[Met Performance] CID:138410
Pelléas et Mélisande {41} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/4/1945.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 4, 1945


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

Conductor...............Emil Cooper

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

Pelléas et Mélisande received five performances this season.

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune

Debussy Liberated

Debussy's "Pélleas et Mélisande," as conducted by Emil Cooper at the Metropolitan Opera House Thursday night, its first performance of the season, is one of the orchestral treats of the decade. I have known the work most of my life and heard often - in Chicago, Boston, New York and Paris; but, never have I heard its instrumental textures so clean, so transparent, so accurate in pitch and equilibrium and so expressive. Vocally the performance, though presentable, is not ideal. But the musical reading of the work as a whole is one of the few great readings of any opera now available.

The Metropolitan orchestra, refreshed this season to the extent of twenty-nine replacements, is a better sounding group than that house has had in many years. And "Pélleas" is a better rehearsed production, both musically and pictorially than it has been the custom there of late to offer. Bidu Sayao and Martial Singher are ever a delight to the eye. The latter and Alexander Kipnis, who sings Arkel, are delights to the ear, as well, and to anybody's sense of stage style. Margaret Harshaw sings well, too, though her French is a little obscure. And Lawrence Tibbett does careful work within his well known vocal limitations. Désiré Defrère, the stage director, has moved them all around with a fine eye to the evocation of early medieval chateau- life attitudes and an ear for what the music at every moment is about.

Mr. Cooper, as I remarked last year, has seized the spirit of that music rather better than anybody has done of recent decades in Paris, where the piece has gone slow, stiff and much too loud. It has become, in France, a sort of sacred cow that everybody is afraid of. Mr. Cooper, by treating her as if she were young and passionate again, has made her behave like a lamb. Flexibility of rhythmic scansion is the secret of his success. Not any Viennese tempo rubato, but a real French enunciation of the phrases as if they were good prose, with a natural placement of breath everywhere.

He uses the French attack, too, which is clean without stress, neither hesitant nor percussive. As a result, his instrumental phrases speak as well as sing; and the whole musical fabric, vocal as well as instrumental, becomes, in spite of its complexity, as straightforward and sincere an expression as any one can well imagine, and far more so than we are accustomed to hear in the theater. It becomes iridescent, too, and incandescent; it shimmers; it glows; it is warm. Never has that work sounded to me so little vague or distant or tenuous. This is the way it still sounded thirty years ago, and Mr. Cooper has returned to the correct tradition. "Pélleas et Mélisande" is no Italian melodrama, but neither is there anything whatsoever mystical about it.

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