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.
As You Like It: Cather's column title is taken from that of Shakespeare's play, As You Like It (1600).
Lincoln: Lincoln, Nebraska, was founded in 1867 as the capital of the new state of Nebraska, displacing the territorial capital of Omaha, about fifty miles northeast. As the capital and county seat, home of the state university and other colleges and educational institutions, as well as a state penitentiary and insane asylum, the city grew rapidly, especially in the 1880s. It was the second largest city in the state, though population declined in the hard economic climate of the 1890s, to about 30,000 people; it rebounded later in the decade.
Cather lived in Lincoln from 1890 to 1895, and visited it often thereafter until the early 1930s.
"Her Handerkerchief": "Her Handkerchief" is a story by W. Morton Smith (d. 1897), editor of the Lincoln Courier. The amusing surprise ending anticipates those in the stories of O. Henry, which became immensely popular after the turn of the century.
Hamlin Garland: American writer Hamlin Garland (1860-1940) was born in Wisconsin and lived on farms in several Midwestern states, most importantly Iowa, where some of his best known works are set. After graduating from college, he tried homesteading in South Dakota before moving to Boston to write in 1884. His Main Travelled Roads (1891) collected short stories of Midwestern life and became his first success. It was followed quickly by many books, including A Little Norsk (1892), Prairie Folks (1893), Prairie Songs (1893), and Rose of Dutcher's Coolley (1895). Garland moved to Chicago in 1893, where he began calling for a new school of realistic American fiction in lectures and essays, collected in Crumbling Idols (1894). He married Zulime Taft, sister of sculptor Lorado Taft, in 1899. His A Son of the Middle Border (1917) is one of the best-known of several volumes of memoirs.
Hamlin Garland's western school of literature: American writer Hamlin Garland (1860-1940) called for a realistic literature of the American west and middle-west, shifting the focus of regional fiction from New England and the South.
Jove: In Roman mythology, Jove, or Jupiter, was the chief god; as the father of Mars and the grandfather of the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, he was the patron of the Roman state.
Lucifer: Lucifer, Latin for "light-bearer," a term for the morning star. The word was used to translate a passage in Isaiah 14:12 predicting the fall of Babylon, becoming associated with an account of the revolt of angels elsewhere. Lucifer became the name of the chief of these angels, and so associated with Satan (the enemy) and the devil.
the 400: The Four Hundred was the name for the elite of New York society in the late nineteenth century, supposedly after the number of people worthy to fit in Mrs. William B. Astor's ballroom. The term is said to have been coined by New York social arbiter Ward McAllister (1827-1895).
Johann Stauss: Johann Strauss, the younger (1825-1899), known as the waltz king, formed his own orchestra, composing and conducting throughout Vienna first, and then touring through Europe. He wrote over 550 pieces, including waltzes. The amount of music he composed and his tours made him world-famous. Some of his most famous waltzes are "The Blue Danube (1867), "Tales from the Vienna Woods" (1868), and the "Kaiser-Walzer" (1889).
Yvette Guilbert: French singer Yvette Guilbert is perhaps best known now for the 1890s drawings of her by Henry Toulouse-Lautrec in her trademark long black gloves.
"the conversations of love": The source of this apparent quotation from actress Yvette Guilbert has not been found.
mouchoir: French, handkerchief.
"use no other": Many wide-spread advertisements advised customers to "use no other" product.
Pauline Hall: Singer, dancer, and actress Pauline Hall (1860-1919) was born Pauline Schmidgall in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she made her stage debut in 1876 as a ballet dancer. She played in Mary Anderson's company for a time before joining Edward Rice's company. She created the role of Erminie in the 800-performance run at the Casino Theatre in New York in 1885; later (c. 1892) she organized her own company. She married and divorced both Edward White and George B. McClellan, jr.
Cather refers to a picture of Pauline Hall in tights in book II, ch. 11 in The Song of the Lark, and the Moonstone Orchestra plays selections from Erminie (book I, ch. 8) at a town concert.
Images at Google Books and University of Washington Digital Library.
