Last night Lincoln was favored with the best comic opera of this or of many seasons. Mr. De Wolf Hopper and his company played "Panjandrum" to a packed and crowded house at the Lansing last night. To say that there were four curtain calls at the end of the first act and six recalls in the middle of the third shows the feelings of the audience. The feelings of the critic are somewhat hard to control and one is sorely tempted to do what the audience did do, give way completely to admiration. "Panjandrum" is a better comic opera than "The Fencing Master" because it is funny. An opera should be comic or romantic, it should not just hang upon the ragged edge of either. The music is lively and unobtrusive and the libretto is as inane as possible. The opera is absolutely without plot, characterizations and situations, but the attitudes are charming, particularly the one in the barrel the one on the barrel, the ones at the palace, in fact, all those in which Miss Fox and Mr. Hopper were together.
Mr. Hopper is not a great singer, but he is a genuine comedian and he has the good sense not to try to play tragedy because nature made him for comedy. He has the comic instinct and immense proportions and a few little tricks of the voice that of themselves would make a great comedian. When big men are funny they are excruciatingly funny, much more so than little men, there is so much more of him to be funny. Every portion of Mr. Hopper's very extensive frame can twist itself into fun, pure and simple. Above all he has eyes that can do anything.
Miss Della Fox is as indescribable as she is audacious and as delicious as she is audacious. She is little, very little beside Mr. Hopper's awful bigness, and captivating, and in the fullest sense of the word, she is chic. She is undoubtedly the most popular woman on the stage just now. When the "Dramatic News" was rash enough to publish her picture they sold out all their issue and by the constant demand of the public were forced to reprint the picture in the next issue. Many actresses have in them all the elements of success, but Della Fox has success, which is quite a different thing. She has the dash and natural flippancy of a comedienne. She carries mirth in her face and has laughter hidden away in her eyes. She has only to move her foot and the house feels happy, she has only to wink her eye and it laughs, she has only to faint on a barrel and hundreds of people are carried away by convulsions of laughter. She has a sort of personal magnetism of mirth about her. There is nothing really pretty in her face, yet she was bewitching as a blonde, fascinating as a brunette, and because of her vivacity altogether lovely.
The chorus was strong and all the members of the company sang well, with perhaps the exception of Miss Grace Golden , who sang several tremulous solos on the subject of love. The scenery was beautiful and the costumes gorgeous. From Carmen down operas with the scene in Spain are blessed with fine opportunities for rich costumes, and Borneo is still more alluring. Miss Ida Fuller's dancing was the most beautiful ever done on the Lansing stage. The effects, cloud drapery and color were dazzling and superb. As for the company, compared with Marie Tempest's company they are so far superior that Miss Post and Mr. Steger could not find them with a telescope. Even the chorus girls could sing and were pretty. When a comic opera furnishes pretty chorus girls it has reached the highest degree of civilization and christian charity that a comic opera can attain.
DeWolf Hopper: William DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935) made his stage debut in 1878. At 6 feet 2 inches he was considered too tall for serious acting roles, and his big bass singing voice drew him to musical theater; he starred in The Black Hussar in 1885, and had his first pairing with Della Fox in Castles in the Air in 1890, followed by Wang in 1891 and Panjandrum in 1893; he starred in many more Broadway shows. One of his most popular acts was his recitation of Thayer's poem, "Casey at the Bat," which he helped to make popular; he recited it at curtain calls, recorded it in 1906, and performed it in a silent movie in 1916, and on the radio.
Hopper married six times, most notably to actress Elda Furry, best known as the feared gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. His son by her, William DeWolf Hopper, Jr., played Paul Drake on the 1950s Perry Mason televion series.
Panjandrum: Panjandrum (1893), with music by Woolson Morse, libretto by Cheever Goodwin, was the third production starring the combination of the petite Della Fox and the very tall DeWolf Hopper.
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.
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."
Della Fox: Della May Fox (1870-1913) was born in St. Louis, and played in children's theatrical productions, and as a child performer in a James O'Neill play. She starred as the child heroine in a touring production of Editha's Burglar, based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett story, then her soprano voice enabled her to join the Bennett and Moulton Opera Company. Her voice and small size made her the choice for the role of Blanche, opposite the tall, bass-voiced DeWolf Hopper, in Castles in the Air (1890), and she became one of the biggest stars on Broadway, with Wang (1891), Panjandrum (1893), The Little Trooper (1894), and The Wedding Day (1897) with Lillian Russell. She was famous for 'boy' roles and later as "the girl with the curl"-a spit-curl in the middle of her forehead. A serious illness about this time (rumors of alcohol and drug abuse also circulated) took her from the stage for a time before she returned in vaudeville in 1900; that year she married Jacob Levy, a diamond broker, and retired for a time. She returned to the stage in 1912 and gave her last performance in April 1913, two months before her death in June 1913.
awful: Cather uses the word in its older sense, as something inspiring awe by its grandeur or power.
the Dramatic News: The New York Dramatic News was published from 1875 to 1919.
Grace Golden: Soprano Grace Golden (1867-1903) was born in Indiana, of a theatrical family. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1883, at the age of sixteen. In 1889 she became a regular at the Casino Theatre in New York, subsequently appearing in light opera with Lillian Russell, Marie Tempest, and in De Wolf Hopper's company. She sang the lead in the first New York production of Cavalleria Rusticana in 1891. She joined the Castle Square Opera Company in 1897, where she sang many lead roles, creating that of Esmeralda in Goring Thomas's opera of that name. She died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five.
"Carmen": The opera by George Bizet (1838-1875) was first produced in Paris in 1875; the libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, was based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was unsuccessful at first, but gradually gained popularity. The plot concerns the fiery Spanish gypsy cigarette girl, Carmen, who fascinates the young soldier, Don José, though he is engaged to a young country girl. When Carmen wounds one of her fellow-workers, he helps her escape from the law, and is imprisoned himself. Carmen and the gypsies help him escape to the mountains, but Carmen begins to tire of him and turn to the toreador Escamillo. When she finally rejects Don José, he kills her.
Miss Ida Fuller's: Ida Fuller was a well-known skirt (or butterfly) dancer, like the more famous Loie Fuller; she advertised herself as Loie Fuller's sister and pupil. The announcement preceding her appearance in Lincoln said she came "direct from the Follies Dramatique Theatre, Paris" (April 5, 1894). According to a (perhaps satirical) interview published in 1893, she had once been with Buffalo Bill's company, surviving shipwreck on the Mississippi River and a hotel fire in New Orleans.Her collection of theatrical memorabilia is in the Mansion Museum, Forest City, Iowa.
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.
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)
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).