Opera - Wagner's Personality
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the fierce contest which for nearly fifty years I waged around Wagner his personality was not spared. His enemies, not content with pouring vituperation upon his music, assailed his private life and character. Yet his widow and son worship his memory; and the only one of his intimate friends whose reminiscences of him have been published—Ferdinand Prager—has much to say of his personal worth, and draws a charming picture of the composer's home life with his second wife, Cosima Liszt.
In spite of all his enemies may have said, or indeed still say, the mutual devotion of Wagner and Cosima and his love for his son Siegfried have become almost historical. The visitor to Wahnfried, Wagner's house at Bayreuth, may see, inscribed over the entrance, the following lines:
Hier, Wo Mein Wahnen Frieden Fand, "Wahnfried," Sei Dieses Haus Von Mir Genannt.
Wahnen means longing, or rather the strenuous striving, amounting almost to madness, of an artist for the fulfillment of his aspirations and the triumph of his art. "Wahnfried" means rest from longing, and the lines over the entrance to Wagner's house signify that there at last he found the repose of soul and the respite from the world for which he had yearned. Fate, relenting toward the genius who had been fighting his way for half a century, had sent him the complement to his nature—a wife who loved him for himself and at the same time was in full sympathy with his aspirations. Cosima comprehended the man and the artist.
Prager speaks of the high spirits with which at times Wagner seemed fairly to bubble over. Duringa sojourn in Bayreuth in 1882, when "Parsifal" was produced, I myself had the opportunity to observe this exuberance; for I often saw and heard Wagner. One does not forget the first sight of a great man, and the occasion on which I first saw Wagner is indelibly impressed on my memory. He gave a banquet to his artists, the evening after the final dress rehearsal of "Parsifal," at a restaurant high up on the hill and near the Wagner Theater. At one end of the large dining-hall the floor was slightly sunk below - the level of the vest. The long table for Wagner and his guests was set on this lower portion. The public was admitted to dinner in the other and larger part of the hall, so that whoever cared to pay the comparatively small price of the dinner was privileged to watch the proceedings below. This part of the hall was simply crowded; not a seat at any of the tables was unoccupied, and long after the tables were full many other people vainly sought admission.
The artists had arrived and had been waiting for some time when the door swung open and Wagner entered rapidly. On his arm was Cosima; and following them were his father-in-law, Franz Liszt, and young Siegfried Wagner, who looked like a miniature presentment of his father. Hardly had Wagner entered when he dropped Cosima's arm, and with short, quick steps hurried toward his artists; giving each in turn, from the highest to the lowest, a warm handshake, and smiling and laughing as he passed from one to the other. The wait for him had been tedious, but the moment he entered every one's spirits went up. His own exuberance was contagious.
After he had greeted his artists he looked up to where we were sitting, straining our necks to see all that was going on. Exclaiming "Da ist ja auch das Publicum!" (Hello, there is the public!) in a half amused, half contemptuous tone of voice, he dashed up the short flight of steps which led to where we were, and in a moment was hurrying in and out among us, stopping to shake hands here and there with a friend. He was closely pursued by Judith Gautier, a daughter of Theophile Gautier, who seemed to want to obtain some favor from him which he did not wish to grant, but which he was too good-natured to deny outright. Occasionally he would half turn around and laughingly say something to her, and then keep on his way while she persistently followed. He finally reached the steps, dashed down them, and was again in the holy of holies among his artists, whither she did not dare follow him.
At last Wagner seated himself, and the banquet began. On either side of him were Cosima and his father-in-law, Liszt. Seeing them in such close proximity it was easy to note the remarkable resemblance between Liszt and his daughter. They had the same strongly marked aquiline features. At the same table was a protege of Liszt, the pianist D'Albert, then a very youthful celebrity, but since become a famous pianist.
But, of course, I was most interested in looking at Wagner himself. I frankly confess that when he first entered and came forward with quick, short, almost mincing steps, I was greatly disappointed in his personal appearance. He was diminutive in stature, and his attire was spick and span—something which in a genius seems to me unpardonable. Every genius should be at least a little disheveled in order to come up to the public's idea of what. he ought to be. If I remember rightly Wagner had on a black cutaway, light gray trousers, and immaculate lavender kid gloves. Over one arm was flung a light overcoat, and in his hand he carried a brown derby. He certainly did not at that moment realize the portrait that I had formed of him in my mind's eye.
