[Met Performance] CID:28960
United States Premiere
Manru {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/14/1902.
 (United States Premiere)
(Debut: Alexander Von Bandrowski

Metropolitan Opera House
February 14, 1902

United States Premiere


Manru...................Alexander Von Bandrowski [Debut]
Ulana...................Marcella Sembrich
Urok....................David Bispham
Hedwig..................Louise Homer
Asa.....................Fritzi Scheff
Jagu....................Robert Blass
Oros....................Adolph Mühlmann
Maiden..................Marie Van Cauteren

Conductor...............Walter Damrosch

Manru received nine performances this season.

Photograph of Marcella Sembrich as Ulana by Aimé Dupont.

Review and opinion piece of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times


By selecting as the elements of an operatic plot the warring of two natures. Mr. Paderewski demonstrated that he had formed a conception of the lyric drama higher than that of the ordinary composer. A prominent theatrical manager, one of artistic skill and insight, once said to an aspirant for the honors of a playwright: "There is just one thing that you must have in every play in order to enlist the interest of the public, and that is a conflict of passions. The surest form in which to put it is this: You must have two lovers, or a husband and wife, who really love each other, and then you must invent a plot by which they are dragged apart, and finally brought together again." The manager might have added that when the two are brought together again the play has a happy ending, and may be styled a comedy, but when the two are not brought together again the play has an unhappy ending and becomes a tragedy.

Mr. Paderewski's "Manru" shows a husband and a wife who are dragged apart and do not come together again. But the ingenious element of this story is the employment of the natural impulse of the gypsy nature as the factor in taking the husband away from the wife. And here Mr. Paderewski has hit upon an element of nationalism not altogether unknown in opera before his time. Even Meyerbeer had a shadow of a similar idea in "L'Africaine." Vasco di Gama was a good deal more than half in love with Selika, and the real cause of his desertion of her in the end was not the lingering fondness for the weak and watery Inez, but the life-long habit of civilization. Vasco was a courtier, a man of the world, and no matter what may have been his emotional tendencies his training was diametrically opposed to life in Madagascar among barbarians, even as their king. He had to go back to his own people, to his own way of life.

Turn from "L'Africaine" to Verdi's "Aida," and again you find this national element creeping to the surface. Amonasro appearing on the scene revives patriotism in the heart of his daughter, and Aida consents to lure Radames to his ruin. These things are not accidents of the stories. They are essential. They are at the bottom of the action. But they lack a certain force of racial characteristics to be found in the contrast of gypsy character with peasant nature. The peasant is the paysanne, the countryman, the child of the soil. The gypsy is the child of no soil, the born nomad, the man without a country. He has a race but no locality. He knows the tie of blood, but not of home. He is a wanderer by instinct. The peasant, on the other hand, is the person who above all others has the idea of fixity of habitation most firmly fastened upon him.

To marry a gypsy to a peasant was to invite a tragedy. Mr. Paderewski's librettist, Dr. Alfred Nossig, was undoubtedly indebted to the composer for the suggestion of this feature of his story. A composer who is about to write an opera usually has pretty definite ideas of the kind of emotional material he desires to utilize. Mr. Paderewski is a man of broad culture, of general information. He knows history and racial facts of value to a musician. With his deep insight into Slavonic nature he would easily perceive the importance of the struggle of the gypsy nature to subdue itself. To the casual observer the story of "Manru" is that of an unfortunate and ill-assorted marriage. To take that view of it is to do the composer an injustice. There is not the slightest question that Mr. Paderewski takes a high view of the symbolic potentialities of the lyric drama and that he intended to embody a fundamental emotional struggle in "Manru."

In this he showed his insight into the true nature of operatic composition. The typical is the best material for a drama. And when it is to be a musical drama, the more surely the plot centers itself upon the workings of emotions which may be regarded as springing from the primary elements of human nature, the more certain is the touch of the composer likely to be. Wagner was of the opinion that in the myth the most satisfactory emotional basis could be found, because the myth is an embodiment of the imagination of a people and always rests upon fundamental emotional concessions. But if one can create for himself an emotional situation which has the features of a mythical story, the representative emotions of which are characteristic not of individuals but of trees, he can attain musical success as surely as ever Wagner did.

The story of "Manru" provides the necessary emotional and representative materials in a large measure. The personages are not limited by any conventions of time or place. Their characteristics are typical of races, and their personal conflict is one of peoples. It would not be at all difficult to conceive of a more poetical treatment of the same topic, a more ingenious working out of the dramatic elements. But the food for music is there, and that, after all, is the chief thing to look for.

The discussion of the first performance of the opera is too recent to admit of the addition today of significant comment on the musical achievement of the composer's intent. We shall have further opportunities of hearing and studying this work, the production of a poetic mind and a sensitive temperament. We shall have time to observe its effect upon the hearer, who does not analyze the nature of that which affects him. For the present let it suffice to say that "Manru" is an interesting novelty and that it was at least artistically conceived.

