[Met Performance] CID:136640
Pelléas et Mélisande {37} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/26/1944.

(Debut: Emil Cooper

Metropolitan Opera House
January 26, 1944


Pelléas.................Martial Singher
Mélisande...............Bidú Sayao
Golaud..................Lawrence Tibbett
Arkel...................Alexander Kipnis
Geneviève...............Margaret Harshaw
Yniold..................Lillian Raymondi
Physician...............John Gurney

Conductor...............Emil Cooper [Debut]

Director................Désiré Defrère
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban

Pelléas et Mélisande received four performances this season.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Cooper Scores in His Debut as Conductor at Metropolitan - Singher and Sayao in Leads

A perfectly astonishing performance and an equally astonishing, indeed sensational, success resulted from the Metropolitan Opera Association's revival last night of Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande." This success, which caused the audience to shout as well as thunderously applaud after the climax of the fourth act, and indeed to show exceptional enthusiasm throughout the evening, must be explained on two principal accounts.

The one must certainly be the vastly increased appreciation of the operatic public since Hammerstein introduced "Pelleas et Melisande" in New York and America in his season of '06-'07, when the work was caviar to all but the select few and profoundly initiate. For the last inch of standing room had gone before the curtain rose, betokening an intense anticipation in advance of the event.

The other undoubtedly lay in the entirely new interpretative approach to the opera on the part of Emil Cooper, the famous conductor, who then made his Metropolitan debut, and the members of the cast he directed, which with a single exception-that of Alexander Kipnis' Arkel-was different than the last previous Metropolitan "Pelleas" of January, '41. Each one of a remarkably able group last night had newly prepared the given part. The original traditions of the opera were principally conspicuous by absence. The performance was a triumph unprecedented for this work in American operatic history.

Audience Is Stirred

"Pelleas" is too long an opera and it is too late in the night, at time of writing, to give many details of this performance, which departed so strikingly from the accepted rules for the work and so stirred the public. Indeed the reception of it was one of the most impressive testimonials we ever have met with to the universality of a great work of art; of the way in which it responds to different interpretations, having things within it for all people, successive generations and various artistic conceptions.

There was a charming and greatly gifted Melisande, Bidu Sayao, who, if she ever saw the inimitable and unsurpassable Mary Garden in the part, at least made no futile effort to imitate her, but, with beautiful voice and art, and high intelligence, and good bodily plastic, made the role very eloquent and touching in its revelations. There was a Pelleas, Martial Singher, of excellent vocal schooling, in a French tradition which is not that of Debussy's dream-drama, and a voice, though admirably employed, which is not fundamentally a Pelleas voice in its character, to say nothing of baritone range and color, in place of the tenor for whom the role was originally designed. But in this case a fine and experienced artist, an authoritative actor, one firmly grounded in the traditions of his language and stage action, personable, if not youthful as Pelleas of the imagination, and a potent element of the occasion.

Tibbett as Golaud

Lawrence Tibbett's Golaud, badly costumed and made up, and at first tentative and ineffective, waxed stronger as the performance went on. His French could be variously estimated, yet he made the words intelligible and, in most cases, very effective, as in the rending scene of desperation with Melisande, which leads up to Arkel's final words as the curtain falls-words that Debussy has given music of unspeakable poignancy-"If I were God, what pity would I have on the hearts of men!"

Here, and in the last act, in the picture of Golaud's despair, was the most significant dramatic effect that we have seen from Mr. Tibbett for many a season. As for Mr. Kipnis, his superb tone quality is too big and fine for old Arkel, trembling with his weakness and his wisdom, but the audience would not quarrel with him for that, or for the manner in which, with dramatic overemphasis and disproportion, Mr. Cooper drove home the pity of this scene in the orchestral epilogue which surely represents one of the greatest passages in all opera.

To finish with the cast, it may be said that the warm-voiced Margaret Harshaw does not yet make an impressive Genevieve, intelligently as she read the letter of the first act; this being a role which she has probably not had long enough to thoroughly assimilate, and that John Gurney's physician of the last act was entirely uneloquent and largely unaware, one would say, of what it was all about; while Lillian Raymondi received a special curtain for her well-done Yniold.

Interpretation in Orchestra

But the sum of it was in the key interpretation in the orchestra pit. As we have emphasized, it violated the Debussy tradition, as heretofore comprehended, as exemplified by the Hammerstein reproduction in this country of the French première. There was less that was subtle, less of the inner life of the drama, which is not so much of bodies as of souls, helpless and predestined in the web of fate, than of an intense, flesh-and-blood tragedy which stirred the most indifferent and did not leave too much to the imagination. Where Debussy infers, this affirmed. Where the score carries an innuendo, this one offered an advertisement-a very dramatic advertisement.

The size of the theatre, really too large for the essential intimacies of "Pelleas," is one logical argument for such treatment. Also, Mr. Cooper has remarked upon the prevalence of the direction "expressif" in almost every page of Debussy's score. He interpreted not with aloofness or restraint, but with complete authority, with the technique and instinct of the man of the theatre, and lo! the score of Debussy became one of compelling vitality and irresistible power. For the rest. critics can argue!

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune:

Martial Singher, as Pelléas, was the glory of the evening. Vocally impeccable and dramatically superb, he animated the opera personally and gave it the authority of his perfect French declamation. His singing of the language is as different from the way anybody else here sings it is as a real French dress or pastry is from what is currently available to us. Whether Mr. Singher is to be cast in barytone or in tenor roles at the Metropolitan is apparently still undecided (his voice is a light, high barytone); but in any case he is a valuable artist. I hope we shall be hearing lots more of him.

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