Fay Templeton: Fay Templeton (1865-1939) was born into her parents' troupe, the John Templeton Opera Company; her first speaking part was at the age of five. Before she was twenty she was touring the country with her own company, the Fay Templeton Comic Opera Company. Her first big success in New York was in Rice and Braham's burlesque, Evangeline in 1885, and in London with Monte Cristo, Junior in 1886. She was known for her beauty, her singing, and her acting, especially her talents as a comedienne. In 1898 she became associated with Weber and Fields' in their burlesques, appearing with Lillian Russell. She is perhaps best remembered now for singing "Mary's a Grand Old Name" in George M. Cohan's Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, an episode dramatized in the movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) based on Cohan's life, and in the musical George M. She was also the subject of a1906 short film, Fay Templeton. Her last role was as the title character in Jerome Kern's Broadway musical Roberta (1933).In chapter 1 of The Song of the Lark, Dr. Archie wishes he'd gone to Denver to hear Fay Templeton sing "See-Saw."
Lillian Russell: Lillian Russell, born Helen Louise Leonard (1861-1922) in Clinton, IA, was educated in Chicago, and then in New York, where her mother took her to study in hopes of an opera career. Her first appearance on the New York stage was in the chorus of a production of Pinafore in 1879; Tony Pastor, owner of one of the best variety theaters in New York, gave her the new name, Lillian Russell, and billed her as "The English Ballad Singer." Her blonde beauty, lovely singing voice, and fashionable figure quickly made her a star, one of the highest paid in America. She starred at the Casino Theatre from 1888 to 1891, when she headed her own company at the Garden Theatre. In 1899 she joined the Weber and Fields company, staying with them until 1904. Her voice had suffered over the years, so she toured in comedy from 1906-1908.
Russell was famous for the number of her husbands and for her long liason with "Diamond Jim" Brady. Her first husband was the Pinafore company's orchestra leader, Harry Graham. Her second husband, composer Edward Solomon, was arrested for bigamy in 1886, after two years of marriage. She married her third husband, John Chatterton, known as Giovanni Perugini, in 1894; they were divorced in 1898. Russell retired from the stage after marrying her fourth husband, Alexander Moore, owner of the Pittsburgh Leader. She wrote columns and articles on love and beauty for women, and advocated woman suffrage.
Lillian Russell epitomized the stage beauty of the 1890s. A movie was made of her life in 1940, starring Alice Faye, with Henry Fonda as her fourth husband. Her character also appears in various other movies about the theatrical life of the time.
Image available at New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
Rev. D. Jenkins: The Rev. Dr. Hermon D. Jenkins (1840-c.1907) was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Sioux City from 1889 to 1894-95, when Pauline Hall's light opera company visited the town. According to the New York Times (6 January 1895, p. 1), he had published a letter associating Hall with the notorious "Black Crook" production; after Hall's husband threatened to file civil and criminal charges, Jenkins gave him a letter of retraction. According to a later report, Jenkins denied having written a letter attacking any particular member of the theatrical profession and denied ever having made an apology or retraction (New York Times, 16 January 1895, p. 9). Jenkins received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Beloit College in 1881; he served pastorates in Joliet and Freeport, Ill., before coming to Sioux City, and went on to serve in Kansas City (1895-1900) and Chicago (1901-1907).
Sioux City: Sioux City, in northwest Iowa, lies along the Missouri River, about ninety miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. The town was platted in 1854, and named for the Sioux River, which flows into the Missouri nearby; it soon became an important commercial center—its stockyards were important into the latter half of the twentieth century. Two adjacent towns are South Sioux City, Nebraska, and North Sioux City, South Dakota.
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.
French methods: French methods of acting probably included versions of the Delsarte system, which specified certain poses, gestures, and facial expressions to signify a wide range of emotions.
Charles Bradshaw: Actor Charles H. Bradshaw toured with Lotta in the early 1880s, and played with Fanny Rice c. 1890-91. He played in Frohman’s company for many years. After the failure of two plays he appeared in in 1903 he went into vaudeville, returning to the legitimate stage in 1910 for a revival of Sherlock Holmes with William Gillette in 1910.
Charles Bradshaw appeared in an early short film, of a scene from Old Kentucky (1900).
Image at University of Louisville Digital Library.
