[Met Performance] CID:36230
New production
La Sonnambula {12} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/15/1905.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 15, 1905
New production

Bellini-F. Romani

Amina...................Marcella Sembrich
Elvino..................Enrico Caruso
Rodolfo.................Pol Plançon
Lisa....................Jeanne Jomelli
Teresa..................Mathilde Bauermeister
Alessio.................Bernard Bégué
Notary..................Giovanni Paroli

Conductor...............Arturo Vigna

Director................Eugène Dufriche

La Sonnambula received two performances this season.

Pre-Performance Essay by Richard Aldrich in The New York Times of 12/10/05

The policy of attempting to galvanize into life the moribund operas of the "paleotechnic" Italian school of the early and middle nineteenth century still continues at the Opera House. We have had "La Favorita," and now comes "La Sonnambula." The grisly example of "Lucrezia Borgia" was not sufficient last year. Mr. Caruso himself, the great galvanizer of things that are dead, could not accomplish its revivification. He and Mme. Sembrich together have imparted a semblance of life to "Lucia di Lammermoor," but the breath is fluttering, the heart beats are faint, and this artificial recall to life seems always hanging in the balance.

"La Sonnambula" has not been heard in New York since Col. Mapleson revived it at the Academy of Music, when he came over with his ill-starred company in November, 1896. Artificial respiration was most laborious in that case and was followed by a renewed lapse into coma. The opera will no doubt emerge with the hectic flush of a specious liveliness on Friday, because Mme. Sembrich and Mr. Caruso will sing and the faithful guard will be hanging breathless upon the notes of Mr. Caruso's "Tutto e sciolto" and Mme. Sembrich's 'Come per me", "Ah! non credea" and "Ah! non giunge"-which, this time at least, will be dissociated from "The maiden's wish" and "Voce di Primavera," to the distinct loss of the hearers. At last an opportunity will be afforded to hear that delectable aria with some semblance of a dramatic content, and to learn, if any cares by the time the end of "La sonnambula" is reached, why that "human thought," which we have heard so much of at Sunday night concerts and other occasions where "encores" are necessary, should not be "joined" to the bliss that fills Amina's breast.

At least "La Sonnambula" does not attempt to strike a very deep note of tragedy. In that respect it presents less of an anomaly to modern ears and intelligences than "La Favorita," in which is accentuated the incongruity of the mellifluous Italian style with the expression of anything approaching a real dramatic situation, in anything but the most conventional of formulas. With all its foolishness of plot "La sonnambula" is "elegiac." Its best melodies certainly have a delicate though faded charm and expressiveness of their own, as "Ah! non credea." Chorley found fifty and more years ago that he could hardly imagine "more trite and faded themes and phrases" than some of Bellini's combinations of notes habitually sickly, to which, however, he was able to give life and color with some "rescuing touch," enabling him to illustrate the situation, feebly though this be sketched in his music. It would be difficult, he thinks, to imagine anything weaker than the "Tutto e sciolto." Even then it was found that the value of this opera lay chiefly in the singing of it; and the time in which Bellini wrote was rich in singers who could make his airs and graces live and palpitate.

The obvious fact is becoming more obvious that it is only for the sake of the singers that such operas have any existence at all. They are fulfilling their function as a medium for display with more and more difficulty; but the great operatic records are full of what great singers have accomplished in"La sonnambula." Pasta, for whom "La sonnambula" was written, was a heavy-voiced soprano who at the end of her career "steadily began her evening's task half a tone flat"; but she succeeded in reaching a high degree of expression in Bellini's music, and Malibran and Jenny Lind found opportunity for exciting realism in the sleep walking scene. Jenny Lind's touching performance of the flower scene in the last act fascinated profoundly. Later Patti and Gerster won some of their greatest successes in this opera. It is more a soprano's opera than a tenor's, and the part of Elvino is by no means a heroic one-it is, in fact, with such milksops as Don Ottavio in "Don Giovanni," at a proper distance. But Mr. Caruso will have an opportunity in it for some beautiful singing, if he will but utilize it.

