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Season 2/Episode 8, "In Terms of Winning and Losing"

Marian confesses her true feelings. Jack receives welcome news. Bertha and Mrs. Astor make their final moves in the opera war.

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In this Episode…

Image 1 Elms_2nd floor hall

☞ Early in the episode we see Bertha Russell’s bedroom, a set that was modeled after Alva Vanderbilt’s bedroom in Marble House. Bertha then stalks down the second-floor hallway of The Elms with its distinctive red wall fabric. The hallway is seen again later, with its historic tapestries, in the scene where Bertha offers Metropolitan Opera tickets to her housekeeper, Mrs. Bruce.


Image 2 Chateau-sur-Mer Marble Hall

☞ Daughter Gladys Russell’s bedroom is the real Mrs. Berwind’s bedroom in The Elms.

☞ The Marble Hall in Chateau-sur-Mer appears in the series for the first – and probably the only – time. This is the hallway of the Union Hotel where Bertha meets with the Duke of Buckingham. Note the very recognizable replica of a famous classical statue, “The Dying Gaul,” at the end of the hall.

Image 3 Season2_Ep8_carrie-coon-morgan-spector
Bertha (Carrie Coon) and George Russell (Morgan Spector) triumphantly enter their central box at the new Metropolitan Opera. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)

☞ Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera (and the Academy of Music) was October 22, 1883. The Met presented Faust by Charles Gounod with libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. The performance lasted five hours!

The Academy of Music gave La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini with libretto by Felice Romani; in keeping with the title, the Russells would certainly think the Academy was a cultural “sleepwalker.”

The original Metropolitan Opera house at 1411 Broadway occupied an entire block between 39th and 40th streets. Where the Academy only had one tier of boxes, the Met had three, with a seating capacity of 3,625 and several hundred more standing places. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1892.

Contemporary newspaper articles from The New York Tribune and The Sun give us a glimpse of both opera openings and who attended. Unlike in “The Gilded Age” where many seats in the Academy were empty – much to Mrs. Astor’s chagrin – in reality attendance at both operas was high, with the Academy “full to overflowing” according to the Tribune. Mrs. Astor was not in attendance at either, reportedly “still in the country.”

Attending the Met were George Peabody Wetmore (who owned Chateau-sur-Mer) and his sister Annie Watts Sherman; George Rives (brother of Ella Rives King of Kingscote) and Sarah Rives; John Jacob Astor; Jay Gould; William and Almira Rockefeller; Isaac Bell Jr.; and William K. and Alva Vanderbilt. Lord Coleridge was probably the most distinguished guest, sitting in the box of William H. and Maria Vanderbilt, parents of Cornelius Vanderbilt II of The Breakers.

One founder of the Met, George H. Warren, was the grandfather of George H. Warren III, husband of Preservation Society founder Katherine Urquhart Warren.

“Ward McAllister and Miss McAllister” were present at the Met as well, but these are likely Ward Jr., son of the social arbiter, and his sister Louise.

At the Academy, the first box-holder to arrive was Marietta Stevens, widow of Paran Stevens. In an interesting connection to the Vanderbilts, the Stevens’ daughter, who became Lady Paget, was the matchmaker who would help arrange the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough in the 1890s. Other Academy attendees included August Belmont Jr. and his wife Elizabeth; and Ward McAllister. Members of the Havemeyer family, connected to Newport and to the Oelrichs family of Rosecliff through marriage, were present at both operas.

Image 4 Season2_Ep8_jeremy-shamos-carrie-coon
Metropolitan Opera organizer Mr. Gilbert (Jeremy Shamos) escorts Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) during the opera house’s opening night. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)
Image 5 Consuelo Vanderbilt coronation outfit

☞ Gladys Russell’s dress, hair and pearls at the opera are reminiscent of a picture of Consuelo Vanderbilt as Duchess of Marlborough for the coronation of either Edward VII in 1902 or George V in 1911. Charles Spencer-Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, married Consuelo to save Blenheim Palace, his ancestral home. The fictional Duke of Buckingham faces similar financial woes in trying to preserve his properties, and clearly both he and Bertha have an eye on him marrying Gladys.

☞ The New York Board of Education did propose closing Sarah J. Garnet’s school for Black children in 1884 but changed its mind. The Brooklyn Public Library has written about the extraordinary efforts of Garnet on education in New York.

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