[Met Performance] CID:158800
La Bohème {460} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/30/1952.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 30, 1952


Mimì....................Dorothy Kirsten
Rodolfo.................Ferruccio Tagliavini
Musetta.................Ljuba Welitsch
Marcello................Paolo Silveri
Schaunard...............George Cehanovsky
Colline.................Nicola Moscona
Benoit..................Gerhard Pechner
Alcindoro...............Alessio De Paolis
Parpignol...............Paul Franke
Sergeant................Carlo Tomanelli

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

Review of Cecil Smith in Musical America

A stranger to "La Bohème" might easily have thought in the second and third acts of this performance that two different pieces were being presented simultaneously, like the tragedy and the comedy in Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos." One group of principals-Dorothy Kirsten, Ferruccio Tagliavini, George Cehanovsky, and Nicola Moscona-was intent upon simple, credible characterization that fell within the scope of a plot in which they all concurred, and upon expressive, technically expert singing. The other group-Ljuba Welitsch, Paolo Silveri, and, to his patent discomfort, Alessio de Paolis-tore the stage apart, overdrove their points like desperate actors trying to save a badly written farce, and left themselves neither enough repose nor enough physical energy to sing with full control of tone, pitch, and nuance.

All this happened because Miss Welitsch sought to make a killing in her first Metropolitan appearance as Musetta, a role that had brought her considerable acclaim at Covent Garden. Upon her first entrance in the Cafe Momus scene she took disrupting possession of the stage to an extent that reminded me of the way Jimmy Durante, in a context constructed to permit such behavior, used to sweep everything and everyone aside with his nose and his voice. Miss Welitsch, to be sure, dominated the situation neither with her nose nor, alas, with her voice but the vehemence with which she swept about the entire forestage, gesticulating madly, twisting and hopping this way and that, and leaping onto the furniture had the effect of crushing the bohemians at the supper table up against the wall of the cafe, leaving them neither space nor air. But if it was Miss Welitsch's aim to prove that she could upstage the other principals, she was unsuccessful, for most of them were utterly unruffled, and pursued their duties as if she were not there. Mr. Silveri was less wise, and sought to match Miss Welitsch's overacting with a great deal of his own. But while Miss Welitsch often was extremely funny, if you forgot what La Bohème is all about, Mr. Silveri, as Marcello, seemed merely loutish and crude, and he found himself even less able than she to muster up any attention to his singing. Mr. De Paolis, too experienced a hand to be worsted by the Roman holiday of any prima donna, completely altered his business for the role of Alcindoro, and with the skill of a master farceur accomplished the feat of meeting and vanquishing Miss Welitsch on her own ground.

Miss Welitsch and Mr. Silveri were as unbridled at the end of the third act, but the episode was shorter. Then in the last act a miracle happened. Not only did Mr. Silveri settle back into the mood expected of Marcello but Miss Welitsch, from the moment of her hurried, frightened entrance with Mimi, gave the finest acting performance of her entire Metropolitan career. She was human, touching, even self-effacing; she sang exquisitely; she showed in every movement and every inflection of the text that she knew exactly the relationship of Musetta's part to the others and to the act as a whole. There were none of the false touches and willful effects in which her performance as Salome abounds. It was impossible not to infer that she knew equally well how the role ought to be played in the earlier scenes, and that she had merely taken us for a ride. I am afraid the last laugh was not on us, but on her.

Miss Kirsten's Mimi was her first this season. This could not vet be called one of her best parts, for she tended to drive the music a little hard. Her interpretation still strongly resembled Grace Moore's, and still suffered from the same lack of half-lights and understatements. Still, it was a performance of the utmost genuineness, in need of refinement rather than essential change. Because of the illness of Lawrence Davidson, Gerhard Pechner took over competently the first-act duties of Benoit for the first time this season. The others in the cast were Paul Franke and Carlo Tomanelli. Alberto Erode conducted woodenly.

Review of Virgil Thomson in the Herald Tribune

Female Impersonation

The French farce writer Jacques Feydeau, being asked by a famous actor whether he had seen that actor in his latest role, is said to have replied. "Yes, and I apologize." Your reviewer is tempted to pass over, thus, Ljuba Welitch's Musette, seen Wednesday night in a performance of Puccini's "La Bohème" at the Metropolitan Opera House. But the event cannot be dismissed. A: Miss Welitch's vocal performance was impeccable, B: The audience loved her. C: The rest of the performance was musically the most convincing and dramatically the most cogent that this reviewer has ever seen of that opera in that house.

If the Metropolitan goes through with its present plan of redecorating and restaging this opera next year, it will be a scandalous waste of money. The sets are handsome, appropriate and in good condition. The stage movement, a bit restudied and rehearsed, as it apparently had been for the night's presentation, wants nothing but the kind of care it received. It is rare in that house to witness the vivid and sensitive narration of a touching story that Dorothy Kirsten and Ferruccio Tagliavini gave us. They acted and they did not overact; they sang and they did not oversing. One could have imagined oneself at the Paris Opera-Comique in the days when that house was the model to the world of the lyric theater. Every gesture, every note was serious and

Every note that Miss Welitch sang was lovely. For the rest, one has not seen such a hilarious piece of female impersonation since the days of the late (and immortal) Bert Savoy. Naturally, the standees went wild, and not only at the phrase ends did they applaud. At her every move they roared with laughter. Staged in a review, Miss Welitch's number would have brought down the house, as Marie Dressler's travesty of "La Traviata" always did. (I love the great scene where she hugs Tetrazzini, coughs up a cadenza, and dies - and Tetrazzini loved it too.) At the Metropolitan itself with a perfectly serious performance of "La Bohème" going on, one was obliged to pinch oneself from time to time to remember that one was at the Metropolitan, a non profit-making Opera House and that a perfectly serious, indeed far more serious than usual performance of "La Bohème," was also going on,

That performance was so serious and so excellent in every other way that Miss Welitch's powerful interference offered no more than temporary suggestion. She was not in the first act. The last half of the second act is Musetta's anyway. Her upsetting of the snow scene in the third act was thankfully brief. What she did to Mimi's death scene I do not know, though post-performance reports, as I write, bear witness to some restraint. For me the news of the evening was the high degree of musical and dramatic delicacy shown by Tagliavini and Kirsten, artists whom I have previously known as a bit on the hard-boiled side, the brutal side. Maybe it was by contrast with Welitch that they seemed so tender and so real. But far more likely it was Miss Welitch's preoccupation with show business on its lowest level that had brought out in them, way back in the rehearsal days, a care for both sense and sensibility.

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