[Met Performance] CID:13630
United States Premiere
Elaine {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/17/1894.
 (United States Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
December 17, 1894
In French

United States Premiere

Herman Bemberg--Paul Ferrier

Elaine..................Nellie Melba
Lancelot................Jean de Reszke
Genièvre................Eugenia Mantelli
Astolat.................Pol Plançon
Hermit..................Edouard de Reszke
King Arthur.............Abram Abramoff
Gauvain.................Armand Castelmary
Torre...................Mathilde Bauermeister
Lavaine.................Georges Mauguière
Minstrel................Marie Van Cauteren

Conductor...............Luigi Mancinelli

Director................William Parry

Elaine received two performances this season.

Unsigned review in the Sun

Mme. Melba Scores a Triumph in M. Bemberg's 'Elaine'

The first new score of the season was produced last night at the Metropolitan Opera House. During the past few weeks the impresarii have been content to offer classic works performed in many minor parts by new artists. Last evening, however, they produced a brand new opera. The interest in this event was general. The boxholders arrived in their loges earlier than usual and, long before Signor Mancinelli tapped his musicians to order, the parquet and balcony audience was seated. The nervous young Frenchman, M. Bemberg, who wrote the opera, was in attendance behind the scenes, and shortly after 8 o'clock the curtain lifted on the romance of "Elaine."

It was by studying the art of Jean de Reszke and Nellie Melba that the young composer conceived the idea of writing an opera for them. The Frenchman fancied that Mme. Melba could vocally, as well as dramatically, typify the Lily Maid of Astolat. M. De Reszke seemed to him an equally ideal Lancelot. His judgment was correct. No prima donna of the modern stage could lend half the charms to Elaine that are given to the character by Mme. Melba, and no maid of ancient times would have desired a finer knight than Jean de Reszke. These famous artists created the principal roles in the original production of the opera at Covent Garden in 1892. Edouard de Reszke and M. Plançon were also in the original cast. In the American performance Mme. Mantelli is an admirable substitute for Mme. Dufriche in the part of Rene Genuièvre, and M. Mauguière is quite as good as M. Montarol in the character of Lavaine. In the mere matter of the cast alone the Metropolitan production of "Elaine" is better than that of Covent Garden.


In performance it is much more complete. Owing to various difficulties the action of the second act was related by the chorus in the English performance. But at the Metropolitan the tournament was given in full panoply of arms. Professional horsemen were engaged, and for several minutes the spectators were engrossed by a tournament between mail-clad warriors on horseback. The charge was fierce, the battle was spirited, and genuine lancers clashed together, as these doughty antagonists fought for the favor of their ladies.

The scene was splendid and stirring. It showed magnificent stage management, and from the first to the last was one of the most effective incidents that has ever been shown on the operatic stage. At its conclusion Lancelot and Gauvain, unhorsed and sore, wounded by their duel, continue the battle afoot. The unknown knight, of course, the ultimate victor. During his arduous efforts in this conflict Jean de Reszke's Lancelot has no breath left for singing. Therefore the composer has amiably saved the tenor by employing the chorus throughout this passage at arms.

The choristers sing first in parts and then in unison in elaborate ensemble after the manner introduced by Gounod in "Faust," so that while the knights are charging furiously and breaking spears against on another's armor, the music is not neglected. M. Bemberg is to be congratulated. Abbey & Grau are also to be felicitated on the magnificent scenic features of this and other pictures of the opera. Wholly apart from its musical charm "Elaine" is one of the most notable productions of the operatic stage.

The libretto by Paul Ferrier, takes liberties with the Tennyson idyll just as the poet laureate took liberties with Sir Thomas Mallory's romance, "Le Mort d'Artur." The opera begins just before the last of the Diamond tournaments is about to take place. The admirers of Tennyson may remember that Arthur found the crown of a slain king and held the nine great diamonds which ornamented the diadem as trophies for the jousts. During eight years of tournament the brave Lancelot has successively won the diamonds of the crown. There is still one jewel left, which he hopes to win in order to present to Queen Genièvre for whom he has a guilty passion. In the final joust he discovers a chance to be alone with his lady, and is about to give up the contest for the last of the diamonds when the Queen persuades him to enter the lists and make complete his promised gift to her.

The knight has already refused to enter the lists, pleading an old wound received from the infidel Mordrec as his excuse. But, urged by his Queen, he disguises himself, stops overnight at the Castle of Astolat on his way to the tourney, wins the love of Elaine and wears her scarf as his insignia in the battle. The souvenir indirectly causes the Lily Maid's death. For when Gauvain, a rejected lover of the Lily Maid, sees his antagonist in the tilt wearing Elaine's scarf he recognized the disguised knight as his successful rival and thereafter acts as the jealous Queen's emissary. Urged by Genièvre, the angry Gauvain carries tidings to Elaine that her lover is untrue.

Grief stricken by this ill news, the Lily Maid pines and dies. She has been in poor health before this circumstance and, when the false knight brings tidings of the disloyalty of her sweetheart, she falls into a fainting fit from which she never recovers. Then the dead, steered by the dumb, is borne down the stream on a funeral barge to the castle where Lancelot is still dallying with his queen The pathos of the poem has not been wholly lost in the libretto. M. Ferrier has made Lancelot enamored of Elaine and striving to escape from the toils of Guinevère, which is a story of better and more tragic significance for the stage than the exact story of the poem would be.


This picturesque and interesting theme has given extraordinary opportunity to the talent of the young composer. M. Bemberg is French by melodic instinct, as well as Parisian by training. Yet he is a student of Wagner, too. In his use of the horns and during the various orchestral passages we may discern the influence of Bayreuth. However, his spirit is chiefly guided by Gounod, with here and there a touch of Massenet. This suggestion of great masters does not altogether interfere with his originality. The setting he has given to "Elaine" is as gently and poetic as the theme itself. There is individual warmth and color in its score, the choruses are admirable and there is much Southern passion in the arias and duets.

Bemberg's music is not great music. It lacks distinctive individuality. It has an element of what might almost be termed effeminacy about it. It is sweet and almost cloying. The composer has been influenced by the tender moods of the great singers. Not by their robust moments. The [first] aria of Lancelot is reminiscent of Lohengrin's "Swan Song." The [first] aria of Elaine is tender and dulcet, like a...

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).