Source File: cat.j00094.xml

Page Image

Nebraska State Journal


25 November 1894
page 13

AS YOU LIKE IT.

At a certain period of their lives most men write love stories, but all young men are not indiscreet enough to sign and publish them. Some young men have written on "Her Eyebrow," some on "Her Slipper," but it has been left for Lincoln to produce one on "Her Handkerchief." A story like this deserves serious consideration as it may be the forerunner of many valuable additions to Mr. Hamlin Garland's western school of literature. It opens with a man seated in a chair. He is neither young nor old, but he has suffered. Most young men in love stories have suffered. "He could hear the steady fall outside." In stories the weather is always beastly. Then comes a bit of choice mythology, young authors always introduce mythological allusions, even about a young man who lights his cigar and goes to club. This mythology is just a little diverting as it makes Jove and Lucifer coexistent and ends in one of the most pitiful mixed metaphors on record. The hero is of course one of the 400, young men who are not of the 400 never write about anything else. He goes to remembering about the time he danced a Strauss waltz with her, in stories people never dance to anything but Strauss, probably because Yevette Guilbert calls his waltzes "the conversations of love." This hero grows more and more sentimental and begins to "fondle" the handkerchief. He should have gotten a kitten or something more responsive. Finally, intoxicated by the perfume of the mouchoir , he opens it and finds it is the handkerchief of another woman. Now comes a leading question. He thought the handkerchief belonged to a woman he had parted from five years ago, but it proves to belong to a woman he had met two years before that memorable parting. That makes seven years in all. Yet this handkerchief was reeking with perfume. If the author of "Her Handkerchief" will inform us what perfume it was that lasted seven years we will agree to "use no other."

          

Time is the great test of light opera singers, and as another critic has remarked, time has dealt very gently with Pauline Hall . Not that Miss Hall is by any means ancient, but simply that she has reached that period in her life and her work that always shows whether an actress has really lived for her work and her public or for her individual pleasures and caprices. There are so many pretty and rather clever singers with more or less voice and naturally taking ways and mannerisms that it is sometimes difficult to tell just who among them deserves to be taken seriously and regarded as a prima donna doing her lifework rather than an ameteur out for a lark. But time is the merciless and impartial judge in these things. The woman totally without sincerity either breaks down completely as Fay Templeton has done, or like Lillian Russell , or they come to a standstill from which the most able management cannot drag them forward, or they disappear, heaven knows where, like the thousand coming stars who once adorned the cigarette cards and of whom now we hear no more. Singers may practice a good deal of deception, they may deceive their managers and even their public, but they cannot deceive time.

          

That Miss Hall has, in the past five years, greatly improved in voice and has retained completely her old vivacity and bon esprit bespeaks well for her as the actress and in several other things. Miss Hall has evidently "taken care of herself" in all the multiplicity of meanings that that phrase has for professional people. In other words, she has worked hard and conscientiously and has abstained from the things which are fatal to work. The genuine, spirited, whole-souled quality of her acting and singing just now do more to refute the spiteful slander of the Rev. Somebody Jenkins of Sioux City than all the indignant defense of the New York newspapers.

          

Miss Hall is free from the slightest trace of passeism. Her eye has lost none of its old lustre and her figure none of its grace and she has a voice that is unusually good for a light opera voice, having considerable volume and reaching B natural easily, which must make Lillian Russell and Marie Tempest rather green with envy. But then no one ever accused either Russell or Tempest of being able to sing. Miss Hall is not exactly a clever actress, because she uses so few stage devices. She has simply a dashing, vigorous and entirely healthy personality, a racy German sense of humor and a face for which we could forgive almost anything. By saying that Miss Hall does not use stage devices, it is meant that she is without any of those charming, dainty, but somewhat affected and entirely artificial mannerisms which Marie Tempest brought back with her from Paris. Comparisons are always bad, but Tempest happens to illustrate the point in question and as she is safely on the other side of the Atlantic she may be used with impunity. This is not a comparison with Tempest, but with Tempest's French methods. French methods are well enough, but it requires considerable patience[?] to understand them. We all saw[?] Tempest last winter, we should like to see her all winter long, but nevertheless she is awfully complicated. What do they mean, anyway, all those bewildering illusive gestures, those beautiful but inexplicable poses? It is difficult for the average American public to understand them. We don't quite know what she is driving at. As some one in the audience last winter said: "The woman must be sick or in trouble."

