Astor Opera House

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The Astor Opera House in 1850 Astor Opera House crop.jpg
The Astor Opera House in 1850
This 11-story building, now condominiums, replaced the opera house building in 1890 Clinton Hall Mercantile Library Bldg 13 Astor Place.jpg
This 11-story building, now condominiums, replaced the opera house building in 1890

The Astor Opera House, also known as the Astor Place Opera House and later the Astor Place Theatre, [1] was an opera house in Manhattan, New York City, located on Lafayette Street between Astor Place and East 8th Street. Designed by Isaiah Rogers, the theater was conceived by impresario Edward Fry, the brother of composer William Henry Fry, who managed the opera house during its entire history. [2] [3]

Manhattan Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Manhattan, often referred to locally as the City, is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City and its economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and historical birthplace. The borough is coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. The borough consists mostly of Manhattan Island, bounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers; several small adjacent islands; and Marble Hill, a small neighborhood now on the U.S. mainland, physically connected to the Bronx and separated from the rest of Manhattan by the Harlem River. Manhattan Island is divided into three informally bounded components, each aligned with the borough's long axis: Lower, Midtown, and Upper Manhattan.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Astor Place street of Manhattan

Astor Place is a one-block street in NoHo/East Village, in the lower part of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It runs from Broadway in the west, just below East 8th Street; to Lafayette Street, ending at Alamo plaza. "Astor Place" is also sometimes used for the neighborhood around the street. It encompasses two plazas at the intersection with Cooper Square, Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Eighth Street – Alamo Plaza and Astor Place Station Plaza. It was named for John Jacob Astor, soon after his death in 1848. A $21 million reconstruction to implement a redesign of Astor Place began in 2013.


Opera House

Fry engaged the Sanquerico and Patti Opera Company under the management of John Sefton to perform the first season of opera at the house. The opera house opened on November 22, 1847 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani with Adelino Vietti in the title role. [4] Sefton and his company were not re-engaged by Fry, and the opera management of the house went to Cesare Lietti for the second season. During his tenure the opera house presented the United States premiere of Verdi's Nabucco on April 4, 1848. [5]

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

<i>Ernani</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Ernani is an operatic dramma lirico in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Hernani by Victor Hugo.

<i>Nabucco</i> opera written by Giuseppe Verdi, Italian composer

Nabucco is an Italian-language opera in four acts composed in 1841 by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera. The libretto is based on biblical books of Jeremiah and Daniel and the 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, although Antonio Cortese's ballet adaptation of the play, given at La Scala in 1836, was a more important source for Solera than the play itself. Under its original name of Nabucodonosor, the opera was first performed at La Scala in Milan on 9 March 1842.

Lietti was also replaced after one season, and the Astor's third and longest lasting opera manager, Max Maretzek, was hired for the third season, which commenced in November 1848. [6] The following year Maretzek founded his own opera company, the Max Maretzek Italian Opera Company, with whom he continued to stage operas at the Astor Opera House through 1852. [7] [8] Under Maretzek the opera house saw the New York premiere of Donizetti's Anna Bolena on January 7, 1850 with soprano Apollonia Bertucca (later Maretzek's wife) as the title heroine. [9]

Max Maretzek Czech conductor and composer

Max Maretzek was a Moravian-born composer, conductor, and impresario active in the United States and Latin America.

The Max Maretzek Italian Opera Company was a touring American opera company that performed throughout the United States from 1849-1878. The first major opera company in Manhattan and one of the first important companies in the United States, it had a long association with the Academy of Music in New York City where it presented an annual season of opera from 1854 until the company's demise in 1878 There the company performed the United States premieres of Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata among other works.

<i>Anna Bolena</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Anna Bolena is a tragic opera in two acts composed by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after Ippolito Pindemonte's Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli's Anna Bolena, both recounting the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII.

The theatre was built with the intention of attracting only the "best" patrons, the "uppertens" of New York society, who were increasingly turning out to see European singers who appeared at local venues such as Niblo's Garden. It was expected that an opera house would be:

Niblos Garden

Niblo's Garden was a New York theatre on Broadway, near Prince Street. It was established in 1823 as "Columbia Garden" which in 1828 gained the name of the Sans Souci and was later the property of the coffeehouse proprietor and caterer William Niblo. The large theatre that evolved in several stages, occupying more and more of the pleasure ground, was twice burned and rebuilt. On September 12, 1866, Niblo's saw the premiere of The Black Crook, considered to be the first piece of musical theatre that conforms to the modern notion of a "book musical".

a substitute for a general drawing room a refined attraction which the ill-mannered would not be likely to frequent, and around which the higher classes might gather, for the easier interchange of courtesies, and for that closer view which aides the candidacy of acquaintance. [10]

In pursuit of this agenda, the theatre was created with the comfort of the upper classes in mind: benches, the normal seating in theatres at the time, were replaced by upholstered seats, available only by subscription, as were the two tiers of boxes. On the other hand, 500 general admission patrons were relegated to the benches of a "cockloft" reachable only by a narrow stairway, and otherwise isolated from the gentry below, [3] and the theatre enforced a dress code which required "freshly shaven faces, evening dress, and kid gloves." [11]

Limiting the attendance of the lower classes was partly intended to avoid the problems of rowdyism which plagued other theaters in the entertainment district at the time, especially in the theatres on the Bowery. Nevertheless, it was the deadly Astor Place riot in 1849 which caused the theatre to close permanently provoked by competing performances of Macbeth by English actor William Charles Macready at the Opera House (which was operating under the name "Astor Place Theatre", not being able to sustain itself on a full season of opera) and American Edwin Forrest at the nearby Broadway Theatre.

Clinton Hall

After the riot, the theater was unable to overcome the reputation of being the "Massacre Opera House" at "DisAster Place." [12] By May 1853, the interior had been dismantled and the furnishings sold off, with the shell of the building sold for $140,000 [13] to the New York Mercantile Library, which renamed the building "Clinton Hall". [14]

In 1890, in need of additional space, the Association tore down the opera house building and replaced it with an 11-story building, also called Clinton Hall, which still stands on the site. [15]

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  1. Not the same as the current Astor Place Theatre
  2. Newman, Nancy (2010). Good Music for a Free People: The Germania Musical Society in Nineteenth-century America. University Rochester Press. p. 40.
  3. 1 2 Burrows & Wallace, p.724
  4. Ireland, p.515
  5. Martin, George Whitney (2011). Verdi in America: Oberto Through Rigoletto. University Rochester Press. p. 17.
  6. Ireland, pp.515-543
  7. Schonberg, Harold C. (November 23, 1969). "Even the Prima Donna Blushed'" (PDF). The New York Times . p. D19.
  8. Ogasapian, John & Orr, N. Lee (2007). Music of the Gilded Age. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 35.
  9. Lawrence, Vera Brodsky (1995). Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton. University of Chicago Press. p. 3.
  10. Nathaniel Parker Willis, quoted in Burrows & Wallace, p.724
  11. Burrows & Wallace, p.760
  12. Burrows & Wallace, p.765
  13. "The Mercantile Library" New York Times (June 1, 1854)
  14. "Exclusiveness" New York Times (May 27, 1853)
  15. White, Norval & Willensky, p.162


Further reading