But when he was seated and I had an opportunity to examine his features more closely, I could not help being impressed with the marvelous brow, which seemed fairly to protrude with intellect and the power of applied energy. Then, as he talked, now with his wife, now with Liszt, occasionally flinging remarks across the table to Materna, Winckelmann, Gudehus, Scaria, or some of the other artists, his eyes sparkled with good humor, and his features were wonderfully mobile. At times, as if too full of vitality to remain long quiet, he would jump up from his chair and make the round of the table, with some pleasant verbal quip for each of his friends.
I had always supposed that after-dinner speaking was a horror confined to the United States. But after the cigars had been lighted one of the local dignitaries of Bayreuth arose and began a long and uninteresting speech full of lavish laudation of Wagner. Another followed, and administered one of the most effective sleeping-potions which it has ever been my fate to partake of—more effective even than that which Sieglinde administers to Hunding. But of a sudden every one was wide awake. Wagner was on his feet and speaking. Then it was I men-tally conceded that, after all, after-dinner speaking was not such a bad habit.
Wagner's speech was as brief as the others had been long. He patted papa-in-law Liszt on the shoulder and spoke feelingly of him as one of thefirst who had befriended him, and as the man who had given to him his precious wife. I shall always remember the flood of emotion that he poured into the words "die teuere Gattin." He concluded with an eloquent tribute to his singers. After thanking those who had contributed to the fund for the "Parsifal" productions, he concluded : "But after all I am more indebted to my -devoted, self-sacrificing artists; for art is not created by money, but is made possible only by artists." The singers who were gathered at Bayreuth in 1882 were a noble band, and passionately devoted to the great composer.
Indeed, Wagner's master mind seemed to control everything and everybody at Bayreuth. I once wrote that near the Wagner Theater was an insane asylum with cells and strait-jackets for any anti-Wagnerites who were apprehended in Bayreuth. and a penitentiary with a special lockup for small boys who were caught whistling anything but leading motives. But this really conveys an idea of how completely everything at Bayreuth was Wagnerized and how thoroughly it was dominated by \Vagner's genius. During one of the "Parsifal" performances I chanced to see Wagner's head protrude from behind a bit of scenery. He was not trying to observe how closely the audience was' following his work, but had his eyes on the stage. After the performance Materna explained to me that at rehearsals Wagner had not only indicated the positions on the stage which he wished the various characters to take, but had actually made little chalk marks in order to be sure that his directions were followed. He was so anxious that they should be properly observed that at the moment I saw him he had incautiously thrust his head too far forward from the wings.
Combined with his restless energy Wagner had many lovable traits, not the least of which was his affection for animals. When he was a boy he witnessed the killing of an ox by a butcher. He grew so excited that he would have rushed upon the man had not his companions forcibly led him from the scene. For a long time afterward he was unable to touch meat. To dogs he was devotedly attached. Whoever visited Wahnfried in 1882 rarely failed to notice the stately St. Bernard, Wotan. between whom and its master such mutual affection existed that, when in the following February Wagner's remains were laid at rest in Bayreuth, the dog refused to be comforted and could not be led away from the tomb, it becoming necessary to even feed it there.
Wagner and the various dogs he owned were almost inseparable companions. He delighted to en-gage in long conversations with them, himself supplying their answers, "infusing into these much of that caustic wit which Paytone+Ones of all ages and countries have so often and powerfully put into the mouth of animals." Wagner was fond of quoting Weber's remark to a disobedient dog : "If you go on like that you will at last become as silly and as bad as a human being." In Boulogne, where he arrived in the late thirties, after a visit to London, a huge Newfoundland dog appeared with him so constantly in the streets that he became known as "le petit homme avec le grand chien."