The production of the opera disclosed in a somewhat discouraging manner the radical defects of the system on which our opera house is conducted. So long as the "star " system prevails such shortcomings as those noticeable in "Manru" will continue. The outside world does not know what it means to stage an opera under this system, but it is not difficult to enlighten people. In a theatre the stage manager reigns supreme on the stage, and every one from the leading woman down to the extra "grip" is under his orders. Those are orders like the commands of Mr. Haggard's "She." They must be obeyed. Any disobedience renders the offender liable to a fine, and continued disobedience is pretty sure to terminate in discharge.

In the Metropolitan Opera House the singers of principal rôles are not under the rule of the stage manager. There is absolutely no person in the entire establishment who can go upon the stage at a rehearsal and say to Mme. Eames or Mme. Calvé or Mr. Alvarez, "That is wrong, and you must not do it that way. This is the way it is to be done." If the stage manager should undertake to do anything of that sort he would meet with a stony stare, and the chances are that the insulted singer would forthwith walk off the stage and leave the house. Furthermore it is not at all unlikely that the singer would go to Mr. Grau with an irate complaint and that the impresario, hat in hand, would have to patch up matters by the exercise of diplomacy. Mr. Grau never walks on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House at a rehearsal and issues commands.

The only people who are subject to the stage manager at the Opera are the chorus and ballet, and even in these cases there is interposed the authority of the chorus and ballet masters. The stage hands, of course, are under the stage manager. In a properly regulated Opera House the principal singers should be subject to the orders of the stage manager in all matters pertaining to stage business and to those of the conductor in all pertaining to the music. But at the Metropolitan no conductor would ever venture to "call down" a singer. It is always the other way.

Then comes the rather important detail of rehearsals. With so many performances a week and so many trips to Philadelphia it is difficult to sandwich in any rehearsals at all. There is never time to give enough study to the production of a new opera. Experienced persons who were present at the last general rehearsal of "Manru " on Wednesday were willing to wager large sums that the work could not be performed on Friday night. Those persons did not know how things are done at the Metropolitan. New works are pitchforked on the stage, and we are asked to regard ourselves as fortunate that we hear them at all. "Manru" would have had not less than thirty rehearsals in a European Opera House. That would have made the performance something wholly different from the inadequate presentation of last Friday.

For example, how can the conductor be expected to get all the expression of the orchestral score when he has no more than sufficient time to insure the correct entrance of the various instruments and voices and the performance of the broader effects of piano and forte? People are very ready to censure the conductors at the Metropolitan for ineffective work, but do they ever pause to consider the obstacles in the paths of these directors?

Again, take the matter of stage effects. How much better might the storm in the last act have been with a few more rehearsals: The clouds flew apparently at the rate of three hundred miles an hour. Such a devastating hurricane as raged in that indigo blue sky was never before seen on sea or land. Yet Manru was not blown away, nor were the waters of the lake lashed into fury. And such hard-finished clouds, too! They had edges like some of the elder voices in the company.

And then there was the moon, the inconstant moon. She was indeed inconstant, and when she showed her face through the drifting clouds she provided substantial evidence of the truth of the immortal green cheese theory. There were signs of well-directed effort in the management of the panoramic effects in the last act, but the persons in charge of them had plainly had too little time to study their own shortcomings.

A revolution could be worked in the Metropolitan Opera House by a very simple method. In the first place, the impresario would have to cease to be at the mercy of the singers and come to a realizing sense of the fact that all of them are at his. There is only one great Opera House in this country, and he has it. The salaries which are paid here are absurdly high. The singers cannot get the same sums anywhere else. Now, if the manager would take command of the situation and give his singers the choice of submitting to the authority of a stage manager, firmly supported by himself, or staying in Europe, and then employ a thoroughly competent stage manager, there would be a change. It is said to be Mr. Grau's opinion that any attempt to do this would result in the loss of the great singers who draw the money into the Opera House treasury. But it is my humble opinion that these same great singers are not so independent of the American dollars as to boycott the Metropolitan Opera House.

A correspondent, who is manifestly in earnest, writes to say that he has a list of grievances. He itemizes his desires as follows:

1. Some sort of protection to American music and musicians.
2. A crusade against this insane rage for foreign grand opera in our few big cities-and notably New York.
3. Abolition of our ridiculous and expensive "star" system of opera.
4. Recognition of the mother tongue in the production of operas.
5. That opportunity be accorded the American people of hearing at least a couple of musical dramas by their countrymen.

This mad rush for everything foreign in music strikes me as one of the most senseless epidemics of our time, and I feel that the public press and the music critics are doing altogether too much to spread the contagion and altogether too little to aid their readers in the formation of just and proper musical ideals.

