[Met Performance] CID:130640
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Alceste {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/24/1941.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debut: Richard Rychtarik
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 24, 1941
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


ALCESTE {1}
C. W. Gluck-Calzabigi/Roullet/Gossec

Alceste.................Marjorie Lawrence
Admète..................René Maison
High Priest.............Leonard Warren
Oracle..................George Cehanovsky
Évandre.................Alessio De Paolis
Herald..................George Cehanovsky
Woman...................Marita Farell
Leaders of the People: Maxine Stellman, Helen Olheim, Wilfred Engelman
Dance: Ruthanna Boris, Monna Montes, Mary Smith,
Grant Mouradoff, Josef Levinoff, Alexis Kosloff

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

Director................Herbert Graf
Designer................Richard Rychtarik [Debut]
Choreographer...........Boris Romanoff

Alceste received five performances this season.

[Alternate title: Alcestis.]


Review of Oscar Thompson in the New York Sun:

The twentieth century made a fresh and needful obeisance with the production at the Metropolitan of Gluck's beautiful and historic "Alceste", never before given in this theater. Variously cut, the Metropolitan made use of the second or French version of "Alceste" first produced in Paris on April 23, 1776, a contradistinction to the first or Italian version, brought out in Vienna on December 16, 1767.

Though there is no escaping the historical implications of any such devoir to the operatic past, our present concern with "Alceste" is that all of its emergence into the stage lights of the present. True to the altogether heartening precedent set in the revival of Gluck's "Orfeo" two seasons ago, the Metropolitan's production is a lavish and massive one with the stage direction in the keeping of Herbert Graf, to whom has gone much of the credit for the relative success of "Orfeo". It may well be that the current "Alceste" will stand or fall more on the operatic public's reaction to the spectacle which Mr. Graf and his production associates have contributed than on the musical direction or the stage impersonations of the cast. In many respects this is an imposing and even splendid spectacle. But there are disturbing details in its excess of pretty posing, definitely at variance with the Gluck ideal of directness and simplicity.

Mr. Panizza's realization of the loftily conceived and often deeply moving musical score had virtues of earnestness and we have no doubt of personal conviction. The orchestra played well. Miss Lawrence made a brave showing with the role that was intended for Germaine Lubin. Though she, too, was inclined to picturize too much, she was graceful and conscientiously restrained. Rene Maison's Admetus was gratefully free of the production's tendency to arty posing. His singing was praiseworthy, but the music seemed to lie high for him. Leonard Warren gave more of voice than of style to the proclamations of the High Priest of Apollo. The ballet participated in much of the posing.

Those who love their Gluck, with or without any addiction to operatic history, may find many reasons not detailed in this review to take [the production] to their hearts. Those others who are concerned with spectacle will be either for or against the Graf documentation.

"Alceste" is at best a somber opera and, true to its time and type, a rather static one. But count that generation fortunate which is able to hear both it and "Orfeo" in the course of a season or two. The opera was cordially received last night.



Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

GLUCK'S 'ALCESTE' ENTERS THE METROPOLITAN

Historic Eighteenth-Century Work Is Accorded Lavish Production - Panizza Conducts and Graf Has Charge of the Stage - Marjorie Lawrence Sings Title Role, With Maison in Part of Admetus and Warren as High Priest

Elaborately staged. Gluck's historic "Alceste" took its place among operas that are of the stage, rather than of books, at the Metropolitan on Friday evening, Jan. 24, and was accorded a second performance on Thursday evening of the next week. Thus, within a sennight, two opportunities were afforded to hear a work which had never before figured in the history of the house, though universally looked upon as one of the great markers of operatic progress.

The names that will be remembered, along with that of General Manager Edward Johnson, for this generous and valuable obeisance to opera's mighty past are not many, for "Alceste" is almost a one-part opera. To Marjorie Lawrence fell the distinction of creating the title role at the Metropolitan, originally intended for the absent Germaine Lubin. René Maison was the Metropolitan's first Admetus. But, by and large, the accent was on the staging of Herbert Graf, more than on the musical aspects of the production, as ably, if not brilliantly, brought to life under the baton of Ettore Panizza. The chorus of Fausto Cleva was more nearly all that could have been asked of it than was the cast.

