18 February 2016

Anna Case on Opening Night

Metropolitan Opera soprano and South Branch native Anna Case made 154 appearances with the famous company between 1909 and 1920, but not once on opening night. She made up for that in a big way in 1931 in a decidedly non-singing role - that of Mrs. Clarence H. Mackay, patron of the arts.

Mr. and Mrs. Mackay arrive for the Metropolitan Opera's opening night,
 2 November 1931
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

For an ex-diva such as Anna Case as well as the other members of "high society", the purpose of opening night was not so much to see Rosa Ponselle singing the part of Violetta in La Traviata but to be seen. And doubly so for the Mackays as this was one of their first public appearances after their July 18th wedding.

Metropolitan Opera audience, opening night, 2 November 1931

Mackay, the millionaire telegraph and cable tycoon, had long been on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and had held a box in the "golden horseshoe" going back decades to the time of the Vanderbilts and Astors, When Anna Case made her return to the opera stage as Micaela in Carmen for the 1916-17 season, he watched her from box 28. Only the year before - having admired the soprano's work in such operas as Der Rosenkavalier and Boris Godunov - Mackay engaged her to sing at a private event at his Long Island estate, Harbor Hill. So pleased was he by that performance, that he sent a truckload of flowers to her October 11, 1916, Carnegie Hall recital - enclosing within a diamond band with a small enameled bluebird. He was just beginning.

The "Mackay Emerald" is an astounding 167.97 carats
 and is set in platinum  
with 35 emeralds and 2191 colorless round brilliant and step-cut diamonds

Although Mackay's first wife had left him in 1913 - running away to Europe with her doctor - his strict Catholic upbringing prevented him from acknowledging the ensuing divorce. While the first Mrs. Mackay was still living, Anna Case would have to wait. From a jewelry perspective, it was worth the wait. On their wedding day, Mackay gifted his bride with a diamond necklace adorned by the world's largest cut emerald weighing in at an astounding 167 carats! The necklace, which Anna Case can be seen wearing in the two opening night photos here from my personal collection, was bequeathed to the Smithsonian upon her death in 1984.

The Mackays at their final opening night together, 29 November 1937
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Their final opening night as a couple came on November 29, 1937 - Clarence Mackay passing away the following year. Anna Case continued to attend opening nights and gala events at the Metropolitan for decades afterward - including the 1949 opening night with step-daughter Ellin Berlin (wife of the songwriter Irving Berlin) and step-granddaughter Mary Ellin Berlin. And she was still wearing the emerald necklace as seen in the photo below.

Metropolitan Opera Opening Night, 
21 November 1949
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Fittingly, after the opera relocated to Lincoln Center in 1967, the Museum of the City of New York restored one of the boxes from the "Old Met" and put it on display. The box they chose? Number 28.

Newspaper clipping from The New York Times, 9 May 1967

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