Pauline Markham: British actress Pauline Markham (1847-1919) came to the U.S. as one of the most beautiful members of Lydia Thompson's "British Blondes" troupe, specializing in burlesques and extravaganzas; she played Stalacta in the notorious Black Crook and became famous for her scanty costumes and her love life as much as for her beauty. She starred in a series of extravaganzas in New York in the late 1860s, such as Sinbad the Sailor (1869), Ixion (1872), and Chow Chow (1872). She formed her own company about 1874, managed by her husband, Col. McMahon, and toured the U.S., performing operettas such as Pinafore and Offenbach's The Rose of Auvergne. In the 1880s she toured in emotional dramas such as The Two Orphans in cheap theaters. Her company had to disband in Galveston for lack of money in 1885. She continued to perform until 1895 or 1896 with her second husband, Randolph Murray, and died in poverty in New York more than twenty years later.
Many images available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery and also as Stalacta in The Black Crook at the Furness Image Collection.
Hans Holbein: German painter Hans Holbein the Elder (1460-1524) painted religious works, as well as working in woodcuts. His son, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), is more famous as a portraitist, many of them at the court of Henry VIII of England. Holbein also illustrated books, such as the satires of Erasmus, with woodcuts. One of his most famous works is the woodcut series, The Dance of Death (1538).
Aphrodite: Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty, the counterpart of the Roman Venus. In Hesiod's account of the origins of the gods, the Theogony, Cronus cut off Uranus's testicles and threw them into the sea. White foam grew from them, forming into a girl, Aphrodite, who emerged full grown from the sea near the island of Cyprus. Cythera also claims to be her birthplace; both places had temples devoted to her worship.
Aphrodite rising from the waves: Botticelli's painting, The Birth of Venus (c. 1483) shows Venus standing on a shell as she is borne in to shore by the waves. The painting may have been part of a series Botticelli did based on descriptions of Greek paintings by the Roman historian Lucian.
Emma Calve: Singer Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet (1858-1942), was born in France and brought up in Spain. She studied under influential voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi, and made her debut in Brussels in 1882. She sang in Paris before making her London debut in 1892, where she sang Carmen; she became the greatest Carmen of her time. Calvé was also famous in the role of Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana (1890). She retired in 1925 to teach. Her autobiography is I Have Sung Under Every Sky (1937).
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.
the chappies: The 'chappies' is a slangy diminutive for the chaps, fatuous upper-class young men.
Harvard University: Harvard University, the oldest such institution in the United States, was founded in 1636 by a charter from the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it was named for a young minister, John Harvard, who left it his library and half his estate in 1638. Although many of its early graduates became ministers, it was not affiliated with any church and increasingly became an independent institution of learning with the curriculum broadened in the eighteenth century. Under President Charles Eliot Norton, who served from 1869 to 1909, the college became a modern university, with professional and graduate schools, and an "Annex" for women (1879) that became Radcliffe College in 1894.
Miss Russell...opened in New York a few weeks ago: Lilian Russell opened in New York in The Queen of the Brilliants on November 7, 1894.
"The Queen of the Brilliants": The Queen of the Brilliants was an operetta adapted from the German, with music by Edward Jacobowsky. Lillian Russell starred in the London production, and also in the New York production in November 1894. The plot concerns the wayward countess Betta, who runs away from a nunnery to join a variety troupe known as "The Brilliants." She is so successful that she becomes known as their queen. She proves the worth of her lover, Florian.
support: The cast of The Queen of the Brilliants, in addition to Lillian Russell, included Herbert Wilkes as Florian, Annie Meyers, Digby Bell, and Laura Joyce Bell.
Solomon: Composer Edward "Teddy" Solomon (1855-1895) was born in London. In 1873 he married Jane Isaacs (Lily Grey), with whom he had a child, and then singer Lillian Russell in 1884; two years later he was arrested for bigamy and Grey was granted a divorce in January 1887. Although he had little formal musical training, he wrote the scores for such comic operas as Billee Taylor (1880), Lord Bateman (1882), The Vicar of Bray (1882) with Sydney Grundy, Virginia and Paul (1883), Pickwick (1889), The Red Hussari (1889), The Nautch Girl (1891), and On the March (1896); many of these were staged by the D'Oyly Carte company, of which he became the conductor. He died of typhoid fever in London.