When the composition of "Tannhauser" was nearing its completion, while the ill success of his works outside of Dresden had made him morbid and despondent, the love of a few friends and that of his (log was almost his only solace. He often remarked that his dog had helped him compose "Tannhauser." When he was seated at the piano singing boisterously while composing, the dog would leap from its place at its master's feet on to the table. peer into his face. and begin to howl. Then Wagner would shake the animal's paw, exclaim, "What, it does not suit You?" and add, quoting from Shakespeare, "Well, I will do thy bidding gently."
While an exile in Zurich he would take his dog Peps with him on his long walks. Sometimes he would declaim violently against his persecutors. Then Peps, the ''human Peps." as Wagner called him, would bark and snap as if aiding his master ; returning after each sally to be praised and petted. "Peps," he once remarked, "has more sense than all your wooden contrapuntists."
In 1855, when Wagner was conductor of the London Philharmonic, he found that a large Norwegian dog belonging to Prager was kept in a small back yard. He expostulated against what he called the cruelty of such close confinement, and made it a point when he went out on his daily constitutional to take the dog with him. This duty he continued to perform during his stay in London, notwithstanding the fact that he was often tugged hither and thither by the spirited animal, which rejoiced at its semi-freedom. Every day while in London Wagner bought a supply of French rolls, and went to the small bridge over the ornamental water in Regent's Park, to feed the ducks as well as a regal swan, of which he used to say that it was fit to draw the chariot of Lohengrin. "The childlike happiness, full to overflowing, with which this innocent occupation filled Wagner, was an impressive sight, never to be forgotten. It was Wagner you saw before you, the natural man, affectionate, gentle and mirthful."
In one of his first letters to Prager, when he had returned to Zurich after this season in London, he asked if Prager's cat still had its bad cold. Shortly afterward his dear Peps died in its master's arms, "passing away without a sound quietly and peace-fully. I cried incessantly, and since then have felt bitter pain and sorrow for the dear friend of the past thirteen years, who ever worked and walked with me."
Prager relates that Wagner almost came to blows in the London streets with a grocer who had cruelly beaten his horse ; and one of the latest literary efforts of his life was an essay against vivisection. Certainly a man who throughout his life showed in so many ways his love for dumb animals must have been innately affectionate and tender ; and if he ever showed himself otherwise. it was because of the irritability created by the fierce attacks of which he was constantly a victim.
Though naturally affected with the colossal egotism which seems to be part of the make-up of every in-tense creative genius, he was not lacking in gratitude. His letters to Liszt teem with expressions of the most affectionate recognition of all that composer had done for him; and I have already quoted his gratefulreference to Liszt at the Bayreuth banquet. He fairly worshiped the memory of his stepfather Geyer; and when late in Wagner's life one of Geyer's long-forgotten little comedies was played for him at a private performance, as a birthday surprise, his de-light was almost childish. His mother, "lieb' Mutterchen," as he always called her, he adored ; and he poured his love for her into the exquisite music of "Siegfried" whenever the young hero of that music-drama alludes to his mother. All \Vagner's references to his mother were, according to Prager, "of affection, amounting almost to idolatry."
Nor did Wagner's egotism warp his judgment of the composers of the past. When he was a conductor at the Royal Opera in Dresden, he successfully revived interest in Gluck's and Mozart's operas. The ultimate appreciation of Beethoven's Ninth symphony was largely due to performances of that work under Wagner's baton, and to the analysis of the symphony which he wrote. When he proposed to give it in Dresden opposition was raised on account of the expense. Accordingly he went to all the trouble of borrowing the orchestral parts from Leipzig, learning the symphony by heart to avoid the outlay for an orchestral score, and inducing choir-boys from neigh-boring churches to assist in the performance.
Nor are there lacking instances of warm-hearted sympathy on Wagner's part toward those who were unfriendly to him. The attitude of Berlioz toward Wagner was decidedly frigid. Yet when Wagner was invited in London to meet a French musical amateur in the confidence of the Emperor—the idea being that something might thus be accomplished toward awakening the latter's interest in Wagner's music—what did Wagner do? He implored the Frenchman to persuade the Emperor to espouse Berlioz's. cause.
