[Met Performance] CID:120420
Les Contes d'Hoffmann {55} Matinee Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 01/23/1937., Broadcast


Metropolitan Opera House
January 23, 1937 Matinee Broadcast

Jacques Offenbach-Jules Barbier

Hoffmann................René Maison
Olympia.................Vina Bovy
Giulietta...............Vina Bovy
Antonia.................Vina Bovy
Stella..................Vina Bovy
Lindorf.................Lawrence Tibbett
Coppélius...............Lawrence Tibbett
Dappertutto.............Lawrence Tibbett
Dr. Miracle.............Lawrence Tibbett
Nicklausse..............Irra Petina
Andrès..................Angelo Badà
Cochenille..............Angelo Badà
Pitichinaccio...........Angelo Badà
Frantz..................Angelo Badà
Luther..................Arnold Gabor
Nathanael...............George Rasely
Hermann.................Wilfred Engelman
Spalanzani..............Louis D'Angelo
Schlemil................Norman Cordon
Crespel.................Louis D'Angelo
Mother's Voice..........Anna Kaskas

Conductor...............Maurice Abravanel

Director................Herbert Graf
Set designer............Joseph Urban

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Sings Four Parts in Season's Second Performance of 'Tales of Hoffmann'


Opera Company Has in Recent Years Assigned the Roles to Different Singers

"The Tales of Hoffmann," a work which grows upon the beholder with every hearing, was given its second performance of the season yesterday afternoon in the Metropolitan Opera House, and the performance as a whole, which attracted a large and very enthusiastic audience, was brilliantly superior to the first one. This was primarily due to the presence in the cast of Vina Bovy and her admirable interpretations of the four women's parts of Stella, Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia. These parts, in America, are usually given to different singers, but that is contrary to the real tradition, as is remarked in another column. Yesterday, for the first time in many years on this side of the water, the opera was cast as originally planned, the four principal women's parts, the four baritone parts, and even the parts of the four servants, Andres, Cochenille, Pitichinaccio and Franz, given, each group, to a. single interpreter.One reason for different singers taking the principal female roles was probably that thus more stars could be stuck into the cast. Another reason of a more artistic nature, was that it is difficult to find a single artist who can cope with the demands of the different characters.

A Brilliant Interpreter

To the surprise and pleasure of yesterday's audience, it was shown that Mme. Bovy could do this, and in so doing give a distinguished performance, by far the finest she has thus far offered her American public. It is not simple to sing the coloratura of the mechanical doll and then summon the sensuousness of tone and feeling needed by the Giulietta part, Mme. Bovy colored her tones in a way not anticipated in the Giulietta scene and, above all, gave the part of Antonia of the third act a pathetic and superbly dramatic presentation. This was the achievement of a brilliant interpreter and a most accomplished artist.

Mme. Bovy did another admirable thing not customary in this countr, and not expected of yesterday's occasion. She dressed Olympia not as a short-skirted puppet, but as a young woman plausibly and prettily attired in the costume of the period. This added greatly to the charm and verity of the episode. Mme. Bovy sang the coloratura passages clearly and well, with all the tricks of stage business that pertain to the music. Her coloratura passages were pyrotechnics used for appropriate interpretation. She turned into Giulietta of grace and seduction and she had something of the splendor and air of the grand courtesan. The tone, which had been properly a little thin and metallic, now became warm and sensuous, and of a character that carried the meaning of the music.

But the most thrilling moment was that of Antonia. Ordinarily the frail and consumptive, Antonia breathes a song, sings mournfully of fleeting happiness, and is gone. But there is that in the part which can and should precipitate the wild climax of the opera. It comes when Antonia, who had dreamed of the career and success of a great singer, is stirred by the uncanny Dr. Miracle to sing. She rises, she sings, in an imaginary theatre, her voice, as she dreams, soaring to the heights and thrilling a dazzled throng.

Excitement Communicated

And that excitement, that feverish delusion and intoxication was the thing that the Antonia communicated yesterday to the real audience in the opera house. At that moment, as if the imagined scene were real, the voice had worked brilliancy and sureness, the highest tones came off with show and éclat, thus completing the three aspects of the one woman's soul, as the libretto suggests, to say nothing of the very effective development of different resources, of the singer's art.

