[Met Performance] CID:127370
Faust {419} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/28/1939.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 28, 1939 Matinee


FAUST {419}

Faust...................Jussi Björling
Marguerite..............Helen Jepson
Méphistophélès..........Ezio Pinza
Valentin................John Brownlee
Siebel..................Lucielle Browning
Marthe..................Thelma Votipka
Wagner..................Wilfred Engelman
Dance...................Lillian Moore
Dance...................George Chaffee

Conductor...............Wilfred Pelletier

Review signed R. L. in the Herald Tribune

"Faust" Heard With Pinza at Metropolitan

Gounod's Opera Returns to Repertoire; Bjoerling in Title Role 1st Time Here

A superior and occasionally distinguished performance of Gounod's "Faust" was offered yesterday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera House for the benefit of the Near East College Association. After an absence of one season from the general repertoire, the work had been revived earlier this month, under the auspices of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, as a stimulus to the appreciation of opera among children of school age. But yesterday's presentation was the first this season to invite critical comment.

The superb voice and magnetism of one artist dominated this performance, Ezio Pinza, as Mephistopheles, not only accomplished heroic vocal feats, but gave evidence of great dramatic growth in the role since he was last heard here. The "Veau d'Or" went brilliantly; the invocation to the flowers, despite Defrere's electrically illuminated garden, was beautifully sung; and if Mr. Pinza sounded slightly fatigued by the time he reached the famous serenade of the third act, one remembered that this same artist had sung an Archibaldo in "L'Amore dei Tre Re" the evening before. Dominating all of his vocalism was a complete mockery in harmony with Gounod's conception of the Archfiend. A classic opera like "Faust" at the hands of a Pinza, can be acted as well as sung.

Bjoerling Draws Interest

Much of the interest of yesterday's audience was focused on Jussi Bjoerling, who was singing the title role for the first time here. He accomplished some notable results, particularly in the "Salut Demeure," which he sang untransposed, culminating in a high "C" of ringing beauty. It was regrettable that Mr. Bjoerling shattered the illusion he had created at this point by bowing to the audience, when he could have waited for his richly deserved tribute until the second-act curtain. Most of his other music also went extremely well and was delivered with unfailing good taste. As yet, his characterization of Faust is merely a sketch, erring on the side of chivalry and romance. The evil which is inherent in Gounod's version of the character - the lechery of age that sweeps the world in the subtle disguise of youth - was not remotely suggested by Mr. Bjoerling. Yet he never gave offense in his stage deportment and he looked uncommonly well.

Helen Jepson, as Marguerite, also looked well, and she often sang to good effect, as in the "Il m'aime" section at the end of the second act. The indicated trills, however, were strangely missing in her "Jewel Song," and, by means of an unsubtle portamento, she forced a round of applause at the end of this aria which she was not slow in acknowledging. Miss Jepson, like Mr. Bjoerling, could well have waited until the second-act curtain for any legitimate tribute. The rest of her singing - with the exception of the great scene in the church, which overweighted her - was carefully planned and carried out. It was not the fault of Miss Jepson if an inherently colorless voice stood in the way of her admirable technique. Dramatically, she only scratched the surface of the role, offering an externalized picture of the doomed maiden, although she rose in the final act to a more expressive stature.

Browning Pleasing

Of the remaining members of yesterday's cast, Lucielle Browning contributed a pleasing Siebel, and Thelma Votipka was an admirable Marthe, matching Mr. Pinza's Mephistopheles in expertness during the garden scene. John Brownlee, making the most of his vocal equipment, provided an artistic Valentin, skillfully acted. In respect to costuming and plastique, his approach was exemplary.

Although originally scheduled as a restudied "Faust," yesterday's performance of the opera turned out to be a conventional mounting of Gounod's work in the old traditions. One touch of novelty was perceived upon the first appearance of Mephistopheles in Faust's study, after the Fiend has already revealed himself and shouted "Me voici!" a belated puff of Nibelungen steam filtered from the footlights. Otherwise, the chorus still ranged itself on either side of the stage before the entrance of Marguerite in the Kermesse scene, even though the maiden was circling the square unobtrusively on her way home from church.

Wilfred Pelletier conducted a vital, well paced and sincerely felt performance.



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