Wagner was a man of great physical as well as mental activity. 1 have spoken of the quick manner in which he moved about among the guests at the Bayreuth banquet. It was characteristic of the man. When he was a schoolboy he threw a schoolmate's cap high upon a steep roof. The lad began to cry. This was more than Wagner could stand. At great risk, to his life he climbed the roof, threw down the cap to the boy, and then, letting himself down through the manhole into the garret, hid there to escape the reprimands of his teachers, who appeared incensed at his recklessness, though, probably, they secretly admired it.
Prager, who went to visit him in Tribschen in the summer of 1871, tells a capital anecdote of the composer's buoyant, active temperament, which years had not lessened. They were sitting on an ottoman in the drawing-room, when the composer of "The Ring of the Nibelung," "Tristan." and the "Meistersinger" suddenly rose and stood on his head upon the ottoman. Just then the door opened and Madame \Vagner entered. Seeing her husband in this curious position. she hastened forward exclaiming, "Aber! Lieber Richard! Lieber Richard !" Quickly resuming his natural position Wagner explained to her that he was not insane, but was merely proving to his friend Ferdinand that he could stand on his head at sixty.
Coupled with this activity was great determination. When he was in London his crossing of crowded thoroughfares was so intrepid as to border upon the reckless. He would go straight across ; leaving it to the drivers of the various vehicles which were bearing down upon him to take care that they did not run over him. This recklessness is interesting as a physical manifestation of his mental attitude toward his art. No man ever dared more in art than Wagner. The energy with which he went to work to produce the Ninth symphony in Dresden as already related, was characteristic. He did everything thoroughly and with the full conviction that he was bound to succeed.
Ill success only seemed to inspire him to greater energy. The return of his scores of "Rienzi," "The Flying Dutchman," and "Tannhauser," unopened by managers, resulted in his working with redoubled zeal upon "Lohengrin." When he saw no immediate prospect of securing the production of that opera, he began the composition of an art-work even more advanced—"The Ring of the Nibelung." It is a mat-ter of history that nearly a quarter of a century went by before that cycle, saw the light of a theater. Meanwhile he composed "Tristan" and "The Meister-singer." There is no greater example of energy in the history of art than Wagner. If some one could be induced to count all the musical notes and words that Wagner wrote during his life, the figures would be found to be simply appalling.
Even when his cause had been espoused by the King of Bavaria the spirit of independence, fostered by his immense creative force, did not forsake him. Once after an interview with the King in which they disagreed, he remarked to a friend, who cautioned him to be more diplomatic, "I have lived before with-out the King, and I can do so again." He was thoroughly absorbed in his art. Everything seemed to him to center around it. When preparations were under way for the production of his "Ring of the Nibelung" at Bayreuth, he wrote to Prager: "It appears to me that the whole German Empire is created only to aid me in attaining my object."
In view of the length of most of his works, it is interesting to note that even as a boy he planned things on a large scale. While at school his passion for Shakespeare led him to write a drama which, he himself says, was a jumble of "Lear" and "Hamlet," and was so long that, all the characters having died, he was obliged, in the last act, to bring their ghosts on the stage in order to keep the play going. Wagner's unbounded admiration for Shakespeare continued throughout his life. When he first entered Westminster Abbey he immediately sought out the Shakespeare monument; and the first Christmas present he made to Cosima, after she became his wife, was a costly edition of Shakespeare's works, which he imported from London.
When his energy was not expended in his art work, it found vent in many humorous sallies. I have already related how he stood on his head for Prager. That was physical humor. But he was also fond of joking. He once quoted his teacher's remark that he would never learn to play the piano. "But," he added, "I play a great deal better than Berlioz." The waggishness of this remark lies in the fact that Berlioz could not play at all. During a rehearsal of the "Rienzi" overture in Dresden the trombones were too loud. Instead of rebuking them angrily, he said, with a laugh : "Gentlemen, we are in Dresden, not marching around the walls of Jericho." After "Tannhauser" was brought out a German composer of little note, named Chellard, said that the "Song to the Evening Star" was wrongly harmonized, and suggested certain harmonies which should be substituted for those employed by Wagner. When Wagner was among friends it was one of his favorite diversions to seat himself at the piano and sing the "Song to the Evening Star" a la Chellard.
