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Accounts of the Performances in Berlin from The Times

Monday, March 28, 1887.


BERLIN, March 27.

Last night Sir Arthur Sullivan’s dramatic cantata of The Golden Legend, (Longfellow’s version) was performed at the Royal Opera here under the personal management of the composer himself. The house was crowded to its very utmost capacity from floor to ceiling with all the élite of the capital, and the Emperor himself was only prevented from attending by a cold which has confined him to his room for the last day or two. But the Royal boxes were occupied by the Crown Prince and Princess with their family, Princess Frederick Charles, Princess Frederick of Hohenzollern, the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden, the Grand Duke and Princess Irene of Hesse, with other birthday guests who have not yet taken their departure, while Sir Edward and Lady Ermyntrude Malet, with the whole staff of the British Embassy, were seated in a box opposite. All the musical world of Berlin too was in its place, and even the orchestra space had to be encroached upon for the accommodation of some of the numerous but late applicants for tickets – who could not all achieve their object for love or money.

The performance of The Golden Legend had been looked forward to here with eager interest ever since its first announcement, and the secret of this interest was not far to seek. In the course of last year the fastidious Berliners had been made acquainted with the music of The Mikado, and they were enraptured with it. The North German Gazette – a journal which never has much enthusiasm for anything English – pronounced this comic opera to be the very best thing of the kind which had ever been offered to the German public, and all the other critics too were warm in their praise of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s genius, as manifested in this particular vein. Here at last they admitted was a solitary Englishman who had actually encroached on the creative domain which the Germans had hitherto complacently looked upon as their own proud monopoly. But then their surprise was tempered by the reflection that Sir Arthur in his youth had laid the foundation of his musical education at Leipsic. This circumstance they thought was sufficient to explain much, if not all, of the artistic beauty of The Mikado and its kindred pieces; but after all – thus they reasoned – comic opera was a very light and almost frivolous sort of composition; and was this Englishman a man who could hold his own with the Germans in the heaven of severer and sublimer flights?

It was to provide itself with an answer to this momentous question that all the musical world flocked to the Opera House yesterday evening, in an eager but yet impartial frame of mind. The musical world patiently sat through the performance of The Golden Legend, and it went home, I fear, with a less favourable opinion of the piece than that entertained by the English admirers of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s productions. But this unfavourable verdict – which is unsparingly, and even uncharitably, recorded in the critiques of to-day’s journals – may be rescinded next Saturday, when Sir Arthur intends to carry his suit to a court of appeal. For that judgment has gone against him partially, if not entirely, on account of an error of form there cannot be the slightest doubt. It is admitted by all that a very much better impression might have been produced on the audience by the cantata had some of its vocal interpreters not executed their parts in what, in plain language, must be called a truly abominable manner – a manner which more than once elicited contemptuous hisses.

It was truly an excruciating sight to watch the countenances of the audience – Royalties and all – as some of the singers made such desperate but unavailing endeavours to rise to the level of the task which they had undertaken. But that the marked signs of disapprobation which these vain and painful efforts elicited from the house were directed less against the composer than his incomplete interpreters was evidenced by the fact that when the soloists had disappeared Sir Arthur Sullivan himself was repeatedly recalled to the front of the stage to receive the plaudits of a sympathetic assembly, as well as huge laurel wreaths which were laid at his feet. As for the orchestra and chorus – the former that of the Philharmonic Society, the latter the Sternsche Gesang Verein, or Stern’s Choral Union – they both did their parts well and satisfactorily on the whole. But the performance of some of the solo-singers, all drawn from the regular staff of the Opera, will remain a never-to-be-forgotten incident in the annals of the Berlin musical world.

On the whole, then, the verdict of that world on The Golden Legend is meanwhile this, that while it has decided faults and failings as a musical composition, its positive beauties had no real chance of being displayed, owing to the most defective manner in which it was sung. A repetition of the performance was in contemplation for Tuesday, but Sir Arthur refused to subject his patience to another intolerable trial at the hands of those whose voices alone have been the means of bringing about an unfavourable verdict against the quality of his creative work.

But Sir Arthur is happily not without the means of vindicating his reputation as a composer in the eyes of the Berliners. For to-day he telegraphed to Madame Albani, who is now fulfilling an engagement at Antwerp, explaining his dilemma, and asking her if she could by any possibility come here and take the part of Elsie: and Madame Albani, with a prompt gallantry worthy of the occasion, has telegraphed to say that she will be happy to assume this rôle next Saturday. So on that day Sir Arthur will carry his suit to the court of public appeal with fresh witnesses in his favour; and then it will be seen whether in these circumstances the higher tribunal affirms or modifies the judgment passed on the merits of his Golden Legend by those who plume themselves on being the pink of musical criticism in Germany.

Monday, April 4, 1887.

BERLIN, April 3.

Last night the performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Golden Legend was repeated at the Royal Opera House, under the personal direction of the composer, and with the substitution of Madame Albani for Mdlle. Pattini in the rôle of Elsie. It was certain that the unfavourable impression produced upon the musical world of Berlin by the first performance of Sir Arthur’s cantata on the previous Saturday was partially at least due to the most inefficient way in which the part of Elsie was sung by an artiste whose speciality is soubrette opera, but the substitution of Madame Albani for this lady was a guarantee that the work would be secured against failure of intepretataion, in this respect at least.

Though fresh from her hasty journey from Holland, Madame Albani sang in her best form. She was applauded to the echo, and encored. Yet while admitting that the performance as a tout ensemble had improved since last week, the critics in to-day’s journals adhere to and even seek to amplify the very severe judgements which they previously passed on the musical merits of the Golden Legend. There is no charity in these rude criticisms, there is no evidence of any desire to say hard things in the most agreeable way, and indeed one is almost induced to say there is little fairness. It is certain at any rate that the newspaper critiques do not truly reflect the impression that was produced upon the audience in the Opera House itself last night by the performance of the cantata, which was listened to with evident admiration and occasional outbursts of applause, Sir Arthur himself being most warmly recalled at the close.

The house was again filled, and the Royal boxes were occupied by the Crown Prince and Princess and their family, Prince and Princess William, the Grand Duchess of Baden, and Prince and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. The British Embassy, too, was again present in full force.

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