[Met Performance] CID:128180
La Traviata {233} American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 02/27/1940.

(Review)


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 27, 1940


LA TRAVIATA {233}
Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta................Jarmila Novotna
Alfredo.................Richard Crooks
Germont.................Giuseppe De Luca
Flora...................Thelma Votipka
Gastone.................Alessio De Paolis
Baron Douphol...........Wilfred Engelman
Marquis D'Obigny........George Cehanovsky
Dr. Grenvil.............Louis D'Angelo
Annina..................Lucielle Browning
Dance...................Lillian Moore
Dance...................Monna Montes

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

Review of Henry Pleasants in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

Novotna and De Luca Acclaimed In Metropolitan "Traviata"

In its performance of "La Traviata" at the Academy of Music, last night, the Metropolitan Opera Company returned to the standard one expects of the world's leading opera company. There have been, within recent memory, performances of "La Traviata" as brilliant vocally, but none of such consistent artistry and intelligence.

It was an interesting and stimulating evening. Jarmila Novotna, the young Czech soprano who joined the Metropolitan a month or so ago, made her Philadelphia debut as Violetta. Giuseppe De Luca, the veteran Italian baritone who returned to the company this season after an absence of five years, was the elder Germont. Richard Crooks was the Alfredo. Ettore Panizza conducted. In the hands of this assemblage Verdi received very nearly his due. It doesn't happen often.

That it happened last night was not accountable to any unusual prodigality of great voices. "La Traviata" is an opera better left alone by all save virtuosos, but it is surprising how little prodigal endowment has to do with virtuosity. Miss Novotna's voice is exceptional neither in color nor in range, nor in power and Mr. De Luca's shows some effects of 45 years of active service, but both the young soprano and veteran baritone sang with a type of virtuosity as exciting as it is uncommon.

In both cases it was a case of virtuosity originating in the head rather than in the throat and embracing the dramatic progress of the opera as well as its melodic line. Miss Novotna's performance was remarkable for the way in which it integrated stage and musical business. Of countless examples one may choose the soprano's treatment of the florid passages of the "Sempere libera" in the first act where the brilliant fioratura was made to seem the most logical and natural expression of Violetta's feelings at the moment. This was accomplished through the most intelligent and ingenious combining of stage action and vocal coloring and inflection.

Throughout the opera Miss Novotna's stage business was absorbing not so much because of its originality, but rather because it seemed so perfectly logical and right. Whether it would be suited to other singers is another matter. Miss Novotna is the ideal Violetta in appearance and temperament, and she endows the part with exceptional warmth and intensity. Her development of the role might offer certain perils to a singer less completely identified with the part.

Me. De Luca's Germont was more according to tradition, but it was no less striking an example of resourceful singing and intelligent stagecraft. Some of the younger baritones can bring greater vocal resources to this music, but none of them phrase it with such expressive inflection or such beauty of diction. The "Di Provenza il Mar" confronted the baritone with certain vocal problems, but he was master of them all. A slightly altered vowel here, a quick release there, and the trick was done. The aria received the ovation of the evening from an audience obviously aware of the superior kind of singing it had just heard, and the 63-year-old baritone was plainly touched by the tribute.

The honors of the evening went to Miss Novotna and to Mr. De Luca. Mr. Crooks was cordially received, but his singing and his acting were well beneath the standards established by his colleagues. One may pass his acting by, but it is less easy to condone the nasal tones and the scooping and rough, harsh sounds characteristic of Mr. Crooks' continued misuse of one the best tenor voices before the public. The remainder of the production was wholly commendable in staging, décor and the minor characters. Mr. Panizza obtained unusually good results from the orchestra with the consequence that Verdi was nearly as well served in the pit as he was on the stage.



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