Just as this buoyancy and fondness for amusement were the result of his wonderful activity of mind, so also this fundamental trait of his character made him an enemy to all sham. The Duke of Coburg had composed an opera which he asked Wagner to score for him : offering him a sum equivalent to a thousand dollars, besides two months' residence in his palace. The offer came to Wagner when he was in comparatively needy circumstances, but he promptly declined it. He did not care to clothe another's work in his orchestral garb. To a tailor who expressed surprise that he wanted silk for the back of his waistcoat, be-cause it was not seen, Wagner exclaimed: "Not seen! Sham, sham in everything, is the tendency of the age. Whatever is not seen may be shabby, provided the exterior be richly gilded."
It is pleasant to know that, through many years of strife, Wagner had his indomitable will-power, his love for his friends, and his spirit of humor to fall back upon. It is even more pleasant to reflect that he lived to see the art work of his life triumphant, and to know of a happy home. During those latter years of his life a wonderful sense of peace seems to have pervaded his being. "God make every one happy. Amen !" is a sentence in one of his last letters to Prager. What more fitting answer to the detractors of his personal character?
BROADLY speaking, the duties of an opera manager are to keep an eye on everybody and every-thing connected with his company, from the principal prima donna, who receives $1700 a performance, to the "practical" property monkey which opens its jaws and shows its gums in one of the scenes in "The Magic Flute." This statement will perhaps convey some idea of the variety which enters into the life of a manager of grand opera.
The most important representative of this active species in this country is the "managing director" of the company which sings at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.
While the leading members of this company appear in perhaps six or eight performances a month, the director may be said to give a continuous performance all the year round. For when the singers are not in a scene before the audience, they are apt to be making a scene in the impresario's office. The plot and situations of these private representations are generally based on the numerous intricacies always to be found in opera singers' contracts.
To an ordinary mortal, a contract of this kind appears like a labyrinth, without a kindly Ariadne to furnish the thread enabling him to find his way out of the maze of conditions. Considering that a grand opera impresario has not one such contract, but a whole stack of them, it is wonderful how he can remember just what he can call upon each of his singers to do. Some idea of the work and diplomacy required to "sign" the leading members of an opera company like that at the Metropolitan may be gathered from a clause in the contract which the director had with the subcompany by which he was employed before the owners of the opera house themselves financed the enterprise and placed the director on a salary. It provided that should he be disabled or die at any time after he had engaged his artists for the ensuing season—even before the season began, and in fact before the artists engaged abroad sailed for this country—his heirs should nevertheless be entitled to draw out his share of the profits during the entire season. In other words, he was considered to have earned his money before the curtain rose on the first performance—in fact, even before the company assembled in this country. Not only had he to exercise the shrewdness necessary to meet the whims and demands of the singers whom he wished to engage, but a large amount of money passed through his hands while he was still closing the contracts. For
Ait is a peculiarity of operatic contracts that they call for advance payments, and an opera director, while engaging his company during the summer, is obliged to pay out about $100,000 in advances.
The public is apt to hear of large earnings on the tours, and of enormous advance sales in New York, but knows little about the expenses of an opera company and the worries of its manager. It sounds very grandiose to say that, including the money taken in on tour and the advance sales in New York, the curtain at a first performance at the Metropolitan Opera House last season rose on over a million dollars. But when it is stated that one season one tenor, Jean de Reszke, was paid in round figures $100,000, that during another season one prima donna, Mme. Calve, would have earned even more, had it not been for her illness during the tour, and that she was only one of a large number of high-priced artists in the company, it will be seen that the salary list of an impresario, quite aside from the rest of his expense account, is enormous.
Melba receives $3000 a performance and Caruso the same amount. These are the highest honoraria paid on the stage. But in addition Caruso has a guarantee of eighty performances a year, so that his three years' contract will bring him in the sum of $720,000. This contract was made by Heinrich Conried, Maurice Grau's successor, and on Conried's death was taken over by the opera house itself.
