Tuscan convent, containing moments of harrowing drama and unequaled redemptive beauty. The story take place over one day and intensifies as it unravels.

For details and tickets, Click Here

Feb 22 & March 1, 2019 - 7:30pm
Feb 24 & March 3, 2019 - 3:00pm
Tri-Cities Opera Center
315 Clinton Street
Binghamton, NY 13905

Three Decembers is a 90 minute one-act opera based on Terrence McNally's original script for Some Christmas Letters. The story takes place over three decades of the AIDS crisis, each section recalling the events of a December, as the characters struggle to connect when family secrets are revealed.

For details and tickets, Click Here

 April 28th, 2019 - 3pm
The Forum Theatre
236 Washington St.
Binghamton, NY 13901

Gilbert & Sullivan's beloved operetta takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain's daughter is in love with a lower class sailor although her father intends her for Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. They declare their love for each other and eventually plan to elope. Will their plan succeed?

For details and tickets, Click Here

Pegasus Logo
2018-2019 Season

All concerts at Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 N. Fitzhugh Street, Rochester. Pre-concert talk at 3:15 pm, concert at 4:00 pm

For more information or to buy tickets, Click Here

November 4, 2018 @ 4 pm

An excursion to 17th century Venice to explore the stunning vocal music of Barbara Strozzi, her contemporaries, and her influences. Music of Strozzi, Monteverdi, Schütz, Grandi, Ferrari, and others who lived during this innovative period.

February 24, 2019 @ 4 pm

It's a musical party as we celebrate with 17th century music and dance from Spain and the New World, including Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico.

April 7, 2019 @ 4 pm

"The magical duo Bedlam" (Fanfare Magazine) is Kayleen Sanchez, soprano, and Laudon Schuett, lute. Our first Pegasus Rising artists, they return to Rochester with a program of renaissance French and English lute songs. Sacred, secular, bawdy and tender!

Acis & Galatea
May 5, 2019 @ 4 pm

A semi-staged concert version of this beloved pastoral opera by Handel. Will the monster Polyphemus woo Galatea to his side? Michael Beattie, musical direction; Emily Cuk, stage direction.

SalonConcertsSalon Concerts with the Rochester Academy of Medicine

Join us for a performance by The Academy Salon Trio 
followed by a reception with the artists.
1441 East Avenue, 14610

21st Salon Concert Season

October 21, 2018
November 4, 2018
February 3, 2019
March 24, 2019
April 28, 2019

All concerts take place at 2:00 pm in the Lyon Family Salon in the Rochester Academy of Medicine. Tickets are $35 at the door, $30 with reservation by phone, online or message. $26 Academy Members with reservation and $5 student. Seating is extremely limited. For more information Click Here.

From your Opera Guild 

While we continue with our traditional activities, plus Bravo Nights and opera meet-ups - new events added last year - your Opera Guild's focus this year will be on recruiting new board members. Five out of seven of our board members are in their eighties, so this effort is critical to the future of the organization. If you have any recommendations, please let us know.
Our annual donation appeal will begin at the end of the month, with request letters to those on our snail-mail list. Of course, donations may be made via PayPal at any time, or by check to PO Box 25613, Rochester, 14625. We depend on your financial support, especially at this time when we are continuing our traditional activities and also striving to broaden our reach to more people in the Rochester community. Our significant financial support of the Finger Lakes Opera, the only professional opera based in Rochester, has depleted any excess in our coffers. We are solvent, but dependent on our supporters' generosity to remain so. Thanking you in advance....
The opera season is truly underway with, among other events, three Met HD simulcasts in local theaters this month. I'm excited and hope to see many of you Tinseltown devotees next Saturday!

Carol Crocca, President

Please consider the Opera Guild of Rochester among your charitable organizations for 2018-19. Donations to the Opera Guild of Rochester are fully tax deductible and donors will receive an invitation to the Annual Recital in May 2019, which includes a dessert reception with the artists.

Enjoy our free Lecture/Listening series, which you can download from the Website at operaguildofrochester.org by clicking on Reading Room. While at our Website you can also learn about our opera program at Temple B'rith Kodesh, and our opera trips to regional opera companies including the Glimmerglass Festival.

Cindy B Advert


As an Amici, your contribution in any amount is greatly appreciated. All donation levels  receive an invitation to the Annual Recital; those listed below will be given priority until a date specified on the invitation, and at the Comprimario level and above may request extra tickets.

