[Met Performance] CID:42400
United States Premiere (Le Villi)

New production (Cavalleria Rusticana)
Le Villi {1}
Cavalleria Rusticana {103}
Metropolitan Opera House: 12/17/1908.
 (United States Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
December 17, 1908
United States Premiere


Anna....................Frances Alda
Roberto.................Alessandro Bonci
Guglielmo Wulf..........Pasquale Amato

Conductor...............Arturo Toscanini

Director................Jules Speck
Set Designer............Mario Sala
Set Designer............Angelo Parravicini
Costume Designer........Maison Chiappa

Le Villi received six performances this season.
[Alternate title: The Wilis.]

New production


Santuzza................Emmy Destinn
Turiddu.................Enrico Caruso
Lola....................Maria Gay
Alfio...................Pasquale Amato
Mamma Lucia.............Marie Mattfeld

Conductor...............Arturo Toscanini

Director................Jules Speck
Set Designer............Angelo Parravicini
Set Designer............Mario Sala
Costume Designer........Maison Chiappa

Cavalleria Rusticana received ten performances this season.

Photograph by Aimé Dupont of Frances Alda as Anna in Le Villi.

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun



One of the First Attempts at Condensed Lyric Tragedy - The Music Shows Puccini's Style Not Yet Formed - 'Cavalleria Rusticana' Given, Too

Puccini's first opera, "Le Villi," was produced last night at the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time in this country. It preceded Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," which was presented with an uncommonly interesting cast, including Mr. Caruso as Turiddu for the first time here, Emmy Destinn as Santuzza, Maria Gay as Lola and Mr. Amato as Alfio. For the privilege of hearing these two operas, with Mr. Bonci, Mr. Amato and Miss Alda for the first one, a charge of $7 for each orchestra stall was made, and a great many persons paid it cheerfully.

The history of the composition and first performance of "Le Villi" in Italy has already been printed in this paper, and the slight but not unpromising story of the work has been given. It is not at all astonishing that Puccini in his early days, when he had his theatrical instinct but not his theatrical experience and craft, should have fancied that a successful lyric drama could be manufactured from this material.

The emotional basis of the story is simple and not unsuitable to musical expression. Indeed the chief obstacle to the musical development lies in the translation of the heroine, Anna, into a world of spirits at the close of the first act. It is difficult indeed to achieve an emotional climax with the return of her disembodied spirit in the second act. The duet between her and the recreant lover, Roberto, is very short, and it fails of its effect because it is so much weaker than the duet which they sing when both alive in Act I.

But the material of the second act is by no means altogether futile. The soliloquy of the bereaved father is one of those good old staking horse pieces found in many antiquated operas, but it is treated in this score with much sincerity, by Puccini and with a manifest determination not to fall into the commonplaces of Italian melody and rhythm. The same honest effort is discernible in the soliloquy of Roberto, which is on the whole an effective piece of writing, though somewhat too heavily orchestrated.

The dance of the Villi, the spirits of deceived maidens, is treated purely as operatic ballet, and this robs it of all illusion. The music is in sharp contrast to that of the rest of the act. If the imagination had been touched by what went before this would surely chill it again and convince one that he was looking at mere spectacle.

There should be for the observer of the operatic progress some interest in the fact that this work antedates "Cavalleria Rusticana." It was therefore one of the first, in not the first, attempts to depict in a swift and decisive action a phase of the tragic as found in the lives of the peasants. But a hearing of the two works in juxtaposition last night only served to show that Puccini's 'prentice hand did not grave with the elemental frankness of Mascagni's.

Puccini's music is already sophisticated. It already shows the operations of shrewd calculation. It already seeks to make effects by appearing to avoid the search for them. One of the most striking results of this is the failure to invent melodies which fall sweet upon the fancy as those of "La Bohème" do. The composer had not yet found his characteristic method of expression, though the score of "Le Villi" contains phrases which foreshadow it.

It seems hardly worth the while to extend this discussion of the little opera. Its chief interest at this time lies in its disclosure of Puccini's first and unformed style and its explanation of the hopes which his compatriots entertained for him on hearing it in 1884. The production last evening was liberal and generally very good.

The opera requires two scenes representing the same forest surroundings of Guglielmo's cottage, the first in spring and the second in winter. These scenes were picturesque and effective. The performance was smooth in every respect. No formidable demands are made on the singers, and the orchestra, conducted by Mr. Toscanini, played well. The most acceptable features of the singing were those contributed by Mr. Bonci and Mr. Amato. The chorus had little to do and did it efficiently. The ballet did not look very ghostly and its dance was of the earth - earthly.

The performance of "Cavalleria Rusticana" could hardly fail to be excellent in the hands of the artists entrusted with the principal rôles. Mr. Caruso's voice was heard with pleasure in the music of Turiddu. Mme. Destinn, the fine dramatic singer that she is, was a sympathetic Santuzza, while Mr. Amato and Mme. Gay were easily equal to the demands of their parts.

