[Met Performance] CID:23360
Faust {165} Matinee ed. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 02/1/1900.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Academy of Music
February 1, 1900 Matinee

FAUST {165}

Faust...................Albert Saléza
Marguerite..............Emma Calvé
Méphistophélès..........Edouard de Reszke
Valentin................Antonio Scotti
Siebel..................Rosa Olitzka
Marthe..................Mathilde Bauermeister
Wagner..................Theodore Meux

Conductor...............Enrico Bevignani

Review (unsigned) in a Philadelphia newspaper (unidentified)


"Faust" is so essentially an opera which plays itself, that we are apt to overlook any but the most flagrant shortcomings in its dramatic interpretation, provided the singers are sufficiently good. But yesterday afternoon at the Academy of Music there came a swift reminder of its latent possibilities that will leave an impression not easily forgotten and one likely to make those engaged in its next presentation bestir themselves to keep their efforts from seeming tame.

Mme. Calve's Marguerite at the first blush seems like a new creation of the role. It is not so in point of fact. She simply carries out the traditions, with but trifling changes of detail that had their greatest exponent in the person of Mme. Christine Nilsson, though it must be owned that there are a good many details and most of them improvements. They are most noticeable on her first entry, where she appears in cap and cape as any one passing through the streets naturally would, instead of the traditional indoor dress. Again, in letting her hair down after going into the cottage at the close of the garden scene, in the lighting of the taper in the church, in the dumb grief at Valentine's untimely end, and in the presence of a large cross in her prison cell, though the reason for the presence of the latter is not apparent. Owing to the music not lying so well within the register of her voice, as in some of her other roles (Carmen, for instance) she takes many of her high notes in mix voice instead of singing them off her chest as Gounod intended they should be. Thus at the close of the jewel song she took the last note but one, the high B, pianissimo. It robbed the aria of some of its brilliancy, but the note itself was so exquisitely sung that one could afford to lose the extra effect in exchange for the loveliness of the tone. It is, however, in the manner of carrying out these traditions that Calvé excels. She expresses without seeming effort what others fall to convey with much striving, both in tone and gesture. In her first appearance in the garden scene, where she sings the romance of the King of Thule, you know instinctively, both by her voice and manner, that her mind is full of the previous meeting with Faust. She tries to work at her spinning wheel; the song goes on, but the thoughts are elsewhere, and soon the wheel is forsaken as she turns to the garden to pluck flowers, still singing of the King and his golden goblet. Then the frank delight at seeing herself decked in jewels and the genuineness of the apparition in the mirror, the free confession of her love, the tenderness of the parting duet - all these things were done with the simplicity and naturalness that is the highest form of art.

In the tragic scenes that followed the dramatic force of her acting was even more remarkable, The abject, the almost hopeless prayer for forgiveness in the church scene, her unnatural calm at the side of the dying Valentine, such calm as presages the snapping of the cords that bind the reason, the significant lifting of his head and the swift realization of his eternal sleep, followed by the tottering exit, suggestive of a mind already unbalanced - all these things were done with such sure, deft touches that made the scene seem absolutely real. Nor must mention of her acting in the prison scene be omitted; the almost painful realization of the distraught creature, singing snatches of well remembered songs and wringing her hands in frenzied terror at the approach of the evil one, was a fitting climax to the wonderful interpretation of the part. It was a marvelous piece of acting throughout, never sensational, never hysterical, nor cheap, nor vulgar, but most pathetic and most beautiful.

Signor Scotti's Valentine was a creation well worthy to be ranked alongside of Calvé's Marguerite. He has, as we have already stated in reviewing his previous appearance, a rarely beautiful voice and his singing of Valentine's music, including the interpolated "Dio Possente," was as nearly perfect as possible; but his acting in the death scene was realism such as has never in our memory been infused into the part before. The bloodstained shirt, unusual and unexpected as it was, was only a minor detail in the minutiae of his simulated struggles to ward off death long enough to curse his sister. The end, a malediction cut short off by a whistling note in the wind-pipe, a convulsive shudder, and the body falling in a heap, came abruptly after a struggle, a description of which would not make pleasant reading, but was not only absolutely free from exaggeration and fitting to the occasion, but was a most magnificent histrionic effort.

The part of Faust does not offer similar opportunities for distinguished acting, but in so far as an agreeable presence and a courtly manner go, M. Saleza fulfilled ail requirements. So far as his singing is concerned, he is easily the best tenor we have heard in this role for the past three seasons. He did not, however, seem to be quite at his best, and there were moments in the garden scene when we could have wished his singing a little less strenuous; he might, too, in the first scene have been a little less robust in voice and so have secured a more effective contrast in the change from the old to the young man. But with these two minor exceptions he gave a very beautiful presentation of the role. Mlle. Olitzka was a better Siebel, both dramatically and in the quality of her singing, than we have had for a long time and it is hardly necessary to say that Edouard de Reszke made a most admirable Devil. With Mlle. Bauermeister as Martha and M. Meux as Wagner the minor parts were in good hands and the performance, on the whole, was one of exceptional excellence. It would have been better still had not Sig. Bevignani so frequently dragged the tempi, a fault in which he was aided and abetted by Mme. Calvé.

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