[Met Performance] CID:119410
Carmen {340} Metropolitan Opera House: 05/11/1936.

(Metropolitan Popular Spring Season 1936
Debuts: Natalie Bodanya, Lodovico Oliviero, Wilfred Engelman
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
May 11, 1936

METROPOLITAN POPULAR SEASON 1936


CARMEN {340}

Carmen..................Bruna Castagna
Don José................Armand Tokatyan
Micaela.................Natalie Bodanya [Debut]
Escamillo...............Carlo Morelli
Frasquita...............Charlotte Symons
Mercédès................Helen Olheim
Remendado...............Lodovico Oliviero [Debut]
Dancaïre................George Cehanovsky
Zuniga..................Louis D'Angelo
Moralès.................Wilfred Engelman [Debut]
Dance...................Ruthanna Boris
Dance...................Josef Levinoff

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

[At the time of her debut, Natalie Bodanya billed herself as Natalie Bodanskaya. She shortened her name as of December 22, 1936, to lessen confusion with the mezzo-soprano Ina Bourskaya and the conductor Artur Bodanzky.]

Review of Lawrence Gilman in The New York Herald Tribune

Metropolitan opera a three dollar top was the novel phenomenon disclosed to us at last night's [beginning] of the Metropolitan's Popular Spring Season.

Not in all the half-century of its existence had the Metropolitan unbent in this light-hearted and accommodating manner. Popular prices, popular nights, there have been, of course, but never (unless memory and Mr. Krehbiel's history have played us false) had this ancient and patrician institution relaxed its costly aloofness and welcomed the populace in its orchestra chairs for the price of a seat at a play.

General Manager Edward Johnson had proclaimed his belief that New York should be provided with opera during most of the year, “especially in the Spring, when the city is gay and lively, and when business and pleasure bring many visitors to town.” And last night he realized at least part of that ambition. The audience filled the house to its capacity; and it was unmistakably democratic – one observed that a lady of African ancestry, wearing a sailor hat was seated a few rows in front of a white-haired grande dame in low neck and pearls. The parquet was sprinkled with business suits. A few stiff-necked critics wore dinner jackets; but most of the discernible evening suits adorned the musicians in the orchestra pit, who are always models of sartorial form.

The audience was lively in temper and response. Doubtless it contained many of that “new public” referred to by Mr. Johnson, which he desired to lure by “high standards at low prices.” Quite evidently the assemblage were pleased by what they saw and heard. Perhaps for some of them it was gratifying to know that they were occupying $7.00 seats at less than half-rates, and sitting in the luminous penumbra of the Diamond Horseshoe, and watching the brocaded yellow curtains rise and fall.

As for those who came chiefly to hear the opera, there was good reason why they, too, should have been pleased. Mr. Johnson's primary object he has said, was “to lighten the winter operatic-fare,” to "choose works which would be refreshing in warm weather, and open some of the possibilities of light opera,”; and so, quite logically and appropriately, he chose “Carmen” as the curtain-raiser for his experimental season, In Europe, as Mr. Johnson knows, they have a rather different notion as to what operas are “refreshing in warm weather,” and at Munich and Salzburg, in the summer months, you do not get “Carmen” and “Rigoletto” and the “Bartered Bride,” but “Don Giovanni” and “Fidelio” and “Der Ring des Nibelugen.” But New York is neither Munich nor Salzburg, and Broadway at Thirty-Ninth Street is not adapted to summer Festival Performances of great operas, which could hardly he given at a three dollar top.

So Mr. Johnson is right: By all means let us have such works as “Carmen” and “Rigoletto” and “Bartered Bride” - and it would be even better if he would vouchsafe us “Die Fledermaus” and “La Belle Helene”- although these masterworks are perhaps for serious souls, rather than for the lighter-minded folk who love the “Habanera” and the “Seguidilla” and the Toreador with his swaggering song; and the choice of Bizet's superb score was unmistakably ratified by last evening's gathering. They heard a better performance of the work than that of the winter season which served to introduce the Carmen of Miss [Rosa] Ponselle. Musically it was, on the whole, more rhythmically vital and alert. It was less vocally extravagant, more agreeable to the ear.

According to Mérimée, the literary creator of the original Carmen, that persuasive wanton was young, small, well-built; more beautiful," said Mérimée, "than any other woman of her race that I have ever seen." Her eyes were "voluptuous and wild" - and Mérimée quotes the Spanish proverb: "Gypsy eye, wolf eye." Now that is not a description of Miss Bruna Castagna, who, a graduate of the Hippodrome and the Stadium, was the Carmen of last night's performance. This Carmen was not "small;" one was led to conclude that she had filched too many sweetmeats from the pasty shops of Seville. She should consider seriously that matter which most opera singers, even the greatest, inexcusably overlook - the matter of the visual re-creation of a role.

Miss Castagne, like several of her most eminent colleagues at the Metropolitan, displaces far too much atmosphere; and thus she does much to mar the effect of what would otherwise be a fascinating be a fascinating and voracious Carmen. For Miss Castagna is potentially charming. She has both temperament and artistic tact. She has a remarkable voice, sensuously beautiful, voluptuous, richly expressive: and last night she made it serve again and again the purposes of the music and the play. She is already a better Carmen than Miss Ponselle; and, if she takes herself in hand and passes the pastry shops with a stonily averted face, she may easily become irresistible.

She costumed the part with discretion - though it might be questioned whether discretion is a note that Carmen should sound in any element of her embodiment: for Mérimée wrote, that when José saw Carmen the second time, she was “adorned like a shrine, bedecked, rigged out, ribbons upon ribbons, a spangled dress, blue shoes (also spangled), with flowers and faces over all. Some Carmens of the lyric stage have overdone the bedecking of the rôle, but Miss Castagna, does not merit that reproach.

The Don Jose of the cast, Mr. Armand Tokatyan (also a Stadium graduate as well as an old timer of the Metropolitan), gave us a better acted corporal than did his predecessor of the Winter season, Mr. Martinelli. But Mr. Tokatyan is not always an agreeable singer, or a trustworthy one. At a certain moment last evening it was not certain whether he was singing A sharp or B, and one concluded that he was making the choice an optional one. But he was histrionically vigilant and intense, and what is a minor second between friends?

Mr. Morelli was an indifferent Escamillo - it is hard to believe that Carmen would ever have noticed him. As for the Micaela of Miss Natalie Bodanskaya, she made at least a rather melancholy impression; but she improved as the evening progressed, and won an ovation when she had finished. Mr. Papi, whose genius for conducting one has sometimes been inclined to doubt, conducted surprisingly well - with rhythmic verve, and a sense of the pulse and color of the score.

All in all, and despite its obvious shortcomings, this was an enjoyable "Carmen." It opened auspiciously a season that should prosper. Heraclitus welcomed guests to his kitchen “for here also,” he observed. “there are gods.” So Mr. Johnson is entitled to welcome Springtime visitors not to his kitchen (for that is closed to the popular eye and ear), but to his lyric playground in its vernal garb; for here also there are potential gods - and goddesses.

Photograph of George Cehanovsky as Dancaïre by Ranco's Photo Studios.



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