[Met Performance] CID:104350
Pelléas et Mélisande {18} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/6/1930.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 6, 1930


Pelléas.................Edward Johnson
Mélisande...............Lucrezia Bori
Golaud..................Clarence Whitehill
Arkel...................Léon Rothier
Geneviève...............Ina Bourskaya
Yniold..................Ellen Dalossy
Physician...............Paolo Ananian

Conductor...............Louis Hasselmans

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban

Pelléas et Mélisande received two performances this season.

[Bori's costumes were designed by Erté.]

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun


Debussy's doleful setting of Maeterlinck's drama "Pelleas et Melisande" returned to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House last evening. There were no evidences of popular excitement: the opera does not give any pretext for them, and this is one of the things which militate against its acceptance by the great mass of "amusement" seekers. There are no shrieking vocal climaxes, no periods of orchestral splendor, no resounding choruses, no glittering pageants. There is not a chance for a single "bravo." Nevertheless, "Pelleas et Melisande," that strange, solitary, unique and heartbreaking creation, holds the stage even of the Metropolitan and grips people's insides in a way which they resent, but go back to experience again.

What the next generation may think of the work cannot even be conjectured; but it seems possible that from time to time men and women may sit enchained by the pathos of these phantasms groping their way though the impenetrable fog of their own dank passions to that final death which is one of the most heartrending in all drama. There is nothing to say of Debussy's music except what has been said a hundred times, that it is the perfect medium for the text. It permits every word to be understood and saturates the whole poem with a fragrance as poignant as it is indescribable.

The performance at the Metropolitan last night was of familiar quality. This is one of the most delicate and finished achievements of the theater. There were moments when some of the finish was marred by the too generous tone of Mr. Hasselman's orchestra, but for these there was recompense in the tenser episodes of the play which were treated with profound feeling and high intelligence.

Most of the individual impersonations at the Metropolitan have distinction. Perhaps exaggerated stress has been laid on the young lovers and not enough on the true protagonist of Maeterlink's mystery, the tortured Golaud. This chronicler has been moved by the singular felicity of method and the resultant somber power with which Clarence Whitehill has succeeded in breaking through the restrictive medium of Debussy's expression without marring its artistic quality. He has contrived without stepping out of the musical picture to create the impression of one character whose utterances transcend the style of the music. Yet it would be difficult indeed to point out a single passage of his declamation which is not only justified, but strongly demanded by the score.

This figure of the typically middle aged man who marries a young wife only to find her bestowing her passion on a youthful lover differs from all the others precisely as the music of Debussy sets itself apart from that of all other operas. Golaud's wife is a pale, anemic phantom, a pathetic creature of utter helplessness moving droopingly toward her fate. She is a lily broken in the mortar. Pelleas is another wraith moving though the mists of a dream. But Golaud uses the sword; he does not mount the pulpit and preach like mark; he slays. Yet he is always a creature of Debussy. It is a role easy to ruin, and Mr. Whitehill has accomplished something quite noteworthy in his impersonation. We think it likely to live in the annals of the lyric stage.

Mr. Whitehill shares with Mr. Johnson the honor of delivering the text in a most aristocratic French. Mr. Johnson, who had sung Sadko the previous night, was in excellent condition, and his Pelleas had every whit of its accustomed art. It is the best Pelleas this town has known, despite the fact that Perrier himself sang it here. Miss Bori's Melisande was even more human last night that it had been. Her impersonation has always been individualized by its emergence from the baffling clouds of medievalism which have surrounded the role. Last night it was just a trifle more sensitive than ever before, while it continued to be the same series of ravishing pictures and the same musical revelation. It is a Melisande of exquisite texture.

For Mme. Bourskaya's Genevieve there can be only the warmest praise. It is an excellent piece of acting and singing and may be set down as this artist's highest flight. Mr. Rothier as Arkel was admirable, as he always has been, and Miss Delossy, who seemed to be out of voice, was effective in her Yniold scene. It is a pity that this singular music drama does not feed the box office sufficiently fat to justify a refurbishing of its scenic attire, which is becoming somewhat shabby.

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