IIEMMA ALMIRA ABBOTT WETHERELL 1849-1891
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Orson Pratt Brown's Maternal Relatives
Emma Almira Abbott Wetherell
Emma Alvira Abbott was born the third child of Seth Abbott and Almira Palmer Abbott. Emma had two older brothers [George Abbott and Leon Abbott] and a younger brother and sister [Fred Abbott and Lizzie Abbott]. A sixth sibling died in Chicago before 1853. When Emma was around three years old her family moved to Peoria, Illinois.
[Seth Abbott was the son of Sarah Atkinson Abbott and Dyer Abbott, 1778-1832, a Fife Major in the War of 1812. Dyer was the son of Jabez Abbott, 1731-1804, and Hepzibah Stevens.]
Emma Abbott was a youthful guitarist and singer, studying with her father. At 13 she gave guitar lessons. In her late teen years she gave parlor concerts in midwestern hotels. Clara Louise Kellogg heard her at such a program in Toledo, and she thought that Emma's voice had great potential. Consequently, Emma studied in New York with Erani, then in 1872 at Milan with Sangiovanni. Further study and performances in Paris led to a contract at Covent Garden, London, and her debut as Maria in The Daughter of the Regiment on May 2, 1876. But her contract was cancelled when she refused to sing the role of Violetta in La Traviata on moral grounds.
Abbott had her American debut February 7, 1877 in Chickering Hall, New York, sharing the stage with the veteran Pasquale Brignoli, tenor, the orchestra conducted by another veteran, Max Maretzek. A New York Times reviewer enthused: "Miss Abbott is unquestionably the most promising American songstress that has trod the stage these ten years.... She has a voice of rare beauty and power, which has been made as equal throughout its compass as it is strong and pure. The full tone is of perfect roundness and penetrative force, and the mezza voce is of delicious quality."
Two days later she sang the role of Cecilia in Gomes' Il Guarany in concert form, and a Times reviewer continued the praise: "Its interpretation proved Miss Abbott to be more equal to florid vocalization than we anticipated, and her staccato passages-- not to mention certain vocal effects referred to in a previous article--impressed us as particularly true and brilliant." Heady stuff for any aspiring artist!
In [February 26, 1874 at All Souls, Saint Marylebone, London, England] Emma married Eugene Irving Wetherell and they formed a small touring company: Three singers, a pianist, and a cornettist! Mr. Wetherell was not a musician but a successful entrepreneurial-type businessman who had Charles Pratt as an associate. Together they soon expanded Emma's musical forces into a legitimate opera company, the Emma Abbott Grand English Opera Company, Wetherell & Pratt, Directors. Emma made the musical decisions, Wetherell and Pratt the financial considerations. [Wetherell died January 1889 in Denver, Colorado. He and Emma had no children.]
As the Company became more popular and Abbott was singing almost constantly, she apparently developed some vocal habits that a Times writer found unattractive and described them in a review of The Bohemian Girl: "Her voice is thin and nasal in quality... her method is crude and inartistic, she, nevertheless, seems to possess a certain power over an audience, and she can 'draw'...." In spite of occasional reviews of this nature, the Company thrived.
In just a few years her reputation was such that Horace W. Tabor literally commissioned her to give the premier performance in his new Denver opera house which traveling performers quickly tabbed the Tabor Grand. She was booked there for a two-week season, September 6-23, 1881. Her experienced cast gave these productions within the two weeks: Lucia di Lammermoor, Fra Diavolo (twice), Il Trovatore, Martha (twice), Olivette, The Bohemian Girl (twice), Faust, Chimes of Normandy, and Cecelia's Love, all in English. In fact, most traveling opera companies sang all operas in English. However, if a new member to a cast was, say, Italian and only sang in Italian, the audience heard English and Italian in the same performance!
Cecelia's Love was the music of La Traviata but with a considerably altered libretto. Abbott did not approve of the immoral Violetta whose role in the opera was repugnant to her. (Remember the Covent Garden hassle?) The revised libretto now featured a morally upstanding woman by the name of Cecelia. Another notable feature of her performances was her penchant of interpolating hymns into the operas of Bellini and Donizetti, and she brought "Nearer, My God to Thee" into Faust. Reviewers sometimes criticized the practice, but the public, especially in the smaller cities, loved it. Interpolating familiar songs into opera performances was fairly common with many companies at that time.
