Friday, August 17, 2012

René Bine Visits the Vienna Opera

The young René Bine of San Francisco appears to have been very enthusiastic and dedicated to his study of medicine in Vienna in 1905, but not so dedicated that he couldn't find time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the great city.  If you happen to be an opera history buff, this firsthand account of the opera performances should be especially interesting. If not, you may just enjoy the pattern of his tiny and meticulous handwriting and be glad you don't have to decipher it.

René was 23 at the time and regularly sent cards addressed to his sister Marie, one year his junior, but with news intended for his parents as well. Last week, I suggested that René's father might also have been a doctor. That turns out not to be true. Leon Bine, an immigrant from Châtenois, France, was a cloth merchant who worked for Reiss Bros. & Co. in San Francisco, before opening his own business, Bine & Co. sometime before 1908.

Here's card #204, sent from Vienna.

The message reads:

Dear folks. Friday evening we all went to see Tannhäuser which afforded us a most enjoyable evening + now I realize how superior to Frisco is the Wiener opera. Before all I will admit that the singers i.e. the stars do not compare favorably with Grau's collection, but the tout ensemble is what counts. And further Tannhäuser affords an opportunity for beautiful scenic effects + magic-like stage transformations of which I little dreamed. 

And I must add that having seen quite a few operas since I'm in Wien (including Lakme Queen of Sheba, Hoffman's Erzählungen, die Fledermaus, La Bohème, Norma, Freischütz, Lohengrin) I Prefer the following in about this order Tannhäuser, Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, though for all I'm told, I believe I will modify this opinion ere long + put Fidelio at the head of the list. To-night, Saturday Paul + Tillie are seeing Pagliacci+ C.R., while I'm taking it easy at home. This A.M. as  is my wont I was at 8:15 at Ortner's. It is a bit cold + dark mornings + out of the whole crowd of Americans who usually come, we were only 4 to-day + the less present, the...

I have a card #205, but it doesn't seem to be a continuation of this one. The system is confusing. Let's move on to card #206.

Monday Jan. 23. 05.
Went to Fidelio last P.M. + it was the most enthusiastic audience I've ever found myself in. The tenor, Winkelman, Wien's old tenor had but little do to (?), + with his usual ready-to-bawl voice did it well. Lilly Lehman was at her best. She is no spring chicken, this once beautiful Lilly, + is retired from the opera to stage, but Adeline-wise now + then comes out of her beautiful suburban residence to sway the hearts of her fellow citizens with her melodious voice. As an opera I cannot give Fidelio 1st place in my list. The ouverture to the last scene, as far as my personal opinion goes, is far + above any other music in the whole piece. The cast was about the strongest the opera boasts of it, + it was also beautifully staged. - Tonight we go to the Rhinegold. Prague's best tenor will shine as guest. Some new stunts have been performed with the piece + they shall play it 4 times this week so great has been the demand. Paul + Tillman were down early yesterday + procured...

I'm afraid we'll never know what they procured.  I'll post more of René Bine's adventures and observations as soon as my eyeballs recover. Although I don't know who Tillman was, Paul is presumably Dr. Paul E. Biber, a classmate of Dr. Bine's.

Here's the back of the first card.


  1. These are just too wonderful! I am loving them....

  2. This is Amazing!!! First hand reviews of concerts and opera performances are very rare and a valuable source for the trivia and nuance of cultural life. And Wien is where it was happening in this era. Mahler, Strauss, et al. When they perfect the time machine, I will travel back to the Vienna of this first decade of the 1900s just to see and hear the things this young man experienced.

    You ask if we have ever seen someone write so much on a postcard and I can say yes, ME! When I lived in London I wrote similar concentrated travelogues to friends and folks back home. I recognize Rene's enthusiasm.

    How many of these cards do you have? This could be worth publishing as a first-person narrative diary.

  3. Rene was a wonderful correspondent! I wish I had some Renes!

  4. Hi Mike,
    I'm glad you enjoyed these. I love them too, despite the difficulty of reading the tiny handwriting. I have around 80 of the cards, but there are gaps with lots of missing cards. He must have written hundreds.



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