BBC Music Magazine : 2019-04-17

First Transconti­nental Railroad : 47 : 49

First Transconti­nental Railroad

First Transconti­nental Railroad n n n n spring season. For the 1900 tour, 220 people travelled in 16 Pullman cars; musicians amused themselves with rollicking poker games in the dining car. Once, before leaving for San Francisco in 1906, Enrico Caruso bought a revolver and ammunition to protect himself from the ‘bandits and assassins’ he expected to encounter in that city. The Italian tenor unnerved fellow passengers by conducting target practice out the windows of the speeding train. The era also saw the arrival of over-the-top star perks. Divas like Adelina Patti, Nellie Melba and Lillian Nordica travelled in private coaches hooked onto the caboose position (at the end) of a train. Patti had an opulent, $65,000 car with her name in gilt lettering on its side. ‘The diva travelled for years in luxurious seclusion, though hardly in total solitude,’ writes Quaintance Eaton in Opera Caravan. ‘Indeed, she required an entourage of a dozen or so, all of whose fares constitute­d an obligation of the management – including a personal chef.’ When Patti’s car pulled into Omaha, she opened the blinds to show off her sumptuous quarters. ‘The curtains are of heavy damask silk,’ noted a local reporter. ‘The walls and ceiling of gilded leather tapestry, the lamps of rolled gold. A grand piano of carved wood cost $2,500.’ There were mishaps and hardships, too. Musicians had to cope with dirty, coal-burning locomotive­s and tight quarters; reports of illness were common. The 1906 tour to California was dramatical­ly cut short by the San Francisco earthquake and fires, which destroyed much of the city. After giving two performanc­es, the company fled town largely unharmed, but its sets and costumes were destroyed. Pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski travelled in comparable luxury when in 1891 he began the first of his nearly-annual tours to some 80 North American cities. ★is private train had a bedroom, kitchen, dining room and a salon with a Steinway, enabling him to practise along the way. There were separate cars for his retinue (including chef, valet, masseur, porters and piano technician) and journalist­s. By contrast, when the New York Philharmon­ic travelled to the Midwest in 1910, the 100-member orchestra squeezed into three cars – two coaches for the musicians and one baggage car. Railroads, meanwhile, continued their westward push. Between 1850 and 1910, railroad mileage had increased from 9,021 miles to 240,293 miles. By 1900 there were four additional transconti­nental lines, built with assistance from federal government land grants. Each day, many of these lines were moving performers. They stopped in outposts like Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the early 1880s, a group of prominent townspeopl­e, tired of their ramshackle opera house above a livery stable, raised funds to build a magnificen­t 1,000-seat theatre containing a 52-foot-wide chandelier. The opening night, featuring Audran’s comic opera Les noces d’olivette, was a city-wide celebratio­n. The Cheyenne Daily Leader reported the venue was, ‘A lasting proof to all comers of the intelligen­ce and refinement of this little city of less than 4,000 people’. The 1880s marked Wyoming’s opera house era, as travelling performers put on one or two nights not only in Cheyenne but also in Laramie, Evanston and other railroad towns. Fires broke out in the Cheyenne house in 1888 and 1902, the latter of which ended its life as a performanc­e venue. The building was eventually torn down in 1960, in a tragically familiar pattern across post-war America. Not to be outdone by larger cities, Kearney, Nebraska, also situated along the Union Pacific line, built the grand 1,200-seat Kearney Opera ★ouse in 1891. At its opening a local newspaper described the five-story building as ‘the most imposing structure in Nebraska outside Lincoln and Omaha’ Well-trained: Italian soprano Adelina Patti and crew with her Pullman car; (right) violinist Ole Bull rode the Union Pacific Railroad in 1870; (below) Paderewski practised the piano on his private train

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