[Met Performance] CID:13960
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Manon {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/16/1895.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debut: Sibyl Sanderson

Metropolitan Opera House
January 16, 1895
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Manon...................Sibyl Sanderson [Debut]
Des Grieux..............Jean de Reszke
Lescaut.................Mario Ancona
Count des Grieux........Pol Plançon
Guillot.................Armand Castelmary
Brétigny................Victor De Gromzeski
Poussette...............Mathilde Bauermeister
Javotte.................Marie Van Cauteren
Rosette.................Jane De Vigne

Conductor...............Enrico Bevignani

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

Manon received nine performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times



A Large Audience Greets the American Prima Donna - Jean de Reszke Heard in a New Part.

There was a really brilliant audience in the Metropolitan Opera House last night. In ordinary circumstances one might have been justified In supposing that an opera which is so unfamiliar to the average operagoer in this city as to be practically a novelty had called out this audience. Massenet's "Manon" was heard once in the course of the quondam Col. Mapleson's reign at the Academy of Music, but it has since been conspicuously absent from the repertoire of opera In this city. Yet there does not appear to be good ground for supposing that the work alone could have called out such an audience on such a discouraging night. There was additional attraction in the matter of Miss Sybil Sanderson's first appearance as a prima donna in her native land. The audience was present mainly to hear a singer of Parisian repute in one of her favorite roles and, incidentally, to hear Jean de Reszke in a new part, for last night he sang the Chevalier des Grieux for the first time. Miss Sanderson's debut was, of course, an interesting feature of the musical season and, judging from the shower of bouquets that fell upon the stage at the end of the first act, the audience had come prepared to make it an event. In all probability Miss Sanderson will have to suffer a little from the reaction that will set in after her immense advance puffery; but she may survive the ordeal. The opera may fairly claim the first consideration here, for the play, after all, is the thing.

"Manon" was given Dec. 23, 1885, with Minnie Hauck, Giannini, Cherubini, Mme. Lablache, and - of last night's cast - Signor Rinaldini, Mlle. Bauermeister, and Mlle. de Vigne. The opera did not make a profound impression at that time, and that readily accounts for its lack of frequent repetition since. The reasons are not especially difficult to discover. In the first place, the story is without any element of strong human sympathy. This, of course, refers to the story as it appears in the operatic libretto. No one can by any possibility become deeply interested in a young woman who is so shallow, so vain, so frivolous, and so unimpressive as the Manon of this opera. She has no grand vices, no grand passions, no masterful follies. She is a Dresden-china sinner, an intriguing soubrette. And as for her lover, the pendulous Des Grieux, who is going into a monastery and who is going to marry, and who is going into the monastery again when his lady love runs away with another man, and who deserts it again at her first nod - who can care for him?

M. Massenet's music is not quite as invertebrate as the story. It is pretty, it is graceful, it is fluent, and it is well written. But if a man of Massenet's standing could not produce music that deserved these words of praise, it would be a sad state of affairs. It can be added that the music is full of delicate and poetic significance which was utterly obscured last night by the cast-iron reading of the score by Signor Bevignani. Nor can it be said that the work of the principal singers was always such as to convey to the auditors the beauties of the music. It must be borne in mind that "Manon" was not composed with a palette of rich colors. It is more like a fine engraving. It must be added that the Metropolitan Opera House is altogether too large a place for a work of this kind. The vast spaces and forcible methods of our operatic houses will not do for works like "Manon." They need the congenial atmosphere of a small auditorium, sympathetic conducting, an orchestra that is like a single, sensitive instrument under the director's hand, and artists who have the refinement of high comedy art.

The production of the opera was pictorially all that could be expected. There was a three-horse coach loaded with trunks, a victoria and pair for the flight of Manon and Des Grieux, handsome scenes, and pretty costumes for the chorus. There were also evidences of stage management, which was supposed to have become a lost art at the Metropolitan. The presentation of "Manon" was in every way creditable to the managers.

And now for Miss Sanderson. In the first place, the American public will not be disappointed in her appearance. She has lost none of the beauty which fascinated Paris when she made her appearance as Esclarmonde at the Opera Comique in 1889. She has plenty of handsome garments, and she wears them with distinction. She has jewels, too, which she should not wear in the first scene. Her voice is a very light and colorless soprano of great range. It is known that she sings the high G, which the Parisians call her Eiffel Tower note, but it has been remarked frequently that high notes are not art. Miss Sanderson's voice lacks warmth and emotional character. It is pretty, but it is much too small for the Metropolitan. It frequently runs to the quality called white, and this characteristic is increased by faulty placing at times. Her high notes are thin and strident, but the upper part of her middle register is good. Her staccati are extremely sharp and wooden. Of course, she has a good comprehension of the role of Manon, and at the end of the third scene, in the duet with Des Grieux, she sang with a good deal of feeling. Her acting is graceful, but it is not convincing.

M. Jean de Reszke again covered himself with glory. If it was, indeed, his first performance of the Chevalier, It was remarkable for its freedom and certainty. His singing was always poetic and full of sentiment, and in the third scene it reached a height of passion which called forth an emphatic and irresistible demand for a repetition of the principal air. It might be a good idea for M. de Reszke to reconsider his first two costumes. They were decidedly unbecoming. Of the other members of the cast there is little to say, owing to the secondary nature of their labors. Signor Ancona sang the music of Lescaut acceptably, and M. Castelmary gave a capital performance of Guillot, speaking the lines of the dialogue, of which the part chiefly consists like and experienced actor.

From the review of Henry Krehbiel in the New York Tribune

Of Miss Sanderson's performance, it is possible to speak with kindly recognition, if not with enthusiasm. Her voice is not one of the kind to be associated with serious opera. It is pure and true in intonation, which is a virtue that is coming to be more and more highly valued as it grows more and more rare, but it is lacking in volume and in penetrative quality. It is pleasant in timbre and fairly equable throughout its natural register when not forced, but it becomes attenuated as it goes up and its high tones are mere trickles of sound. It is afflicted, moreover, with an almost distressing unsteadiness and is deficient in warmth. These things must be said in view of the rank which the world has been told Miss Sanderson has taken in Paris among the singers of today. That she achieves much pleasure to the eye has already been said, and it may be added that when no stress of feeling is to be portrayed she acts naturally, gracefully, and well. Her debut was witnessed by a superb audience, quickly responsive to every appeal made to its admiration. At the end of the first act, there was a fine demonstration of enthusiasm, which was for her. The second neither invited nor received a repetition of the applause, but the third again called it forth, thanks to the impassioned singing of M. de Reszke.

Sibyl Sanderson as Manon. Photograph by Dupont, Brussels.

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