[Met Performance] CID:42660
United States Premiere
La Wally {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/6/1909.
 (United States Premiere)
(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 6, 1909
United States Premiere

La Wally {1}
Catalani-Illica

Wally...................Emmy Destinn
Hagenbach...............Riccardo Martin
Gellner.................Pasquale Amato
Walter..................Isabelle L'Huillier
Stromminger.............Giulio Rossi
Soldier.................Giuseppe Campanari
Afra....................Maria Ranzow
Dance...................Gina Torriani

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

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

La Wally received four performances this season.


Photographs of Emmy Destinn and Riccardo Martin in La Wally.

Unsigned review in the New York Times (Richard Aldrich)

'LA WALLY' GIVEN AT THE METROPOLITAN

Alfredo Catalani's Opera Performed for the First Time in America

MISS DESTINN THE HEROINE

Messers. Martin, Amato, Campanari, and Rossi Take Part --- The Opera Received Without Great Enthusiasm.

At the Metropolitan Opera House last evening another Italian opera was added to the list of new productions that have been made there. It was "La Wally," by Alfredo Catalani. It is not, however, a new work, having first been produced at La Scala in Milan in I892 and its composer, who died the year after, can hardly be called one of the younger members of the new Italian school, having been rather one of its elder brethren - one of those who drew more immediately from the fountains of Verdi's inspiration, as it descended to the present day through Ponchielli. "La Wally," however, has most of the characteristics of the contemporaneous Italian operas in its style and method, as they are now well known through the works of Puccini, Giordano and Ciléa.

The Opera is based on a German novel, afterward transformed into a play, called "Geier-Wally," by the Baroness Willhelmine von Hillern. Its story, as it has been detailed in "The Times," has to do with the somewhat changeable loves and hates of a Tyrolean maiden, Wally, who loves Hagenbach, is lightly treated by him, and turns in anger to his rival, Gellner, who pushes his rival over a precipice on a dark night to avenge her plight, whereupon she immediately repents and with the aid of her astonished townspeople pulls her errant lover out of his position of deadly danger, Then she retires to a mountain peak to live a life of meditation, where Hagenbach finds her and declares his love, and the two are united. But a storm arises, unnoticed by them; Hagenbach, as he starts down the mountain, is overwhelmed by an avalanche, and Wally throws herself over a precipice in despair.

This is good enough material for an operatic libretto - it may not be very high praise to say that it is better than that of scores of such librettos. The Tyrolean scene of the opera offers picturesque surroundings for the action to proceed in, and Tyrolese peasants have always been among the most admirable and trustworthy denizens of the operatic stage. Those in "La Wally" are no exception to the rule. Wally, the heroine, is within certain limits a positively defined character whose personal traits, among which are strong passion, thoroughly feminine jealousy and instability; and, in the last act, a chastened and uplifted spirit, one of a sort to win interest and sympathy. Hagenbach is a less clearly defined human figure, though still a human figure. The other characters, except for Gellner's brief time of prominence in the second act, are scarcely more than pawns in the operatic game, whose maneuvering lays open the way for the progress of the two chief personages of the drama.

Catalani's music in this opera is of uneven merit. He has a slender gift of melody, and some skill in building up a rather obvious kind of climax in ensembles, which helps make the first act attractive. The music there is vivacious and picturesque, and in its best moments not without some distinction. Catalani, except for a brief chorus at the very beginning of the open, has made little or no attempt to use local color in his music, to which the Tyrolean setting of the opera might have tempted him, There is not a yodel or a Ranz des Vaches in the score, and in the Tyrolean dance that has a prominent place in the second act has not much suggestion of the mountaineers' folk songs and dances. And for this Catalani might well claim thanks. The Tyrolean in operatic music has been worn threadbare.

The later acts show a considerable falling off in power, In the second act the music of the village festival is singularly ineffective in representing the movement and gayety of the scene, The dance here which has an importance in the dramatic sequence, is by no means a brilliant specimen of its kind and has no great allurement, piquancy, or insinuating grace of melody. A more serious defect in Catalani's style is the small measure of success with which he gives musical characterization to his different personages. The music in which Wally, Hagenbach, and Gellner express themselves is rarely significantly differentiated. Nor does the composer often succeed in writing strong and effective music to elucidate and heighten the moments of dramatic climax.

Wally turns away from Hagenbach after his passionate embrace before the laughing villagers, "with glassy eyes, livid, tearless, looking straight before her" in a fierce revulsion of feeling. Neither orchestra nor singer has anything of any importance whatever to say of this poignant, dramatic moment. When Gellner comes to tell her of his murderous deed the orchestra is loud, empathetic, and tremulous, but similarly wanting in effectiveness or potency of expression, and it continues to be so during the excitement of alarming the villagers and rescuing the unfortunate victim. There are effective passages in the last act, in which the emotional state of the lonely heroine on her snow-capped mountain peak is depicted; but here again the composer gropes in vain for the expression of a really powerful climax when the lover comes and the two are reunited. As for the avalanche, the scenery and the stage mechanics speak for it, instead of the music, and this is a wise disposition to make of the incident.

The song of the Edelweiss in the first act, sung by Wally, has the charm of beautiful sincere melody, and is one of the most effective passages in the opera. A song by Walter, in the same act, has a quaint originality. There is a plangent grace in Wally's sorrowful air in the third act, lamenting the kiss given and received. There is an effective though brief quartet in the second act. The choral outburst at the end of the third act is for a short space strong and moving, but little comes of it.

There are a few such striking passages, though there are many marked by much emphasis and melodramatic strenuousness. On the whole the music is patchy and disjointed, and it shows little strong thematic invention. There are many phrases without a strong musical physiognomy that the orchestra treats with much vehemence. There is much music that is sort of pseudo-music, that says little and arrives at no conclusive issue; nor is the instrumentation of Catalani rich or especially effective. "La Wally" is supposed to be an unjustly neglected work of an unrecognized talent who has honors, denied him in his lifetime, through Mr. Toscanini's efforts. It scarcely seems likely that this view will prevail in New York, from last evening's performance.

The opera was given an admirable presentation. Miss Destinn made a dramatic and striking figure of the heroine and gave much admirable singing of potent expressiveness and Mr. Martin, if he did not present a very convincing impersonation of Hagenbach, made an intelligent and sincere attempt and sang the music well. Mr. Amato, as Gellner, did better with the music he had to sing than with his acting of a part not very sympathetic or offering many opportunities for distinction. Miss Ranzenberg. who has appeared under another name earlier in the season, was pleasing as Afra. Miss L'Hullier, as Walter, and Mr. Campanari, in the minor part of Il Pedome, made up the rest of the cast. Mr. Toscanini conducted with great zeal and secured a very vigorous performance of the orchestral part and an unusually good one from the chorus.

The performance was received without great enthusiasm by an audience of moderate numbers.



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