Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 2 August 2008

Josephine Jacoby (1875-1948),
American contralto

Josephine Jacoby
Josephine Jacoby

(photo: Burr McIntosh, New York, 1905)

'Any Role in Any Opera in Any Language Is the Same to Miss Jacoby.
'Concert Tour Will Come First, but She Wants Some Relief from Continuous Hard Work.
'Mathilde Bauermeister, soprano, and Andreas Dippel, tenor, have earned for themselves enviable reputations by their ability to sing roles in any opera in any language at any time they may be called upon to do so. There is also a contralto Dippel at the Metropolitan who has done almost as much as these other singers to save operas, besides singing on an average three times a week.
'Miss Josephine Jacoby will have sung, at the end of this season, just sixty-eight times this year, which is more times than any other singer has appeared at that opera house. She has been singing at the Metropolitan for five years, and has held the record for appearances there every year.
'However, Miss Jacoby will not sing at the Metropolitan next year. She has decided either to return to concert work, in which she was well known before she went on the lyric stage, or to sing in operetta, following the example of Mme. Schumann-Heink and Fritzi Scheff. Two composers at present are figuratively on their knees before her, ready to dash off an operetta for her light opera debut, and Miss Jacoby admits that the prospect of a light opera debut is not displeasing to her.
'In the Fall, however, before anything else occurs, Miss Jacoby will go on a concert tour with Mme. Rappold and Messrs. Martin and Campanari. They will sing all through the West operatic airs, trios, and quartets, and the cities which hear no opera will at least hear excepts from opera.
'Miss Jacoby made her debut at the Metropolitan just five years ago in Die Walküre, in which she sang one of the Walküuren. In the same part she will say farewell to the Metropolitan next week.
'She is an American singer, born and brought up in New York, and has never even studied abroad. She sang for four years in concert. When Mr. Conried became director of the Metropolitan she went to sing for him, and he engaged her. She spent a Summer learning parts in which she was likely to be heard, and made her debut in the first week of the season in Die Walküre. Mmes. Ternina and Fremstad were in the cast.
'''That was on Wednesday,'' said Miss Jacoby to a TIMES reporter yesterday. ''On Thursday of that same week Mr. Conried called me to his office and explained to me that Mme. Homer was announced to sing Maddelena in Rigoletto on Saturday afternoon and Fricka in Die Walküre on Saturday night, and that she objected to appearing twice on the same day.
'''Could you sing Maddelena?'' he asked.
'''Yes, easily,'' I replied, although I had never even heard the opera. On the way home I bought a score of Rigoletto. I studied it, and sang the part on Saturday without a rehearsal. I have found it impossible on almost all occasions to get rehearsals at the Metropolitan, and have frequently substituted in roles, without having a chance to sing my part beforehand with the orchestra. A few weeks later the same incident occurred in Faust. Some one was wanted for Siebel at short notice, and I was selected. Since then these two parts have clung to me. In fact, I have sung practically all the 'boy' parts at the Metropolitan since I have been there.
'''For three years I did this sort of work at the Metropolitan, because I was a quick study and cold do it. But it was in Boston last April that I eclipsed even my own record.
'''On the road tour last Spring I was announced to sing only twice as Siebel in Faust, once in Washington and once in Boston, and a few times in Tosca. When my maid was packing my theatre trunk the Siebel costume, of course, took up very little room. I told her that she had better put in my Amneris costume to help fill up the trunk.
'''Amneris is a part I had studied two years ago, but had never sung. Mme. Kirby-Lunn of Mme. Homer had always been able to appear at the Metropolitan, and I had never had the chance. I had really almost dropped it and hadn't looked over the part for months. At one time, however, Mr. Conried had given me the hope that some day I might sing it, and I had had one costume made, the costume for the triumphal scene in the second act. It was this dress that was put in the trunk.
'''Well, I sang Siebel on Monday night in Boston. Thuesday night I was to sing the Shepherd in Tosca, a short part, sung off stage in the last act. I dined on Tuesday with Miss Farrar at the Touraine, and in the evening she sat down at the piano and ran over the second act of Butterfly. I sang the flower duet and some of the other parts with her.
''''How well you know that, Josephine,' she said. 'I wish we could sing Butterfly together.'
'''About 10 o'clock I slipped over to the theatre and sang by part in Tosca. Mr. Goerlitz, Mr. Homer, and Mr. Maxwell, who represents the Ricordis, were talking together on the stage. Mr. Goerlitz called me over.
''''It is possible that we shall have to ask you to sing Susuki in Butterfly to-morrow night,' he said. 'Mrs. Homer is not feeling well. Can you do it?'
''''Of course,' I answered.
''''I'll let you known to-morrow.'
''''Miss Jacoby,' said Mr. Maxwell, 'don't go away to-night until they tell you whether you are going to sing that part or not.'
'''I considered that good advice, and I told Mr. Goerlitz that if I were to sing the part I must know at once. He turned interrogatively to Mr. Homer, who said:
''''I am quite certain that it would be better for Mrs. Homer if she did not sing to-morrow night.'
'''So I went home, studied all night, and sang Susuki in the evening. Mrs. Homer continued to be ill, and as there was no other contralto on tour but myself, I continued to sing the parts she had been announced for. On Friday it was Nancy in Marta. For this an impromptu sort of rehearsal, without orchestra, was held, to which Miss [Marie] Mattfeld, who sang Marta, and Mr. Plançcon came. Saturday afternoon was Aïda, and then my Amneris costume came in handy. Mr. Goerlitz had wired Mr. Conried to send up two more costumes, but I had no sandals, and had to wear French slippers. And Saturday night I sang the witch in Hänsel und Gretel, six performances in one week. By the time the company reached Chicago I couldn't speak, and I had to continue to sing all the tour, as Mrs. Homer did not recover. With the aid of a throat specialist I got through some five performances of each of these roles.
'''This time on tour I am looking forward to no such amount of hard work. I aim to sing one new part, Azueena in Trovatore Then I'm going to take a thorough rest, and next Fall no more opera, unless it be operetta.'''
(The New York Times, New York, Monday, 6 April 1908, p. 7e)

Three of Josephine Jacoby's recordings, made in 1906 and 1907, are featured on the Cylinder Preservation and Dititization Project site.

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© John Culme, 2008