In any event, the above productions represented a substantial challenge for any traveling company. A strong, experienced cast was essential. Abbott had it. When Emma was not the leading soprano, Julie Rosewald sang, as she did for Il Trovatore, Olivette, one performance of The Bohemian Girl, and Chimes of Normandy. This was the same Rosewald whom Eduard Hanslick praised in Neue Freie Presse: "She stands, in our opinion, in the foremost ranks of our dramatic singers.... She goes to America, where our best wishes accompany her, but we hope she will soon return to Germany where such singers as she are not numerous." Rosewald, German born, already had been to America and Canada in 1875. In fact, she made her operatic debut at Toronto as Marguerite in Faust. By 1877 she had made her second tour of California with the C. D. Hess Opera Company as Senta in The Flying Dutchman. Within a few years she supposedly had a repertoire of fifteen operas. She was briefly with the Kellogg English Opera Company before joining the Emma Abbott Company in 1880 with whom she sang for three years.
Two other Abbott leads also had sung with Kellogg's Company: George Conly and William Castle. When Abbott's Company appeared in New York in 1879, the Times described Castle, a veteran tenor, as "a careful, painstaking artist throughout."
Her orchestra was conducted by Signor Tomasi; it usually was rated as a good orchestra for one of America's better traveling opera companies. However, in Denver Tomasi followed the common practice of adding some local talent to the orchestra, and a reviewer noted that it was not until the fifth night of the Tabor opening run that it "managed for once to play in tune." That production, Faust, "was without doubt the best and most complete performance ever given in Denver." The "most complete performance" comment relates to the fact that traveling opera companies commonly made any number of cuts in their performances: an aria, a duet, a chorus, even an entire act.
Abbott's Company appeared six times in Denver until her untimely death by pneumonia in 1891 while at Salt Lake City. Her Colorado appearances also included Colorado Springs (1881, 1887) and Leadville (1882, 1891). Peoria, Illinois, to which the family moved when Emma was a three-year-old, proudly claims her heritage .
Right Click mouse on image - then click on view image - to see enlarged photo
PAF - Archer files = Orson Pratt Brown < Captain James Brown + (7) Phebe Abbott < Stephen Joseph Abbott + Abigail Smith < (connection surmised by Sherry Zundel as she found articles and a copy of a death certificate for Emma Abbott Wetherell among items she found in the Abbott-Zundel home.) Emma Almira Abbott < Seth Abbott + Almira Palmer < Dyer Abbott + Sarah Atkinson < Jabez Abbott + Hepzibah Stevens < Thomas Abbott + Elizabeth Ballard.
Emma's Obituary- http://www.idaillinois.org:1066/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/isl&CISOPTR=1983&REC=16&CISOSHOW=1979
http://history.alliancelibrarysystem.com/IllinoisWomen/files/pe/htm1/peaba.cfm Eleven typewritten pages of Emma's biography.
So wrote C.D. Hess at the conclusion of an extensive article in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1901 when he had been in retirement for about ten years. There is a little exaggeration: Hess's troupes were not "seen in all parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico," and all of the singers he named did not get "their start in opera" at his hands. But his companies did tour as widely as any, and his ear for vocal talent did cause him to promote the careers of many singers who became start attractions of the grand and comic operatic stage. For well over 20 years he was known as an opera impresario....
In 1878, apparently at Emma Abbott's leading, Hess formed an English opera company around her that toured for one year very successfully, both musically and financially. Hess furnished everything and gave Abbott a certain percentage of the receipts. An extensive tour included two stops in Detroit on September 30-October 2, and December 9-11. Hess then, supposedly, sold out his rights to Emma's new husband, Eugene Wetherell, for $10,000....
http://operapronto.home.comcast.net/historyfiles/history2.html Written by Stephen E. Busch, Professor Emeritus of Music, Colorado State University Placed above..
Additions, bold, [bracketed], some photos, etc., added by Lucy Brown Archer
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