[Met Performance] CID:19640
Carmen {110} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/21/1898.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 21, 1898

CARMEN {110}
Bizet-Meilhac/L. Halévy

Carmen..................Zélie de Lussan
Don José................Albert Saléza
Micaela.................Emma Eames
Escamillo...............Henri Albers
Frasquita...............Marthe Djella
Mercédès................Maud Roudez
Remendado...............Horace Piroia
Dancaïre................Eugène Dufriche
Zuniga..................Herman Devries
Moralès.................Jacques Bars

Conductor...............Luigi Mancinelli

Director................Pierre Baudu

Carmen received three performances this season.

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


First Performance of Bizet's Work this Season, with Zelie de Lussan as Carmen

Bizet's "Carmen" was sung at the Metropolitan Opera House last night for the first time this season. The general public has of late years grown so thoroughly into the belief that this work is the private and particular property of Emma Calvé that there was naturally some doubt as to whether there would be a large audience. This doubt was happily dispelled. It cannot be recorded with absolute truth that the house was packed, but nearly all the chairs were filled, there was a goodly fringe of spectators at the rear of the orchestra, circle rail, and the upper galleries were fairly well occupied. There ought always to be a large audience for "Carmen," even when no world-famous stars are in the cast. If people cannot love such a masterpiece for its own sake, what can they love? Here is a work with a genuinely dramatic story. It is founded on the contest of those human passions which make the ethical struggle of Wagner's "Tannhäuser."

Without endeavoring to reach the grand style which Wagner sought, Prosper Merimée, in his original tale, set forth in brilliant colors the fatal seduction of fleshly love, and preached in his own Gallic way that "the wages of sin is death." Wagner has not monopolized the humanity nor the moral lessons of opera. "Carmen" is a splendid sermon, but, better than that, it deals with the emotions which always make tragedies for the theatre and always will, in spite of the solemn objections of persons desirous to transform the stage into a "kindergarten." In his music Bizet combined originality of style with immense dramatic significance. But it is hardly likely that any one requires a critical discussion of "Carmen" in these days. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Opera House is a temple not unto the glory of art, but of artists. Therefore, let us hasten to comment on the performance, for the performance, not the play, is the thing.

In "Carmen" no one can succeed by every note that proceedeth out of the mouth alone. Neither can any one triumph who cannot sing. In a measure exceeded by no other work this one requires the fullest exemplification of the art of lyric embodiment, that subtle, complex and lofty art which all the resources of dramatic singing and physical expression are combined. The role of Carmen is one of the easiest to make acceptable from an operatic point of view; one of the most difficult to make illusive and dramatically convincing. There are few women who have lived Carmen before an audience, yet that it what must be done. Mlle. Zelie de Lussan, who was the Carmen last night, is not gifted with either the voice or the temperament, and she has never acquired the skill to present a wholly satisfying embodiment of the gypsy girl. She sings the music with much artistic ability, so far as voice delivery goes, and with evident appreciation of its dramatic content, but her singing lacks the variety of color necessary to the indication of that volatility of Carmen's moods. As for her acting, it must be said in her praise that it has gained greatly in complexity of detail and in picturesqueness. But somehow this Carmen is more vigorous and bourgeois than seductive. Only for a moment or two in the second act did Mlle. de Lussan seem to be the velvet-skinned, fire-blooded, self-gratifying temptress who might lure a Don José to cry, "All for love, and the world well lost."

M. Saleza was a most interesting Don José. Here is a part which is simple and direct, The emotional scale of Don José is not wide. A weakling, strong only in passion for a woman-that is the young Spanish brigadier. Let him but sing himself and in an ascending scale of sentiment in first act, love in the second, abandoned passion in the second, and despair in the third. The music is there, if he can but master it. It depends on the man's own gamut of emotions. Now M. Saleza can sing and he is a singer of ardent temperament. If he did not reach greatness in Don José it was only because of the limitations of his physical powers. But he gave a very fine performance of the part. He sang the duet in the first act with grace and the flower song with such warmth and style that he had to repeat it. In the third and fourth acts he was splendidly passionate, though sometimes at the expense of his voice. But it was a convincingly warm impersonation and added to the laurels already gained by this young tenor.

For the others there is not much to say. M. Henri Albers was not a successful Escamillo. The music does not suit his voice and though he received the usual demand for a repetition of the toreador song it can not be said that he sang it effectively. Mme. Emma Eames was, as she always is, a lovely Micaela, and she sang the music beautifully. M. Dufriche was a good Dancairo and M. Peroia an exceedingly feeble Remendado. Mlles. Djella and Roudez were weak in the minor women's parts, M. Bars and M. Devries as Morales and Zuniga treated the audience to some uncommonly bad singing. The chorus sang raggedly and tunelessly, and the orchestra was only passable. Signor Mancinelli conducted and at times let the orchestra make too much noise. The audience was very enthusiastic.

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