Chorus: $50 per person, $80 per couple.
Comprimario: $100-$149.
Primo: $150-$199.
Maestro: $200-$299.
Impresario: $300 or more. 

You may also mail a check to Opera Guild of Rochester, P.O. Box 25613, Rochester, NY 14625. Please include an email or other address for your tax receipt.

Return to Contents

ReaderArticlesOpera Essays

This section brings you articles written by Opera Guild docents, previously distributed at HD performances. Other essays previously published as Reader Articles are also published in this section. All these essays are available on the Website in the Reading Room.   
DalilahEssayThe First Dalilah

By Rachel Stuhlman

Camille Saint-Saëns's Delilah, surely one of opera's most seductive women, was a role written for a middle-aged mezzo whose voice was already in decline. By the time she finally sang the part in a private recital she was 53 years old and had been retired from the stage for 12 years, her voice a ruin. And yet the composer, who accompanied her on the piano, found her performance utterly compelling. Saint-Saëns was both delighted and appreciative, in part because this was an act of great generosity on the part of his Dalilah. She had staged the event in order to promote his work, and had invited the director of the Paris Opéra, the house that virtually defined French opera, in hopes of interesting him in mounting a production of Samson et Dalilah.

This Delilah was Pauline Viardot. She first met Saint-Saëns in May of 1849, when he was a 14-year-old piano prodigy and she a prima donna 14 years his senior. In 1914 Paul Viardot, Pauline's son and a violinist, conductor and musicologist, would recall the young composer's intimate friendship with the Viardot family:

...When his work was accomplished, he let his flights of fancy run wild in a place more congenial to him than any other: my parents' town house [in Paris]. On Thursday evenings, which were devoted to music, the cream of Parisian intelligentsia (and one could say, of all the world) gathered there. Saint-Saëns never missed a soirée [when he was in Paris]. He himself contributed much to these evenings, either as the composer, ready to accompany all his work, or as organist, since he was fond of the fourteen-pedal organ... made especially for my mother.

But these quasi-official soirées did not equal the Sunday evening gatherings, intimate reunions devoted to good, wholesome gaiety. There, Saint-Saëns's surprising imagination appeared in all its beauty. Charades especially, a favorite pastime of these evenings, allowed him to astonish spectators with the most unexpected inventiveness. 
The gathering of intimate friends admired Saint-Saëns's parody of Marguerite [in Gounod's Faust] at her spinning wheel, in full costume, two immense plaits of blond hemp down her back, and heard her/him sing the Jewel Song with long pauses and trills [spoofing the soprano then performing at the Opéra]. It would have made any prima donna jealous! And Saint-Saëns as a ballerina!... snug in a pink flannel jumpsuit, playing someone torn apart by love...
As quoted in Camille Saint-Saëns and His World, Jan Passler, ed., 2012, pp.8-11

(One glimpses here the future composer of Carnival of the Animals, also written exclusively for the private amusement of his friends, though probably not while prancing around in a pink flannel bodysuit.)
Camille Saint-Saëns in the 1870s when composing Samson et Dalilah

Years later, the man who had also once dressed up as an Egyptian dancer saw no incongruity in a woman well past her prime donning oriental robes in a makeshift production designed to surprise him. Instead, when the curtain went up on her, Saint-Saëns exclaimed "Que c'est beau!" ("How wonderful!"). Even a less partial spectator reported that Viardot delivered a quite credible performance as the scheming and vindictive temptress.

Pauline Viardot was born into a family of operatic royalty. Her father Manuel Garcia had been Rossini's first Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, and was considered the finest voice teacher of his age. When Pauline Garcia was a child she sat on Rossini's lap. Her older sister, the dazzling Maria Malibran, was the very embodiment of a diva in the Romantic Era, even dying young at age 29. Pauline became Madame Viardot, and led a long and remarkable life.

Viardot was most famous for two roles written expressly for her. Le Prophète was a five act Grand Opera by Meyerbeer that enjoyed enormous success. Although at its debut in 1849 Pauline was only 29 years old, she was acclaimed for her performance as Fidès, one of opera's few heroines who is a mature woman. As Pauline's natural mezzo-soprano voice had been extended into the contralto range, she was able to bring extraordinary depth to her portrayal of an anguished mother.