Signor Perugini: American tenor John Haley Augustin Chatterton (1855-1914) was born in Michigan. He changed his name and persona to that of Don Giovanni Perugini in the 1880s, after having studied in Europe. After singing opposite Adelina Patti at the Metropolitan Opera, he went to Europe, where he sang with success. He became Lillian Russell's leading man in the comic opera, Princess Nicotine (1893). Russell married him on January 21, 1894; they separated after six months, divorcing in 1898.
Lily Langtry: Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on the Isle of Jersey, the daughter of a clergyman; she was nicknamed "Lillie" because of her fair complexion. In 1873 she married sportsman Edward Langtry, and the couple moved to London in 1876. A year or so later, she met the painter John Millais, who had lived in Jersey; he painted her in "The Jersey Lily" and she quickly became a famous beauty and a favorite in London society. She had affairs with royalty, including Edward, Prince of Wales, and his cousin Prince Louis of Battenberg, by whom she had a daughter. However, there was no money to support life in such circles; the Langtrys went bankrupt. Friends such as Oscar Wilde suggested she go on the stage; she worked hard at her acting, and was very successful: despite interests in racing horses and gambling (she was the first woman to break the bank at Monte Carlo), she invested her money wisely. She was acclaimed in America on her first tour in 1882, and she returned often, becoming an American citizen, which enabled her to divorce Langtry in 1887. Returning to England to live, she married Hugo de Bathe in 1898, becoming Lady de Bathe in 1907. She separated from her husband and lived her last years in Monaco with her companion, Mathilda Peat.
In Cather's The Song of the Lark (1915), Ray Kennedy removes a calendar that pairs Lily Langtry and Edward, Prince of Wales, by printing their pictures together before Thea and her mother can see it. The novel's British publisher, John Murray, asked that the passage be removed. The central character of one of Cather's last stories, "The Old Beauty," has many similarities to Langtry.
unwept, unhonored and unsung: In "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805), canto six, Walter Scott wrote, "Breathes there a man with soul so dead / Who never to himself hath said, / This is my own, my native land!" and concluded the verse: The wretch, concentred all in self, Living, shall forfeit fair renown, And, doubly dying, shall go down To the vile dust from whence he sprung, Unwept, unhonored, and unsung."
The heathen do not always rage: In the Bible, Psalm 2:1, the psalmist asks, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?"
congress-water: Congress water is a mineral water from saline mineral springs at Congress, New York; they were thought to have health-giving properties.
a very senseless book: This book has not been identified.
"There is only one thing society loves more than sinning and that is administering justice": The source of this quotation has not been identified; however, the somewhat paradoxical tone suggests parodies or imitators of Oscar Wilde, such as Robert Hichens' novel, The Green Carnation (1894), which Cather discussed in her 4 November 1894 column.
Mr. Lansing: Lincoln real estate man James F. Lansing (1842-) was born in rural New York and worked in New York City as a youth. He moved to Albany, NY, about 1870, and married Emma Oliver of Cohoes, NY, in 1872. The couple came to Lincoln a few months later, where Lansing invested in real estate, built commercial and residential properties, and made loans. In 1891 he and his brother-in-law, Henry Oliver, built the Lansing Theatre in Lincoln. A quarrel between the partners led to Lansing divesting himself of the property, whereupon Oliver named the theater after himself. Lansing, his wife, and three children lived at 1739 K Street in Lincoln.
Omaha: The largest city in Nebraska, Omaha is about fifty miles east of Lincoln, on the western bank of the Missouri River. There was always some jealousy between the two cities: Omaha felt it ought to have been the capital.
Adolph Hepner: German-born Socialist and journalist Adolph Hepner was active in the German labor movement and in the struggles for German unity, against the dominance of Bismarck and Prussia. He was editor of the St. Louis Tageblatt in the 1890s, advocating social reforms in the U.S., and protesting U.S. entry into World War I.