Now, Miss Hall is perfectly simple; her natural jollity is unmarred by affectation or over refining. She has no method in particular, but apparently she is none the worse for that. She has a minimum of "art" and a maximum of natural comedy that goes straight to her audience and bubbles up in the way nature intended it should without the aid of hydraulic pressure from France.

          

In Miss Hall's remarkably strong company there is one comedian who is really a character actor. Mr. Bradshaw by an inimitable whine and a pair of the most solid bourgeoisie calves made his impersonation of the innkeeper one of the strongest roles in the cast.

It is almost amusingly incongruous to see how much more Christian is Miss Hall's attitude toward the Rev. Mr. Jenkins than that gentleman's was toward her. She has absolutely no hard words to say of him, but seems to pity the old gentleman quite sincerely and says she has no doubt that he is really a very good old man though he is certainly misguided and caused her a great deal of pain. She is even generous enough to make excuses for him and says he must have mistaken her for Pauline Markham , who used to dance in the "Black Crook" Miss Ha ll erself has never had that honor. If the Rev. Mr. Jenkins would take a short vacation from his clerical duties and travel with Miss Hall's company for a few weeks, under the influence of her charitable spirit he might become quite a respectable Christian.

          

Light opera in any form is popular in America and is becoming more so every year. The Germans are built for heavy music. In an opera they demand music pure and simple. The prima donna may be as old as the "hills" and as uncomely as those withered dames Hans Holbein drew, but if she can sing the Germans will not only forgive her, but in their artistic enthusiasm and naive simplicity they will fancy her an Aphrodite rising from the waves. But the Americans, like the French, prefer action to music. They can understand and feel and enjoy more readily through action and sound. This is not a depravity of taste; it is merely a temperamental difference. In grand opera Americans prefer singers like Calve , who have magnetism as well as voice. In light opera voice is the least consideration and, alas, action is not the greatest. The one thing which a light opera singer cannot do without is beauty. Either she must possess the genuine article like Lillian Russell and Della Fox and Pauline Hall, or like Marie Tempest she must possess such, have such an elusive and fascinating sort of homeliness that she can make the public believe it is beauty. This is not a repetition of the adoration of the chappies; it is an indisputable fact, and perhaps it is not a fact to be proud of. No woman who did not possess unusual physical charms has ever succeeded in light opera. The result of this is that the American stage is always crowded with women who can neither act or sing and who do not even make an honest endeavor to do either.

          

Most conspicuous of these transient light opera queens is Lillian Russell. It has long been acknowledged that she possesses neither musical or dramatic talent. Butso great was her success among foolish Harvard youths and New York clubmen that her managers were deluded into taking her to England, where she was received with that polite chilliness that only the English are capable of giving.

When Miss Russell returned to this country and opened in New York a few weeks ago, she was met with almost the same coldness. Her managers were indulgent in the extreme. No production was ever graced by more elaborate stage settings than "The Queen of the Brilliants," and no star was ever given a better support than its prima donna.

But New York had recovered from its little convulsion of beauty worship. The metropolis literally froze Miss Russell out. The opera that opened for an indefinite run closed in two weeks. New York was not in the mood for Miss Russell. There are times when the public can subsist upon rose-colored froth, but generally it wants something with a "stick" in it. The weather is too cold for fancy drinks and Lillian Russell. The public is as fickle as Miss Russell herself, and Solomon and Perugini and the rest of them can comfort themselves with the thought that they are avenged.

