The Column: Remembering the OTHER Oscar Hammerstein

By James Inverne on Aug 03, 2014 01:30 PM EDT

Unsung heroes of opera #1562 (or whatever). This month, August 1st to be precise, marks 95 years to the day of the Oscar Hammerstein we don't talk about: Hammmerstein I, grandfather to his more celebrated namesake, was one of the great chancer impresarios.

Born in Prussia, he devoted his life to building and filling opera houses in the United States and elsewhere. Plenty of his adventures ultimately failed--his beloved Manhattan Opera House, though not before the under-pressure Met paid to stop him showing them up with his mega-expensive opera productions in New York, and his London Opera House (now the Peacock) in that city's West End--but his achievements were legion.

He helped to establish Times Square as the heart of a pulsing theater district in New York. He mounted U.S. premieres of Pelleas et Melisande, Salome, Elektra and many others. And the number of theaters whose establishment he oversaw ran into the double figures.

His last opera house (the Lexington) was his swiftest failure, opening intead as a cinema. He ended his life bickering with his daughters (he famously compared himself to King Lear) and hoping for a comeback that never quite happened.

So, spare a thought about this remarkable character this month. Someone should write an opera about him.

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TagsThe Column, James Inverne, Oscar Hammerstein, Salome, Elektra, Times Square, Metropolitan Opera

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