[Met Performance] CID:40010
New production
Mefistofele {15} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/20/1907.

(Debuts: Anne Girerd, Fyodor Chaliapin, Riccardo Martin, Giuseppe Tecchi, A. Edel
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 20, 1907
New production


MEFISTOFELE {15}
Boito-Boito

Mefistofele.............Fyodor Chaliapin [Debut]
Faust...................Riccardo Martin [Debut]
Margherita..............Geraldine Farrar
Elena...................Marie Rappold
Wagner..................Giuseppe Tecchi [Debut]
Marta...................Anne Girerd [Debut]
Pantalis................Josephine Jacoby
Nerèo...................Giuseppe Tecchi

Conductor...............Rodolfo Ferrari

Director................Eugène Dufriche
Set Designer............Burghart & Co.
Set Designer............Kautsky & Rottonara Brothers
Costume Designer........A. Edel [Debut]
Costume Designer........Blaschke & Cie

Mefistofele received eight performances this season.

Fyodor Chaliapin repeated a portion of "Son lo Spirito."


Unsigned review in the New York Press

Chaliapin, who appeared for the first time in America last night in the Metropolitan Opera House, won a triumph. Indeed, the greeting given to the Russian basso not only by the musical masses, but by critically experienced listeners, surpassed anything New Yorkers had experienced since they were introduced to the art of Caruso. Of course a tenor is a tenor, and no bass can expect to cope with the high tonal throbs of the favored one of the gods. But, allowing for the natural disadvantages in the popular ear of a low voice, the Russian singer accomplished wonders. One was reminded of Caruso nights, so boisterous were the demonstrations of approval in the standing room down stairs and the spaces near the dome. Little doubt those noisy enthusiasts were compatriots of Chaliapin, not children of Italy; and, judging from the ear-splitting cries that sometimes interrupted the performance, Chaliapinites are capable of holding their own against any force of Carusomaniacs, at least in lung power. So loud at times were the calls for repetitions that it seemed megaphones must have been employed.

A pity that the great Russian basso should have come forward in a work so tiring to the average listener, though full of interest to the student of operatic history. True, the character of Boito's spirit of evil, a big, heavy brutish creature, forceful and mighty, but without the subtleties we are wont to associate with Mephisto, gave to Chaliapin an excellent opportunity for displaying his gigantic frame, his magnetic temperament, his dramatic power in big effects and his remarkably robust voice. But the ordeal of taking into the bargain so many dreary wastes, where music fair to make up for dramatic deficiencies, proved too much for a large portion of the audience, and before the close of the presentation rows upon rows of chairs in the parquet gaped empty.

It must be acknowledged, however, that this revival of Boito's opera, which had not been heard here in its entirety since 1901, though it failed to please popular taste, not only served to introduce Chaliapin and with him a tremendously impressive impersonation of Mefistofele: but, barring a few slips as the delay between the two scenes of Act I, proved to be the most effective presentation of the work yet seen in this city from a spectacular point of view.

Musically there might have been certain improvements. Martin, who sang Faust and made his bow here, was not up to the Metropolitan standards. Mme. Rappold did not sing the music of Elena satisfactorily, and the quality of the women's voices in the chorus impinged unpleasantly upon the ear. But Ferrari read Boito's score with fine attention to contrasts and generally had his forces well in hand. When one considers that Chaliapin suffered from a cold, as became evident after the first act, the wonder arises as to what he will accomplish when he is in full possession of all his powers. His is a bass of exceptional force and beauty...He can sing an F with astonishing ease.

After the first number, the sardonic "Ave Signor," there was a demonstration that threatened to halt the performance. The "Son lo Spirito" aria with the shrieking whistle at the end brought down the house. It was repeated in part. That was sufficient to show what Chaliapin was capable. There was in his interpretation a temperamental vigor, an intensity of feeling and a suggestion of reserve power that could not be resisted. Vocally his work later in the evening was not as effective. His deep tones were clouded by hoarseness, once or twice refusing entirely to respond, and several times in aiming at high tones, he shot beyond the mark. But his impersonation remained on a high plane of effectiveness on the dramatic side. His postures, his facial expression, his every gesture in the Brocken scene conveyed the suggestion of a power superhuman. Chaliapin is a great singer. He deserves a place among the most brilliant "stars" the Metropolitan Opera House ever has known.