The foreign "thing" is sanctified: it is lauded immeasurably. Its picture is again and again reproduced in hideous half-tones; anecdotes told about it; its early history repeatedly written up; more "write ups" about its wonderful success in Paris or Berlin or Vienna, until finally the dear deluded public thinks he foreign "thing" is the "thing," and pays willing homage and willing skekels to it. Now, it matters little what the thing may be - a pianist, a violinist, or an opera -the cause and the effect are precisely the same. An absolutely false perspective is drawn -unintentionally, I grant, in many instances - and the public, our own American public, always on the alert for novelties, runs insanely after the new " thing" throws all its spare musical cash into the foreign "thing's" coffers, and our own musicians and music, to our shame, it must be said, remain in undeserved neglect.

Granted that Paine's " Azara and Chadwicks "Judith" are not the equal of de Lara's nasty "Messaline" and Puccini's rather commonplace "Tosca," will we ever get anything better if we throw cold water on every home piece produced? And have we not a right to demand of Grau and his polyglot troupe of foreigners that if we are to pay him such outrageous prices for a short season of opera that he must encourage our own composers?

And are not you and your confreres criminally negligent for not preaching in and out of season from the top stories of your ugly tall buildings the manifest injustice of the whole operatic system as now carried on in our country?

If Grau's show were a really artistic performance we might accept it as such and he grateful: but clearly you would not be guilty of such manifest stupidity in the face of the performances of recent weeks - overworked and inadequate orchestral work with absolutely incompetent orchestra direction: equally overworked chorus and of a polyglot character which ought to convince any one of the fallacy of the system of giving even an eleven weeks' course of opera in America in anything but English: and a lot of high priced "stars," some of whom are old ladies with over-boomed newspaper reputations, (brought about quite largely by shrewd advertisers) and most of them - whatever may have been their musical abilities in years that are gone -- are now unmistakably on decadence.

It may all be true - as one of your critics asserts - that no American composer has an operatic masterpiece up his sleeve. But will men like Paine and Chadwick and MacDowell and the like ever have the heart to toil on and reach the merit point if all chance of being heard is denied them as now?

And the wrong of bottling up the Grau show as the thing is intensified because his costly opera season crowds out everything else; and even were the public: disposed to be fair toward its own artists, the thing isn't possible, because Grau's show absorbs not only all the interest and public attention, but as well all of our surplus cash.

From my standpoint, I repeat, the whole matter is manifestly unjust. I am not a protectionist in any trade sense; but in music, for a time at least, I believe we need protection - protection until such time as it may be satisfactorily demonstrated that we have no talent in the composition line and no hope of developing any. Then I should say open the flood gates and allow the foreigners to pour in, but not until we might have a fair chance of settling the problem of American music.

It is useless to say that it will do no good to oppose current tendencies - that opera is wholly supported by fashion, and that fashion is amenable to no rational laws and more of that sort. The journals have done most to make American musical fashions what they are, and if these fashions are to be overthrown the journals must do it.

This gentleman's earnestness is admirable, but he is hopelessly on the wrong track. In certain matters he is right. Artistically the star system is bad, and it has been consistently condemned in this paper. But the idea that by driving out the foreign singers and the foreign operas we should build up a school of our own is mistaken. No amount of lecturing or preaching or newspaper writing will induce the public to abandon a tolerably good entertainment for one not so interesting. There are no American operas nor American singers to take the places of the foreign operas and singers used at the Metropolitan. There are a few American singers to be sure, but they are included in the list of these who, according to this correspondent, are old ladies with overwrought newspaper reputations. They are such ladies as Mmes. Eames and Nordica, and Adams and Homer. Where are the tenors?

If there is any American tenor walking around who can sing Faust and Romeo, let us say as well as Mr. Saleza, he can get an engagement at Broadway and Fortieth Street right now. He need not wait till these works are sung in English. If there is another American basso as good as Mr. Blass, who is an American, or baritone as good as Mr. Bispham, who is an American, he also can find employment at a substantial salary. It is childish nonsense to intimate that American singers are shut out of the Metropolitan Opera House by the foreigners.

Now, as to the operas. Who threw cold water on Chadwick's "Judith?" It was produced at the Worcester festival and heartily praised. Its praise in the newspapers was a good deal warmer than the applause it received from the public. Prof. Paine's "Azara " has not been performed anywhere. I am profoundly sorry that the neglect of the newspapers to advertise the excellences of this unheard score will prevent Prof. Paine from toiling onward to recognition. But he is still a very young man and his time may yet come. Of course, I have been foolish enough to suppose that he was a man of middle age and had been working for many years and. furthermore, that I had heard a good deal of his music and had never seen it condemned because it was American.

The reasons why operas are not produced in English have been sufficiently discussed in this paper. The experiment has been tried in this town, and it was a dismal failure. One of the chief reasons of the failure was the inability of the American singers to sing English so that it could be distinguished from Choctaw. As for any attempt on the part of the newspaper criticisms to support foreign music because it is foreign, that is nonsense. The papers support it because it is the best that is heard. It is the business of daily newspaper criticism to take note of that which is performed and to treat it according to its merits. That is what is done.

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