Century Opera Weekly
Prepared by Richard Kitson
Online only (2022)
Thirteen issues of the Century Opera Weekly [COW] were published from September 4 to November 27, 1913 by The Century Publishing Company, Central Park West, New York City, during the inaugural autumn season of the Century Opera Company. The publication was meant to serve the Century Opera Company and the scheme of its directors for performance of operas of the standard repertory in the English language as spoken in the United States. But the title of the journal was changed to The Opera for the eighth issue (October 23) and the publication was said to be “definitely divorced” from the Century Opera Company’s program of operas in the vernacular. This “divorce,” however, was not entirely achieved as articles about the Century Opera Company’s singers and repertory are found in the remaining five issues. Only issue no. 9 features detailed information about the Metropolitan Opera Company, its repertory of operas sung in their original languages and its director-manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza. Each issue of the journal comprises thirty-two pages printed in two-column format, and four unnumbered recto and verso cover pages. Exceptional is the issue No. 4 (September 25), which comprises fifty pages of a special issue dedicated to articles about Giuseppe Verdi on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, and the reproduction of reviews of the Century Opera Company’s initial English-language presentation of Verdi’s Aida. Almost all articles are accompanied by one or more photographs or reproductions of drawings of the scenery for particular operas, and features pictures of the authors of articles, patrons of music, music critics and the principal singers, dancers, stage directors and conductors of the Century Opera Company and other opera companies in New York, Chicago and Boston. Advertisements are found throughout the pages of the first seven issues but are relegated to the ends of issues 8 through 13. Rufus Hosmer Dewey, the press representative of Milton Aborn, served as editor throughout the nine issues. Musicologist Sigmund Spaeth was associate editor for issues nos. 1 through 6, Caroline I. Hibbard associate editor for issues 7 through 12, and Morris Clark associate editor for issue no. 13.
The presentation of operas in the English language in an English-speaking country raised considerable debate in the early decades of the twentieth-century United States. Discussion of opera in English was the featured topic of a Saturday luncheon on April 6, 1912 of the New York City Club attended by notable American singers Johanna Gadski, Alma Gluck and Herbert Witherspoon, American composer Horatio Parker and conductor Walter Damrosch, and the businessman Otto H. Kahn. The drift of remarks following the keynote address asked “whether America could not have its own school—how opera written in English could be made important, even renowned.” A general committee and sub-committees were appointed to investigate the matter, leading to the formation of a stock company with substantial capital and negotiations for use of the Century Theatre at Central Park West. A plan for an eight week season of standard operas in English after the Metropolitan Opera Company’s season closed was proposed. At a second luncheon on April 13, 1913, the opera in English project became concrete. Milton and Sargent Aborn, experienced entrepreneurs “with a record of growth and progress of grand opera at popular prices in the United States,” negotiated a thirty-five week season of opera in English at the Century Theatre, beginning September 15, 1913. The journal contains the record of the first three months of the enterprise and a great deal of discussion on the question of opera in English language translation. Each opera was performed several times in English during a single week. A single performance of each opera was given in its original language, Italian, French or German.
The question of the performance of operas in English language translations is treated in COW in articles by Gardner Lamson, Anna E. Ziegler, Robert Grau, Owen Johnston and John Corbin. Morton Adkins deals with translated versions of operatic librettos and the capacity of the ear to hear the words sung from the stage. Positive remarks about opera in English are offered by the educational leaders Theodore A. Schroeder and Henry M. Leipziger. Extracts from enthusiasts who attended the opening performance of Aida, the impressions and views of well-known New Yorkers and extracts of the reviews in the leading New York newspapers are reproduced in the journal. However, reviews are not given for operatic performances by the Century Opera Company in ensuing weeks. The only reviews deal with new publications of vocal music.
The many articles dealing with the voice and methods of singing written by famous singers and pedagogues of the day are a regular feature. These knowledgeable contributors include Nellie Melba, Leonardo Uribe, Irving Wilson Voorhees, Clara Butt, Ralfe Leech Sterner, Oscar Saenger, Morton Adkins, Anna E. Ziegler and Emma A. Danemann. The baritone Oscar Seagle investigates the American accent and the particular vocal eccentricities of various sections of the United States, and the common criticism of the American “nasal twang.” Hungarian-born Alatar Szendrei, the permanent conductor of the Century Opera Company, writes about the music of the future, the future of music, and the musical situation in Europe. J. van Broekhoven supplies weekly articles examining the lives of the composers and the backgrounds of the main characters of operas being performed by the Century Opera Company. Sigmund Spaeth writes about the successful English entrepreneurs of opera and ballet Sir Joseph Beecham and Thomas Beecham, introduces the Century Opera Company’s conductor Alfred Szendrei and reviews contemporary light opera performances. Joseph Urban examines modern decorative stage-craft. Editor Rufus Hosmer Dewey interviews Luigi Albertini, the stage director of the Century Opera Company. Articles about Verdi on the occasion of the centenary of his birth include the recollections of Carlo Nicosia, chorus master for the prèmiere of Aida at the Khedival opera house in Cairo, the content of three of Verdi’s letters to conductor Angelo Mariani and the assembly of musicians and singers for the Verdi centenary at Parma.
At the conclusion of the final issue, dated November 27, the editor announces that The Opera would cease publication in its current format, but resume as a larger publication on finer paper in January 1914. Though never declared, this was most likely The Opera Magazine (New York, 1914-1916).