After Chaliapin first honors went to Geraldine Farrar, who gave an admirable performance of Margarita, singing with more circumspection than she had shown last year. She was particularly effective in the death scene.Martin has a good voice, but it has not emerged from the bleating stage, which, though acceptable in church choirs, does not conform to the requirements of the Metropolitan Opera House. His impersonation of Boito's Faust was no more prepossessing than his singing. In the familiar "La Luna e Mobile" aria Mme. Jacoby, who sang Pantalis, was heard to great advantage. Not so Mme. Rappold. Her pronouciation of the Italian was that of a German. She sang too loud and with little refinement of expression. Mme. Girard left no strong impression as Marta. Techi impersonated Wagner and Nereo.

The orchestra of Ferrari did full justice to the interesting portions of the score, portions which in originality, deserve to be part of the greater music drama than "Mefistofele." The stage pictures were excellent and the Brocken scene with its swirling masses of witches and specters were managed admirably.


Review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times

The second performance of the season at the Metropolitan Opera House was given to a revival of Boito's opera, "Mefistofele," a work which has appeared upon the stage of that house several times in the past but had not been heard there for six years. It has never had a lasting place in the repertory, and its revival has generally been on behalf of some particular singing or for some other special reason. It was so last evening, for "Mefistofele" is one of the favorite and most effective parts of Mr. Chaliapin, the new Russian basso, and it largely was to give him his first appearance here in it that the opera was put on.

It is a work of huge and unfettered imagination; a work in which all the genius of the remarkable Italian who wrote it has been concentrated; for, except for this one opera and another, a "Nero," that he is said to have composed and that has grown into one of the mythological legends of latter-day music but has never seen the light, he has denied his genius any other outlet than the composition of remarkable librettos for his friends, Verdi and Ponchielli. In "Mefistofele" he has roamed at large through Goethe's great masterpiece; it is said by one of his biographers that the opera as it now stands is but a small fragment of a vast and comprehensive musical interpretation of the drama that Boito originally intended.

At all events it can only be regarded as it now is, as an assemblage of scenes illustrative of certain phases of Faust without beginning, end or dramatic sequence. It has less of sequence even than there is in Berlioz's "Faust." There is no story in it; some have found it an attempt to set forth in music some of the philosophical or mystical ideas that underlie the drama. It is hard to see in it more than the outcome of a strongly impressionable pictorial imagination that has been stirred by contact with Goethe's great canvas. The music is a strange compound of portentous sonorities and characteristic mellifluous Italian melody; and notwithstanding a certain dilettante quality in it, there are passages of impressive power as well as of ethereal charm, mingled with much that is amorphous and positively ugly.

Mr. Chaliapin was a striking and singular Mefistofele, seeking apparently to emphasize all the disagreeable traits that could be attributed to the Prince of the Powers of Darkness. He is of herculean size and an actor of resource and skill. His voice is a ponderous bass, but it was plainly not in good condition last evening. There were evidences of his hoarseness, and, indeed, it was at one time doubtful whether he would be able to make his appearance at all last night. He made a deep impression, nevertheless, if not always a wholly agreeable one, and gave promise of doing much that will prove interesting in the course of the season.

Miss Geraldine Farrar was the Margherita-her first appearance this season in the land of political corruption and financial niggardliness toward art. She was nevertheless received with favor and apparent willingness to forgive foolish utterances for the sake of an impersonation so wholly charming as that which she gave of the maiden of Nuremberg. She sang with delightful purity and taste, with full expressiveness of the poetical and passionate spirit of Boito's music, and she was a figure of winsome ingenuousness, pathos and wistfulness. Mr. Ricardo Martin also made his first appearance, taking the part of Faust. His voice is a pure and vibrant tenor, yet somewhat lacking in color and in dramatic power and variety. So far as he showed last evening, his histrionic gifts are small. The comparatively unimportant character of Marta was represented by Mme. Girerd, who was seen and heard for the first time and acceptably.

The production was a most elaborate one; "Mefistofele" gives opportunity for some of the stage manager's and scene painters' most ambitious efforts, and they were not spared. So striking a series of scenic pictures has not often been seen on the Metropolitan stage, and their manipulation, as well as the costuming and grouping of the choral masses, was skillfully carried out. The first scene, that of the prologue in Heaven, was a truly remarkable representation of rolling clouds and aerial perspective. The Brocken scene was depicted with a wealth of gruesome suggestion, and the scene on the River Benejos was picturesquely and richly represented.

There was a large audience and much noisy and sometimes riotous applause, persistent efforts of a new claque and a new national demonstration in behalf of the Russian singer from the real sentiment of the house.


Photograph of Fyodor Chaliapin in the title role of Mefistofele.
Geraldine Farrar as Margherita and Riccardo Martin as Faust. Photograph by Byron, New York.



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