[Met Performance] CID:128410
Carmen {361} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 03/15/1940.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 15, 1940 Matinee


CARMEN {361}
Bizet-Meilhac/L. Halévy

Carmen..................Gladys Swarthout
Don José................Giovanni Martinelli
Micaela.................Licia Albanese
Escamillo...............Ezio Pinza
Frasquita...............Thelma Votipka
Mercédès................Helen Olheim
Remendado...............Alessio De Paolis
Dancaïre................George Cehanovsky
Zuniga..................Louis D'Angelo
Moralès.................Wilfred Engelman
Dance...................Doris Neal
Dance...................Beatrice Weinberger
Dance...................Ruth Harris
Dance...................Monna Montes
Dance...................Ruthanna Boris
Dance...................George Chaffee
Dance...................Grant Mouradoff

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

Director................Désiré Defrère
Designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban [Ballet only]
Choreographer...........Boris Romanoff

Carmen received two performances this season.

Review of Oscar Thompson in the Sun

"Carmen" and "Tosca" in a Day

Swarthout and Brownlee Assume Roles for First Time at Metropolitan

Singers of opera who contrive to become types for their roles pose no end of difficulties for artists who come after them. Partly, perhaps even largely, because of Calvé no one satisfies as Carmen. The shadow of Scotti falls upon every Scarpia. After Renaud, a new Don Giovanni may be almost everything else, but certainly he is no Don. These are but three familiar instances of a success that sets up barriers; the list might easily be expanded into a fairly long one.

Fresh embodiments of Carmen and Scarpia were to be considered at the Metropolitan yesterday. Don Giovanni having yielded his place to Figaro this season, he had no such immediate claim on the attention. But when the new Carmen shuffled the cards in the third act of the Bizet opera, and found them stacked against her, she was telling not only her own fortune but that of the gentry with whom it has been found convenient to associate her in this preamble.

Good Looks and Trim Figure

Miss Swarthout had the advantage of an exceptionally good makeup as well as a trim figure. Particularly in the first act she contrived to look the gypsy. Her costuming was relatively modest and more than ordinarily suitable. On the visual side, the impersonation was one of much detail suggesting earnest application and the possibility of assiduous coaching. Only in the detail of the castanets in the dance song of the inn scene was there a distinct lack in the externals. The orchestra supplied the want and Carmen had both hands free to flounce her ruffled skirt, rumba fashion, at the uneasy Don José.

Unfortunately, the externals, whether those of face, figure, costumes or a good deal of hip swinging, assumed more importance in the delineation of the character and the achievement of the drama, than did the exposition of the emotional personality of the cigarette girl through the medium of the voice. Save for flatting in the "Habanera," Miss Swarthout sang securely enough. But she seemed unable to greatly intensify or animate her tones, with the result that the eye had more to occupy it than the ear. In its entirety, this was a pleasing, small-scale Carmen, but of a routine rather than a distinctive savor.

With Ezio Pinza and Giovanni Martinelli in their old roles of Escamillo and Don José, respectively, the one other mark-worthy disclosure of yesterday afternoon's performance was the attractive Micaela of Licia Albanese. In the first act she was decidedly more sophisticated in manner than Micaelas usually are. But this did not keep her from singing the third-act air very agreeably. If her top notes were better than her lower ones, she fashioned her phrases with musical effect. For the sake of the record, the other principals in the season's only "Carmen," are names as follows: Thelma Votipka, Frasquita; Helen Oelheim, Mercedes; George Cehanovsky, Dancaire; Alessio de Paolis, Ramendado; Louis D'Angelo, Zuniga; Wilfred Engelman, Morales, Wilfred Pelletier gave a very credible account of the orchestral score. There were several restorations of music that has been "cut" for years at the Metropolitan, including the calls of "L'Amour" at the end of the Toreador Song and a part of the sextet in the finale of the mountain scene.

Carmens of Other Days

The Metropolitan now has a considerable alumnae of Carmens, with Maria Gay, Olive Fremstad, Geraldine Farrar and Florence Easton occasionally to be seen in the audiences, and Rosa Ponselle and Maria Jeritza making their homes elsewhere in this country, the one in Baltimore and the other in California. Living in England is another, whose Carmen was contemporary with Calvé's - Zelia de Lussan. The late Hermann Klein, writing of the great Carmens in his "Golden Age of Opera," spoke of the "sparkle, vim, Spanish insouciance and piquancy" of the de Lussan Carmen. Little more than a decade served to bring before the Englilsh critic all of those whom he considered the historic Carmens, including the American Minnie Hauk. To the question, "Who was the greatest of these?" Klein replied" "on the whole, I think Calvé; albeit I find it had to differentiate between her and Lucca, whose conception had in it more originality but less of pure Spanish type." Calvé's characterization seemed to him to combine the most fascinating characteristics of each of the others. "It had the calm, easy assurance, the calculated dominating power of Galli-Marie's (she was the original Carmen); the strong, sensual suggestion and defiant resolution of Minne Hauk's'; the panther-like quality, the grace, the fatalism, the dangerous impudent coquetry of Pauline Lucca's' and the qualities attributed above to de Lussan's. To all this was added exquisite singing, he says, hence Calvé's was "an assumption from first to last superlative."

But as W. J. Henderson took occasion more than once to note, Calvé's original Carmen was a character study quite different from the more violent and capricious impersonation of a few years later. In time, as his writings recall, there came to be Carmen "with the chair" and Carmen "without the chair." Sometimes she hurled the furniture, sometimes she did not. At any rate, it was not her Carmen that drove from Henderson's pen the most celebrated of all bon mots about Carmen, that in which it was remarked that although the critics had always known that Carmen was a cat, it was not until Patti impersonate her that she became a kitten. There was not much to prompt thought of either cat or kitten in Miss Swarthout's painstaking performance.

Scotti's Scarpia Monopoly

Mr. Brownlee was, we believe, only the third Scarpia the Metropolitan has had since Scotti relinquished the role and went back to his native Naples to die. Though he was not the original Scarpia of the Rome premiere in 1900, he had a virtual monopoly on the role at the Metropolitan for more than thirty years. Amato sang the part in the company of Caruso and Fremstad, but he was never a competitor for it. Here and there an old timer will tell you that he preferred Renaud's Scarpia to Scotti's, but it is the Scotti embodiment that remains the measuring rod for all other Scarpias. Like the Calvé Carmen, it grew more violent in its final years, partly because subtlety does not come easy for one whose voice is no longer pliable. Not only is there such a thing as art concealing art, but of art concealing vocal deterioration. Still, with all it seasoned brutality, the Scotti Scarpia had a spidery quality that no subsequent Scarpia has possessed. He is still to be recalled as "the best chief of police Rome ever had."

Mr. Brownlee's impersonation had a certain blunt force. He sang well, if with some monotony of tone. The baritone's part in the scene of the torture of Cavaradossi was adroitly treated and carried its fair measure of conviction. Dusolina Giannini as Tosca, Charles Kullman as Cavaradossi and Louis D'Angelo as the Sacristan, made their now familiar contributions in the familiar manner. The same may be said of Gennaro Papi in the pit.



Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names


Back to short citation(s).