Emma Abbott Grand Opera Company

Emma Abbott Grand Opera Company

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Description
This black and white print is a full-length portrait of two lovers on a balcony with tree branches and leaves in the foreground. The production is likely an abridged version of Roméo et Juliette , an 1867 opera in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. A datebill or printed label contains information about a performance at Park Theatre: “Two Nights / Tuesday and Wednesday, March 1 and 2/ Grand Matinee Wednesday P. M.”
The Park Theater was built in 1798 on Park Row in Manhattan and was New York City’s premiere performance space in the early 19th Century. It attracted a diverse audience with each class sitting in its preferred section. Working class men sat in the pit; members of the upper class and women in the boxes; the least affluent sat or stood in the balcony. This included immigrants, people of color, and prostitutes.
Emma Abbott (1850-1891) was an American opera soprano whose popular appeal earned her the title "the people's prima donna." Born in Chicago, she began studying music at an early age and made her debut as a singer and guitar player in Peoria, Illinois in 1859. Emma Abbott toured the Midwest professionally as a teenager and eventually moved to New York City, where she sang in the choir of the Universalist Church of the Divine Paternity. The congregation included wealthy members like P.T. Barnum, Horace Greeley and the Carnegies, and when Abbot left to study music in Europe, the church helped fund her efforts. After stays in Milan and Paris, she joined London's Royal Opera and made her debut at Covent Garden in 1876. Her contract was canceled, however, when she refused to appear as the courtesan Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata , claiming the character was immoral.
After returning to the New York stage, she and her husband Eugene Wetherell established the Abbott English Opera Company in 1878, which was said to be among the earliest American opera companies founded by a woman. Among the notable roles she sang with the company was Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette . Her company became known for charging low ticket prices, performing operas in English translation with abridged musical pieces, and introducing songs from hymns and other sources. She also made use of modern marketing techniques. Although attacked by critics for taking a lowbrow approach, Emma Abbot has been credited with helping expand the middle-class audience for opera. She continued to sing professionally until her death from pneumonia at the age of forty.
This lithograph was produced by the Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company and Joseph E. Baker. Joseph E. Baker (1837-1914) was a lithographer, cartoonist, and pencil portraitist who became especially well known for an 1860 portrait of Abraham Lincoln. He began his printing career as an apprentice at J. H. Bufford & Co. in 1857, and eventually became John Bufford’s principal draftsman and illustrator of sheet music. During the Civil War Baker produced political cartoons and lithographs for Bufford. He also did playbills and advertisements for the Forbes Company. Baker later worked for Armstrong & Company, remaining active until 1888.
The Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company was founded by William H. Forbes (ca 1836-1915), who immigrated to the United States from Liverpool, England in 1848. Forbes became an apprentice in the lithography business while still a boy and established William H. Forbes and Company in Boston in 1861. The firm expanded to become Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company in 1875 with hundreds of employees and offices in Boston, New York, Chicago, and London. During World War II the company became a major printer of allied military currency but went out of business later in the twentieth century.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
lithograph
Object Type
Lithograph
Date made
n.d.
depicted
Abbott, Emma
maker
Baker, Joseph E.
Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
Measurements
image: 20 in x 18 in; 50.8 cm x 45.72 cm
ID Number
DL.60.3028
catalog number
60.3028
accession number
228146
Credit Line
Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection
subject
Costume
Courtship, love
Theater
Music
Opera
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
Advertising
Art
Peters Prints
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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