[Met Performance] CID:149720
Gianni Schicchi {40}
Salome {25}
Metropolitan Opera House: 02/4/1949.

(Debuts: Ljuba Welitsch, Fritz Reiner, Reginald Tonry Jr.
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 4, 1949


GIANNI SCHICCHI {40}
Puccini-Forzano

Gianni Schicchi.........Italo Tajo
Lauretta................Nadine Conner
Rinuccio................Giuseppe Di Stefano
Nella...................Paula Lenchner
Ciesca..................Thelma Votipka
Zita....................Cloe Elmo
Gherardo................Alessio De Paolis
Betto...................George Cehanovsky
Marco...................Gerhard Pechner
Simone..................Virgilio Lazzari
Gherardino..............Reginald Tonry Jr. [Debut]
Spinelloccio............Melchiorre Luise
Amantio.................Lorenzo Alvary
Pinellino...............Osie Hawkins
Guccio..................John Baker

Conductor...............Giuseppe Antonicelli

Director................Dino Yannopoulos
Set designer............Joseph Novak

Gianni Schicchi received seven performances this season.



SALOME {25}
R. Strauss-O. Wilde/Lachmann

Salome..................Ljuba Welitsch [Debut]
Herod...................Max Lorenz
Herodias................Kerstin Thorborg
Jochanaan...............Joel Berglund
Narraboth...............Brian Sullivan
Page....................Hertha Glaz
Jew.....................Leslie Chabay
Jew.....................Thomas Hayward
Jew.....................Alessio De Paolis
Jew.....................Paul Franke
Jew.....................Gerhard Pechner
Nazarene................Dezs÷ Ernster
Nazarene................Emery Darcy
Soldier.................Jerome Hines
Soldier.................Philip Kinsman
Cappadocian.............Osie Hawkins
Slave...................Inge Manski

Conductor...............Fritz Reiner [Debut]

Director................Herbert Graf
Set designer............Donald Oenslager

Salome received seven performances this season.

[Welitsch's costume was by AdelmŘller, based on an earlier design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian.]

[Ljuba Welitsch's last name was sometimes spelled Welitch.]


Review of Irving Kolodin in The New York Sun

Richard Strauss' "Salome" was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House last night in more than the usual meaning of that term. With Ljuba Welitsch, the new Bulgarian soprano, as one wing of the bellows, and Conductor Fritz Reiner, of long and esteemed honor, as the other, they pumped blazing life into a work which might almost be said to be making its debut here with them. An audience which filled every nook of the theater was still cheering both fifteen minutes after the final curtain.

Either as an actress or a singer, Miss Welitsch is an asset to treasure. The thought merely of making a debut in a part so arduous, perilous and often ridiculous, would affright most singers; but the reasons for her choice were soon apparent. She has a memorable, rather than a beautiful face, she is close to pudgy; but she was into the part from her first entrance - nervous, questing, insatiable, readily aroused to a fury beyond any spurned woman known to history.

With her voice and with her body, Miss Welitsch drew a picture with one small detail and then another - the girlish wheedling to win a promise from Herod, the harsh command that it be kept. Her fresh, clear, silvery-sounding voice is not the violently dramatic one custom assigns to Salome, but she wastes none of it in projecting the old tenderness, the pointed ecstasy, the insuperable craving, Strauss poured into his marvelous score. When supported by the kind of orchestral wave contrived by Reiner, the voice floats beautifully. Taking voice and action together, the Metropolitan has not recently had any such challenging role done with like mastery.

Merely as movement, every step, gesture and glance she made was plotted for theatrical effect, though a sense of improvisation was always present. Since the famous dance must remain a symbol, Miss Welitsch made it symbolic from the start, dancing to Herod, but for Jokanaan. Philosophy, it is said, was one of Miss Welitsch's studies before she turned to singing. One suspects that anatomy was in the curriculum, too.

