17 December 2013

Anna Case, Tales of Redemption

Metropolitan Opera Company representative William J. Guard was given the unenviable task of addressing the Brooklyn Academy of Music audience before the curtain to announce that the continued indisposition of coloratura soprano Frieda Hempel would make it impossible for her to appear in the role of Olympia that evening.   The date was December 13, 1913, the occasion, the second performance that season of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" (Tales of Hoffman).  The fact that the hisses greeting this announcement were drowned by modest applause was a testament to the enduring popularity of Mme. Hempel's replacement: Anna Case.

Anna Case as Olympia the Doll in "Les Contes d'Hoffmann"


What could have proven a disaster for the twenty-six-year-old soprano from South Branch, New Jersey, instead turned into a triumph of perseverance and skill.  Given notice just six hours before the curtain, in a role that she had never before sung, with the memory of the decidedly mixed reviews that followed her performance as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier" just days before, there was every reason for the audience, and any ordinary diva, to fear the worst.

Olympia's signature song from Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann"


"Sophie" was supposed to be the role that put Anna Case at the top of the marquee.  She had enjoyed her first major success in the American debut of "Boris Godunov", starring in the trouser role of Fyodor.  She was then rewarded with another principal role in the American debut of  Strauss' comic opera.  The grueling two month rehearsal schedule, in a language she was wholly unfamiliar with, German, took a terrible toll on her voice, which was evident at the December 9, 1913 premiere.  It didn't help that the part, which calls for soft, emotional, passages, was completely drowned by the orchestra more than once.

Anna Case as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier"
Anna Case as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier"





















It is to the credit of the Metropolitan Opera directors, and Anna Case herself, that she was ready and willing to answer the call as Olympia the Doll.  As reported the next day in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "Her fresh, young voice was as clear as a silver bell...and her acting was as supple as the role allowed.  Applause greeted her from all over the house and flowers were handed to her before the curtain."

Presentation of the Rose from "Der Rosenkavalier" with Anna Case, left, as Sophie, and Margarete Ober, center, as Octavian.

She went back to Manhattan and continued in the role of Sophie for all eleven 1913-14 performances of "Der Rosenkavalier", to improving reviews, as well as appearing in two additional performances of "Boris", four of "Orfeo ed Euridice", and as the featured soloist in no less than six Sunday Night Concerts.

December 20, 1912, New York Evening Telegram


Anna Case reprised her role as Olympia with the Metropolitan Opera in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of the 1914-15 season, and recorded Olympia's signature song, "Les Oiseaux dans la Charmille", for the Edison record label in 1916 - although not released until she had effectively left the opera in 1918.

Bonus: Erin Morley as Olympia at final dress rehearsal, Metropolitan Opera, January 9, 2015,  Enjoy!


No comments:

Post a Comment