03 September, 2011

The Dismissal

In her time, Mary Garden was a force to contend with, but that force certainly met it's match when it came to Edith Rockefeller McCormick; especially when the issue at hand concerned Edith's beloved Civic Opera in Chicago and "Salome.".

In 1922 Mary Garden, as director of the Chicago Opera Co. decided to take a second crack at the Richard Strauss piece, which had been banished from the Chicago opera stage 11 years prior. The furor and protest over the operatic version of Oscar Wilde's play, - with it's infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" and the final scene where Salome declares her love to the severed head of John the Baptist - was simply too much for Chicago audiences.

In 1910, it lasted for only three performances. This time around, Mary declared, "Times have changed and the more liberal spirit of today will justify the performance." The first two performances were of course sold out as the critics held it to be, "unclean," "obscene" "immoral," "vulgar" and "an exhibition of a girl demented by passion." There would not be a third.

What Mary hadn't taken into consideration was reputation. This was Edith Rockefeller McCormick's Civic Opera after all, (she underwrote all losses) and any blemish to the company's reputation simply would not be allowed. Prior to the third performance, Miss Garden was invited to tea at 1000 Lake Shore Dr. were she was informed that upon viewing the first performance, Edith decided to give it a second chance and went to the opera again. It would proceed no further.

When the press inquired as to why the opera was cancelled, Mary replied, "Chicago doesn't like it, so we won't give it. New York? Oh we may give it there." This was certainly more aspirational than 1910's banishment, which saw the Chicago company travel to Milwaukee.

Special Note: This post owes it's conception to my Lake Forest Bob & Carol, Ed & Alice gang. (Bob Craig, Carol Jones, Ed Stevenson and Alice Moulton-Ely) In discussing J.Ogden Armour the other evening, the purported affair between Armour and Mary Garden was recalled. I wouldn't expect Edith to have any patience with regard to that; Edith's own husband (Harold) had left her only the year prior for Ganna Walska. At this point I am certain she had had her fill of divas.

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