Review of Henry E. Krehbiel in the Tribune


A large and tiresome portion of last night was wasted at the Metropolitan Opera House on the production of "Le Villi," an opera composed by Giacomo Puccini. History tells us that the work was written in a hurry for one of the competitions which the Italia n music publishers, who are also generally managers of opera houses, are in the habit of arranging. The most enjoyable fruit produced by these competitions is "Cavalleria Rusticana," which last night was consorted on the programme with the opera which had failed in a similar competition some six years before. Much ado was made over "Le Villi" after it had been first performed largely through the kind offices of Ponchielli and Boito, and purchased by the rival music shop. Last night's association made it pretty plain that if the works had been brought into competition, as some hasty writers have thought they were, the judges would have made no mistake in awarding the palm to Mascagni's hot-blooded little work, not only on account of its music, but also on account of its book and its general adaptability for dramatic representation.

The subject of "Le Villi" is one admirably cut out for a pantomimic ballet, but not at all for an opera. A drama might have been made of it by an ingenious infusion of contributory incident; but this was not done by Puccini's librettist. The legend, which has its place in one form or another in European folklore and folksong, tells of how betrothed and betrayed damsels who have died of a broken heart sometimes meet their recreant lovers at midnight and indulge a propensity to dance, which had been checked by their untimely death, by luring them into a whirl which continues until the vile deceivers give up the ghost. One feature of the old tale, on which last night's performance provided a rather diverting comment, was that the ghostly dancers always appeared in their betrothal garments when engaged in their revengeful revels. If the young women of the Black Forest, which is supposed to be the scene of Puccini's opera, were in the habit of marrying in such garb as the women of the ballet wore last night, it is a fair assumption that the constabulary of the country were less mindful of public morals than the police who have recently made trouble for the dancers of the Circle Theater in our town. But when extra prices are demanded of the patrons of the Metropolitan Opera House something out of the ordinary ought to be expected. It has been stated, however, that it was not because of "Le Villi" alone that the cost of admission was advanced last night, but because Signor Bonci sang in one opera and Signor Caruso in the other. Signor Amato sang in both, and while Miss Alda was the only woman singer in "Le Villi," there were Miss Destinn, Miss Maria Gay and Miss Mattfeld in "Cavalleria Rusticana."

Signor Puccini has now reached a distinction which none of his contemporaries has attained in New York. There is only one of his operas that has not been heard - the second, "Edgar," which died early and no one has thought of resurrecting. There are historical reasons, aside from the present extraordinary popularity of the composer, which lend a special interest to all that Signor Puccini has done. He is of the fifth generation of his name who has won a place in musical history. Not only the son, but the father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are known to the musical annals of Italy.

In the theatrical exhibition held in Vienna in 1898 there were performances of compositions by all the Puccinis from Giacomo, the first of the name to make a mark, down to the present Giacomo. The former was born in 1712, the latter in 1858. It is a right noble succession, and though "Le Villi" is so much inferior to the other works of the present Puccini, that we could wish it had never been permitted to interfere with appreciation of "Manon Lescaut" and operas which followed, it would be wrong to say that it is not full of evidences of the genius which was to be disclosed later. Perhaps the finest proof that it offers of his innate capacity for truthful dramatic expression is found in the circumstance that its most effective music is that composed for the ghostly dance. It is plain that the composer saw the woeful defect of the book and appreciated fully the qualities which so perfectly adapt the subject for a ballet d'action that it was put to that use by Adolphe Adam more than sixty years ago. The opera has an effective tenor song and one for baritone which would have been twice as effective as it was last night had Signor Amato sung it under other circumstances. Signor Bonci was strangely unimpressive, probably because there was nothing in the music to disclose the individual charm of his voice and style. There was as little in the music assigned to Miss Alda, though she sang what was set down for her with much greater devotion and effort at sincerity.

Somebody has said recently, referring to the popular way of showing approval or disapproval of theatrical and operatic productions, that "the New York way is better." New York's way was demonstrated again last night in the warmth of the welcome which it gave to Miss Emmy Destinn after the scene with Alfio in the season's first production of "Cavalleria Rusticana." Once more the Bohemian soprano proved what a fine acquisition she is to the forces of the Metropolitan Opera House. Mr. Caruso was Turiddu, using his voice to the delight of an audience that waited even after his departure from the scene to settle his dispute with Alfio. The latter was the new baritone, Mr. Amato, and was a competent assistant to the principals. Miss Gay added no new note to the interpretation of of the unfaithful wife, and Miss Mattfeld's Mamma Lucia was unimpressive. Mr. Toscanini conducted an excellent performance, which had the benefit of entirely new scenery and new costumes from the purveyors to La Scala.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).