[Met Performance] CID:25500
La Bohème {7} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/26/1900.

(Debut: Anita Occhiolini

Metropolitan Opera House
December 26, 1900


Mimì....................Nellie Melba
Rodolfo.................Albert Saléza
Musetta.................Anita Occhiolini [Debut]
Marcello................Giuseppe Campanari
Schaunard...............Charles Gilibert
Colline.................Marcel Journet
Benoit..................Eugène Dufriche
Alcindoro...............Eugène Dufriche
Parpignol...............Aristide Masiero

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

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



Work of the Modern Realistic School with Reminders of Mascagni and Verdi in its Tuneful Score

Puccini's "La Bohème" was produced at the Metropolitan Opera House last night by the Maurice Grau Opera Company. The production of this modern lyric creation on the stage of the representative Opera House of the Western World would call for considerable comment were it not for the fact that the work was long ago made known to New Yorkers, not to those who will not touch with the hem of their garments operas not performed in the holy shrine of fashion, but to all those who go to hear operas for their own sake. In early May 1897, "The Times [London]," in noticing the production of this work by the Carl Rosa Company at Manchester, England said: "American boxholders need not be alarmed. They will not soon be confronted with these tunes they do not know." Yet in a little more than three years here it is. "La Bohème" was first performed in the Royal Theatre, Turin, in February 1896. It reached London the following year, which was exceedingly quick time, and New York on 5/17/98, when it was produced at Wallack's Theatre by the Royal Italian Opera Company, "from La Scala Theatre." It was sung again at the Casino by the same company on 10/10/98 of the same year, and on 11/10/98 was brought forward in English by the Castle Square Opera Company at the American Theatre, where it was performed during the week.

The book of "La Bohème" was made by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Ilica from Henry Murger's novel, "La Vie de Bohème." It deals with life among the poverty-stricken poets and art students of Paris in the early thirties. It is a tolerably good opera book, but there was little new suggestion to be found in last night's performance. What was said in this paper after the first hearing of the work at Wallack's Theatre might now be reprinted without the change of a single word. The opera belongs to the realistic school. The theory of the members of this school is that they are bringing the opera nearer to the true life of the people. They show peasants of Sicily in love and jealousy, a company of mountebanks in the throes of human passion, or a band of Italian cut-throats watching the endeavors of their leader to ruin the daughter of a working woman with a past. These stories are supposed to be much more convincing than those or royalties and nobilities, stories in which every soprano wears diamonds and every bass is a king, or at least a high priest.

But when one is able to free his mind from the impressions of the picture in most of these dramas, he finds that he is looking at and listening to the old, old story. In "La Bohème," for example, it is easy to fall under the illusion of Rodolfo and Mimi, till the soprano shows signs of dying of consumption; and then one perceives that, after all she is only Violetta Valery robbed of her good clothes, her jewels, and her champagne song. As for Rodolfo, he is none other than Alfredo, only now his costume is ridiculous for a different reason. Gaston and Niniche are still with us in this new preachment of Parisian morality, but they are disguised in music of the new Italian school, and so many escape detection except on the part of those who are habitually skeptical. And, as we said before, one "can fancy that he sees Verdi smiling through his beard. Sardonic old man!" But they manage these things better now. No one will deny for an instant that the death of Mimi is infinitely more artistic, more affecting, than the death of Violetta. These modern fellows do know something of the art of stripping opera of its artificialities. But who taught them their business? First of all, Wagner, but in their own Italian vein the grand old man of Italy, Verdi, who repented him of the sins of his youth and in his old age said to himself, "The play's the thing."

What is it that touches us do deeply at times in this opera? Pity, bless your heart, nothing but pity. These poor devils are all so much in earnest, they are so ill fed, they are so sickly, and they are so helplessly young. You cannot pity Violetta Valery....And the poor little Mimi, with frozen fingers, comes back to her Rodolfo to die, just as she came to him with frozen fingers in the first scene. That is a much more cunning touch of human nature than the "Camille" way of sending Armand to her in both scenes. Yes, these later fellows, these Italian realists, manage these things better than their forebears; nothing new on the Metropolitan Opera House stage, so do not be afraid, ye who draw aside in timidity when they tell you that a new work is to be produced.

And the music? That, too, is clever, but it is less so than the book. In the score we find ourselves on very familiar ground. There is an abundance of melody, and there are many twistings of rhythm and harmonic disjointings. But we have heard them all before. Mascagni, and Leoncavallo have not labored for naught. The melody of Puccini is fluent and at times he sings the note of human passion. But for the most part he is too fond of making a pretty sound to speak in the convincing accent. The song is too polished, the speech too polite, for the full exposition of the characters of these Bohemians. They wear their hearts upon their sleeves, these people, and they are undisciplined hearts. They should revel in their own passions. But they are always singing themselves out to us in pretty tunes. What will you have? We are writing a grand opera. If at the end of the second act the dramatic situation entirely comic, suggests the finale of Offenbachanalian music, shall we yield and be dramatically honest at the expense of genuine grand opera finale, as if we were in the third act of "Aida." The public will cry "Bravo," and the critics will not discern the trickery of it. And "Bravo" the public does cry, in spite of the incongruity of the thing. For the public does not study the text.

