The Philadelphia Grand Opera Company was the name of four different American opera companies active at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the twentieth century. The last and best known of the four was founded in November 1954 with the merger of the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company and the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. That company in turn merged with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company in 1975 to form the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Of the three earlier companies, only one lasted beyond one season; a company founded in 1926 which later became associated with the Curtis Institute of Music in 1929. That company closed its doors in 1932 due to financial reasons during the Great Depression.
The first company to be known as the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company (PGOC) was founded in 1916. Its first production, Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor , opened on December 18 of that year at the Academy of Music with Regina Vicarino in the title role, Forrest Lamont as Edgardo, and Ettore Martini conducting. Short lived, the company produced one more opera in December 1916, Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore , before disbanding.
The second company to be known as the PGOC was actually a company based out of New York City that was active in both NYC and Philadelphia. The company was founded by impresario Alfred Salmaggi (later founder of the Salmaggi Opera Company) in the spring of 1920 under the name the Italian Lyric Federation. The company's first performance at the Academy of Music was Verdi's Otello on June 30, 1920 with Nicola Zerola in the title role. The company changed its name to the PGOC in November 1920 after the financial backers fired Salmaggi. From this point on the company worked out of Philadelphia, although Salmaggi countered his firing by continuing to perform works with different singers under the name of the Italian Lyric Federation in NYC. Like the first PGOC, this company was also short lived, with its last production, Rigoletto , being held on Halloween of 1921.
The third PGOC was founded in 1926 by Helen Redington Carter, socialite wife of well known Philadelphia neurologist Joseph Leidy, William Carl Hammer, an importer and trumpeter, and his wife, Kathryn O'Gorman Hammer.Both of the Hammers ran the business side of the company, with William running the Box Office and Kathryn hiring artists, putting together sets and costumes, and sometimes directing productions. Kathryn was a bandmaster and trombonist and she was notably the world's only female opera director at that time. Mrs. Leidy served as the opera board's president and provided a considerable amount of financial backing to get the company started. She also was able to get the opera house filled, being influential among Philadelphia's high society of the day.
During the company's first year, the Hammers announced six performances for the first season.The company's first performance at the Academy of Music was a production of Verdi's Aida on October 28, 1926 with Vera Curtis in the title role, Jerome Uhl as the King of Egypt, John Sample as Radames, and Marta Wittkowska as Amneris. Other operas that season included Rigoletto with Millo Picco in the title role and Josephine Lucchese as Gilda, Charles Gounod's Faust with Charles Hart in the title role and Irene Williams as Marguerite, Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with Robert Steel as Tonio and Euphemia Giannini Gregory as Nedda, Otello with Sample in the title role and Chief Caupolican as Iago, and Carmen with Wittkowska in the title role and Armand Tokatyan as Don José.
During the company's first three seasons the company was struggling to get by. Kathryn was able to save the company a lot of money by making the company's costumes from cheesecloth on her home sewing-machine and begging and borrowing sets and properties at bargain prices. Largely due to her shrewd efforts the company managed to stay in the black. [ uk ] as Alvise Badoero, and Berta Levina as La cieca. Conductor Artur Rodziński joined the company that year and remained one of the PGOC's major conductors through 1929. Highlights of that second season included productions of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca with Martha Attwood in the title role and Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana with Lisa Roma as Santuzza. Highlights of the 1928–1929 season included Franco Leoni's L’oracolo with Ivan Steschenko [ uk ] as Uin-Sci and Adamo Didur as Cim-Fen, Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila with Sample as Samson and Madame Cahier as Dalila, Jules Massenet's Manon with Hope Hampton in the title role and Ralph Errolle as Des Grieux, Eleanor Painter as Carmen, Il trovatore with Frances Peralta as Leonora, and The Barber of Seville with Josephine Lucchese as Rosina.The company opened its second season on October 20, 1927 with Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda , starring Clara Jacobo in the title role, Mignon Sutorius as Laura, Ivan Steschenko
