[Met Performance] CID:26440
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Salammb˘ {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/20/1901.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
March 20, 1901
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Salammb˘................Lucienne BrÚval
Math˛...................Albert SalÚza
Shahabarim..............Thomas Salignac
Hamilcar................Antonio Scotti
Narr' Havas.............Marcel Journet
Autharite...............EugŔne Dufriche
Spendius................EugŔne Sizes
Giscon..................Charles Gilibert
Taanach.................Carrie Bridewell

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

Director................William Parry
Costume Designer........EugŔne Castel-Bert

Salammb˘ received three performances this season.

Review of Henry Khrebiel in the Tribune



  Reyers "Salammb˘" was performed at the Metropolitan Opera House with a sumptuousness of outfit and an artistic excellence which should make its fortune hereafter. Public interest did not seem to be centered on it, however, and a first night which would have been a phenomenal incident in a European city passed off without attracting a numerous audience or even exciting the special wonder of the people who were present. It was a singular and inexplicable exhibition of apathy, and one that baffles explanation. "Salammb˘" is not a work of inspired grandeur, but it is a novelty here, the work of a serious-minded, much respected French musician. It has had an honorable career, moreover, and had it been given earlier in the season we make no doubt it would have won an honorable success. It shall have serious treatment here.

  Flaubert's brilliant novel supplied the material out of which the opera was constructed. The romance has a large historical incident for a background, namely, the suppression of the mutiny among the mercenaries of the Carthaginians by Hamilcar in the first Punic war. Running through the gorgeous tissue which the French novelist wove about this incident is the thread of story which Camille du Locle drew out for Reyer's use - the story of the rape of the sacred veil of Tanit by the leader of the revolting mercenaries, his love for Salammb˘, daughter of the Carthaginian general, her recovery of the veil with its consequence of disaster to her lover, and the pitiful death of both at their own hands. The authors of the opera are adept in the field of what might be called musical spectacle. M. du Lode had a hand in both of the two operas which Verdi wrote for Paris - "Les Vŕpres Siciliennes" and "Don Carlos." Under the eyes of Verdi at Sant' Agata he wrote the prose scenario of "Aida." which Ghislanzoni turned into Italian verse for the composer. Flaubert's book is a minute and exhaustive archeological study, and its descriptions of ancient life, religion and manners were effectively employed by both librettist and composer. If a prodigal and sumptuous heaping up of stage adornments could make the success of an opera "Salammb˘" would be one of the greatest triumphs of the French lyric stage, but pompous pictures are not the be-all and end-all of opera even in Paris, and the fortunate co-operation of Du Locle and Verdi was not repeated in the collaboration of Du Locle and Reyer. But of that more anon.

  Here is the progress and purport of the opera and an exposition of its panoramic furniture. Greek. Egyptian, Gallic. Numidian and Syrian mercenaries are feasting in the gardens of Hamilcar. They are pledging their tutelary deities when the plaints of the imprisoned slaves of Hamilcar are heard. The mercenaries, headed by Matho, a Lybian, free them and invite them to their feast. Among them is Spendius. a Greek, who craftily takes advantage of the disaffection among the mercenaries because of the failure of the Carthaginian Senate to pay their wages and incites them to revolt and sack Carthage. The work of destruction begins, Matho leads his men up the stairs of Hamilcar's palace, when the priests of Tanit appear and with them Salammb˘, whose beauty and dignity awe the pillagers. They hail her as Isis. Vesta, Pallas, Astarte and Urania, and Matho, inflamed with love, throws himself upon his knees before her. Narr' Havas, a treacherous Numidian King, who would make Salammb˘ his wife, attacks Matho and wounds him. It is the Greek's opportunity, and he persuades Matho. whom the mercenaries have chosen as their leader, to join the revolt In order to gain possession of Salammb˘. This is the action of the first act.

