First Rival of the Metropolitan Opera

First Rival of the Metropolitan Opera

First Rival of the Metropolitan Opera

First Rival of the Metropolitan Opera

Excerpt

IT HARDLY seems possible that one hundred years have passed since the opening of the Metropolitan Opera, an organization that came into being the same year as the Brooklyn Bridge but unlike the bridge was given birth for all the wrong reasons. That it now stands as a beacon of quality and standards in the opera world is part of an artistic miracle. All the "wrong reasons" were, of course, the social snobbisms of New York leveled against the new rich who came out of the Civil War with pockets bulging and a burning desire for a place in established society. Nothing represented the old guard so much as the Academy of Music on Fourteenth Street and Irving Place and the seasons of grand opera presented there, beginning in 1878, by the charming and clever "Colonel" James H. Mapleson, American manager of London's Royal Italian Opera Company, Covent Garden. "Colonel" Mapleson--few seemed to know where his honorary title came from-- had, at least at first, the confidence and support of his principal stockholders and patrons, who included the social arbiters of the city. They had long made the Academy their special preserve, and for these nabobs, as well as the general musical public who helped fill his seats, the Colonel presented performance after performance of great artists in the basic Italian repertoire. In 1878 he had the field to himself, but five years later, in 1883, he faced his first competitive challenge with the opening of the new upstart company. How he dealt with this threat, and failed to win, is the . . .

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