In 1929 a major windfall came to the PGOC when Mary Louise Curtis Bok offered to support the company in exchange for using the company as an outlet for opera talent in the Curtis Institute of Music. The PGOC accepted the offer and a partnership was formed with Curtis students appearing mostly in minor roles with the company.Plans were initially made to build a new $7,000,000 opera house for the company and the Philadelphia Orchestra but, like many projects of the day, these plans were ultimately abandoned as a result of the financial crisis of the Great Depression. Bok's support, however, did manage to keep the company afloat longer than it probably would have, producing three more seasons of opera at the Academy of Music. Indeed, the company's two major rivals, the Pennsylvania Grand Opera Company and the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company, both closed their doors not long after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
During its remaining years the quality of PGOC's productions increased, particularly in regards to the sets and costumes. The quality of the singers remained high. [ uk ] as the Doctor, and Leopold Stokowski conducting. Stokowski also conducted the world premiere of Carlos Chávez and Diego Rivera's ballet H. P. for the PGOC on March 31, 1932. The company was also notably the first American company to perform Richard Strauss's Elektra in the original German on October 29, 1931 with Roselle in the title role and Charlotte Boerner as Chrysothemis.A highlight of these years was the United States premiere of Alban Berg's Wozzeck on March 19, 1931 with Ivan Ivantzoff in the title role, Anne Roselle as Marie, Gabriel Leonoff as the Drum Major, Sergei Radamsky as Andres, Bruno Korell as the Captain, Ivan Steschenko
The PGOC's final performance was a production of Aida on April 14, 1932 with Roselle in the title role, Aroldo Lindi as Radames, Cyrena van Gordon as Amneris, and Leo de Hierapolis as the King of Egypt. The company closed due to financial reasons in 1932. At the time they canceled the end of the 1931–1932 season and announced the intention of commencing another season for 1933-1934. That never happened, possibly because Mrs. Liedy and her husband both died in 1932. The Curtis Institute of Music was also experiencing financial difficulties at that time and rumors of its imminent closing, which never occurred, were circulating in 1932.
The last company to be called the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company was formed in November 1954 when the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera and the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company merged. Anthony Terracciano served as the company's first General Director in its first season but was then succeeded by General Manager Humbert A. Pelosi who was appointed that position at the end of the 1955–1956 season. Terracciano remained with the company as an Artistic Director through the Spring of 1972. Pelosi left in March 1956 after a feud with Terracciano. He was replaced by conductor Giuseppe Bamboschek who had been working for the company since it began. Bamboschek remained the company's director until 1961 when Terracciano was again made General Manager by longtime friend and musical colleague, Max M. Leon, who was then the opera company's president. This time Terracciano stayed on until 1972.
Although formed in 1954, the company finished the 1954–1955 season performing under the title of the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. The company's inaugural performance as the PGOC was of Rigoletto under the baton on Giuseppe Bamboschek on October 13, 1955 at the Academy of Music. The production starred Frank Guarrera in the title role, Lisa di Julio as Gilda, and Eugene Conley as the Duke of Mantua. Other productions that first season included Puccini's La bohème (with Rosanna Carteri as Mimì, Jan Peerce as Rodolfo, and Virginia MacWatters as Musetta), Faust (with Robert Rounseville in the title role, Nicola Moscona as Méphistophélès, and Ellen Faull as Marguerite), Puccini's Madama Butterfly (with Licia Albanese as Cio-cio-san, Walter Fredericks as Pinkerton, Margaret Roggero as Suzuki, and Cesare Bardelli as Sharpless), Italo Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re (with Beverly Sills as Fiora and Ramón Vinay as Avito), Il barbiere di Siviglia (with MacWatters as Rosina, Guarrera as Figaro, and Cesare Valletti as Almaviva), Cavalleria rusticana (with Maria Gasi as Santuzza), Pagliacci (with Fredericks as Canio and Eva Likova as Nedda), and Aida (with Astrid Varnay in the title role, Kurt Baum as Radamès, Claramae Turner as Amneris, and John Lawler as the King of Egypt).
