[Met Performance] CID:40190
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Iris {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/6/1907.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debut: Rita Fornia, Miss Jirasek

Metropolitan Opera House
December 6, 1907
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

IRIS {1}

Iris....................Emma Eames
Osaka...................Enrico Caruso
Kyoto...................Antonio Scotti
Blind Man...............Marcel Journet
Geisha..................Rita Fornia [Debut]
Beauty..................Miss Menconi
Vampire.................Miss Hesch
Death...................Miss Jirasek [Debut]
Merchant................Primo Raimondi
Ragpicker...............Giuseppe Tecchi
Ragpicker...............Vittorio Navarini

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

Director................Eugène Dufriche
Set Designer............Kautsky & Rottonara Brothers

Iris received eight performances this season.

[At the time of her debut Rita Fornia was listed as Le Fornia.]

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun



Emma Eames as the Embodiment of Japanese Innocence - Mr. Caruso as a Lover in Gorgeous Kimonos - The Opera Handsomely Mounted and Costumed

Mascagni's "Iris," with Emma Eames in the title rôle, was last night brought into the regular repertory of the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time. The opera was produced in America at Philadelphia on October 14,1902, and in this city two days later. It was then performed by an incompetent company under the personal direction of the composer, and although badly done impressed its hearers as a work of considerable value. Last evening, provided as it was by Mr. Conried's enterprise with a dress of picturesque beauty and a musical interpretation more worthy of its content, it interested a large audience and deepened with professional observers the impression it made five years ago. It also served to disclose the possession by Mme. Eames of certain interpretive ideas not hitherto shown so clearly.

"Iris," as set forth in this paper last Sunday, tells the story of an innocent Japanese child and a hardened roué's attempt to betray her. The climax of the tragedy comes when the roué finds that he cannot make the child comprehend his intent, and he has no further use for her. Then Kyoto, who enticed her away from her blind father, puts her up as an attraction in his resort, and her father finding her there and believing that she is a willing victim, curses her. She throws herself into a pit which is the entrance to a sewer, and is afterward found by rag pickers. She dies, and the sun comes and sings over and flowers wind themselves about her.

It is in the treatment of the sun that Mascagni has attained his finest effects. The opera begins with a proclamation of the great orb, conceived theatrically and spectacularly rather than with musical inventiveness. From out [of] the gloom in which the house is shrouded the whispering of the double basses announces the beginning of the score. A long and slowly developed crescendo now leads to the [starting] chorus, which represents the voice of the sun.

The crescendo is instrumental, of course, and is built on themes intended to represent the first glimmerings of light, the flowers, the dawn and the light of the sun. The pealing plangency of the prologue in heaven in "Mefistofele" is inevitably suggested by this pretentious quality and its theatrical value cannot be denied.

With a similar device Mascagni brings his opera to a close. The success of the music is largely dependent upon the managements of lights, and at the first performance five years ago this was so bad as almost to destroy the significance of the scene. Last night it was much better, and the beginning and end of the opera had excellent pictorial character.

Mascagni has treated the lyric parts of his opera in the style made familiar to us in his other works, but he has not attained the directness and compressed interpretive power of his "Cavalleria Rusticana." The music of "Iris" is singable and at times it reaches a level of genuine beauty, but it is uncertain in design and fails in characterization. In so far as Iris herself is concerned the music goes far towards success, for she is not difficult to interpret in tones.

But Osaka, the weary roué, seeking for a new sensation in the destruction of a delicate flower of innocence and trying to compass his ends by the simulation of a beautiful passion which he does not feel, is beyond the composer's reach. If Mascagni's music in the second act means anything it means that Osaka is in love with Iris, but the text shows us that he is not. He is a cold hearted sensualist, while Iris is incapable of knowing when he desires. Hence the music of their duet, which is that of a passionate love scene, is quite misleading, though pleasing enough as a purely operatic conception.

Cleverness and theatrical skill are found in the composition of the puppet show in the first act and in the dance of Beauty, Death and the Vampire. The agony of the father in this act is also well treated, and the instrument postlude has the pronounced features of the "Cavalleria" style. The finale of the second act is worked up with riotous energy such as we have found ere now in the music of this vigorous but ill balanced composer.

In truth, throughout the score there is interesting music and there are numerous episodes which show a knowledge of the mechanics of opera, large command of the resources of the orchestra and a comprehension of the means by which effect may be wrought upon the fancy of audiences not eager to pry beneath the surface and satisfied if the passing show have a prepossessing exterior.

Last night's production was most creditable to the Metropolitan Opera House and the management of Mr. Conried. The scenery was handsome and had all the picturesque features of stage Japan at their best. The costumes were neither garish nor improper, but realistic and graceful. The stage management was intelligent. The chorus sang artistically, which is in itself a striking novelty, and the orchestra supplied a solid, but not obtrusive background.

If Mascagni's principal personages were vital human beings instead of operatic types doubtless more critical comment of the impersonations of the leading performers would be required this morning. But Iris herself is no more than a lyric conception, pretty, engaging and just a trifle tiresome. Osaka is not the only person who wearied of her gelatin panoply of unsuspicion and her mellifluous whimper of "I want to go home."

She is a child, and while children are a valuable asset in the glad Christmas season they are not altogether absorbing as the protagonists of music drama. The poetic conception which lies behind Iris is, as has been intimated, charming, but it is not inspiring to the lyric muse. Mascagni has handled Iris with ability, but to a large extent she eluded his skill and becomes an opera soprano without a profound emotional "raison d'étre."

Mme. Eames conceived Iris in the spirit of the poetic basis of the story. She exhibited the innocence, the unsuspicion of the girl in a high light and without any unwise attempt at detailed delineation. It was an excellent piece of acting for the sound reason that there was very little acting in it. Mme. Eames's Iris was precisely what it should have been, the hopeless blank upon which the impure passion of Osaka could print not a single impression.

Vocally it was all that could be desired, and the soprano was very pleasing to the eyes in her Japanese costumes, which she wore as one to the manner born. Her Iris will never make the lines in the memory that her Tosca has made, but it is not her fault.

Mr. Caruso's Japanese costumes did not sit well upon him, and his walk, which was an apology for a toddle, became him even less. But his voice and his warmth of delivery were with him, and by their aid he made Osaka's seduction wear the semblance of fervent sincerity. Mr. Scotti was capital in his delineation of the avaricious and unscrupulous Kyoto, and Mr. Journet excelled himself as the blind father. Rita Fornia made a creditable debut as the Geisha, singing the music in a commendable manner. Mr. Ferrari again showed himself a capable operatic conductor.

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