[Met Performance] CID:113220
L'Amore dei Tre Re {54} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/17/1933.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 17, 1933


L'AMORE DEI TRE RE {54}
Montemezzi-S. Benelli

Fiora...................Lucrezia Bori
Avito...................Edward Johnson
Manfredo................Richard Bonelli
Archibaldo..............Tancredi Pasero
Flaminio................Angelo Badà
Maid....................Elda Vettori
Young Woman.............Helen Gleason
Old Woman...............Dorothea Flexer
Youth...................Giordano Paltrinieri
Shepherd................Dorothea Flexer

Conductor...............Tullio Serafin

Director................Armando Agnini
Set designer............Mario Sala
Set designer............Joseph Novak

L'Amore dei Tre Re received three performances this season.
[Novak designed the set for Act II.]



Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America


L'AMORE DEI TRE RE RETURNS TO STAGE OF METROPOLITAN

Montemezzi Music Drama, Absent for Four Years, Resumes Place in Active Repertoire - Heavy Burdens Carried By Bori in Cast That Also Includes Johnson, Bonelli and Pasero - Serafin Conducts - Work Has Not a Tremendous Popular Appeal But is Favorite of Many Music-Lovers

Last of the current season's promised novelties and revivals, though more in the nature of a simple resumption than either, Italo Montemezzi's one successful opera, "L'Amore dei Tre Re," was restored to the active list at the Metropolitan the night of Feb. 17. It had been absent four years, having been performed last on Jan. 29, 1929. Nineteen years had elapsed since the Metropolitan first produced it, with Arturo Toscanini conducting, on Jan. 2, 1914. It had been in and out of the repertoire, with several previous revivals and numerous changes of cast, and had been produced in New York repeatedly by the Chicago forces in the clays of its annual visits. Meanwhile, two other Montemezzi operas, "Giovanni Gallurese" and "La Notte di Zoraima"-the last of these a novelty of last season-had come and gone, without similarly winning over any appreciable element of Manhattan's operatic public. Chicago manifested a similar indifference to the future of "La Nave," when that work was mounted there. Thus, for America, Montemezzi has remained a one-opera composer and "L'Amore dei Tre Re," the opera on which his fame has rested, has never quite been established as a fixture in season-to-season repertoire.

An Opera for Cognoscenti

The reception accorded L'Amore on this occasion was something more than cordial, something less than excited. The work has never had the popular appeal of the Puccini operas and perhaps never can be expected to build the same sort of general affection, however much it may be admired by the cognoscenti. It is not an aria-opera, full of showpieces and top notes, for those whose musical appetites are primarily Italian. The special audiences that assemble for the "Ring" cycle matinees seem to be interested in little but Wagner. The man or woman with a "crush," so to speak, for "L'Amore" is usually the same man or woman who turns up invariably at "PeIléas et Mélisande," "The Bartered Bride," "Le Coq d'Or," "Boris Godounoff," "Schwanda" or "Cosi fan Tutte"-works a little off the beaten track and works that seldom rejoice the box-office by reason of the limit in standees. It has what is one of the most thrilling scenes, dramatically, in all opera, the strangling of Fiora by the blind old Archibaldo and the "dead march" of the latter across the stage with Fiora's body dangling over his shoulder as the curtains close, the conclusion of the second act. This scene brought voluminous applause at the revival. Otherwise the curtain recalls indicated the usual friendly and polite interest on the part of the many, as compared with intense absorption and enchantment for the few.

Heavy Burdens Carried By Bori

The performance, however, was not one to prod the run of operagoers out of their ordinary complacency. It possessed routine competence and occasionally more than that, with the honors falling chiefly into the lap of Lucrezia Bori, again cast as Fiora, a role she was the first to sing at the Metropolitan. Two of the other participants, Richard Bonelli and Tancredi Pasero were appearing in this work at this house for the first time, so that the cast was not a re-assembly of any previous one, though Edward Johnson as Avito had repeatedly sung opposite Miss Bori, and Angelo Bada's fortunes have been linked with the opera in the minor part of Flaminio since 1914. While Tullio Serafin devoted himself ardently and painstakingly to his not-always-responsive orchestra, one wondered whether it was quite fair to a revival of this character to undertake it on the same day as an exhausting afternoon performance of "Götterdämmerung." This, with Artur Bodanzky conducting, was concluded less than three hours before "L'Amore" began. The Montemezzi work could scarcely be said to have been re-studied. The mountings were the old ones.

