American Opera Company 1886 - 1887

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The American Opera Company began performing German opera in English in January 1886. It quickly encountered financial difficulties, and by March 1887 it was merged into the National Opera Company of New Jersey. William attended several performances, starting with the opening on January 4, 1886. He was approached for financial support repeatedly and did provide some, although not as much as requested.

The American Opera Company was created to establish a national opera and to promote higher musical education. (5) Frequently mentioned in William Steinway's diary was Jeannette M. Thurber. (Diary, 1885-12-10, 12-12; 1886-01-15, 01-19, 02-06, 12-27) She was one of the incorporators of the American Opera Company. She also founded the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York a year earlier (2), and was an incorporator of the National Opera Company the following year. Mrs. Thurber also served as the Opera Company's Treasurer. Andrew Carnegie was its first president; Theodore Thomas its first conductor. (6) The Company lasted one year. The American Opera Company, Limited, of New York, was legally formed on Feb. 19, 1886, and by March 1887, was merged into the National Opera Company, of New Jersey. As noted in many newspaper articles, its troubles were financial, with many judgements filed against it. William Steinway was neither an incorporator, nor a stockholder (3); however, his diary entries indicate that Mrs. Thurber and others asked him to help fund the opera company.

The first season, which began on January 4, 1886, consisted of a 15-week cycle of performances. The 40 evening and 16 afternoon subscription performances, as well as ten performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, were all in English with experienced artists and the Theodore Thomas orchestra. (1)

As evidence that the American Opera Company's demise was not due to talent, a plan was made for the National Opera Company to re-engage all the principal artists. They did, however, reduce the length of the season and the number of cities visited.(4)

Through his diary, William Steinway reveals an active interest by attending multiple performances. He was at the opening, a performance of Götz's Taming of the Shrew on January 4 and at several additional performances through the month.(Diary, 1886-01-04; 01-13; 01-20; 01-27) William Candidus, William's brother-in-law, was one of the performers hired by the company; Candidus experienced difficulty in receiving payment and was a source for William Steinway concerning the company's financial difficulties.(Diary, 1886-01-20; 10-13; 11-14; 12-10) William restricted his financial involvement despite being asked for more substantial support. He did provide a guarantee that ultimately he was forced to pay in cash and was caught up in the drama of the financial pressures on the company.(Diary, 1886-11-15, 1887-01-03)


(1) "The American Opera, Prospectus of the Approaching Season at the Academy of Music," The New York Times, September 13, 1885, p. 14.
(2) "Friend of Music," The New York Times, January 12, 1946, p. 14.
(3) " It's Debts Not Discharged: Even Though Singers and Ballet Dancers Were," The New York Times, March 24, 1887, p.8.
(4) "The New Opera Company: Full Text of the Articles of Incorporation," The New York Times, January 1, 1887 p. 1.
(5) "Permanent American Opera," The New York Times, February 9, 1886, p. 8.
(6) Serposs, Emile H., "Jeannette Thurber," The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, London and New York: Macmillan Press, 1986, vol. 4.