With this kind of material to elaborate, Reiner - an old master of the musical theater - evolved a performance that was musically clean, dramatically potent, as compact as a hot coal. Joel Berglund, singing Jokanaan in place of Herbert Janssen, was a mite impassive but vocally strong, with Brian Sullivan a splendid Narraboth in his brief opportunity. The other key performers were familiar from past Metropolitan "Salomes" - Kerstin Thorborg, a properly luxurious Herodias; Max Lorenz, a raging fool of a drunken Herod, weak enough to make a promise, strong enough to keep it. Though he is fifteen years older than when he first sang the part here, it was full of vocal inflection and meaning. There was excellent work all through the cast: Dezso Ernster as a sonorous Nazarene. Jerome Hines an excellent soldier, Leslie Chabay a picturesque leader of the contentious Jewry, Donald Oenslager's set was used again as background for the well-organized groupings of Herbert Graf.

[Regarding other Salomes of history]....those who were better looking could not match Miss Welitsch's vocal performance, for euphony, clarity and meaning, and those who were comparable singers had no such physical identity with the role. Q. E. D. Miss Welitsch is the Metropolitan's Salome of record: Long may she wave!


From the review of Herbert F. Peyser in Musical America:

With the revival of Richard Strauss' "Salome" (given according to a bad American habit, as part of a double bill, and consorted, in this instance, with Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi") the Metropolitan on February 4 provided something like a new shiver. The debuts of a singing actress from Vienna, whose coming was preceded by exuberant reports, and of an eminent conductor, translated to the opera house after long and distinguished service on the symphonic platform, supplied the more tangible elements of the occasion. However, 'Salome" itself, well done or even less well, remains an experience out of the ordinary in this country, where, more than forty years after its first New York hearing, it continues to wear an aura of sensation definitely associated with the silly scandals of a bygone age. Hence it is not altogether surprising that a tension gripped the enormous audience from the first, and that an electrically charged atmosphere pervaded the theater. When the curtain fell, the assemblage burst into an ovation, with shouts and shrill whistlings supplementing the thunderous applause, in a demonstration that lasted more than fifteen minutes. It was a thoroughly spectacular evening, and it had many qualities of quite unaccustomed merit.

The new soprano is Ljuba Welitsch, the new conductor Fritz Reiner, actually a veteran of many years and fruitful accomplishments. Mme. Welitsch, born in Bulgaria, has been, since the recent war, one of the chief luminaries of the Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden Opera in London. Those who heard her in Vienna seemed to agree that she excels any other recent acquisitions that institution can boast, and her success in London, as Salome, Aida, and Musetta, has been enormous.

As the Judean headhuntress, Miss Welitsch proved immediately that she has theater talents of undeniable thrust, a communicative personality and other traits of unflagging interest. To the eye she is a fascinating apparition - with her mass of flaming copper red hair, her searching glance, and her mobility; her entrance in the first minutes of the opera was breath-taking. In some ways she reminds me of Maria Jeritza in an earlier day. There are vocal features which to me evoke that flamboyant artist when she first came among us - particularly the upper half of her voice, where the tones have a very bright and somewhat metallic quality of considerable vitality and an impact that enables the singer to override many of the heaviest dynamics and to penetrate the densest textures of Strauss' sumptuous orchestration. I did not find in these tones a warmth or a variety of color and expressive modulation at her debut; the most extensive nuances she accomplished in this respect were heard in the apostrophe to the head of Jokanaan. The lower part of the scale struck me, in the main, as lacking body and resonance. Whether the soprano adopts a kind of petulant, infantile quality of tone to indicate that the daughter of Herodias is the mere child legend claims her to have been or whether this is a fundamental aspect of her singing one can only decide when she assumes other roles.

I am not prepared to say that the Salome of Miss Welitsch stands wholly on a plane, dramatically or psychologically with Salomes I have witnessed in this country and in Europe. It does not, to my thinking, equal that of Mary Garden; of GeneviŔve Vix (at the Paris OpŔra), whose business in the scene with the head was, without exception, the frankest expression I ever saw on a stage. Striking, engrossing and, indeed, admirable as the newcomer showed herself in the role she had conceived and elaborated with intelligence and resource, she was never, it appeared to me, the mysterious woman of the East. I missed in her impersonation the sultry undertones of the part, even as I missed certain other phases of expressiveness. I felt something of the soubrette in Miss. Welitsch's performance, which was accentuated by various features of her singing no less than by the almost unchanging smile on her face during the early part of the opera.