Though the ensemble was an adequate one, with no member unsatisfactory, the collective achievement fell appreciably short of the more notable previous representations by the Metropolitan or the visiting Chicago forces, Miss Bori appeared to be carrying something more than her due share of the burdens, since, when this work is heard at its best, there is to an unusual degree a parity between the four chief characters, Fiora, Archibaldo, Manfredo and Avito, not true of this performance. Doubtless a Chaliapin in the role of Archibaldo could convert the opera into a star vehicle for the bass, contrary as this stardom would be to the intent of Montemezzi and to the spirit of the poetic drama by Sem Benelli which shines radiantly through Montemezzi's music. But even Mary Garden, with her writhing, vermilion Fiora, one of the most pictorial and vehement of her characterizations, could not make it a star opera for the soprano. There was once much argument as to what seemed a fundamental difference of conception between the Fiora of Miss Bori and the Fiora of Miss Garden. With the passing of years the differences have diminished, the resemblances have increased. Miss Bori's portrayal has taken on more of emotional intensity (and, in the defiance of Archibaldo, an additional fierceness) while it has shed something of a flowerlike frailty and mystery.

Always one of her most appealing characterizations, it exerted its familiar charm at this performance, both as to singing and the visual delineation of a creature lovely to look upon. The death struggle was vividly acted, though the dangling arms of the lifeless Fiora swayed considerably more than seemed to be in consonance with Archibaldo's steady gait. Mr. Pasero sang his first act narrative well, but most of his predecessors, including Mr. Pinza in the last previous revival, have suggested the blindness of Archibaldo more effectively and have made a more commanding personage of the venerable king. Mr. Bonelli, too, sang and looked well, without bringing to the role the distinction or the tenderness invested in it by others who have sung it in New York, including Amato, Baklanoff, Galeffi, and, at the last restoration of the work, Lawrence Tibbett. Mr. Johnson's Avito has been admired from the time it was first disclosed in company with Mary Garden's Fiora in one of the early Chicago visitations. In "L'Amore," as in "Pelléas et Mélisande" and "Romeo et Juliette," he and Miss Bori have been the most convincing young lovers of the Metropolitan's chameleonic casts. As he studied the role under Montemezzi, he has had the advantage of knowing precisely what the composer himself desired. His singing and acting at this performance had their wonted passion, but, for the reviewer, an excess of gesture which tended toward the manneristic at the cost of the usual dramatic conviction. Caruso, it will be recalled, essayed the part in the season of 1918, but was not happy in it, with the result that he soon dropped out of the cast. Ferrari-Fontana, the Avito of the original cast, is remembered almost solely for this role. Though the other parts are of little importance, it should be noted that Mr. Bada did his full duty by Flaminio and that the off-stage music of the second act was well sung by Dorothea Flexer.

Superficial Likeness To Tristan

It is this music, suggesting, as it does, the warning song of Brangäne, and the love duet of Fiora and Avito, recalling visually the garden duet of Wagner's lovers, that leads to a superficial likening of the work to "Tristan und Isolde." Save that "L'Amore dei Tre Re" is true music-drama, as distinguished from aria-strung opera, none of the imputations of Wagnerism in this score will withstand the test of analysis. The score's recurrent themes, such as the military fanfare that accompanies Manfredo, or devices like the staggered chords that suggest the gait of the blind king, are not used as basic structural material in the manner of the Wagnerian motives. The color and quality of the orchestration are as Italian as the substance of the melodies. There is nothing German about this work, except as the ear may be misled by the eye.

Perhaps it is unfair to "L'Amore dei Tre Re" to hear it within three hours of "Götterdämmerung" as it is to perform it thus. Inevitably the Montemezzi work seemed small, and this in other ways than those implied by a duration of two and a half hours as compared to nearly five. The scoring, for all its glow and an occasional stressfulness that obscured the singers, took on something of thinness and lack of undertow. More still, the thematic basis, patrician as it is in comparison with most latter-day Italian opera, lacked inevitably the saliency of Wagner's tremendous themes. But nothing could be more far-fetched than to expect "L'Amore" to meet the test of any such comparisons. It is another world from Wagner, the world of Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni and the other heirs of Verdi. In refinement of craftsmanship it is superior to the more popular operas of this domain. They have no such orchestral web; they contain nothing quite like its stirring and individual ostinato effects. Whether its plentiful, long-breathed melodies have in them the genius that is to be found in Puccini is debatable, irrespective of questions of the aristocracy, the taste and the fitness of these melodies as a clear argument on the side of Montemezzi. Certainly, it is a work that can ill be spared and in this light the revival is altogether to be commended.



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