Doubtless, however, the impresario would consider the drawing of checks to meet such expenses a comparatively agreeable occupation, especially in the case of a drawing card like Caruso, if it would insure him against the personal trials which are the bane of his life. The late Maurice Grau at one time issued a prospectus of each season. He ceased doing so. The artists nearly worried the life out of him because this one wanted to be first in the list of prima donnas, tenors, barytones. or bassos ; this one last with the magic word "and" before his name. That "and" was a great invention. It made the first and last on the list about coequal and enabled the manager to satisfy at least two singers in each branch of his company. But the relief was only temporary. There soon were as many candidates for the "and" as there had been for the head of the list. So Grau got out of the difficulty by abandoning the prospectus altogether. He did, indeed, issue a prospectus for the tour, in which he diplomatically, as he thought, printed the names in their alphabetical order. But this raised a hubbub, compared with which the storm in "Die Walkure" and the crash in the finale of "Götterdämmerung" were as the whispering of spring breezes.
By abandoning the prospectus, a director of opera rids himself of one worry. But there are others which probably will never cease until opera singers' natures undergo a complete change. To look upon the splendid physical proportions of some of the principal singers you would hardly suppose they were such delicate creatures as they sometimes appear to be. But whether it is "indisposition" or a mere whim prompted, perhaps, by jealousy, there is no going be-hind a physician's certificate, even if it is not sent to the opera house earlier than an hour or two prior to the performance in which the singer was to have taken the leading rule. Then perhaps the impresario recalls the scene in his office a day or two before, when the singer, suddenly "indisposed," wanted to know why he let another prima donna sing Aida when it was her role; or why he should have cast Mme. A. for Elisabeth in the first performance of "Tannhauser" when it had always been her—Mme. B.'s—privilege to sing that role in the first representation of the opera. Nor does it add a touch of pleasure to his reflections as he contemplates the physician's certificate, to recall the fact that it was he who made that prima donna's fortune.
To revert again to Gran, who was our most famous opera director, he conducted several tours for Sarah Bernhardt. She appeared about 1500 times under his direction. During that entire period there were only five performances in which she disappointed her audiences. In physique she was almost a shadow compared with some opera singers who disappointed him as often as five times a month. Naturally, he concluded that there is some constitutional difference between actors and singers. One could hardly apply the old quip, "An empty cab drove up and out stepped Sarah Bernhardt," to a Brunnhilde. Yet it has happened that some Brunnhildes are more apt to vanish into thin air on the eve of a performance than the great French actress, whose slender physique furnished so much amusement to the, paragraphers.
An opera director not infrequently works the greater part of two days and far into the nights arranging a week's repertoire. For the repertoire must be made up with a view to many conditions. It must be sufficiently varied, so that Mrs. C., who has a certain box on "even nights and odd matinees," is not required to listen too often to the same opera; while similar consideration must be paid to Mrs. D., who has the same box for "odd nights and even matinees."
But this is a trifling matter compared with the guarantees of the singers which the impresario must observe in making out the repertoire. A prima donna will have, for instance, a guarantee that he will give her forty performances in four months, or ten performances a month, at a thousand dollars a performance. This means that he must arrange for her to appear exactly ten times during each month. He cannot crowd twelve or fifteen performances into one month for her, and then let her sing a correspondingly fewer number of times during the remaining months. For every performance above the guaranteed ten which she gives during a month she receives an extra thousand dollars, with the privilege of appearing the regular ten times during the next month. If, however, the impresario should fail toarrange for her to sing more than eight times during a month, he would nevertheless still be obliged to pay her for ten performances. For this reason, unless her guarantees are carefully observed by the manager when he is making out the repertoire, every mistake he makes with regard to this particular prima donna costs him a thousand dollars. There are singers at the Metropolitan Opera House a mistake with whom would cost the impresario from $1000 to $3000. It is no wonder, therefore, that the director makes out a week's repertoire with a sort of checker-board before him divided into squares for each performance in and out of town, and with slips of paper containing the names of the singers for pawns, while before him, for the rules of the game, he has an abstract of his various contracts showing what each singer has been guaranteed as regards roles and number of performances.
