[Met Performance] CID:47390
Metropolitan Opera Premiere (Pipe of Desire)
The Pipe of Desire {1}
Pagliacci {97}
Metropolitan Opera House: 03/18/1910.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(First American opera and first opera in English at the Met.

Metropolitan Opera House
March 18, 1910
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

Converse-G. E. Barton

Naoia...................Louise Homer
Iolan...................Riccardo Martin
Old One.................Clarence Whitehill
Sylph...................Lenora Sparkes
Undine..................Lillia Snelling
Salamander..............Glenn Hall
Gnome...................Herbert Witherspoon

Conductor...............Alfred Hertz
Director................Kurt Stern

[The Pipe of Desire was the first opera by an American composer and the first opera performed in English by the Metropolitan Opera. It received three performances in one season.]


Nedda...................Bella Alten
Canio...................Hermann Jadlowker
Tonio...................Pasquale Amato
Silvio..................Dinh Gilly
Beppe...................Albert Reiss

Conductor...............Egisto Tango

Review of W. J. Henderson in The Sun


"The Pipe of Desire" Well Received

A Native Creation Heard at the Metropolitan Opera House - A Creditable Effort, but Not a Brilliant Success - The Audience in a Kindly Humor

At the Metropolitan Opera House last night "The Pipe of Desire," a one act opera by an American composer, was produced. It formed the first part of a double bill, of which "Pagliacci" was the second part. This new work has been sung in Boston, where it was kindly received despite the fact that the production was inadequate. The book is by George Edward Barton and the music by Frederick S. Converse, who is already known to local music lovers through his "Mystic Trumpeter" and other orchestral compositions.

The story of "The Pipe of Desire" is imaginative and symbolical. Iolan, a peasant, has been working to acquire money to buy a home for Noia, whom he is to wed on the morrow. He goes through the forest singing and the elves, who are sporting under the trees, determine to show themselves to him. The Old One, a sort of Elfin patriarch, warns them that this is forbidden and that evil will come of it. They disregard his warning and appear to Iolan, who quite properly invites them to the wedding.

The Old One carries a pipe, and when he proclaims its wondrous power Iolan declares that it is of no value except to make the elves dance. The Old One plays and the nixies dance. This gives opportunity for much brilliant pictorial delights. It reminds one for the moment of the bacchanal in "Tannhäuser."

Iolan gets his strength against the influence of the pipe. The Old One plays again and Iolan is forced to dance. In anger he snatches the pipe. After one or two trials he succeeds in playing it. Then he sees a vision of his future home and bride. He calls upon her to come to him. He is lying ill and in delirium, but she comes, and after a duet, sinks down and dies. Naturally Iolan dies soon afterward and then the opera has to end.

Of course the symbolism is easy enough to read. But as a stage subject the story is not at all potent. The book certainly furnishes opportunity for picturesque groupings of nymphs and gnomes, for beautiful effects of light and shadow, for an exquisite woodland scene, admirably provided at the Metropolitan, and for moods not unsuited to the language of music.

But there is nothing in the employment of details to clamor for musical utterance. In fact the text is seldom poetic in thought or melodious in technic. Many of the lines are hostile to lyric song and many are awkward in themselves even when considered merely as pieces of English. For example, when Iolan blows upon the pipe and sees the vision, he sings:

It is the strain I heard within my soul.
What glorious vision this before me rising!
The picture of my utmost wish appears;
Like a curtain the forest around me parts,
And the peaceful valley lies before
There are the meadows won by my toil;
There even now I see myself tilling them,
Strong horses I drive,
And beyond graze my goats and kine.

Poetry such as this is not easy to set to music. Yet it is much better than other passages that might have been quoted. Mr. Converse was not inspired by it or, if he was, the gods did not make him operatic. His music is of a kind which suggests the respectable atmosphere of the oratorio concert. It lacks throughout the distinctness of theatrical utterance. The declamation in the recitatives is angular and void of spontaneity. The arioso passages are labored, and their attempts at expression are but moderately successful.

If a technical word may be permitted, there is manifested in this score that fear of the diatonic major scale and of the fundamental cadences of harmony that is found in so much of the music of American writers, Their inventions when built of musical elementals turn out not to be inventions at all but weak echoes, and discerning this themselves they endeavor to escape falling into mere conventionalism by giving melodic sequences unexpected turns and by introducing harmonic modulations which destroy the symmetrical progress of their chord successions.

Perhaps this might be more plainly put by saying that they have no new tones and they disguise this fact by writing melodies which are disjointed and angular in the hope that, they may at least simulate the style of the modern Germans. But they lack the Germans grip on the logic of musical development. Certain it is that Mr. Converse's treatment of the melodic phrase is strained. His song does not flow and his declamation is too often wanting in rhythmic contour.

The score, however, is not, without beauty nor without promise. The instrumentation in certainly rich and solid and the final chorus of elves, though it has the flavor of ancient hymnology, is pleasant upon the ear. The treatment is the most atmospheric bit in the whole opera.

All of the first part of the work, that part in which the chorus and the ballet are employed, is full of pleasing music and the mass effects are well devised. There is here a perception of theatrical value which promises well for the future. Mr. Converse probably learned a great deal about opera writing last night and he probably discerned the fact, that this first part or his work, though musically the most conventional, was nevertheless the most natural, spontaneous and theatrically interesting, It bridged the fatal chasm between stage and orchestra, and that is what most of the dialogue failed to do.

The duet between Iolan and Noia contained some effective voice writing, and this immediately interested the audience. It is a pity that there was not more of such writing. There was enough pretty music in "The Pipe of Desire" to make us hope that Mr. Converse will try again when he has the courage and the experience to write frankly.

The production was in every way a credit to the Metropolitan. Mr. Gatti-Casazza treated the opera seriously and gave it the benefit of his skill in the treatment of mise en scene. The stage pictures were admirable, there was a cast of competent American and English singers and Mr. Hertz conducted with genuine enthusiasm. Mr. Martin was the lolan, Mr. Whitehall the Old One, Mme, Homer the Noia, Miss Sparks, Miss Snelling, Mr. Hall and Mr. Witherspoon the four solo wood folk. All of them discharged their duties with zeal. Mr. Converse was called out several times after his opera. The audience was cordial.

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