[Met Performance] CID:237320
Don Giovanni {325} Masonic Temple, Detroit, Michigan: 04/29/1974.

(Review)


Detroit, Michigan
April 29, 1974


DON GIOVANNI {325}

Don Giovanni............Sherrill Milnes
Donna Anna..............Edda Moser
Don Ottavio.............Leo Goeke
Donna Elvira............Evelyn Lear
Leporello...............Fernando Corena
Zerlina.................Frederica von Stade
Masetto.................Raymond Michalski
Commendatore............James Morris

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

[L'Italiana in Algeri had been scheduled for this date but was replaced by Don Giovanni.]

Review/account of change of opera by William S. Welt in the Detroit Free Press

World's Biggest Traveling Show Survives a Crisis, with Grand Style

"How is she?"
"Still ill."
"And…"
"Oh, Lord"

The Metropolitan Opera touring company - the world's largest traveling show - has just received some unpleasant news.

It is 1:30 p.m. Monday, seven hours before the Masonic Auditorium curtain is to go up on Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri," the presentation that is scheduled to open the Met's annual six-day, seven opera visit to Detroit.

Half of the 350-member touring company has already arrived on one of two chartered Eastern Airlines Whisperjets - the airline calls them Metjets - from Boston, the first stop on the Met's 1974 spring tour of six cities.

THE MASSIVE "Italiana" sets have already been unloaded from one of the six equipment vans used to truck the various balconies, goblets, landscape hangings, spears, paper mache boulders, horned helmets, plumes and parapets of seven complete operas around the country.

Under the capable direction of master mechanic Steve Diaz, of the Met's traveling technical crew and the men of Detroit Stage Employees Local 38 have transformed the Masonic stage into the harem of Mustafa, the Bey of Algers. "Italiana" cast members are arriving for rehearsal.

Then Osie Hawkins, the Met's jovial rotund executive stage manager who has seen 33 such tours, arrives backstage with the news.

Star mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne has not yet recovered from the laryngitis that had forced her to cancel her performance in Boston a week earlier. Instead of coming to Detroit, she has gone home to New Jersey. This kind of thing, of course, has happened before.

But cover artist (the Met disdains the use of the term "understudy") Nedda Casei, who sang the role of Isabella for Miss Horne in Boston has just been to a Detroit physician. She has a respiratory ailment, and will not be able to sing Isabella, either. This has NOT happened before.

Francis Robinson, assistant manager of the Met who is in charge of the touring company, has been reached at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where he had planned to spend a leisurely afternoon viewing the Medici exhibition.

Robinson, Hawkins and other top tour administrators hold a quick meeting, and reach a decision. Cancel "Italiana." Put on Don Giovanni," Tuesday's opera, instead.

And what of Tuesday? "Don Giovanni" again. Back-to-back performances of the same opera. It is a first, as far as anyone can remember in the 91-year history of the Met.

"AWWRIGHT, take it down!" Diaz shouts in to his crew. He is a stocky man with a Brooklyn accent. He is wearing a T-shirt and has a hammer stuck in his belt. His voice is deep as a basso's and authoritative as that of a top sergeant.

"What the hell did he say?" asks a stagehand wearing a "Met Spring Tour 1974" T-shirt. "Did he say, "Take it down?"

"Ya, some singer's sick," answers a friend. "We gotta put up "Giovanni."

An hour and countless commands from Diaz, Hawkins, Robinson and other road bosses later, the "Italiana" sets and costumes are loaded into a truck and are on their way to Atlanta, the next tour stop (the other tour cities are Memphis, Dallas, Minneapolis, and after a three-week interlude in New York, Washington D.C.) the Masonic stage is now the entrance to the Commandatore's palace in mid-17th Century Seville, Spain.

Efficiency is the name of the Met's road game. It is no easy task to travel with all that equipment, as well as assorted sopranos, baritones, conductors and chorus singers, a diverse and often temperamental entourage that somehow manages to arrive on time and show the locals some of the best opera in the world.

It is 8:30 p.m. Hawkins appears on stage before a nearly full house of formally attired first-nighters, the crème de la crème of Detroit opera-going society, with his announcement, and an apology. A few people groan and some leave, but the general reaction is reserved. The curtain goes up on time.

"Bravo. Osie," Robinson says to Hawkins as they stand backstage. "Perfect."

"Thank you," Hawkins answers.

When he began touring with the Met in 1941, the company used two special trains, each one with 19 baggage cars.

"It was fun then," Hawkins adds during a lull in his many backstage duties. "We all lived together on the train for those long hauls, and there was a marvelous spirit of camaraderie. Because of those long trains, and all the baggage and assorted pets, it's no wonder we were known as the circus."

The Met's circus atmosphere continues into the jet age. Even offstage, the artists appear to be larger than life, many of them affecting the flamboyant attire, exaggerated gesture, booming voice and commanding presence of their operatic characters.

Tenor Franco Corelli takes his wife and their poodle on tour, and last year, it is said, the husband of a woman in the chorus brought along his parakeets. Several poodles and Chihuahuas arrived with their masters on the Eastern Whisperjets at Metro Airport.

"Of course, the menagerie are child substitutes" said one member of the company. "The artists know it is difficult to have a family and a career, so they have their Fidos and Fifis."

And so, once again the Met has descended upon Detroit. The management of the Pontchertain Hotel is once again putting up with poodles and the operatic social whirl is underway (it began with a cocktail party Sunday at the home of John C. Griffin in Grosse Pointe Farms, continued with the annual "Supper with the Stars" at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, the [first] night dinner at the Detroit Club and the gala Afterglow supper dance Monday at the Art Institute, with strolling musicians, poached salmon and champagne.")

It seems like a lot of fuss, commented one first-nighter to Franco Corelli, who is to sing the role of Calaf in Puccini's "Turandot" Thursday evening. "Giovanni" lasted more than three hours, said the first-nighter, tugging at the starched collar of his tuxedo shirt. And Friday's "Der Rosenkavalier" - it takes nearly four hours!

"Ah," replied Corelli, summing up the reason for the tour and, indeed, for the Met itself, -- But it is so BEAUTIFUL!"



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