The best music of "La Bohème" is to be found in the first and last acts. There the composer has opportunities to write flowing love music, and his melodious measures fit the sentiment of scenes. But in the other acts his music is episodic, fragmentary, and disjointed. The attempt to set the scattered and fleeting exclamations of a dozen or more personages cannot be successful, and the second act is full of this sort of work, while the third, which is excellent in melody, is unfortunate in its disconnection of much of the dialogue from the inner emotions of the character in whom the interest centers. The duet, however, is fine. It is pretty music, sweetly melodious, and will please the ears of many. Nevertheless, we cannot believe that there is permanent success for an opera constructed as this one is.

The production was admirable and the production in its general features a decided credit to the house. In the first place the principal personages were well suited to their parts. The chief success of the evening was that of Mr. Saleza, whose Rodolph will assuredly add to the large favor which he already enjoys. His singing is not and never has been satisfactory in respect of voice-production, and his tones are too often pinched and strangulated, but he delivers his measures with grace, warmth, sincerity of feeling, and a fine breadth of style. His Rodolph last night was impassioned, and his singing at times reached the level of his ardent and moving Romeo. No doubt the ladies did not find him quite so picturesque as he is in some of his other costumes, but to those who admire the new realism his dress was interesting.

Mme. Melba was a very competent representative of the light-minded, fragile Mimi, the new Camille who has less heart than the old one. Her cold, silvery voice suited the music perfectly, and as there was no great acting, she succeeded well enough, save in the last scene, where she was not able to convey the pathos of the situation. But the general public is always happy when it can hear the flutelike tones of this beautiful voice floating out in sweet melodies, and of opportunities for saccharine song Mimi has enough. Miss Occhiolini, who is not a regular member of the company, but a remnant of the Royal Italian Opera Company of former "Bohème" days, sang the music of Musetta in a thin and tremulous voice, but she acted the part with skill and made a fairly good impression.

Mr. Campanari made his first appearance this season as Marcel, the painter, Musetta's much troubled lover. He was in excellent voice and sang his music well. Messers Journet and Gilibert were capable representatives of the other Bohemians. The scenery was new and excellent, a feature not always found at the Metropolitan Opera House. The chorus had been carefully rehearsed and the lively action of the second act was carried out with pictorial effect. The orchestra played well, and Signor Mancinelli conducted with skill and enthusiasm.

Review of Henry Krehbiel in the New York Tribune:

"La Bohème is foul in subject and fulminant, but futile, in its music. Its heroine is a twin sister of the woman of the camellias, whose melodious death puts such a delightfully soothing balm upon our senses that we forget to weep in Verdi's opera. But Mimi is fouler than Camille, alias Violetta, and Puccini (sic) has not been able to administer the palliative which lies in Verdi's music.

The stage of degradation to which dramatic music has been reduced in "La Boheme" is that occupied by the art in Massenet's "Navarraise." Sometimes for a moment it is the vehicle of passionate expression, but more often it is the vehicle of noise and sometimes not the vehicle but the sonorous disturbance itself. Apparently it is the willing slave of the text, but in reality it attempts to be more than the text. Its tendency has been carried one step further in the opera "Louise" by Charpentier, which is adored by the sewing girls of Paris because it tells of the noble sentiments with which one of their kind is inspired when she kills a doting father in order to enter the exalted state of harlotry. In "Louise" the street cries of Paris are worked into a singing instrumental fabric over, under and between which the stage folk shriek disjointed bits of conversation. The second act of "La Boheme" reaches this phase in which music becomes merely decorative. Silly and inconsequential incidents and dialogues designed to show the devil-may-care life of artistic Bohemia as depicted by Murger in his romance "La Vie de Boheme" (which had a great vogue among addle-pated persons a few decades ago and the spirit of which decadent writers in French have impotently attempted to ape ever since) are daubed over with splotches of instrumental color without reason and without effect, except the creation of boisterous excitement and confusion. In his proclamation of passion Puccini is more successful as soon as he can become strenuous: but even here the expression is superficial and depends upon strident phrases pounded out by hitting each note a blow on the head as it escapes from the mouths of the singers or accompanying instruments. But the subject has been discussed in these columns with quite enough fullness heretofore. It is better to dismiss it with a smile than to reflect upon it till vexation sets in.

Though Mme. Melba was the direct agency of its introduction into the Metropolitan list, it is not her opera, but Mr. Saleza's. His impassioned singing, his reckless outpouring of strenuous tone, thrilled last night's audience and frequently evoked something like a frenzy of enthusiasm. If the opera secures a vogue it will be his achievement more than that of his companion, though Mme. Melba did some neat character acting and delightful singing in the first act. In the second her interest was never aroused, and there were only her beautiful voice and placid style to admire in the scene which in the companion drama Verdi's genius transformed into an apotheosis of vice and phthisis. Messieurs Campanari, Gilibert and Journet romped through the comedy scenes with evident gusto, and sang with an energy worthy of a much better cause. Miss Occhiolini, enlisted from outside the ranks of the company to replace Miss Fritzi Scheff, was just good enough to serve her not very serious purpose. Altogether the performance was exceedingly spirited and the stage furnishings and management adequate.

Photograph of Albert Saléza as Rodolfo by Aimé Dupont.

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