          

Another instance of the short mutable reigns of these women who travel only on their beauty and wardrobes and unenviable reputation is the inglorious fall of Lily Langtry . There is not a particle of doubt that the American public is giving the Lily just the iciest kind of ice. The newspapers, even, have not been sufficiently interested to publish a list of her present magnificent masculine attaches and the awful rumor has gone abroad that she has none.

Then years ago this woman, who could not act, who could not even read her lines properly, was called a genius by an infatuated rabble. Today even the rabble has other things to think about and Mrs. Langtry passes through the streets of New York unwept, unhonored and unsung.

All of this must be particularly gratifying to the people who have given the strength and effort of their lives to a despised and thankless profession. The public is easy to deceive and slow to comprehend, but it understands at last. The heathen do not always rage, they are sure to recover their normal sanity some day. The whole American public gets on a metaphorical drunk occasionally, a champagne drunk, and requires a great many bottles of congreswater to get over it. But it sobers up at last and sees with merciless clearness. For the favorites of its aberration this is tragic enough, for it means annihilation. From this court there is no appeal. The public is stupid. It can be tricked and duped and made to dance like a bear by a beautiful woman. But when it turns it is pitiless and it spares not. In the words of the only sensible sentence in a very senseless book, "There is only one thing that society loves more than sinning, and that is administering justice." Yes, in the long run, society is just. It does not mean to be or try to be, but somehow in the course of events, in the very nature of things, it stumbles upon justice.

          

Mr. Lansing says that the reason the best Omaha attractions have not appeared in Lincoln this year is because so many of the leading companies have cancelled their one night stands for this season. In many cases this is undoubtedly true, and it is well known that Lincoln cannot support a first class attraction for several nights in succession. At least, it never has done so. If the day ever comes when it can, no one will be more in favor of securing the best companies on the road than Mr. Lansing.

          

Adolph Hepner , the editor of the St. Louis Tageblatt , has written a curtain raiser. The title of the production is "Good Night, Schatz!" Schatz, it seems, being one of the numerous German words for sweetheart. Mr. Hepner is evidently just as German as his name implies, for all through the play we find such idioms as "Now, you are about to become foolish," and "You may each appropriate for yourselves a flower from this bouquet," and "That proof of your love I now accept." It is strange that Germans who have lived in America for years can never remember to harness the verb to the first of a sentence. Mr. Hepner dedicates his play to "loving youth" and informs the public that it deals with "dignified humor, within the realm of kisses, interchanges with short discussions of idealistic topics, both culminating in the glory and conquest of true love."

"Within the realm of kisses" it surely is; indeed by actual count there are some forty-odd indicated in the course of the play. With the exception of the caresses the play is entirely without action and takes forty seven pages to show how two very sentimental St. Louis German sweethearts tell each other good night.

          

Anton Rubenstein , the last of the great tone poets of the last generation, has gone to his long sleep leaving the world such a legacy as is seldom inherited from one man. This is the only kind of wealth that the world ever inherits, the wealth that God gives it through the medium of genius. It was over half a century ago that Moscheles wrote of Rubenstein, "A Rival of Thalberg, a Russian boy whose fingers are as light as feathers and yet as strong as a man's." The first part of his career was a struggle and it was to the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia that he owed his first recognition.

Although of Jewish descent, Rubenstein's work is typically Russian. His compositions show all the amazing fecundity and the unfortunate disregard of perfect finish that characterizes all the Russian novelists, with the exception of Tourgeniff . He was too prolific to be finished. When he had wearied of one theme he left it and took up another, seldom carrying any of them to perfect development. His tastes led him to religious subjects, and too often, as in the "Tower of Babel," and "Moses," his subject was too lofty, too vague and undefined to admit of perfect treatment. Of the eight parts of the opera "Moses" the plague scene is the only one which has been generally admired or understood, but it contains some of the most impassioned oriental music ever written. The composer often wasted his best ideas by leaving them half developed. He lacked the discipline and patience that enables a man to labor over one theme until he has exhausted all its possibilities. He had too many ideas to be constant to one; the very richness of his imagination was perhaps his worst fault. His rank in composition is not yet fixed, but it is not unlikely that the fiery and exalted though often careless work of Rubenstein will outlive that of some of the more finished and systematic artists of his time.

