American Opera Company

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The American Opera Company was the name of four different opera companies active in the United States. The first company was a short-lived opera company founded in New York City in February, 1886 that lasted only one season.[1] The second company was based out of Rochester, New York and was active from the mid-1920s up until 1930 when it went bankrupt not too long after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The third opera company was a short lived company located in Trenton, New Jersey that was active in 1937. The fourth and last opera company was actively performing in Philadelphia from 1946 through 1950.

Jeannette Thurber's American Opera Company[edit]

The first American Opera Company was founded in 1886 by well known arts patron Jeannette Meyers Thurber who had just founded the National Conservatory of Music of America a few months earlier. Based in New York City, the American Opera Company was under the musical direction of Theodore Thomas with Gustav Hinrichs and Arthur Mees assistant conductors and Charles E. Locke was the business manager.[2] It rented the premises of the Academy of Music in New York City for local performances during 1886. It also toured, playing in April, May and June 1886 in, among other cities, Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and St. Louis. The repertoire included Verdi's Aida, Wagner's Lohengrin, and Gounod's Faust. In August, the company announced an ambitious plan to travel to Paris, a trip that never came about.[3]

A succinct statement of Thurber's vision for the American Opera Company appeared in August, 1886, when she was cited as "... [recognizing] the fact that the true conception of a national opera is opera sung in a nation's language and, as far as practicable, the work of a nation's composers, [and that she hoped]…in time to develop and patronize American composers."[4]

Financial difficulties led to a reorganization and name change to the "National Opera Company" in December 1886[5] and, ultimately, bankruptcy in March, 1887.[6]

Rochester's American Opera Company[edit]

In the mid-1920s, a professional touring opera company emerged from the innovative productions of Vladimir Rosing and Rouben Mamoulian at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Its mission was to perform operas in English to popular audiences nationwide. First known as the Rochester American Opera Company the group made its New York City debut in April 1927 at the Guild Theatre. It won the support of many wealthy and influential backers.[7] By the time it performed for President Coolidge and 150 members of Congress at Washington D.C.'s Poli's Theater in December 1927, the company was known as the American Opera Company.

The opera company strictly adhered to a non-star policy, developing instead a unity of ensemble whereby a singer might have a leading role one night and a supporting role the next.[8]

During January and February 1928 the American Opera Company then brought seven weeks of opera to Broadway at New York's Gallo Theater, including a notable adaptation of Faust.[9] In addition to familiar operas, Rosing subsequently selected several operas composed by American composers for production, including The Sunset Trail by Charles Wakefield Cadman,The Legend of the Piper by Eleanor Everest Freer, and Yolanda of Cyprus by Clarence Loomis. National tours followed for the next two years, but the Crash of 1929 caused bookings for the 1930-31 season to dematerialize. The group earned an official endorsement from President Herbert Hoover, calling for it to become "a permanent national institution",[10] but it was not enough as the country sank into the Great Depression. Its last performances in New York were of Madame Butterfly and Yolanda of Cyprus at the Casino Theatre on Broadway in January 1930.[11]

Trenton's American Opera Company[edit]

The American Opera Company in Trenton was founded in 1937 by conductor H. Maurice Jacquet. It presented two performances only that year before disbanding.

Philadelphia's American Opera Company[edit]

The American Opera Company in Philadelphia was founded in 1946 by conductor Vernon Hammond. It closed in 1950.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "American Opera Organized" in the New York Times, February 26, 1886.
  2. ^ Schuler's Books Online
  3. ^ "They May Go Abroad" in the New York Times, August 21, 1886.
  4. ^ "American Opera" in the New York Times, Aug 18, 1886.
  5. ^ "President Thomas No More" in the New York Times, Dec. 6, 1886.
  6. ^ "Its debts not discharged" in the New York Times, March 4, 1887.
  7. ^ Graf, Herbert. Opera for the People, pg. 158., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (1951).
  8. ^ "An Opera Without A Star Role", The Washington Post, pg. F1, November 20, 1927.
  9. ^ "A New Version of 'Faust'" in the New York Times, January 11, 1928, pg 26.
  10. ^ Letter from President Herbert Hoover to the Speaker of the House expressing support for the American Opera Company, February 27, 1930. The American Presidency Project [1]
  11. ^ "'Yolanda' Sung by Americans" in the New York Times, January 9, 1930, pg 28.