The role with which she is most closely identified is Orphée, the musician and poet of Greek mythology whose song could make the gods weep. In Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice the role had been sung by a castrato and later, in the French version, by a high tenor. When Berlioz made a revision of Gluck's masterpiece in 1859 he required a darker sound, assigning the role of the demigod Orpheus to a mezzo and creating the role to showcase the vocal and dramatic talents of Pauline Viardot, who sang it over 150 times. In Mozart's Don Giovanni she was a fearless Donna Anna, as her father had also helped extend her voice into the soprano range, although it naturally sat lower. Viardot performed a large and varied repertoire. Through her acting and singing she became the leading tragedienne of her day.

In his Ecole buissonnière (School for Truants), (1913, Paris) Saint-Saëns wrote:

Her voice was enormously powerful, had a prodigious range and was equal to every technical difficulty but, marvelous as it was, it did not please everybody. It was not a velvet or crystalline voice, but rather rough, compared by someone to the taste of a bitter orange, and made for tragedy or myth, superhuman rather than human, light music. Spanish songs and the Chopin mazurkas she transcribed for the voice were transfigured by it and became the trifflings [sic] of a giant; to the accents of tragedy, to the severities of oratorio, she gave an incomparable grandeur...
As quoted in Camille Saint-Saëns on Music and Musicians, Nichols, ed, 2008, p.167

Ary Scheffer. Pauline Viardot as Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music.

Viardot was also an accomplished pianist. She studied with Liszt, and played duets with Frédéric Chopin and Clara Schumann. When her voice failed, Saint-Saëns, by then her close friend, urged her to become a concert pianist. Instead, she turned to composing and teaching, writing numerous piano pieces, songs intended as vocal exercises for her pupils, and even several short chamber operas. But she was a modest woman who did little to promote her music, although many of her works were eventually published. The songs have now entered the mezzo repertoire, championed by Cecilia Bartoli, Vivica Genaux and other important artists.

Recalling Viardot after her death, Saint-Saëns wrote:

A curious story will show the flexibility of her compositional talent. As a friend of Chopin and Liszt, her tastes naturally oriented her towards the future, while Monsieur Viardot's musical opinions were as old-fashioned as could be; he found Beethoven too advanced.
One day when he had as a guest a friend with similar opinions, Mme. Viardot announced her intention of letting them hear a magnificent aria by Mozart that she had discovered; and she sang them a long aria, with recitatives, arioso and a final allegro, which was praised to the skies, and which she had quite simply written for the occasion. I have read this aria; even the sharpest critic might have been taken in by it.
Nichols, op.cit., p. 168

Viardot was a truly cosmopolitan woman. Saint-Saëns noted that "She was a fluent speaker and writer in Spanish, French, Italian, English, and German; kept up with the literature of every country, and was in correspondence with the whole of Europe." In her extended first visit to St. Petersburg she won the hearts of the audience by learning Russian, to sing familiar songs with perfect diction.

Viardot numbered among her many friends Alfred de Musset, Felix Mendelssohn, Eugène Delacroix, César Franck, Mikhail Glinka, Gustave Doré, Camille Corot and Gustave Flaubert. She had a close and complicated relationship with George Sand, who created an unrealistic portrait of Pauline in her novel Consuelo. Viardot's gift was far more interesting: she introduced Sand to Charles Dickens. At Brahms's request she sang in the first public performance of his Alto Rhapsody. Tchaikovsky visited her home to pay homage to an autograph score of Don Giovanni in her possession. Viardot helped launch the careers of Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet, Saint-Saëns, and his protégé Gabriel Fauré. And Guy de Maupassant called her long relationship with the great Russian author Ivan Turgenev "la plus belle histoire d'amour du 19ième siècle." ("The most beautiful love story of the 19th century.")

Camille Saint-Saëns greatly admired his Delilah. He often accompanied her on the piano, and dedicated Samson et Delilah, his finest opera, to her. Musical collaborators, their close friendship lasted for 60 years, until her death in 1910, when he delivered a eulogy at her funeral. Although she was considered an ugly woman, Pauline Viardot undoubtedly possessed both charm and charisma. The composer remembered "her strange, powerful fascination. What made her particularly captivating, even more than her singing talent, was her character - certainly one of the most astonishing I have come across."
Nichols, op. cit., p. 168.