Even after all this work has been gone through with, there is still the question "Will this repertoire stand.'" The director has such a dread of physicians' certificates coming in at the last moment, that he does not feel safe until, from his seat in the parquet, he sees the curtain rise. It is bad enough to have to change prima donnas at the last moment, although that is a matter that can generally be arranged over the telephone. But when several principal singers in a cast have become indisposed, and it is found necessary to change the opera, quick work is required. Half a dozen messengers are sent scurrying in all directions. The manager may have thought of putting on "Lohengrin." He must be sure of an Elsa. There-fore, a messenger is sent to each of the prima donnas who have this role in their repertoire. Neither of them may be able to sing, and so, although the hour is late, another opera may have to be substituted for "Lohengrin." As many as four changes in the opera for the night may have been made in an afternoon, and at times it has been only by a hair's breadth that the house has not remained dark.
One season, in order to save a performance of "Rheingold," the famous Lilli Lehmann, who had never sting the role of Fricka, was obliged to learn it in an afternoon. Fortunately, she was familiar with the music from often having heard the opera. Her sister, Marie Lehmann, who was with her, had sung the role many times, but could not step into the breach because, being a pensionaire of the Vienna Opera House, she would forfeit her pension if she sang on any other stage. She was, however, able to assist Mme. Lehmann materially in "swallowing" the role, and prompted and coached her from the wings.
Grau had a very large company, and was some-times considered an extravagant manager because he had so many prima donnas and so many tenors on his list. He was greatly amused at this point of view, for there were many occasions when he found that instead of having too many singers he had too few.
The expenses of an opera company like that at the Metropolitan average from $40,000 to 545,000 a week, or about $1,000,000 a season. How greatly the principal singers figure in the expense list may be judged from the statement that their guarantees amount to about one-half, or $500,000. If all of Caruso's eighty guaranteed appearances occurred here the figures would be much larger. Quoting the exact figures from a season's balance-sheet. it is found that the prima donnas received $216,800. and the principal men singers $316,000, a total of 5532,800. Is it policy to pay such high salaries? The question is answered by the statement that the performances which cost most pay best. The public knows when it is getting a great cast, and is willing to put out money to hear it. It may have cost over $10,000 to raise the curtain on the "seven dollar" performance of "Les Huguenots" with Melba, Nordica, "Jean," "Edouard." Lasalle and Maurel. But the public paid nearly 514,000 to hear it. The record production is "Parsifal." Costing in round figures $100,000 to pro-duce, its ten performances during its first season at the Metropolitan brought in $16o,000.
Speaking of the boxes, it is an interesting fact that ownership of a box at the Metropolitan Opera House has proved itself a profitable investment. The parterre boxes which are held by the stockholders represent $35,000 in stock. One of the boxes belonging to an estate could recently have been sold for $75,000; but the estate preferred to keep it. There have been instances of the letting of stockholder boxes for $6000 for the season. This is certainly paying high for the privilege of sitting within the charmed circle of the "glittering horseshoe."
I have referred to the half a million dollars paid during a season to the principal singers. The next largest item is $90,000 for the orchestra, and next to that conies $25,000 for transportation. In speaking of ex-pensive performances, I have mentioned that of "Les Huguenots" when it cost over $10,000 to raise the curtain. At that performance, however, scenery, costumes, and properties were not new. When an opera is produced for the first time the cost of these must be added to the salaries for the night.
To see that the production of the new work is properly prepared for is one of the chief duties of a grand opera manager. Besides "Parsifal," one of the most elaborately mounted series of performances at the Metropolitan was the revival of Mozart's "Magic Flute." With what care it was planned, and with how much expense it was carried out. may be gathered from the fact that the director traveled to Munich and took several of the heads of his departments with him to witness the revival of the work there. It was calculated that the production of the work here cost about $35,000, exclusive of the running expenses of the evening. Various improvements on the Munich production were planned and the manager had to study and approve of these, as well as keep control of the general scheme of production. In the scenic department alone fifteen new scenes and a double panorama over three hundred feet long from "gridiron" to cellar, and rep-resenting the passage of the hero and heroine through earth, fire, and water, had to be provided. Here was one instance in which the German production was greatly improved upon. In Germany the panorama moved across the stage; here it worked downward, so that the hero and heroine seemed to ascend. Here, moreover, the panorama was double, the characters standing behind a moving front gauze, adding greatly to the effectiveness of the scene. Another improvement was introduced almost at the outset of the performance, with the quick change of scene at the en-trance of the Queen of the Night. Here she descended seated on a moon over a dome of stars. The dome effect was admirably reproduced, and the back drop was studded with no less than a thousand stars, all electrically lighted. While such details are studied out by the scene-painter and the electrician of the opera house, they are submitted to the director and have to be carefully considered by him before receiving his final approval.
