The Carnegie Hall performance of
La Damnation de Faust with James Levine leading soloists, chorus and
orchestra was only the tenth time the Metropolitan Opera had programmed
the Hector Berlioz Légende Dramatique. It was also the first Met
performance in which French bass Pol Plançon did not sing
Méphistophélès. Anton Seidl led the Met premiere on February 2, 1896,
with Plançon, Clementine de Vere and Albert Lubert. In the two other
performances that season Lillian Nordica sang Marguerite.
In 1906-07, the first season of
competition with Oscar Hammerstein's new Manhattan Opera, Met manager
Heinrich Conried advertised his special attractions in program
THE PUCCINI OPERAS
During the month of January and in connection with the visit of Mr.
Giacomo Puccini to America, it is the intention of the Management to
give performances of no fewer than four remarkable operas by the famous
Italian composer. In addition to Tosca and La Bohème, which are already
favorites here, two works never yet heard at the Metropolitan will be
presented - Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut.
Towards the end of January, Mr. Conried will produce Salome, the most
notable of recent European successes and the most sensational work
of Richard Strauss. It will be interpreted with a largely increased
orchestra and in a manner befitting its unique importance.
LA DAMNATION DE FAUST
The masterpiece of Hector Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust, long popular
in the concert room, will be presented as an opera on Friday evening,
December 7th. In Paris, in Monte Carlo and Germany, where the opera has
been produced in its new form, under the direction of Mr. [Raoul]
Gunzbourg, it has made a profound impression. The new and beautiful
scenery and scenic illusions provided for La Damnation de Faust at the
Metropolitan will be extraordinary features of the production. Another
feature will be the introduction of the "Ballet Aérien." Over three
hundred persons will take part in certain scenes.
In a season of novelties,
Damnation was staged two nights after the American premiere of Umberto
Giordano's Fedora, with greater critical success. The New York Times
felt "...the music undoubtedly gains by a pictorial setting....The
passing of the soldiers to the strains of the Rákóczy march is a fine
stage pageant." The Ballet of the Sylphs was repeated. However, W. J.
Henderson observed that "the work is deficient in action and its
pictures have no valid connection." Faust and Marguerite were sung by
Charles Roussilière and Geraldine Farrar, both of whom had debuted the
week before in the opening night Roméo et Juliette. Pol Plançon
repeated his Méphistophélès in the four performances that were staged
and a Sunday Night Concert. Arturo Vigna conducted.
The following season, Hammerstein
persisted with another staged Damnation. He had prepared the production
the year before and, besides, he had for the Devil the French artist
Maurice Renaud who had given this version such currency in Europe.
Where Plançon was an elegant man and consummate vocalist, "...the sad,
sardonic humor of Renaud, his Richard III gait, whose high-heeled tragic
buskin on the right foot knew not what the left foot's limping and
heelless comic sock would do next, were something new. Renaud was
arch-fiend to the fingertips. Even the top gallery must have caught the
effect of his artificial ivory nails, inches long, set like the daggers
of tiger claws on his ebony-stained hands. They alone would have made
artistic mincemeat of the 'Song of the Flea....' His deathshead makeup,
shrouded to the cheekbones in a pall of black, had but one streak of
color. He showed over the left ear alone one spear of red feather that
has known no brother here." [New York Evening Sun]
Despite Renaud and another aerial
ballet with more dancers and fewer clothes, Hammerstein's Damnation
lasted only three performances.
Pol Plançon as Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust. He was not photographed
in La Damnation de Faust.
Photograph by Aimé Dupont.