Yet her action by the cistern after Jokanaan has repulsed, and cursed her, was more imaginatively conceived and vividly executed. Here the sinister brooding after she had circled, like some thwarted panther, the prophet's place of confinement, conveyed the first glimmerings of her sanguinary purpose. There was shrewd calculation in the build-up of this effect, no doubt, but it was carried out with complete spontaneity. On the other hand, the awful reiteration of "Ich will den Kopf des Jochanaan" did not, I thought, communicate to the full its devastating and implacable fearfulness.

Miss Welitsch was beautifully attired. The jewels in which the upper part of her body were encased and the colors she wore ought to furnish material for abundant chatter. How she did the dance I prefer to leave to my colleagues of our ballet department. Anyhow, Vienna appears once more to have sent us an artist who will, it seems more than probable, become town talk. Few newcomers in many years have so completely conquered their first audience or harvested such a tumultuous and protracted acclaim. She is a fascinating theatre personality and, beyond all question, one of the year's finds.

In this ovation all other participants in the representation were made to share - and with ample reason. It is long since the Metropolitan has offered a performance so well prepared, so closely knit, so progressively powerful, in which the various departments were so smoothly co-ordinated and details took their place so effortlessly in the general scheme. The stage direction had a red-letter night of it, and Herbert Graf has done almost nothing better at this theater.

The indisposition of Herbert Janssen compelled a change of cast, whereby the duties of Jokanaan fell to Joel Berglund, whose performance was that of a seasoned artist. He sang the music with smooth, resonant tones and orotund utterance, though one might have asked for more hardness and austerity in his demeanor. Max Lorenz presented an exceptionally fine Herod, without, however, accentuating to the full the neurotic aspects of the part. And the panic terror of the man as Salome's demand for the head strikes him, can, I think, be even more shatteringly expressed. However, the tenor's voice was tractable, and conformed wholly to the hysterical chatter of Herod's style of nervous speech-song.

Of her deep artistic intelligence and copious experience, Kerstin Thorborg fashioned a commanding Herodias, rich in illuminating touches that generally elude performers of this part. Herta Glaz carried out well the small but essential duties of Herodias' Page. I cannot recall ever having heard the music of Narraboth sung as beautifully as by Brian Sullivan, or embodied with such distinction and manly bearing, It was almost with a pang that one saw the young Syrian eliminated from the action so early. Deszo Ernster did some of his best work this season as the First Nazarene. The quintet of disputatious Jews - Leslie Chabay, Thomas Hayward, Alessio de Paolis, Paul Franke, and Gerhard Pechner - had obviously enjoyed most painstaking rehearsal, and went captially. Other small roles were filled by Inge Manski and Messrs. Darcy, Hines, Kinsman and Hawkins. Settings, groupings and lighting offered few grounds for dissatisfaction.

Fritz Reiner formed a vital part of the evening's news. Mr. Reiner's superb conducting technique has for years been a matter of admiration, even if his symphonic work is on occasion open to argument. This time I obtained the impression that he is primarily at home in opera. If he is not the most imaginative or flexible of conductors and in this case repeatedly drove the orchestra to dynamic extravagances that blanketed the singers, he displayed a feeling for the lyric contours, the luxuriance and the suavity of this music in a way not easily to be forgotten. It was a massive yet smooth and by no means insensitive reading of what in effect is a tone poem of bounteous amplitude; and it gained relentlessly in impact as the performance advanced. Together with Miss Welitsch, Mr. Reiner was the undisputed star of the occasion. The orchestra, putting its best foot forward, played in superb style.

Ljuba Welitsch as Salome. Photograph by Louis Melanšon.



Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names


Back to short citation(s).