Puccini's Girl of the Golden West
Giacomo Puccini, David Belasco and The Met

By Art Axelrod

Two of Puccini's operas, Madama Butterfly (1904), and La Fanciulla del West (1910), were based on plays by the American playwright, director and theatrical producer David Belasco. The first was inspired in 1900, when, while in London, Puccini saw a production of Belasco's play Madame Butterfly. He was much taken by it and promptly applied to Belasco for the rights to use it in an opera. He completed the first version of his own Madama Butterfly in 1902. It premiered at La Scala in 1904 but was poorly received. Puccini revised it several times; the final definitive version premiered in Paris in 1906. The response was positive and it remains one of Puccini's most important and beloved works.

Early in 1907, Puccini had his first visit to New York. He had been invited to attend the Metropolitan Opera's premieres of Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly. While there, he attended several performances of plays by Belasco, one of which was Girl of the Golden West, then playing on Broadway.

Puccini was very intrigued by the play but initially had mixed feelings; he said that he liked the ambience of the American West but was not enthusiastic about the play as a whole: "... never a simple thread, all muddle and at times bad taste and old hat," he complained to his publisher. But friends urged him to take it up and he finally asked his publisher to obtain the rights. He completed the score of his opera, titled La Fanciulla del West in 1910.

The Metropolitan Opera Company was founded in 1880 to create an alternative to New York's long-established Academy of Music opera house. The subscribers to the Academy's limited number of private boxes represented the highest stratum in New York society, and by 1880, these "old money" families were reluctant to admit New York's newly-wealthy industrialists into their social circle. Frustrated with being excluded, the Metropolitan Opera's founding subscribers set about building a new opera house that would outshine the old Academy in every way. The first Metropolitan Opera House, built at 39th and Broadway, opened on October 22, 1883, and was an immediate success, both socially and artistically. The Academy of Music opera house folded just three years after the Met opened.

By 1910 the new and upcoming Met was eager to get itself into the world opera scene by staging a world premiere. Now Puccini, the world's foremost Italian opera composer (Verdi had died in 1901) had created an opera set in America, based on a play by an American playwright. What a coup it would be to have its world premiere at the New York Metropolitan Opera! Met management arranged to have Puccini himself at the occasion. They paid all his expenses, including deluxe ocean passage from London to New York aboard the SS George Washington. The accommodations were lavish, including, according to a letter that Puccini wrote home,

"A princely bath, a room with two gilt bedsteads with various sorts of opaline-tinted lamps; a drawing room with luxurious divans and mikado mirrors; dining room with furniture in the best English taste, ingenious cupboards which are even lighted inside, everything comfortable, large and spacious as in the most modern of hotels. Price 320 [pounds] for passage alone. Large windows with sumptuous silk curtains. In short, a stupendous suite! Praise be to the Metropolitan!

(According to my calculations, British £320 in 1910 would be equivalent to over US$40,000 today. It seems the Met really did want Puccini to be there!)

As noted, Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West were based on plays of David Belasco. Belasco is not well-known today, but he was one of the most celebrated playwrights, directors and producers of the turn of the 20th century. He was born in San Francisco, California, in 1853 into a family of Sephardic Jews who had moved from London's Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community during the California Gold Rush. He became interested in the theater early in life, at age 20 working as an actor, director and secretary in Virginia City, Nevada. He reported finding "more reckless women and desperadoes to the square foot...than anywhere else in the world." Seeing "people die under such peculiar circumstances" he noted, made him "all the more particular in regard to the psychology of dying on the stage. I think I was one of the first to bring naturalness to bear in death scenes, and my varied Virginia City experiences did much to help me toward this...."

In 1882, at the age of 29, he came to New York, where his career flourished. Between 1884 and 1930, Belasco wrote, directed, or produced more than 100 Broadway plays, making him the most powerful personality on the New York City theater scene. He also helped establish careers for dozens of notable stage performers, many of whom went on to work in films. He died in New York in 1931 at the age of 77.

Among theater-goers, he is best known today for having founded the Belasco Theater, located on West 44th Street in New York, and regarded by many as one of the finest in the Broadway Theater District. But we opera lovers know him best as the source of two of Puccini's finest works.

For other essays on Puccini and his work, see the Reading Room at operaguildofrochester.org.
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