St. Louis Tageblatt: The German-language labor daily, the St. Louis Tageblatt ("daily newspaper") was founded about 1888; it was edited by Adolph Hepner in the 1890s.
curtain raiser: A curtain raiser, in late nineteenth-century theatrical slang, was a short, usually humorous play put on before the main show of the evening begins.
"Good Night, Schatz": A German-dialect sketch by Adolph Hepner (1894) is about two sweethearts saying good-night.
Rubenstein: Russian virtuoso pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) was born into a large Jewish family which converted en masse to the Russian Orthodox church, a move which removed many of the restrictions placed on Jews in Czarist Russia. His mother was his first piano teacher, and he was early recognized as a prodigy, giving his first public performance in Moscow when he was nine. He was taken to Paris, where he played for Chopin and Liszt, then toured Europe and western Russia. He studied composition in Germany, where Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer encouraged his talents. However, in his late teens he was reduced to poverty, giving piano lessons while he continued to compose. He returned to Russia in 1848, establishing himself in the musical life of St. Petersburg before setting out on a concert tour in 1854 that established him as a pianist, the rival of Liszt as a virtuoso. With the aid of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, he established the first music school in Russia, the St. Petersburg Conservatory, in 1862, serving as its director. The Steinway piano company sponsored an American tour in 1872-73, wherein he played 215 concerts in 239 days—an experience he vowed not to repeat; the money, however, gave him financial security.
Moscheles: Composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) was born in Prague; he studied at the conservatory there, and then in Vienna where he became a leading virtuoso while still in his early twenties. He met Beethoven while in Vienna, and composed his most popular work, the Alexander variations, op.32, for piano and orchestra. After a concert tour of Europe, he settled in London, but remained closely in touch with music and musicians in Europe: he gave lessons to the young Felix Mendelssohn and was instrumental in bringing him to England. Later Mendelssohn invited him to the Leipzig Conservatory which he had founded in 1843; Moscheles took over as director on Mendelssohn's death in 1847.
Grand Duchess Helena of Russia: The Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (1807-1873) was born Princess Friederike Charlotte Marie of Wurttemburg. She lived in Paris as a child, where she acquired an interest in the arts and social reforms. She was engaged to the Grand Duke Mikhail, youngest son of Czar Paul I when she was fifteen; they were married in St. Petersburg in 1824, after she was received into the Russian Orthodox church and given the name Elena Pavlovna. She was close to her brother-in-law, Czar Alexander I, and his wife, and encouraged reforms in the serf system. After her husband died in 1849 she became a patron of artistic and charitable causes, including the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Tourgeniff: Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) was born into a landed family in Russia. He studied at the universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Berlin, returning to Russia anxious to bring his country into line with the ideas of Western European Enlightenment. He spent most of his life in France and Germany, being particularly influenced by Flaubert; he also had a life-long relationship with singer Pauline Garcia Viardot. His relationships with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were sometimes damaged by political differences, Tolstoy once even challenging Turgenev to a duel. Turgenev's collection, A Sportsman's Sketches (1852), was the first to attract attention; it was followed by several short novels, and then with his masterpiece, Fathers and Sons (1862). His short stories are also admired for their craft and perception.
"Tower of Babel": The sacred opera The Tower of Babel (1870) by Anton Rubenstein had a German libretto by Julius Rosenberg, based on the story in Genesis 2. In it, King Nimrod looks forward to the completion of his tower to heaven, which will enable him to see God face to face. Abraham warns him of his sin, but Nimrod orders him imprisoned. Then angels descend to destroy the tower (reflected in the music of the orchestra) and confuse the language of the people; the chorus separates into three groups departing for other parts of the earth as Nimrod repents.
"Moses": Moses, an oratorio or sacred opera by Anton Rubinstein, was composed in 1889.
Rubinstein's Moses had its U.S. premiere at the Cincinnati May Festival, conducted by Theodore Thomas, in May 1894.
Liszt: Composer and pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was born in Hungary, of parents of German and Austrian descent. He began to play the piano at the age of six and soon showed himself to be a prodigy, making his first public performance at the age of nine. He studied under Beethoven's pupil, Carl Czerny, in Vienna; legend says that when Liszt played for Beethoven himself in 1823, the composer congratulated him and kissed him on the forehead. Liszt had a brilliant career as a virtuoso pianist, but retired from performing in 1847 to devote himself to teaching and composing. As both teacher and composer, he was one of the major influences on nineteenth century music.