  The scene of the second act is laid before the temple of Tanit, the principal goddess of the Carthaginians and the prototype of the Greek Aphrodite. Priests invoke her under some of her many names - Analtittio, Derceto, Mylitta, Rabenta, Baalet, Tyratha. They hymn her praises while the "courtÚsans sacrÚes" (the rites with which Tanit, or Tanis was worshipped were licentious) perform a solemn dance. Shahabarim, the high priest of Tanit, goes into the temple to worship the mystic veil upon which the fate of Carthage depends. It is
   "Le Zaimph mystÚrieux
    Tissu des feux d'une Útoile."

  Spendens betrays the secret of its power to Matho, whom he had guided into the sacred enclosure, and after the doors of the temple have been thrown open to permit the adoration of the sacred vestment Matho steals through them and conceals himself within. There he is confronted by Salammb˘, who has come to ease her troubled mind by worshiping the talisman, which mysterious voices have told her to protect from desecration. Matho has thrown the Zaimph over his shoulders; Salammb˘ takes him for a god and craves a touch of the radiant garment, but recoils when he protests his love and proclaims himself the mercenary to whom she had given a goblet of wine in the gardens of Hamilcar. She summons the priests who, however, are powerless to prevent the rape of the veil. Wrapped in its radiant folds Matho leaves the scene, followed by the maledictions of the multitude.

  In the third act Hamilcar, returned from a foreign enterprise, meets the ancients, priests and senators of Carthage, and learns from them of the revolt of the mercenaries and its cause. The scene is laid in a subterranean temple - the temple of Moloch. A gigantic image of the god almost fills the side of the stage. It is the familiar picture of the bull-headed fire-god, his hands extended for sacrifice, the rocky walls reflecting the flickering flames and the smoke of torment incessantly ascending. Hamilcar upbraids the lawgivers and refuses to accept the command of the Carthaginian against the mutineers until he hears that the veil of Tanit had been stolen by the lover of his daughter. To vindicate her honor he offers his services on condition that his power be unlimited, and this conceded, he vows to offer twenty sons of the ancients to Moloch. A picture of wonderful beauty follows. The spectators are with Salammb˘ upon a terrace overlooking the acropolis of Carthage. The blue Mediterranean is in the distance; below is a vast African city like the Cairo of today. Flat roofs and Oriental domes gleam in the sunlight. Salammb˘, overwhelmed with self-accusing thoughts, resolves to enter the camp of the mercenaries and recover the sacred veil. At the suggestion of the high priest she dons her bridal garments, while dancing women circle about her and her dressing maids. Night falls, the moon climbs up the sky. It is the symbol of Tanit. Salammb˘ prays for forgiveness and consecrates herself to the service of the goddess. Again the scene changes, and we are in the camp of the mercenaries looking into Matho's tent, where the Zaimph is concealed, To him comes Salammb˘ and demands death or the veil. Matho's love overcomes his discretion. Knowing that thereby he is delivering himself into the hands of his enemies, he nevertheless places the veil in her hands. She, too, confesses her love, and while they are wrapped in a mutual embrace the Carthaginians attack the camp, aided by the traitor Narr' Havas, destroy it and carry Matho away to Carthage for punishment. We see the forum of Carthage - a marvelous stage picture. Gorgeous palaces are piled against the sides of the rocky shores of the sea. There is a wilderness of colored marbles, colonnades, terraces. Within a temple stands the image of Tanit, glittering in the sheen of the recovered veil. At the left of the spectators ascends a broad staircase lead- almost to the top of the stage. The people of Carthage are gathered together to celebrate their triumph and witness the wedding of Salammb˘ and the traitor, Narr' Havas, who had claimed her hand of Hamilcar as reward for his perfidy. Palace porches, esplanades and staircases are filled with soldiers bearing emblems of victory and sacred images. Suddenly there is a commotion on the platform midway up the flight of marble steps, and Matho appears, followed by a mob who are beating him with scourges. He staggers, falls, and rolls down the steps, quite to the feet of Tanit and Salammb˘, Shahabarim prepares to slay him as a sacrifice, but the rabble demands that privilege for Salammb˘ as the rescuer of the veil and the savior of her people. She accepts the awful duty, but plunges the knife into her own body. Matho breaks his bonds, clasps her in his arms and slays himself.

