[Met Performance] CID:168290
Carmen {522} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/16/1955.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 16, 1955


CARMEN {522}

Carmen..................Blanche Thebom
Don José................Kurt Baum
Micaela.................Nadine Conner
Escamillo...............Robert Merrill
Frasquita...............Heidi Krall
Mercédès................Margaret Roggero
Remendado...............Alessio De Paolis
Dancaïre................George Cehanovsky
Zuniga..................Osie Hawkins
Moralès.................Clifford Harvuot
Dance...................Zebra Nevins
Dance...................Adriano Vitale

Conductor...............Max Rudolf

Review of Paul Henry Lang in the Herald Tribune

Few operatic roles are as coveted as is the part of Carmen. It calls for red-blooded temperament, good acting, a wide range of expression - and very, very good vocal equipment. If all this clicks the result is an overpowering dramatic figure. I wish I could report that Miss Thebom, whose first Carmen this was, fulfilled the requirements, for my heart was with this able and conscientious artist, but I am unable to conceal my disappointment. I must add, though, that it seems to me that she was the victim of bad direction in all departments.

Miss Thebom has a good and well schooled voice, but she made use of its full capabilities only in spots. Her Carmen was strangely subdued, the voice often trailing in the distance, and some one gave her the very bad advice to use animalistic glissandos and other off-pitch effects for seductive appeal. Well, in an opera one seduces with the sensuous beauty of the singing and not with meowing - the score is quite explicit on this point. Here is a fine artist, endowed with all that is needed for the role: voice, figure, looks, temperament; and this is what her artistic mentors made her do. Still, Miss Thebom did enough good singing and acting to convince me that given adequate guidance (or maybe if left to her own resources) she can come up with a thoroughly convincing performance.

The performance as a whole was painful to watch. "Carmen" is an opera all by itself. Its sophisticated yet powerful music, its etched, engraved, and enameled orchestration fill the most blasé musician with joy. Yet it is also one of the most popular operas the world over - surely an almost unique case. And no wonder. It is full of life and drama, savage drama, and it is full of wonderful tunes, too. But the way it is done these days at the Met it is the sheer and indestructible vitality of the music that puts it across and not the merits of the performance. We missed the southern, tawny, sunburnt sensitiveness Nietzsche speaks of, and the inexorable fatality, cynicism, innocence, and cruelty that the music so ably conveys.

Messrs. Rudolf and Yannopoulos must share the responsibility for this wretched performance. The conductor was inflexible and just went through his paces. The accompaniments -and what accompaniments they are! - were ragged, denying proper support to the singers. The percussion was out of hand; overbearing and noisy. The cymbals, ever present in this work, sounded like kettle lids banged together and the player failed to damp them in time. But most offensive was the inability of the singers to shape the beginning and end of their phrases with proper elasticity because the conductor just drove them on.

The stage business was flabbergasting. Imagine the scene where the elegant militiaman sings to his sweetheart - perched on a dirty old wheelbarrow, just like another sack of potatoes. The traffic up and down the stairs was bewildering; the ragamuffins looked their part but sang with insipid voices; Lilies Pastias' place looked like a suburban greenhouse with a costume party in progress; and the cigarette girls sang like a well-bred college glee club.

Mr. Baum just stood around waiting for orders: though he sang acceptably and with good intonation; Mr. Merrill brought some life into the picture with his sonorous voice; Miss Conner was in good voice but insisted on saying "Je revi-Andre" (the French diction of almost the whole cast was pretty bad); but the smaller parts were on the whole well taken. The season is nearing its end. The administration may put down "Carmen" as the first item on their housecleaning list.



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