Liszt's younger daughter, Cosima (1837-1930) married composer Richard Wagner.
his first concert in Paris: Anton Rubinstein played his first concert in Paris in December 1840, when he was a boy of eleven. Chopin and Liszt were in the audience and both took an interest in the young pianist.
Le Grand Maitre: French, the great master.
monologue entitled "How Ruby Played": George W. Bagby's dialect reading, "How 'Ruby' Played," described the effect of Anton Rubinstein's playing on a rustic man, Jud Brownin. It climaxed:
The house trembled, the lights danced, the walls shuk, the floor come up, the ceilin' come down, the sky split, the ground rockt, —heavens and earth, the creation, sweet potatoes, Moses, ninepences, glory, ten-penny nails, Sampson in a 'simmon tree, Tump, Tompson in a tumbler cart, roodle-oodle-oodle-oodle—ruddle-uddle-uddle-uddle, raddle-addle-addle-addle, riddle-iddle-iddle-iddle—reeddle-eedle-eedle-eedle—p-r-r-r-rlank! Bang! ! ! lang! ! ! perlang! p-r-r-r-r-r ! ! Bang! !
Full text found on pages 47 through 51 at Google Books.
Cather's wish that the monologue would be dropped would not be fulfilled. Time magazine reported that the young Robert Wagner, Jr. (1910-1991), as a boy in the 1920s, had earned medals in elocution for his renditions of "Spartacus to the Gladiators" and "How Rudy Played" (1 October 1956).
Frohman's company No. 13: The Frohman brothers, in addition to their stock companies in New York, sent out many touring companies, with casts appropriate to the size of the cities in which they would play. Gustave Frohman's no. 13 company had several actors just at the beginning of their careers; a few, such as Thomas Reynolds and Brandon Tynan, would become successful, if not long-remembered, actors.
Mr. Al Bixby: WorldCat does not list an author of this name, but it identifies the author of Shaft No. 2 as Frank L. Bixby, who wrote several other plays, including In the Wilds of Tennessee (1898), The Little Boss, a comedy drama in four acts (1900), Two Heads and a Hole (1902), A Child of the Street (1902), Tom's Sweetheart (n.d.), No Place Like Home, a rustic drama in four acts (1902), and In the Shadow of the Church, a romantic drama in five acts (1902). Al Bixby may have been a relative and manager or agent for Frank L. Bixby.
"Shaft No. 2": WorldCat notes that the Library of Congress holds the manuscript of the play, Shaft No. 2, A sensational drama in five acts (1894) by Frank L. Bixby. It is likely that Shaft No. 2 was not formally published, but distributed (if it reached production at all) by regional firms that supplied plays to small traveling companies.
Saint Cloud: Possibly St. Cloud, a town in central Minnesota founded in 1856, and known for its granite quarries.
Mr. Frohman: Gustave, Daniel, and Charles Frohman were all theatrical impresarios who sent companies out on tour.
Malcolm: Malcolm is a village in Lancaster County, Nebraska, slightly northwest of Lincoln.
Tavary Opera company: The Marie Tavary Grand English Opera Company toured for several years beginning in 1894, managed by Charles H Pratt. Marie Tavary was the leading soprano, with Thea Dorre, mezzo-soprano; Nina Bertini Humphreys, soprano; Helen von Doenhoff, contralto; Albert L. Guille, Payne Clarke, tenors; William Mertens, baritone; William Hamilton and William Schuster, bassos. All of these singers had been members of Gustav Hinrich's Opera company in Philadelphia. Other members included Emma Mariani, Dora Escott, Sofia Romani, and Karl Clause, William Warren, and J.C. Cheviot. Their repetoire included Cavalleria Rusticana, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Martha, Carmen, Bohemian Girl, I Pagliacci. Emerico Morrealle was the conductor.
The company visited Lincoln in December 1894 and April 1896.