The Hoffmann of René Maison, like Mme. Bovy, knows the style and the tradition of the opera which, as some of our young Americans might discover, is after all of some little importance. It is true that the high tessitura of the Hoffmann rôle asked all that Mr. Maison had to give, and he has much. We have only heard one tenor who did not betray vocal tension in certain passages and he was a little chap with the poorest voice of all: the small-statured and "white" voiced Edmond Clement. But then, he also knew his business. Mr. Maison, with much more voice than Clement and with youthful impetuousness and full understanding, gave us a very suitable Hoffmann. With these singers, for the first time in years, the Metropolitan has potentially the elements of a fine Hoffmann cast.

As Mr. Tibbett's prologue and admirable first act show, he has the material to do anything he pleases with and to achieve if he so desires the unique conception of Offenbach and Barbier in this opera. He has chosen already to discard one of the most tasteless features of his Miracle in the last act - the stalking skeleton of the first presentation. Miracle at least kept himself covered yesterday, and in exactly the proportion in which he simplified his business, he was more effective than he had been a week previous.

No Place for Laughter

It is probable that Miracle's business is not Mr. Tibbett's original idea, but one put upon him by the stage direction. And it is astonishingly ineffective. It does not terrify or stir the imagination. The white-skulled Miracle, tinkling his viols and pursuing the allegedly terrified Crespel around his room, is about as frightening as a bugaboo at a Halloween party. It is good, clean fun, perhaps, but this is not the place where laughter is wanted. The less of the trapdoor technic and the more of suggestion instead of slapstick and lightning in this scene the greater it will be. It can be magnificently macabre. But from quite a different angle of approach.

The cast also offers the excellent Spalanzani and Crespel of Mr. d'Angelo. Mr. Bada takes the four servants' parts, as he should, with much appropriate humor. One of the unfortunate incidents of the Antonia scene is the breakneck speed at which Mr. de Abravanel takes the duet of Antonia and Hoffmann - "C'est une chanson d'amour." The "chanson d'amour" has a small chance of being a "chanson" at all. It is rushed forward, which makes it impossible to sing it with any sentiment, and when the voices cease Mr. de Abravanel plays the orchestral postlude with the mechanical speed of a hand organ.

Curtain Calls Too Soon

Another regrettable feature is the turning up of lights, parting of curtains and permitting the singers to come out and bow between the end of the third act and the epilogue. The situation is that Hoffmann, who began to tell his story in the prologue, has now ended it and is seen finishing the narrative immediately after the Antonia scene, in the same place where he began it. In the score the stage directions are that clouds descend upon the scene, while the Barcarolle is played again as an entr'acte by the orchestra, after which they part to disclose Auerbach's cellar.

And it is a pity that the "melodrame"-the tableau of the last act, when the consoling muse of art appears to Hoffmann, deserted and betrayed, is omitted. Without this the final poignant touch to the opera is lacking. Might something be piously hoped? That this production, in many respects so admirable, may be raised to the point where it worthily represents the opera in the repertory?

Observations of Marcia Davenport in her column in the March 1937 issue of Stage magazine

The Tales of Hoffmann offered a magnificent opportunity to Lawrence Tibbett for the difficult feat of playing four heavy character roles, and for the most part he carried it off very well. But the first performance was marred by several glaringly unfortunate things: the presence in the second act of Margaret Halstead as Giulietta and Mr. Tibbett's overdrawn performance of Doctor Miracle in the last act. The inherent ghastliness of the scene was obscured by something very near burlesque in the antics of the skeleton he chose to represent; but these features were toned down later and the revival as a whole was fair.

Of the two Hoffmanns alternating in the role, Rene Maison is better suited to it, and vocally more satisfactory. Vina Bovy, the able if not marvelous Belgian soprano, lent a note of authenticity to the second performance by playing all four leading roles herself, and by hitting the high spots neatly and cleanly, though not exactly brilliantly.

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