The Philadelphia Grand Opera Company remained active for two decades, producing six operas during an annual season. The company notably presented the world premiere of Pietro Aria's Jericho Road on March 12, 1969. Many notable singers performed with the company during its history including, John Alexander, Thelma Altman, Salvatore Baccaloni, Cesare Bardelli, Gaetano Bardini, Daniele Barioni, Ara Berberian, Frances Bible, John Brownlee, Giuseppe Campora, Richard Cassilly, George Cehanovsky, Anita Cerquetti, Eugene Conley, Fernando Corena, Viorica Cortez, Mary Costa, Mary Curtis Verna, Jon Crain, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Enrico di Giuseppe, Mignon Dunn, Pierre Duval, Otto Edelmann, Rosalind Elias, Edith Evans, Jean Fenn, Giulio Fioravanti, Nicolai Gedda, Leyla Gencer, Bonaldo Giaiotti, Tito Gobbi, Thomas Hayward, Jerome Hines, Laurel Hurley, Raoul Jobin, Robert Kerns, Dorothy Kirsten, Flaviano Labò, Albert Lance, Brenda Lewis, Thomas LoMonaco, Chester Ludgin, Cornell MacNeil, Jean Madeira, Elaine Malbin, Adriana Maliponte, Susanne Marsee, Robert Merrill, Anna Moffo, Licinio Montefusco, Irene Kramerich, Sonia Leon, Barry Morell, Nicola Moscona, Herva Nelli, Birgit Nilsson, Roberta Peters, Louis Quilico, Luciano Rampaso, Nell Rankin, Regina Resnik, Graciela Rivera, Elinor Ross, Jane Shaulis, Giulietta Simionato, Joanna Simon, Eleanor Steber, Teresa Stratas, Brian Sullivan, Giuseppe Taddei, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Pia Tassinari, Blanche Thebom, Giorgio Tozzi, Norman Treigle, Gabriella Tucci, Richard Tucker, Giuseppe Valdengo, Frank Valentino, Luigi Vellucci, and Jon Vickers to name just a few. The PGOC's last performance was of Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus on December 6, 1974 with Joseph Venezia as Alfred, June Fiske as Adele, Eileen Schauler as Rosalinde, Robert Goodloe as Eisenstein, and Carlo Moresco conducting.
In the companies last three years the opera board's long-term president, Max Leon, served as the company's manager after the departure of Terracciano. Experiencing some financial difficulties, the company began talks with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company about a possible merger in 1974. An agreement was reached and the two companies merged to form the Opera Company of Philadelphia in 1975 with Leon serving as General Director.
Aida is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Set in the Old Kingdom of Egypt, it was commissioned by Cairo's Khedivial Opera House and had its première there on 24 December 1871, in a performance conducted by Giovanni Bottesini. Today the work holds a central place in the operatic canon, receiving performances every year around the world; at New York's Metropolitan Opera alone, Aida has been sung more than 1,100 times since 1886. Ghislanzoni's scheme follows a scenario often attributed to the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, but Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz argues that the source is actually Temistocle Solera.
Rose Bampton was a celebrated American opera singer who had an active international career during the 1930s and 1940s. She began her professional career performing mostly minor roles from the mezzo-soprano repertoire in 1929 but later switched to singing primarily leading soprano roles in 1937 until her retirement from the opera stage in 1963.
Marisa Galvany is an American soprano who had an active international career performing in operas and concerts up into the early 2000s. Known for the great intensity of her performances, Galvany particularly excelled in portraying Verdi heroines. She was notably a regular performer at the New York City Opera between 1972 and 1983.
Gloria Davy was a Swiss soprano of American birth who had an active international career in operas and concerts from the 1950s through the 1980s. A talented spinto soprano, she was widely acclaimed for her portrayal of the title role in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida; a role she performed in many of the world's top opera houses. She was notably the first black artist to perform the role of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1958. While she performed a broad repertoire, she was particularly admired for her interpretations of 20th-century music, including the works of Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten and Paul Hindemith.
Enrico Di Giuseppe was a celebrated American operatic tenor who had an active performance career from the late 1950s through the 1990s. He spent most of his career performing in New York City, juggling concurrent performance contracts with both the New York City Opera (NYCO) and the Metropolitan Opera during the 1970s and 1980s. In the latter part of his career he was particularly active with the New York Grand Opera.
Giuseppe Maria Bamboschek was an Italian-American opera conductor, pianist, organist, music director and film director. During his expansive career, Bamboschek conducted performances including famed singers Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Giovanni Martinelli, Giuseppe De Luca, and many more.
Mary Virginia Curtis Verna was an American operatic soprano, particularly associated with the Italian repertory.
The Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company (PCGOC) was an American opera company located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that was actively performing at the Academy of Music between 1950 and 1955. Fausta Cleva served as the company's first General Director and conductor. The company's first performance was of Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila on January 24, 1950 with Giovanni Martinelli as Samson, Blanche Thebom as Dalila, Martial Singher as The High Priest of Dagon, and John Lawler as Abimélech. Other operas presented that season were Cavalleria rusticana, L'amico Fritz, and Carmen.
The Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company (defunct) was an American opera company located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that was actively performing at the Academy of Music between 1925 and 1954. In 1955 the company merged with the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company to form the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company.
Margaret Harshaw was an American opera singer and voice teacher who sang for 22 consecutive seasons at the Metropolitan Opera from November 1942 to March 1964. She began her career as a mezzo-soprano in the early 1930s but then began performing roles from the soprano repertoire in 1950. She sang a total of 39 roles in 25 works at the Met and was heard in 40 of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. She was also active as a guest artist with major opera houses in Europe and North and South America.
The Philadelphia Civic Opera Company (PCOC) was an American opera company located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was actively performing between 1924 and 1930. Founded by Philadelphia socialite Mrs. Henry M. Tracy, the company was established partially through funds provided by the city of Philadelphia and its then-mayor, W. Freeland Kendrick. The company was led by Artistic Director Alexander Smallens. Tracy served as the company's President and ran the business side of the organization while Smallens served as the company's primary conductor and made all of the artistic decisions. W. Attmore Robinson was later brought in to help Smallens with some of the artistic direction. The company performed between 10 and 15 operas every year during an annual season until it went bankrupt a year after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Carlo Moresco was an American conductor, composer, violinist, and stage director of Italian birth. He was one of the most important opera conductors in the city of Philadelphia during the 20th century, working for multiple opera companies in that city. He also held conducting posts with companies in Connecticut and at the Tulsa Opera.
Carlo Meliciani is an Italian operatic baritone who had an active international career from the mid-1950s through the late 1970s. From 1959-1979 he was on the roster of singers at La Scala in Milan. Although he sang a wide repertoire, he was particularly known for his portrayal of roles from the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. He notably recorded the part of Don Carlo in Ernani in 1969 with Plácido Domingo in the title role.
Nicola Zerola was an Italian operatic tenor who had an active international career from 1898-1928. He began his career in his native country, but was soon heard in concerts and operas internationally during the first years of the 20th century. In 1908 he relocated to the United States where he was active with important opera companies in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia up into the late 1920s. Between 1909 and 1911 he recorded 13 issued sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company at their Camden, New Jersey studios. He also made 11 solo recordings and one duet for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company in England in 1910-1911.
Mark Delavan is an American operatic bass-baritone. He was a national finalist of the Metropolitan Opera auditions and an Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera.
Gloria Lane Krachmalnick was an American operatic mezzo-soprano who had an active international performance career from 1949 to 1976. In her early career she distinguished herself by creating roles in the world premieres of two operas by Gian Carlo Menotti, the Secretary of the Consulate in The Consul (1950) and Desideria in The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954); both roles which she performed in successful runs on Broadway and on international tours. For her performance in The Consul she was awarded a Clarence Derwent Award and two Donaldson Awards.
Josephine Lucchese was an American operatic soprano who had an active international singing career during the 1920s and 1930s. A skilled coloratura soprano, she was particularly admired for her portrayals of Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Violetta in La traviata, and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. She began her opera career in 1920 with the San Carlo Opera Company; a touring opera company in the United States. She was a resident artist with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company from 1929-1932, and was a principal artist with the Dutch National Opera during the 1930s. She also appeared as a guest artist with American and European opera houses during her career.
Kathryn Meisle was an American operatic contralto.
Andrea Velis was an American operatic tenor who had a lengthy association with the Metropolitan Opera that spanned 33 seasons. Considered a highly skilled character actor, he excelled in supporting roles, often to great comedic effect. His voice is preserved on several recordings made for Live from the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts.
Grace Angelau was an American opera singer who had an active international career in operas and operettas in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. At various times in her career she was billed as a contralto and a soprano, but a 1942 article summarizing her career in Pix magazine labeled her as a mezzo-soprano. In the United States she appeared in operas in several theatres on Broadway, and was active with the touring San Carlo Opera Company, the Chicago Opera Company, and the New York Hippodrome Opera. She also appeared at European opera houses like La Scala, and at theaters in Australia, and Central and South America. She was particularly admired for her performances of Amneris in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida and Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore. She owned and operated the Coonara Springs Restaurant & Gardens, now listed on the Victoria Heritage Database of historical sights, in Olinda, Victoria, Australia during the 1940s. Many of her costumes, jewlery, photographs, and other personal artifacts are part of the Australian Performing Arts Collection at the Arts Centre Melbourne.