Baltimore Opera History Prior to 1975
The 1975/1976 opera season marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Baltimore Opera Company.
In 1975, Baltimore Opera Company published a history of the company up to 1975. The book started out by stating that it “seems appropriate that we look back to our roots, take stock, and from this plan our future. Our Silver Jubilee by coincidence falls in the same year as our National Bicentennial celebration. It is a time of retrospection in Baltimore, the city of “firsts”.”
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first in this country (1830); the first use of the Morse telegraph took place in Baltimore (1844) ; the first monument to George Washington was erected lere (1865). Baltimore had the first Methodist church in the United states, and the City’s Father John Carroll was the first American bishop, establishing the Roman Catholic hierarchy here in 1789.
Opera, in the early days, was part of the theatrical life, closely inked to that of Annapolis, which n turn took its cues from London. The first opera performance in the region was presented in 1752-the ubiquitos Beggar’s Opera, performed by an English group assembled by one Lewis Hallam. Balimore then was just an outpost of Annapolis, a peaceful tobacco~rowing village of twenty-five louses, a church and two inns, with a population of about one hundred. Baltimore expanded industrially it quickly overtook Annapolis as a cultural center; it was a liberal-minded community and enthusiastically adopted the theatre, still frowned upon in New York and Philadelphia. There was hardly a touring company that would not stop here on its way between North and South.
By 1773, Baltimore had 6,000 inhabitants. Nine years later, some stables were remodeled to form Baltimore’s first brick theatre, where shakespeare took turns with musical shows. Opera finally arrived, brought in on precarious sailing craft by refugees from the French Revolution: In June 1790, rich merchants left their flower-flooded gardens for an impressive outdoor site, sloping down toward Jones Falls, to hear “elegant pasticchios” and La Serva Padrona by Pergolesi, whose name was Frenchified into ‘Pere Golaise”.
Prestige and location preserved Baltimore’s standing as a tour city. The opera companies of Maurice Strakosch, Max Maretzek and “Colonel” Mapleson always stopped here. In addition, there were small groups, usually with “grand” and/ or “English” in their names, formed by and around prima donnasClara Louise Kellogg, Caroline Richings, C. R. Bernard, Mlle. Aimee. As a result, Baltimore experienced a rash of Fausts, Favoritas, Normas and Sonnambulas; but there were also The Flying Dutchman, Macbeth, Fidelio, Der Freischutz and Oberon. Jenny Lind gave four concerts at the Front Street Theatre after singing to adoring crowds from her balcony at P. T. Barnum’s hotel. Parepa-Rosa sang Lucrezia Borgia at Ford’s Grand Opera House-a theatre that derived its title from John T. Ford’s desire to avoid similarity with his Washington theatre, where President Lincoln had been murdered. Marcella Sembrich came with her group; Mary Garden brought her Chicagoans for Le Jongeleur de Notre Dame, La Fanciulla del West, Thais, Louise. From its first season, 1883-84, intermittently through 1959, the Metropolitan brought its best stars and productions.