[Met Performance] CID:128090
New production
Le Nozze di Figaro {55} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/20/1940.

(Debuts: Vonn Irkust, Ladislas Czettel

Metropolitan Opera House
February 20, 1940
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the Campaign Fund
New production

Mozart-Da Ponte

Figaro..................Ezio Pinza
Susanna.................Bidú Sayao
Count Almaviva..........John Brownlee
Countess Almaviva.......Elisabeth Rethberg
Cherubino...............Risë Stevens
Dr. Bartolo.............Virgilio Lazzari
Marcellina..............Irra Petina
Don Basilio.............Alessio De Paolis
Antonio.................Louis D'Angelo
Barbarina...............Marita Farell
Don Curzio..............Giordano Paltrinieri
Peasant.................Lucielle Browning
Peasant.................Maxine Stellman
Dance...................Monna Montes
Dance...................Lillian Moore
Dance...................George Chaffee
Dance...................Vonn Irkust [Debut]

Conductor...............Ettore Panizza

Director................Herbert Graf
Set designer............Jonel Jorgulesco
Costume designer........Ladislas Czettel [Debut]
Choreographer...........Boris Romanoff

Le Nozze di Figaro received three performances this season.

Review of Francis D. Perkins in the Herald Tribune

"Figaro" After Two Decades

Parts of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" have been heard at the Metropolitan Opera House in recent years. The overture has occasionally been played and certain favorite arias have doubtless been sung in the Sunday night concerts. Measures of "Non piu andrai" are played by the stage musicians in the last scene of "Don Giovanni." But apart from excerpts such as these, no member of a ticket-buying audience has had an opportunity, before last night's revival, to hear this example of Mozart's genius since Feb. 11, 1918.

There was no lack of ticket buyers for the first performance in this house, while not the first in New York, since that date. Standees were thickly gathered behind the orchestra circle, and few, if any, of the seats were untenanted - a fact which must have been gratifying to the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which sponsored the occasion for the benefit of the Metropolitan's $1,000,000 campaign fund. The general mood was one of enthusiasm; artists appearing for the curtain calls, including the conductor, were fervently acclaimed, and a special demonstration greeted the appearance of Lucrezia Bori before the third act for a short speech urging continued support of the campaign. The response of the audience indicated a pervasive appreciation of the work of Mozart and of his adroit librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, who passed much of the last thirty years of his life as a New Yorker.

The evident relish of Mozart's music gave reason to hope that "Figaro" will be more frequently with us in the future. The work is one of the three great masterpieces of comedy in the literature of lyric drama. Its qualities were again vividly realized in a rehearing of the score. One was again freshly convinced of the inexhaustible inventiveness, the unfailing charm of its melodies, of its perfection of form, of its power of musical characterization. But an attempt to dwell upon the reasons why the score of "Figaro" is still vital and verdant after 154 years must await some more leisurely opportunity.

The production, which is entirely new, both in participants and settings, has been carefully prepared and marks an earnest, co-operative and often signally successful essay to do full justice to the music and the drama. Its general spirit and its prevailing unity and co-ordination were to be commended, likewise the accomplishment of Dr. Graf's plan, to obtain as much of an air of intimacy as is possible in the Metropolitan's spacious auditorium. The singing, if not always clearly approaching the ideal of clarity, fluency and style which is especially desirable for this music, achieved a meritorious average standard.

As for the women, the best singing was provided by Mme. Rethberg, who, despite an occasional edge in the upper notes, showed a notable command of the phrasing and style of the music; the voicing of the long lyric line of "Dove sono" was a subject for delectable recollection. Her impersonation was, as a whole, fully in the vein of the character. Mme. Sayao was a Susanna of appealing appearance, with tones often highly ingratiating, sometimes a little unsubstantial. There were moments when her portraiture of the role recalled the stock operatic soubrette rather than the highly individual Susanna, but it could be set down as in the main, vivacious and attractive. It requires an exceptionally accomplished singing actress to give a convincing depiction of the amorous page, Cherubino. Miss Stevens, who has performed the role in the notable Mozart seasons in Glyndbourne, interpreted it with emotion and vitality, even if the boyishness of the character was not always realized. Warmth and expressiveness marked her singing, also some unevenness of tone.

Mr. Brownlee, also a singer of Glyndbourne experience, gave a masterly performance as the Count, both in the aristocracy and distinction of his acting and in the impression of authentic style made by his song. The Count, Beaumarchais stipulated in the directions for his comedy, should be played "very nobly, but with grace and freedom," and the barytone's work could be well thus described from a dramatic standpoint.

Mr. Pinza set forth the title role with a communicative vitality and relish; his singing was generally admirable for tone quality and was mainly commendable for style, but at times he did not fully resist a tendency toward vociferation. Mme. Petina played Marcellina with due drollery, and Messrs. Lazzari and de Paolis proved comedically effective.

Mr. Jorgulesco's sets merited praise in general, if not always in particular; the ocher hue of the Countess's boudoir and the slight hint of the picture postcard in the latter scene of the third act, gave room for dissenting points of view, but the scenery as a whole contributed to the desired atmosphere.

The general treatment of the stage direction was also to be commended, but, even though Dr. Graf, according to a recent interview, has gone back to the stage directions of the original libretto for his general ideas, it seemed that certain bit of stock comedy business on the part of some of the characters were not altogether necessary. It is true that in an operatic comedy whose language is foreign to most of its hearers, there is a natural temptation to compensate for this fact in stage business. It was, indeed laid on not at all thickly, but yet seemed foreign to the essential aristocracy of the music.

The orchestra played well under Mr. Panizza, who was to be lauded for the general coherence of the performance. His tempi gave at time an impression of a certain caution; in an aim for clarity and finish of detail, the revelation of the music was sometimes unaccompanied by the vivacity, sparkle and momentum as well as the aristocracy, which are to be found in this score.

In a performance which extended until some time after midnight, comment on the fourth act and on various features tempting a lengthy discussion must be foregone. But the evidence of pleasure over the return of "Figaro" seemed beyond question.

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