[Met Performance] CID:100480
Die Ägyptische Helena {5} Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, Brooklyn: 12/4/1928.

(Review)


New York, Brooklyn
December 4, 1928


DIE ÄGYPTISCHE HELENA {5}
Richard Strauss-Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Helena..................Maria Jeritza
Menelas.................Walter Kirchhoff
Aithra..................Editha Fleischer
Omniscient Mussel.......Marion Telva
Altair..................Clarence Whitehill
Da-ud...................Jane Carroll
Hermione................Unknown
Aithra's Maid...........Philine Falco
Aithra's Maid...........Ina Bourskaya
Elves: Louise Lerch, Charlotte Ryan, Ina Bourskaya, Dorothea Flexer

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Review of Edward Cushing in the Brooklyn Eagle

'Die Aegyptsche Helena' Sung at the Academy of Music

The production of "Die Aegyptsche Helena" by the Metropolitan Opera Company was a logical, and very probably an inevitable, error of judgment. It was undoubtedly necessary for Mr. Gatti-Casazza's public to hear this opera in order to be convinced that it did not want to hear it, and for its failure both the company and management may be exonerated. We are not now referring to the production or to the performance that a large audience witnessed last evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, but to the opera itself.

It is easy to imagine the general outcry that would have been raised had the Metropolitan neglected to include among its novelties for this season the most recently completed work of Richard Strauss, Prejudice on the part of the Metropolitan against the operas of this composer has often been supported by the fact that "Der Rosenkavalier" alone among them has been intermittently admitted to the repertory. The Metropolitan was excused from the obligation of producing "Die Frau ohne Schatten" by the fact that the premiere of that opera took place during the years of the war, when Strauss's music was banned from the theaters and the concert halls of the United States, and Mr. Gatti-Casazza's critics have generally admitted his wisdom in refraining from importing "Intermezzo," which Strauss gave to the world In 1924 - "Intermezzo" so obviously disappointed and distressed its first European audiences by the frivolity of its libretto (written by the composer and said to have an autobiographical significance) and the tiresome triviality of the music. But there was no convenient pretext upon which "Die Aegyptische Helena" could be avoided, and so, on the night of Nov. 6 last, it was disclosed for the first time to an American audience.

Manhattan and Philadelphia have heard it; last evening it was performed in Brooklyn. It will probably not survive into a second season, and indeed, we see no reason why it should. Von Hofmannsthal's elaboration of the Helen legend treated by Herodotus and by Euripides, is obscure and undramatic, and Strauss' music is, on the whole, of indifferent quality. It adorns and emphasizes the incidents of the action with frequent success, it reveals Strauss still the master of his craft, still an ingenuous and tremendously gifted tone-painter. But it lacks emotional sincerity and imaginative authenticity. We could well dispense with it, for masterpieces wait to take its place in the repertory. Of the nine Strauss operas, four have sufficient intrinsic musical and dramatic merit to deserve productions by the Metropolitan, and of these four Mr. Gatti-Casazza has given us one only. By all means let us hear, in the near future, a revival of "Salome," and productions of both "Elektra" and "Feuersnot." Or must the enterprise of Philadelphia and Chicago, and the memory of Mr. Hammerstein's Intrepidity, still continue to shame us?

The Metropolitan's production of "Die Aegyptsche Helena" is sumptuous, and we are afraid, like the music, meretricious. Mr. Urban's first act arrangements of stairway and terrace, reminding one of a corner in some huge salon of the Wiener Werkstaette, is singularly uninventive. Cannot the operatic stage learn the lesson of imaginative and suggestive simplicity that is illustrated in the theater of today? Or must opera always be presented as a profuse and garish spectacle? The same audience to whom the Metropolitan reveals its tinseled panoramas must know and admire the handsome pictures framed by the prosceniums of many New York playhouses - the designs of such men as Simonson, Jones. Throckmorton, and Bel Geddes. Nor are either the settings or the costumes of "Die Aegyptsche Helena" appropriate to the place and time of the legend Neither Greece nor Egypt are suggested by these Arabian Nights backgrounds. Beauty and the similitude of accuracy are in this production abandoned for ostentation, and the eye is cheated by what it sees, as the ear is deceived by what it hears,

Last evening's cast was without alteration that which sang a previous Manhattan performance of "Helena." Mme. Jeritza was lovely to look upon, a glamorous and seductive impersonation of the heroine of Von Hofmannsthal's tale. But we regret that poet and composer drew this woman as they did, and that Mme. Jeritza, an intelligent, conscientious artist, has obeyed so implicitly their directions.. Remembering the loveliness and repose of her Elizabeth, we imagine her as the Homeric Helen, a woman of fable, not of flesh and blood, remote, beautiful and austere. Last evening she sang her music carefully and well, better, indeed, than we had ever heard her sing it. And this was true, too, of the other members of the cast. Miss Fleischer was triumphant at Aithra, and Mr. Kirchhoff, unconvincing though we find him as the embodiment of the Spartan king treated his music with discretion and skill. A word must be said for Mr. Whitehill's Altair, an ungrateful role at best, yet distinguished by a fine performance, despite its vocal shortcomings on the part of the Metropolitan's veteran baritone. The other roles, of slight importance, were entrusted to Marion Telva, Jane Carroll and Mmes, Falco, Bourskaya. Lerch, Ryan and Flexer. Mr. Bodanzky conducted.



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