[Met Performance] CID:131680
Il Trovatore {213} Fair Park Auditorium, Dallas, Texas: 04/24/1941.


Dallas, Texas
April 24, 1941

Giuseppe Verdi--Salvatore Cammarano

Manrico.................Arthur Carron
Leonora.................Stella Roman
Count Di Luna...........Richard Bonelli
Azucena.................Bruna Castagna
Ferrando................Norman Cordon
Ines....................Thelma Votipka
Ruiz....................Lodovico Oliviero
Gypsy...................Arthur Kent

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

Review of John Rosenfield in the Dallas News

Metropolitan's New 'Il Trovatore' Given With Zest

Musical Beauties of Verdi Score Exploited by an Excellent Cast

Social and civic gentry were dutifully present at the Fair Park Auditorium Thursday night for the [beginning] of the Metropolitan Opera season and found their chore easier and more pleasant than ever. A sensibly staged and excellently sung "Il Trovatore" was the event. The copious bloodletting of the plot and the juicy tunefulness of the score were calculated to seize and captivate the interest of tired socialites and weary businessmen.

For the music lovers who have thought "Il Trovatore" worn to a frazzle, there were unexpected delights. The broad yet zippy treatment of the score by Ettore Panizza, presiding batonist, did full justice to the far from inconsequential music. Customarily bellowed and screamed, the vocal parts, in the Metropolitan's restudied "Il Trovatore," were well on the side of beautiful singing, often in pure and delectable bel canto.

It is safe to say that plot was beyond redemption. Nobody could take seriously the mock heroics and maudlin sentimentality. But American audiences do not ask conviction of their operatic plots. This one, serving as a framework for gushing inspiration, unvarying and unending melodic witchery, was palatable if indigestible.

Bruna Castagna

As Azucena, the gypsy hag and the real protagonist of the play, Bruna Castagna made a spectacular Dallas debut. She won the throng first with a generous outpouring of lush somber mezzo-soprano tone. It was a remarkable voice of range and body, proclaiming the top notes with warmth and resonance and reaching the alto depths without too much throatiness.

Madame Castagna, transacted suitably, of course, the morbid histrionics of the role but more to the point was the tingling intensity of her "Stride la Vampa" and the poignant tenderness of "Ai Nostri Monti."

Stella Roman, soprano from Rumania and a newcomer of the season, proved a Leonora of large vocal style and exciting temperament. Occasionally the passions of song ran away with her best tone production but these harsh and explosive moments were sporadic. The "Tacea la Notte Placida" of the first act was choppy but later in the evening the soprano recovered both her suavity and her placement for much singing of a high order.

Carron as Manrico

Notices from the East have not done justice to Arthur Carron, the "tenore robusto" who sang Manrico. He is a relatively young foundling of the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air and what a find he is. The voice was huge and the top notes were honest metal. Yet Mr. Carron did not try to carry things by brute force. He usually covered the tone even in the most stentorian passages. Unlike many robustos he has cultivated a reliable and ingratiating mezza-voce, also a smooth legato style that probably will get better as he acquires experience. He was not an active or incisive routinier but he had creditable acting instincts for Manrico's strenuous lovemaking and still more strenuous swordplay.

It is not often that one hears a Manrico who can shake the rafters with "Di Quella Pira" (albeit a half tone low) and still preserve the facile lyric line of the first act serenade, the "Ah Si Ben Mio" and "Ah! Che la Morte Ognora."

As enjoyable as any other performance was Richard Bonelli's Count di Luna. The American baritone was a favorite in our old Chicago Opera days and Thursday night's success was not his first on the Auditorium stage. Bonelli's singing style was exemplary and it counted for most in the "Il Balen" aria, one of the finest vocal numbers in all Italian opera.

The New Version

The Metropolitan, in resuscitating "Il Trovatore," has applied sophistication to the settings and costumes and has streamlined the score of some verbosity. A modified unit set with two stone buttresses flanking the stage, has been worked out. Quick changes are possible in the center panel and there is little waiting between the pair of scenes that comprise each of the four acts. There is real atmosphere to the jagged profiles of the mountain pass and the monolithic walls and balconades. Costumes, tents and pennants are colored in a higher key than usual for this melancholy opera.

The chorus, generally the male division, sang correctly and lustily. It had not adjusted itself Thursday night to the Auditorium as the pianissimos were often inaudible. Undoubtedly the sharp ears of the Metropolitan monitors have caught this.

Mr. Panizza in the pit never forgot that his orchestra was just an accompaniment for singing, but he did not reduce instrumentation to mere rhythmic punctuation. In the violent sequence between Azucena and the Count the orchestra took cognizance of the symphonic fundament.

The audience, neither the largest nor the smallest of Metropolitan record here, took advantage of the many opportunities to applaud. The curtain calls were long and appreciative.

It might be said that there were many pleasures but few sensations at the [first] night 'Il Trovatore." But with opera resources suffering as all else from the world's curse, the mere fact that the Metropolitan can cast a pleasurable "Il Trovatore" is something of a sensation in itself.

Father Time

Failure of "Il Trovatore" to attract one of the largest Metropolitan audiences may be attributed in part to musical snobbishness. Vaudeville singers, night club accordionists, bands, both brass and swing, had had their fling with the "Anvil Chorus," the "Miserere" and "Home to Our Mountains." Deeper prejudices have been aroused by the fact that certain Verdi clichés, the gasping intensity of certain phrases, have been used today in caricature rather than sincerity.

Then it must be admitted that the play is on the ham side as we now judge drama. It has no power to enlist audience sympathy or credulity. Full attention to the plot by any hard-headed spectator can produce only the amused tolerance he might feel for the Drunkard or Murder in the Old Stone Fort. The tunes and situations of "Il Trovatore" have supplied most of the operatic parodies of the last generation and not all the public will take seriously what it has habitually laughed at - not at $6 a ticket, anyhow.

These evolvements of time plus the ill-contrived libretto obscure the great genius of Verdi as revealed in the music. The score itself is neither antiquated nor banal. If one were hearing the "Miserere" for the first time, the somber and ominous orchestration, the threnody of the priests, the anguished accents of Leonora and the off-stage romanticism of Manrico's "Ah! Che la Morte Ognora" - the sequence would be cheered for the inspired musical-theatrical invention that it is.

It must be remembered that when Verdi composed "Il Trovatore," Wagner had not yet written Nibelung scene of "Das Rheingold." The clanking metal and fireworks was an innovation of such impact that the world has done it almost to death. The Azucena-Manrico duet, "A! Nostri Monti" is downright maudlin for contemporary taste. Accepted in perspective, it is both excellent music and superbly characterized lyric drama.

Orchestral Textures

Only in portions of "Aida" and then in most of the pages of "Otello" did Verdi achieve the orchestra richness that was Wagner's great contribution to opera. By the standard of "Tristan und Isolde" the score of "Il Trovatore" is thin, but it should never be dismissed as wheezy or trivial. There is a skimpy but clear use of leading motifs. The mood-making and character delineation of brasses and winds are ingenious, original and effective.

We think the greatest validity in the score is to be found in the arias of Leonora, the "Il Balen" of the Count di Luna, the serenade of Manrico, the short "Ah! Si Ben Mio" that precedes the loud and high "Di Quella Pira." These have classical breadth and form. They are, in short, Verdi with a Mozartian flavor, and this quality can be understood better Friday night when "Le Nozze di Figaro" is sung on the same stage.

From the standpoint of pure show business we question the inclusion of "Il Trovatore" in our short opera season. The production and most of its public were at odds. The management is theoretically right in attempting the revival or restoration. But the public is always right.

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