The same thing applies to the properties. For "The Magic Flute" a complete menagerie was required. In the property room upstairs, behind the scenes, this operatic zoo was produced. It consisted of five snakes, four lions, one giraffe, one tiger, one elephant, one camel, two alligators, four monkeys, and about one hundred birds. The director found himself, besides a grand opera manager, a Barnum on a small scale, but fortunately the annuals in his menagerie did not re-quire to be fed. Speaking of the camel reminds me of a contretemps at the opera house some years ago, which shows how thoroughly a manager has to keep his eyes open while a production is in preparation. An opera was given which had a procession with several camels in it. Each camel was worked by two men concealed in the body and representing the front and hind legs. Through an oversight, the men in these camels kept step like soldiers on parade as they came on the stage, and the result was absolutely ridiculous. The opera was withdrawn after a few performances, but the "pacing camels," as they were called, were long a source of amusement. The stage manager was responsible for the mistake, but the final consequence had to be borne by the director.
Fortunately there is another side to the story of operatic management besides worry and expense. The window of the box office is a wee orifice compared with the size of the house, but through it flows the elixir of life—the money of the public. The receipts of a New York season amount to more than $1,200,000.
If the public could get more than just a peep at the box office, it would learn a number of interesting things. For each performance 3425 tickets are required, and it takes the box-office staff two days to separate the single sale from the subscription tickets for each week, so that the latter shall not be sold in duplicate. All the tickets must be "racked" by Wednesday night, because the sale for the next week begins on Thursday. As a rule, a performance is not sold out until the night itself. But the treasurer. who presides over the box office at the Metropolitan Opera House, remembers a Patti performance when the box office opened at nine o'clock in the morning and the- house was sold out by one o'clock in the afternoon. The box-office window at the Metropolitan Opera House drops with the curtain at night. There are two sellers on duty during the week, and three on Sunday night, because a Sunday night concert audience is what is known as a "late audience." It puts off buying tickets until the last moment.
A former treasurer of the Metropolitan has considerable reputation among the theater treasurers of the country as the author of a set of rules for the guidance of ticket-sellers, some of which are as follows:
"You must be a mind-reader."
"Never assert your rights."
"When a lady stands an hour or two, selecting a seat, don't suggest to her to bring her sewing and spend the afternoon, as she might be offended."
"When a man conies up to the window smoking a bad cigar and blows the smoke in your face, smile as if you liked it, and ask him where you can buy the same brand."
"When a person leaves a quarter, be sure to call him back, for he will come back later and declare he left a dollar."
Articles lost at the opera house are turned in at the box office, where they are tagged and kept, ready to be delivered to the one who can prove ownership. They form a most heterogenous collection. One sea-son, over one thousand keys were found, and in a closet in the box office there is a stack of umbrellas on one side and a heap of rubbers on the other. A few seasons ago a bracelet of diamonds and emeralds, certainly of over $1o,000 in value, was found in one of the boxes. The next morning it was sent up to the house of the boxholder and promptly recognized. Themost curious part of the incident was that the bracelet had not been missed by the lady who had worn it. The first she knew of its loss was its return. Among the most remarkable finds have been a set of false teeth, a morphine fiend's outfit, and two silk hats. How two men could have deliberately walked out of the opera house of a winter's night without realizing that they were minus their hats is a mystery. Possibly the charms of music had turned their heads.
Notwithstanding much able assistance, the director himself is the final and responsible head of the opera enterprise. Were it a failure, it would be he who would have to drain the bitter cup to the dregs. He is the nerve-center of the opera season, whether it is regarded from the artistic or the business standpoint. The Metropolitan has been so liberal with the public, and established such a high standard for opera in this country, that it is pleasant to reflect that while an opera company is an enormous hole into which to shovel money, some of it is occasionally found at the end of the season to have stuck to the shovel.