Marie Basta Tavary: German-born soprano Marie Basta Tavary was singing leading roles with the Minnie Hauk Grand Opera Company by 1891. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni on March 4, 1893; she sang with Campanini, Eames, Scalchi, and others. She also sang with Gustav Hinrich's Opera Company in Philadelphia, from which she would draw many members of her own company in 1894. Her company toured the U.S. and parts of Canada for about three years. In October 1899 she appeared for a week at a vaudeville theater in Omaha.
Images available at the State Library of Victoria and also available here
"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.
"The Magic Flute": Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute, K. 620, was first produced in 1791 in Vienna, with Mozart himself conducting. It was immediately popular. The fairy-tale quality of the plot is sometimes considered to be allegorical, and there are many Masonic elements. The Queen of the Night sends the young prince Tamino to free her daughter, Pamina, from the influence of Sarastro, the wise and benevolent priest of Isis. Tamino takes the birdcatcher Papageno, and they are each given a magical instrument, a flute and a chime of bells. They both undergo a series of ordeals and misunderstandings to win their loves.
"Norma": Vincenzo Bellini's two-act opera, Norma (1831), was set in Roman Gaul. Norma, the high priestess of the Druids, has broken her vows of chastity with the Roman Pro-consul, Pollione. She wants to protect him from the war being planned by the Gauls, not realizing that he is in love with Adalgisa, a temple virgin. When Adalgisa is unable to persuade Pollione to return to Norma, the enraged Norma calls for war. When Pollione is captured invading the temple to abduct Adalgisa, Norma offers herself as a sacrifice in his place and Pollione voluntarily joins her on the pyre.
Norma sings one of the most famous soprano arias, "Casta diva," an invocation to the goddess. In My Mortal Enemy (1926), Modjeska asks her opera singer friend to sing this at the Henshawe's New Year's Eve party.
"Gustav III": An opera based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden (1746-1792), with a libretto by Eugene Scribe and music by Danel Auber, Gustav III, was composed in 1833. Verdi attempted the same subject in 1859 and had problems with the censors, who objected to plots showing conspiracies and assassinations. The objection was circumvented by shifting the scene to colonial New England, with the title Un Ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball).
"Don Juan": Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni (1787), with a libretto by Da Ponte, had its premiere in Prague; it is a retelling of the story of the legendary Spanish seducer, Don Juan. Don Juan has deserted Donna Elvira, who still loves him; in a failed attempt at raping Donna Anna, he kills her father; and he fails to seduce the peasant Zerlina. The unrepentant Don invites the statue of Donna Anna's father to dinner with him. The statue accepts and carries him down to hell, still unrepentant.
Faust: Part one of Goethe's verse drama was published in 1808, the second shortly before his death in 1832. In it Goethe presents Faust as a romantic hero, a seeker after knowledge who is ultimately purified and saved from damnation. Goethe's Faust inspired many other 19th century versions, including a cantata by Hector Berlioz (1846) and an opera by Charles Gounod (1859). Later versions tended to focus more on the love story between Faust and Marguerite.
Lawrence Fossler, professor of German at the University of Nebraska, presented a series of lectures, "Goethe and Faust," in the fall of 1891 which Cather, then a freshman, may have attended. In "Old Mrs. Harris," the young Vickie Templeton looks at a German edition of Goethe's Faust and wishes she could read it (Obscure Destinies 90).
"The Flying Dutchman": Wagner's opera, The Flying Dutchman, based on Heine's version of the legend, was first produced at Dresden in 1843. The Dutchman has been condemned to wander the seas until he has found a maiden who can be faithful unto death. Senta agrees to marry him, but when the Dutchman hears a former suitor reproaching her, he decides that she will be unfaithful to him also, and sails away. Senta throws herself off a cliff, the ship sinks, and their two souls rise together for eternity.
"Martha": Friedrich von Flotow's opera, Martha, with a libretto by St. Georges, was first produced in Vienna in 1847. In the English version the scene is set in the early eighteenth century. For a lark, Lady Henrietta and her maid, Nancy, attend a servants' hiring fair in Richmond, and are taken on as servants by the young farmer Plunkett and his adopted brother Lionel. The four fall in love, but "Martha" (Lady Henrietta) and Nancy escape back into their own world. Later the two men recognize their erstwhile servants in the queen's hunting party, and it is revealed that Lionel is actually the son of the Earl of Derby, and the four are united.
