[Met Performance] CID:24260
Il Barbiere di Siviglia {41}
Cavalleria Rusticana {58}
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 04/16/1900.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
April 16, 1900


Figaro..................Giuseppe Campanari
Rosina..................Marcella Sembrich
Count Almaviva..........Thomas Salignac
Dr. Bartolo.............Antonio Pini-Corsi
Don Basilio.............Edouard de Reszke
Berta...................Marie Van Cauteren
Fiorello................not performed
Sergeant................Theodore Meux

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

[The performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia began with Act II.
In the Lesson Scene Sembrich sang Voci di primavera (Strauss).]


Santuzza................Emma Calvé
Turiddu.................Jacques Bars
Lola....................Eugenia Mantelli
Alfio...................Adolph Mühlmann
Mamma Lucia.............Mathilde Bauermeister

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

Review of Willa Cather in the Pittsburgh Courier

The Pittsburgh opera season opened brilliantly this year. A splendid and enthusiastic audience contributed much to the general spectacular effect, and Mme. Sembrich, Mlle. Calvé, Campanari, and Edouard de Reszke were greeted with ovations. The first performance was "The Barber of Seville" and "Cavalleria Rusticana," and was notable not only for such singers as Calvé and Sembrich in their strongest roles, but in the opportunity of comparison between two of the leading Italian operas of divergent schools.

"The Barber of Seville" has held its own longer than any of Rossini's operas and, indeed, has outlived all the compositions of its day and style. Its vivacity and gaiety, its naive artifice of melody, and its three excellent comedy roles have prolonged its popularity among singers and with the public. Spirited and gay "The Barber" certainly is, ornate and decorative after the manner of the Italian school of half a century ago, but showy as it is, it is never truly brilliant, and its floridity is without richness. Entertaining as the opera is to the general public, and interesting as it is to students of musical history, it is a composition that can never be taken very seriously. Had operatic composition never advanced beyond the frank artifice and blithe triviality of Rossini, operagoing would scarcely have become a serious avocation.

Comparisons are usually unfair, but anyone who has heard both Mme. Melba and Mine. Sembrich as Rosina must reflect somewhat upon the many things which distinguish an artist from a singer. After the finesse and bewitching comedy of Mme. Sembrich, the endeavors of Mme. Melba seem not a little clumsy, and her comedy savors of the kittenish maidservant. Only an artist so resourceful in pantomime as Marcella Sembrich and so gifted in delicacy of comic suggestion can make the vapid Rosina at all attractive to operagoers of this generation.

When Wagner called his goddess women down out of Walhalla, they relegated the fragile heroines of the old Italian operas to oblivion of antiquated dolls on the shelves of a toy shop, and only a true artist can endow them with any vitality whatsoever. Mme. Sembrich is perhaps the prima donna with a natural aptitude for comedy, and certainly she is one of the most intellectual of singers, and her wide culture and thorough musicianship is manifest in every part she sings. She sings with superb beauty of style and perhaps her exquisite vocalization is responsible for her freshness of voice at the end of a long and trying season. In speaking of her voice in itself, of its richness and mellowness and that haunting beauty of pure tone, I believe it was Charles Henry Meltzer who said, "It is a Slavonic voice, with all the sentiment of the Slav in it.'"

Certainly Sig. Campanari shared the honors very evenly with Mme. Sembrich. Only his inimitable vivacity and grace kept the opera from dragging at times. The esprit and picturesqueness of that admirable baritone gave all his works a potent dramatic force, but his Figaro is absolutely unique. It is seldom that one sees such absolute identification with a part, and as an actor he greatly surpassed most actors who do not sing. I remember in the Melba production he absolutely carried the whole opera through on his sturdy shoulders. Edouard de Reszke was greeted with wild applause, and as Basilio gave an admirable comic impersonation, his generous proportions adding much comedy to the timid priest.

After a short but torrid intermission, the curtain rose again on "Cavalleria Rusticana." From old to new Italy, what a leap! From the rondos and cadenzas and quaint elaboration and foolish ornamentations of Rossini, to the intensity and passionate abruptness of Mascagni. Here is music that means something more than pleasing sound, here is music that becomes a notable emotional language, the speech of the soul. Surely Emma Calvé is the singer of singers to speak this lofty language, the greatest singing actress of her time, whose inimitable art so far subordinates its medium that the mere beauty of her voice is well-nigh forgotten. Yet, what a splendid organ it is, what richness and color and throbbing vitality in her every tone! But after all, it is Calvé the actress, it is Santuzza that transfixes one. Someone has said that Calvé is the greatest of Wagnerian singers though she has never sung a Wagnerian role. She is the exponent of Wagner's message indeed, and no singer has been so permeated by the modern doctrine of music for art's sake. Having studied peasant life in Italy among the very people out of whose lives this opera grew, and having studied, too, under Duse until she assimilated much of her method, it was as Santuzza that Calvé first took her place among the world's greatest singers.

When you have seen her, you have seen but a flatfooted peasant woman in a shawl, with a great passion and a great despair. Mlle. Calvé handles the score freely, subordinating it completely to the tempestuous emotion it conveys. Her impersonation is as great for what she omits to do as for what she does. She has followed Duse in the study of "what ought not to be done," and she omits as superfluous more than most singers ever master. That Easter morning in a peasant woman's life she has made tense with all the oldest and most perpetual tragedies of living, and seeing how much is concentrated into that half hour, one recalls again the frequent words of Henry James, "How much of life it takes to make art!"

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