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Mathilde Cottrelly


Mathilde Cottrelly guided the vocal style of the first age of Viennese style light opera in America. Trained in Berlin and Vienna, she was brought by Amberg to New York to sing the boys' roles in "The Royal Middy" and "Prince Methusalem" at the Thalia Theater in 1877-79. She also contracted concerts in Midwestern cities with large German populations, such as Cincinnati. Col. John McCaull hired her to sing and direct the productions of his comic opera troupe. She proved expert in genre opera such as "The Seamstress," "Chatter," and "Apajune." She first worked in New York at the moment when great voices--such as those of DeWolf Hopper, Lillian Russell and Digby Bell--made comic operetta a virtuoso art. She despaired at seeing the form fall into the hands of raucous comedians and muggers such as Francis Wilson and Jeferson deAngelis.

Cottrelly's career bounced between administration and performance. She managed the Thalia Theater in New York for a period, and the Old Germania in Philadelphia. But she longed to be at the center of the art form, so injected herself in productions and companies, picking and choosing as instinct dictated. Her inclination toward art led her to some glorious successes, "Trilby" and "Her Great Match," some worthy failures, "Children of the Ghetto" and "The Stepchild," and the occasional fortuitous success, "The Man Who Stood Still." In the German-language newspapers of America, she was one of the conspicuous reference points of the turn of the century, a reliable guide to style and aesthetic importance.

Curiously the last phase of her theatrical life was not expended in performing in the second wave of Viennese comic operetta, the operetta boom initiated by 1907's "The Merry Widow." Instead Cottrelly played Mrs. Isaac Cohen in the longest running play of the early 20th century, "Abbie's Irish Rose." Her Broadway career ended with a lead role in one of the "Potash and Perlmutter" series in 1926. David S. Shields/ALS