14. Plays and Operas Too
AND certain actors and singers, had a good deal to do with the business. All through these years, off and on, I frequented the old Park, the Bowery, Broadway and Chatham-square theatres, and the Italian operas at Chambers-street, Astor-place or the Battery—many seasons was on the free list, writing for papers even as quite a youth. The old Park theatre—what names, reminiscences, the words bring back! Placide, Clarke, Mrs. Vernon, Fisher, Clara F., Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Seguin, Ellen Tree, Hackett, the younger Kean, Macready, Mrs. Richardson, Rice—singers, tragedians, comedians. What perfect acting! Henry Placide in “Napoleon’s Old Guard” or “Grandfather Whitehead,”—or “the Provoked Husband” of Cibber, with Fanny Kemble as Lady Townley—or Sheridan Knowles in his own “Virginius”—or inimitable Power in “Born to Good Luck.” These, and many more, the years of youth and onward. Fanny Kemble—name to conjure up great mimic scenes withal—perhaps the greatest. I remember well her rendering of Bianca in “Fazio,” and Marianna in “the Wife.” Nothing finer did ever stage exhibit—the veterans of all nations said so, and my boyish heart and head felt it in every minute cell. The lady was just matured, strong, better than merely beautiful, born from the footlights, had had three years’ practice in London and through the British towns, and then she came to give America that young maturity and roseate power in all their noon, or rather forenoon, flush. It was my good luck to see her nearly every night she play’d at the old Park—certainly in all her principal characters.
I heard, these years, well render’d, all the Italian and other operas in vogue, “Sonnambula,” “the Puritans,” “Der Freischutz,” “Huguenots,” “Fille d’Regiment,” “Faust,” “Etoile du Nord,” “Poliuto,” and others. Verdi’s “Ernani,” “Rigoletto,” and “Trovatore,” with Donnizetti’s “Lucia” or “Favorita” or “Lucrezia,” and Auber’s “Massaniello,” or Rossini’s “William Tell” and “Gazza Ladra,” were among my special enjoyments. I heard Alboni every time she sang in New York and vicinity—also Grisi, the tenor Mario, and the baritone Badiali, the finest in the world.
This musical passion follow’d my theatrical one. As boy or young man I had seen, (reading them carefully the day beforehand,) quite all Shakspere’s acting dramas, play’d wonderfully well. Even yet I cannot conceive anything finer than old Booth in “Richard Third,” or “Lear,” (I don’t know which was best,) or Iago, (or Pescara, or Sir Giles Overreach, to go outside of Shakspere)—or Tom Hamblin in “Macbeth”—or old Clarke, either as the ghost in “Hamlet,” or as Prospero in “the Tempest,” with Mrs. Austin as Ariel, and Peter Richings as Caliban. Then other dramas, and fine players in them, Forrest as Metamora or Damon or Brutus—John R. Scott as Tom Cringle or Rolla—or Charlotte Cushman’s Lady Gay Spanker in “London Assurance.” Then of some years later, at Castle Garden, Battery, I yet recall the splendid seasons of the Havana musical troupe under Maretzek—the fine band, the cool sea-breezes, the unsurpass’d vocalism—Steffanone, Bosio, Truffi, Marini in “Marino Faliero,” “Don Pasquale,” or “Favorita.” No better playing or singing ever in New York. It was here too I afterward heard Jenny Lind. (The Battery—its past associations—what tales those old trees and walks and sea-walls could tell!)