  That "Salammb˘" offers admirable opportunities to the constructors of operas on the lines which are cultivated at the Grand OpÚra in Paris will have been made plain by this description. It is full of pomp and pageantry. But that is not all - the actors in the story have marked dramatic physiognomies, and if M. Reyer's skill in characterization had been half so good as M. Flaubert's and M. du Locle's there would be much more to praise in the opera than there is. The characters are, indeed, admirably drawn, and show as much individuality in their intellectual and moral traits as they do in their physical: - the crafty Greek, the treacherous Numidian, the energetic and manly Carthaginian, the storm tossed heroine and the love-torn Lybian are good dramatic types, even if stamped with stage conventions. A genius in musical characterization like Mozart, Wagner or Verdi would have found means for making their utterances as picturesque as their presences, but this was beyond the powers of Reyer. His tastes are modern, his aims far above the frivolity which afflicts many of his colleagues, but his abilities, do not keep pace with his ambition. His models are easily found. He clasps hands most warmly with Berlioz, and has some of that Frenchman's peculiarly Gallic reverence for Spontini and Gluck. There are indications in the score that "Les Troyens" occupied much of his attention while he was engaged upon it and we fancy that that ambitiously planned but star crossed work was also familiar to his librettist. This need not excite special wonder, for the association of ideas was close enough. The second part of Berlioz's tragedy is also Carthaginian, and ends with Dido's prophetic vision of the Nero who should avenge her wrongs on Rome. That Reyer venerates Wagner is also plain, but shows itself more in his use of the German master's harmonic progressions than in the adoption of his methods. He adopts the device of reiterated phrases, but his purpose in doing so seems to us beyond discovery. Two short melodies, which make up the subject matter of his brief instrumental introduction, are brought forward again and again, but without disclosing their relationship to any of the agencies or elements in the story, and without a sign of that organic development which is the distinguishing characteristic of Wagner's method and creative style. Reyer's orchestration is discreet and free from all taint of that instrumental volapŘk which is so marked in the young Italian school. His subject invites the use of Oriental intervals, and he employs them with the discretion which is noticeable in "Aida," but not with the effectiveness of Verdi. Some of his devices are admirable, but others simply bizarre. The unisons in the hymn to Tanit in the second act beginning "Tanit, dÚesse austŔre." are striking, but require a better performance than they received last night to justify them. The chief drawback to the work is its want of spontaneous, varied and expressive melody. The first act, largely choral, is musically an example of consistently impotent striving. In the second there is some invertebrate melody, but Salammb˘'s monologue, "0 ciel! me voillÓ seule ce lieu redoubtable," has real warmth, elevation and atmosphere. As a whole the music is monotonous in character and color, but it is dignified and earnest, and for these qualities it deserves more praise than it is likely to receive from those who sit out the opera in the search for merely sensuous enjoyment.

  A better performance than the opera received is scarcely to he imagined. Mr. Grau has piled up the stage adornments with a lavish hand, and as a spectacle "Salammb˘" is quite without a peer in the Metropolitan repertory. The scenes are all reproductions of the Paris models and superbly painted, the costumes gorgeous to a degree. Mlle. BrÚval's beauty, Semitic, as becomes the character of Salammbo. shines radiant in the part, and she sings and acts it with an intensity that in its supreme moments is positively uplifting. Her zeal last night was shared by M. SalÚza, who was in perfect vocal condition and so devoted to his task as to be willing to offer himself up as a bodily sacrifice to the attainment of his ideal. His entrance in the last scene was one of the most exciting episodes in the history of the local drama, spoken or sung. The part of Hamilcar is scarcely on a par with Signor Scotti's abilities, but he made all that was possible out of it and had able and conscientious associates in M. Salignac and M. Sizes.

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