          

Instances of Rubenstein's good nature are numerous enough, but one of the them which happened rather near at home is worth telling. A few years ago there lived in the southern part of the state an old Frenchwoman, who had been buried in the Nebraska prairies so long that she had forgotten entirely what went on in the world. She was poor and had nothing but the rent of a little house for her income, and her music and piano and a few souvenirs of better days in France. She was passionately fond of music; her piano was her only living relative. It had outlived her husband and children and fortune. She played all the time, played well, but in the stiff, formal way of bygone generations. When she was hungry she played, and when she needed a new bonnet and could not get it she played, and during the greater part of the winter the piano even took the place of her empty little stove. The only money she ever spent was for music. At last she got a composition of Liszt's in which the fingering was too difficult for her. In her despair she consulted the mayor and the clergy and the city officials, but Liszt was a little beyond them. She sought advice from lawyers and merchants as though she were in some great distress. Finally she made up her mind what to do. Liszt himself was dead, but she would send the music to Rubenstein. No one less that Rubenstein would do. She had heard him when he was a boy during his first concert in Paris and afterwards in Russia. Yes, she had sufficient confidence in Rubenstein to trust him in the great matter. She borrowed pen and ink and elaborate stationary from he neighbor and she wrote him a letter in the elaborate enphuistic French of the second empire, beginning: "Master: I am amazed at myself that I should dare to ask this favor, I. But above my piano I see your great face smiling, and I believe in your goodness of heart." She told him of her sleepless nights, her agony and despair over that fingering in language truly pathetic. Much to the amusement of her less enthusiastic neighbor, she insisted upon directing the letter and music to, "Anton Gregor Rubenstein, Le Grand Maitre , St. Petersbourgh, Russie." The town went down in a delegation to see that letter off. About a month afterward the music came back from " Petersbourgh with the fingering carefully indicated in ink and Rubenstein's name in one corner. Instead of playing it, the old lady had it framed and at once had a will drawn bequeathing it to the Catholic church.

          

Now that Rubenstein is dead and all the world is doing him honor in some way or another, the American elocutionists ought to do their part by forever banishing from their "selections" that touching monologue entitled "How Ruby Played." There is a certain respect that is due the dead.

          

There is a good story going the rounds apropos of No. 13 Jane companies and the idea that anything goes in the west. Mr. Al Bixby , who owns the play, "Shaft No. 2," telegraphed to a little town called St. Cloud to know if they could give him time on a certain date. The manager, who apparently had more taste than knowledge in theatrical matters, telegraphed back, "We don't want your 'Shaft company No. 2.' We have had several of Mr. Frohman's No. 2 companies and they are enough for us. If you can send us 'Shaft No. 1' we'll book you." By next season Malcom will refuse to book Frohman.

          

The Lansing people inform us that the Tavery opera company is really coming to Lincoln. If so the prospect really makes it worth while to live through the cold weather. The company is one of the strongest grand opera organizations that have been on the road for a good many years.

          

Mme. Tavary's repertoire comprises "Carmen," "The Magic Flute," "Norma," "Gustav III," "Don Juan," "Faust," "The Flying Dutchman," "Martha," "Mignon," "Il Trovatore," "Rigoletto," "La Traviata," "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Il Pagliacci."

The management of the Lansing desires to select an opera that will be satisfactory to the public. Patrons of the house are invited to write to the manager immediately, expressing a preference. The opera receiving the most votes will be selected.



Notes


RETURN TO TOP