[Met Performance] CID:155730
New productions
Cavalleria Rusticana {340}
Pagliacci {379}
Metropolitan Opera House: 01/17/1951.

(Debuts: Hans Busch, Horace Armistead, John Robert Lloyd, Max Leavitt
Review )

Metropolitan Opera House
January 17, 1951
New production


Santuzza................Zinka Milanov
Turiddu.................Richard Tucker
Lola....................Martha Lipton
Alfio...................Clifford Harvuot
Mamma Lucia.............Jean Madeira

Conductor...............Alberto Erede

Director................Hans Busch [Debut]
Set designer............Horace Armistead [Debut]
Costume designer........John Robert Lloyd [Debut]

Cavalleria Rusticana received thirteen performances this season.

New production


Nedda...................Delia Rigal
Canio...................Ramon Vinay
Tonio...................Leonard Warren
Silvio..................Frank Guarrera
Beppe...................Thomas Hayward

Conductor...............Alberto Erede

Director................Max Leavitt [Debut]
Set designer............Horace Armistead
Costume designer........John Robert Lloyd

Pagliacci received thirteen performances this season.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

The fourth and last new production of this season at the Metropolitan took place last night, with the double bill of "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci." Mascagni's score in particular had an overwhelming success, because it was magnificently sung in the two principal parts, with some meritorious other vocal features, and because of Mascagni's boiling, volcanic music, which has come into the world to stay, and which will always sweep an audience from its feet when it is vitally interpreted.

To particularize a trifle about the singing: Mr. Tucker's magnificent singing of Turiddu's music was companioned by the dramatic interpretation, especially of the last moments-Turiddu's farewell to his mother. Zinka Milanov poured an endless wealth of tone and passionate emotion into her part. Mr. Harvuot was not as much in character as Alfio the carter, but he also sang sonorously, in a dramatic spirit. Miss Lipton with her few lines was entirely acceptable. Miss Madeira was less convincing as Mama Lucia and was made up absurdly, looking younger than Santuzza.

The performance deserves even higher praise than this, for it survived the most atrociously inappropriate scenic setting by Horace Armistead and ill-conceived stage direction by Hans Busch, that we ever saw or hope ever to see in the staging of an opera.

Scenery a Deterrent

These features were so bad and in such affected taste and essential incongruity with the libretto that they should be protested, so far as the hour permits, in some detail.

In the first place, simplicity, for this little peasant drama which takes place in a sun-baked Sicilian village, was invariably conspicuous by absence. The set, with a high bridge at the back, and an inn and a barber shop and other impediment in a circle, with the church at the left, shuts off half the stage, and is a clutter of ineffectuality.

There are the oddest results. A procession as elaborate as the one in "Tosca" goes into the church, while the chorus first firmly faces the audience-neither the procession nor the church-when they pray, then turn their backs flat upon the audience, stare at the procession, then wheel round on a hair-pin and resume their singing, glaring straight at the audience and the conductor.

But some of these villagers are sinful. They didn't go to church that morning-pretty girls, whose parents should have made them behave better. And we thought Sicilian peasants were religious! The girls met those coming out of the church, giggling as though to remind the worshipful ones that they have had a better time. And a man peddling balloons comes to the church door to add the fun. Do they do that on Easter morn--the church door to add to the fun church in Sicilian villages ? Later on, when the maddened Alfio rushed in to challenge Turiddu the seducer, he kept a safe distance away from that tenor and his revelers and yelled at Turiddu from his point of vantage above.

You would have thought that it was Hunding upon the heights, after Siegfried, the while that a girl in back of the drinking chorus walloped a tambourine, having escaped from Act II of "Carmen." A group of little boys emerged in a corner to play marbles or summat, as the women rushed in shrieking that Turiddu was murdered; during which distraction the very clouds blackened, and scurried over the sky to denote, no doubt, the anger of the elements as doom overtook guilty mortals, Evidently life must go on, and children must play, even during a murder in a Sicilian village.

Lighting Is Scored

And they had wonderful ideas of lighting. Dawn is supposed to break gradually upon the village, and the Easter bells begin to ring. It was so contrived that the village came to life in its shops and hotels, and a man was given a shave while the sky was still so dark, and the lighting so garish, that you would have thought it was still Saturday night instead of time to get up Easter morning. Alfio's cart embellished the stage and was constantly being pushed around in symbolic ways while the drama proceeded. The stage was always overcrowded, and this isn't "Aida."

One dilates on these absurdities, by way of protest against an affected, inartistic and utterly gratuitous violation of the whole character of a famous opera, for which the composer and dramatist have left perfectly clear directions. Presumably this is to freshen up operatic ideas, or prove originality, or astonish the bourgeois. It is not easy to figure out the reason for such distortion. But that is what happened. And the opera triumphed, and would have triumphed as much or more without these absurd trappings.

Mr. Erede conducted, competently, authoritatively, but after his masterly reading of the "Trovatore" score on recent date, when he gave us the best orchestral interpretation of the opera we have heard in the Metropolitan, he somewhat disappointed us last night. The "Cavalleria" score needs more impetuosity, blazing passion and swiftness of lyrical impulse than he gave it.

The "Pagliacci" production is no less eccentric and unnecessary in its stage setting than that of
"Cavalleria." As many another modern stage artist and Broadway theatre man has done when he approached opera. Mr. Armistead, who has given us such superb sets as those he made, for instance, for Menotti's "Medium," seems here entirely out of his element.

There is a single small platform which pokes up in the back middle of the stage, being used for everything, This platform looks to be in the midst of the crumbling walls of some old theatre or God knows what. There are crumbling walls on the left and there is a movable Japanesey tree as part of the scenery. The time-honored business of the clown poking his head through the curtain and singing the Prologue before it was dispensed with, which would be all right with us, if something better were provided.

What one gets is mostly considerably worse. We are no longer in front of a little theatre in an Italian town. We may possibly be inside it, but that doesn't help much. The clown, admirably sung and acted too by Leonard Warren, addresses the audience from the eminence. So much of it, and the pantomime of the play within the play by the masks, is excellent, fantastic, stylized to the limit, and successfully so. Successfully, that is, if one thinks only of this as an isolated feature of the performance.

But there is a little matter of stage logic involved here, which seems to us poor old mossbacks incongruous. Because, the peasants, supposed to witness the little play within a play from in front of the inner stage, are sitting on both sides and back of this inner stage so that they cannot actually see the performance any better, if as well, as a number of those who frequent the uppermost gallery of the Metropolitan can see its stage. What is this ? Constructivist staging, or what?

Everything is made harder by these fancy devices. Nothing is made simpler and nothing is made realistic for opera of the emphatically realistic character-"verismo." What has happened to "verismo?" No doubt you can stylize anything, in any way you want to, if nobody objects. Perhaps nobody but ourselves does. We certainly do.

In spite of all this, last night we had the inherent theatre in Leoncavallo's score, and the performance of Mr. Warren. Mr. Vinay was not in as good form as usual as Canio. He forced unwisely, and what is a tenor to do if he hasn't the theatre tent to rush up to, sobbing "Ridi, Pagliaccio"? Miss Rigal was not particularly effective as Nedda, but she was up against scenery as well as other things. Mr. Guarrera as Silvio was in good voice, and Mr. Hayward's Beppe behaved properly.

And the audience rejoiced in the singing and in the operas, back in the repertory--"ham and eggs," "Cav and Pag," by Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

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