"Mignon": Ambroise Thomas's opera, Mignon (1866) with words by Barbier and Carré, is based on a story from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. Mignon, who had been stolen by a band of gypsies when she was a child, is rescued by the young student, Wilhelm Meister. She becomes his page, while he courts the beautiful actress Filina. In the end, Mignon is restored to her father and Wilhelm realizes his love for her.
"Il Trovatore": Verdi's opera, Il Trovatore (1853), with words by Cammarano, quickly became one of the most popular operas of the nineteenth century. After her mother was burned at the stake, the gypsy Azucena stole Manrico, the son of the Count di Luna, in revenge. Manrico, now a wandering troubadour, loves the duchess Leonora, whom the Count di Luna, his brother, also loves. The two fight a duel, in which Manrico is wounded; Leonora, supposing him dead, enters a convent, but Manrico rescues her before she takes her vows. The count arrests Azucena, and Manrico is thrown into the dungeon with her when he attempts to rescue her. Leonora offers to marry the count if he will release Manrico; although he accepts, she takes poison rather than go through with it. The count forces Azucena to witness Manrico's execution, and in final vengeance she tells him that he has murdered his brother; the shock of the news kills him. One of the most popular numbers in the opera is the one in the gypsy camp known as the Anvil chorus, as the gypsies mark the time with their hammers.
"Rigoletto": Verdi's opera, Rigoletto (1851), with words by Piave, was based on a play by Victor Hugo, Le roi s'amuse, although the censors forced changes to the setting and in the titles of the characters. Rigoletto, the Duke of Mantua's jester, also plays the part of the duke's pander. He does not realize that the duke, disguised as a student, has won the love of Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda. When Rigoletto discovers that he has unknowingly helped in abducting Gilda to the duke's rooms, he vows vengeance and hires an assassain, Sparafucile. However, the duke's sister, Magdelena, dissuades Sparafucile: he agrees to kill the first person to enter the room before the duke. Gilda overhears this and rushes into the room in order to save the duke. Sparafucile kills her, puts her body in a sack, and gives the sack to Rigoletto as containing the duke's body. When Rigoletto hears the duke's voice, he opens the sack to find his dying daughter. The duke's aria, "La donna e mobile," is one of the best known in all Verdi's works.
"La Traviata": Verdi's opera, La Traviata (1853), with words by Piave, was based on Dumas's La Dame aux Camélias, with the setting changed from nineteenth century France to the time of Louis XIV, and changes to the names of the characters. It soon became one of the most popular of Verdi's operas. The plot follows that of the play: Violetta and Alfred fall in love at a gay party; in the next act they are living in the country, when Alfred's father comes to persuade Violetta to give up Alfred for the sake of his family. Violetta does so, and at a ball back in Paris, Alfred retaliates by publicly scorning her. In the final scene he has learned the truth and comes to her as she is dying.
In My Ántonia, the theater orchestra plays a waltz from La Traviata during the performance of Camille which Jim and Lena attend in Lincoln.
"Cavalleria Rusticana": Cavalleria Rusticana, a one-act opera by Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) was first produced in Rome in May, 1890. The story of love, betrayal, and a duel among peasants gained tremendous popularity. Blind Tom is probably playing a piano version of the orchestral "Intermezzo," the most famous music in the opera. See the 7 September 1895 Courier for Cather's description of the "Intermezzo."
"Il Pagliacci": Ruggiero Leoncavallo's opera I Pagliacci (1892) had its New York debut June 15, 1894. A group of strolling players comes to an Italian village to put; Canio becomes jealous of his wife, Nedda, and the clown, Tonio. Nedda scorns Tonio, who vows vengeance on them both, but she has a lover in the village, Silvio. Tonio and Canio nearly catch Nedda with Silvio, but he escapes. Canio then sings the famous aria about the actor's life, which requires him to laugh even though his heart is breaking. The action of the play in the second act mimics the situation, and Canio becomes enraged once again, and at last stabs Nedda when she refuses to name her lover, and then stabs Silvio when he rushes to defend her.