Though the Friday evening performance was not the first in the United States-there were two at Wellesley College on March 11 and 12, 1938, tinder the leadership of Malcolm Holmes, with settings and action-no record has been exhumed of an earlier one in a public opera house. Data for the old French seasons in New Orleans remain grievously incomplete and what might be brought to light there concerning "Alceste" is conjectural.

Variously cut, the Metropolitan made use of the second or French version of "Alceste," first produced in Paris on April 23, 1776, in contradistinction to the first or Italian version, brought out in Vienna on December 16, 1767. The Hercules scene was omitted. Among other changes, music at the [beginning] of the third act was utilized to close the second.

An Imposing Spectacle

In many respects the Metropolitan has placed to its credit an imposing and even a splendid spectacle. But there are disturbing details in its excess of pretty posing, definitely at variance with the Gluck ideal of directness and simplicity-at variance, moreover, with the period's art philosophy of "back to nature." Whereas, Gluck stripped his music of superfluous ornament, the Graf staging is all ornament. There are friezes and frescoes for the masses and Grecian urns for solitary figures and for twos and threes. Some of these latter are even a little droll. Most of them are very art-arty. Surely nothing could be further from the spirit of the famous Preface in which Gluck set forth his operatic credo.

Occasionally a picture such as that after Apollo has answered the plea of Alceste in the second scene of the first act, or that which (by a transposition from the third act) closes the second, is of stimulating beauty. Richard Rychtarik's settings, making liberal use of curtains and pillars, are attractive. This is not to approve of the Apollo Belvedere of the Temple, several centuries before its time, with the fig leaf that was the addition of one of the Popes!

Mr. Panizza's realization of the loftily conceived and often deeply moving musical score had the virtues of earnestness and, we have no doubt, personal conviction. The orchestra played well. There were tempi that were too fast, as in the march that once was celebrated in its own right. There was present a respectable glow, but nothing to lift the performance out of routine.

Miss Lawrence in Title Part

Miss Lawrence made a brave showing with the role that was intended for Mme. Lubin. Though she, too, was inclined to picturize too much, she was graceful and conscientiously restrained. But it may well be that restraint does not come easily to one of the soprano's customarily energetic vocal style. In essaying the long, level line she was frequently off pitch. Her delivery of the noble dramatic recitatives more easily conformed to the traditions of the classic style than that of the airs, where there was something labored about the poise and the continence of her singing. Some of the high tones, too, suggested hard work. But the `Divinités du Styx'-and what a magnificent air it is in its rightful dramatic setting!- rang true. "Alceste" is by no means a one-aria part. Miss Lawrence did well with several of the other long-breathed melodies, but not equally well.

René Maison's Admetus was gratefully free of the production's tendency to arty posing. His singing was praiseworthy, but the music seemed to lie high for him. Leonard Warren gave more of voice than style to the proclamations of the High Priest of Apollo. George Cehanovsky sang Apollo's music off-stage in place of Arthur Kent, named on the program, as well as attending competently to his originally assigned duties as the Herald. Mr. de Paolis was again the artist in the incidental part of Evander.

Ballet Not Memorable

The ballet participated in much of the posing and had opportunities of its own in the Hall of Admetus and again in the al fresco close of the opera, when, with the elimination of the Hercules scene, there was little left but to dance. The extended divertissement which resulted was not such as to make nor unmake the fortunes of "Alceste' in this first Metropolitan essayal.

"Alceste" is at best a somber opera and, true to its time and type, a rather static one. But count that generation fortunate which is able to hear both it and "Orfeo" in the course of a season or two. The opera was cordially received and the procession before the curtain included not only the chief singers but the conductor, the stage director, the chorus master, the ballet master and the scene designer.


Photograph of Marjorie Lawrence in the title role of Alceste.
Photograph of Leonard Warren as the High Priest and Marjorie Lawrence in the title role of Alceste by New York Times Studio.



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