The "Fencing Master" was presented at the Lansing last night to a house crowded to its uttermost capacity. The "Fencing Master" is hardly up to De Koven's best standard, but it is funny and pretty and plotless and things happen in the usual easy, comfortable light opera fashion. Of course the centre of interest was Miss Marie Tempest as Francesca . Miss Tempest is particularly and peculiarly adapted to the part. Her face is powerful and moving rather than beautiful, and has something in it that goes straight to one's sympathies. Her jealousy and love were acted with an impassioned intensity of facial expression that is seldom seen in comic opera. Her form is exquisitely moulded and her tights become her wondrous well, so well that she ought never to appear in skirts in the last act. She is made expressly for her first costume as no other woman on the stage is, and she is not the only woman who can wear white satin gowns, nor can she wear them so well as some others. Miss Tempest's acting last night was a little paradoxical, her face and form were always very much in earnest, her voice sometimes very little so. Her "I am a woman" was the only thing she said that had any real strength in it. Of her voice it is almost impossible to speak. She was seen and not heard. It is a new thing to have the prima donna get through an opera without a single solo and only one very diminutive duet, but no one knows what a play will bring forth. Miss Tempest's first singing was very throaty and breathy, but her voice improved in the course of the play, and what she deigned to give of it was very sweet. Her fencing, over which the newspapers have raved and gone into hypnotic trances, like most of the good things of this world, was very, very brief. In fact it consisted of just three thrusts and four parries. Very much can be justly said in disapproval of Miss Tempest's work, and yet she is wonderfully effective in the role of Francesca. She is graceful and charming and touching. Her art seems to lie in her beauty of movement and her wonderful facial expression. She succeeds because she charms and captivates.
Mr. Carrol as the Duke of Milan and Mr. Tre Deinch as the court astrologer were the best men in the support and as good comedians as one often finds. Their fun was all funny and provoked gales of laughter and storms of applause. In the third act they were called back eight times, which, in Lincoln, is an almost unheard of demonstration of appreciation. The comic serenade song was especially good.
Miss Theo Dorre as the Marchesi di Gondoni sang well and expressively, but her eyes were always "in a fine frenzy rolling." If the marchesi's eyes and Filippa's mouth could be worked into a composite photograph, the artist would find a short cut to fortune. It is not fair to have two such interestingly ridiculous women on the stage at once, it is like watching a two-ringed circus.
The chorus was strong and sang well and was very ugly. Miss Tempes was delightful, her support abominable.
The Fencing Master: The Fencing Master, with music by Reginald de Koven and libretto by Harry Bache Smith (who had also done the book for Robin Hood), opened 14 November 1892 at the Casino Theatre in New York, and ran for 120 performances. The heroine, Francesca, is disguised as a boy for most of the play; she sings one of the more popular songs, "Ah yes, I love thee."
Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.
The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.
De Koven: Reginald de Koven (1859-1920) was born in the USA, but educated in England, then went to Europe to study music before returning to the US in 1882 to go into business in Chicago. His successful real estate and commercial ventures enabled him to return to his first love, music. He is best known as the composer of romantic operettas, most notably Robin Hood (1890), which contains his most popular song, "Oh Promise Me," which quickly became a favorite at weddings.
Miss Marie Tempest: Marie Susan Hetherington (1864-1942) was born in London. She studied singing abroad, then returned to study under Manuel Garcia, who had taught Jenny Lind. She made her London debut in 1885, then took over the lead in Erminie (1885). She became famous when she took over the lead in Dorothy (1887) turning it into a hit that ran for 931 performances. She took The Red Hussar to New York in 1890, and toured the U.S. in operettas, including The Pirates of Penzance, The Bohemian Girl, and The Fencing Master. She was considered one of the few who could rival Lillian Russell. Tempest ceased singing operettas in 1899, devoting herself to comedy. Noel Coward wrote a part for her in his Hay Fever (1925). She toured until the year before her death, and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1937.
Mr. Julius Steger: Julius Steger appeared in a number of New York productions between 1894 and 1914, including In Gay New York (1896), The Geisha (1897), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1898), de Koven's The Man in the Moon (1899), and Sally in Our Alley (1902). Although Steger was not in the original New York cast of The Fencing Master (1892), he played in Marie Tempest's company in de Koven's The Algerian in her 1893-94 tour. He is listed in the New York Drama Reviews Index as the musical director for an 1899 production, A Dangerous Man; he may be the same Julius Steger who was associated with Florenz Ziegfield's Follies productions, and the director of a silent film, The Law of Compensation (1917).
Mr. Gerald Gerome: Gerome was not in the original New York production of de Koven's The Fencing Master (1892), but he appeared in a production of it starring Lilly Post when Marie Tempest left for another show (Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, XV: 556)
Mr. Carrol: There were several Carrolls in show business at this time; perhaps the most likely to have been a singer is Richard F. Carroll, who was at one time in Fay Templeton's company, and who played in The Talisman, with music by Planquette. Carroll does not appear on the original cast list of de Koven's The Fencing Master (1892).
Mr. Tre Deinch: No actor of this name (or variants such as Dench, Dinch, or Tredeinch) appears in the indexes to the New York Times dramatic reviews or to Odell's Annals of the New York Stage. Odell does mention a Charles Trench who appeared in In Old Kentucky.
court astrologer: The cast list for the New York production of The Fencing Master does not identify any character as the court astrologer; however, the character Fortunio may have been named for such a role.
Miss Lilly Post: Lilly Post starred in the title role of the McCaull Opera company's production of Indiana in New York in 1887, and in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1888. She appeared with Marie Tempest in a benefit performance in 1892; after Tempest left de Koven's The Fencing Master in 1894, Post shared the starring role with another actress. Odell's statement that Post was "wonderfully surviving the attacks of time" suggests both her beauty and experience as an actress. (Annals of the New York Stage)
"harsh discords and unpleasing sharps,": In Act 3, scene 5 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet tries to keep Romeo from leaving by saying that the bird they hear is a nightingale, not a lark, the herald of dawn. When Romeo, who must leave Juliet's room before he is found, convinces her that it is indeed dawn, Juliet says, It is, it is: hie hence, be gone, away!It is the lark that sings so out of tune,Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.Some say the lark makes sweet division;This doth not so, for she divideth us.
Mr. Norman: Henry Norman appeared in various New York productions between 1892 and 1912, some with fellow cast member Julius Steger. He did not appear in the original New York production of de Koven's The Fencing Master (1892).