And is it not time to raise some sober-minded queries about the way Mr. Caruso is using his voice and the kind of art and expression he is employing in these days? It was noticed at his first appearances here two seasons ago that he showed sometimes a tendency to use the "open" or "white" voice that is beloved of Italian tenors and admired by Italian listeners. But it was not a fixed characteristic of his singing, and he very soon proved that he could produce tones in the purer and better way that lovers of singing hereabout prefer. And how lovely they are when he so produces them! The golden beauty of his voice at its best has bridged over many years in the memory of old-lime operagoers, back to the days when Campanini was in his prime. Greater Italian tenors have certainly been heard here; but there have been none in recent years. Mr. Caruso, in the two seasons that he has sung here, has made a place for himself in the hearts of operagoers such as is reserved for few.

But it cannot be denied that he has recently done much to give his discriminating admirers uneasiness. He has been prone to let his voice fall into a throaty quality; his tones have sometimes sounded pinched. There has been more than suspicion of the "bleat" that is generally associated with the idea of the Italian tenor of the lesser sort. In seeking for those exaggerated effects of pathos and tears and superhuman passion, he has not infrequently, and more frequently than be used to, cast to the winds all thought of tonal beauty, of that smoothness, purity, translucent clearness and warmth that are truly the distinguishing marks of his wonderful voice. In the few appearances he has made so far this season, this fact has impressed itself upon many of his listeners-the listeners who listen and do not strain themselves to get in a "bravo" before he has finished the last phrase of an aria. In "La gioconda," in "Rigoletto" in "La Favorita," there have been too many evidences of a straining for effects that he has no need to strain for; they are effects beyond the necessity or the proper limits of vocal expression, and he can gain much more beautiful, much more artistic ones, with the use of greater restraint. It is not to be expected that any tenor, in whose veins courses the fire of sunny Italy, shall refrain from tearing to tatters every passion with which his librettists do not provide him. But his librettists do not provide him with his voice, and he should be more careful of it.

Review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times on 12/16/05

BeIlini's "La Sonnambula" was produced at the Metropolitan Opera House last evening for the first time in fourteen years. It brought to the opera house a very large audience, because it was the opportunity to hear Mme. Sembrich and Mr. Caruso and Mr. Plançon in music that demands the wonderful sort of vocalization that they almost alone are able to present in its greatest perfection in these latter days. Their singing was greatly enjoyed.

The opera is one that has of late years completely dropped out of the repertory of living music, but it brings back to an older generation the great singers not so very long ago. In it Mme. Sembrich appeared when the Metropolitan was first opened twenty-two years ago, and she first revealed the magic of her voice and style.

It was last heard there in 1891, when Marie Van Zandt sang the heroine's part; but it has been heard since then in New York, for at Mapleson's last disastrous season at the Academy of Music "La Sonnambula" was one of the beacon lights that conducted him to final collapse. but, then, he had no Sembrich, no Caruso-his principal singers were a Mme. Huguet and a Mr. Betti.

"La Somnambula" is an extremely gentle opera to ears attuned to the musical and dramatic pungencies of the modern Italian school. It flows serenely and mellifluously without seriously ruffling the surface, even, of the emotions or the sympathies, and without violating any of the suave conventionalities of its kind. Its music has very little connection with any of the doings upon the stage, which are grouped to give opportunity for its proper course as the doings in the proper Italian opera should be.

There are songs and duets of the loveliest treacle sweetness, and these Mme. Sembrich, Mr. Caruso, and Mr. Plançon sing with the most delightful finish and charm. All these three singers were in their best estate and they made the faded tunes flow like silvery streams. Mme. Sembrich's voice was of its most velvety smoothness. Some of her upper notes were here and there a bit unsteady, but such legato and sustained power as she showed are now the possession of a dwindling few.

Her Amina has grace and "sensibility" and charm. Mr. Caruso's peasants are all one type, and his Elvino does not depart from it. He sang most beautifully all through the opera. He showed a marvelously smooth and pure mezza voce in the first act; his opportunity for mock heroics came later, but he did not indulge even here in all the excesses of sentiment and expression that it seems hard for him to keep away from. Mr. Plançon sang the music of Count Rodolpho in his most polished style; and as such it was good to hear. Into this trio of euphonious voices Mme. Jomelli's acidulated soprano voice came with a certain intrusion.

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