[Met Performance] CID:53570
World Premiere
Mona {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/14/1912.
 (World Premiere)
(Debut: Loomis Taylor

Metropolitan Opera House
March 14, 1912

World Premiere

MONA {1}

Mona....................Louise Homer
Quintus.................Riccardo Martin
Enya....................Rita Fornia
Arth....................Herbert Witherspoon
Gloom...................William Hinshaw
Nial....................Albert Reiss
Caradoc.................Lambert Murphy
Governor................Putnam Griswold
Old Man.................Basil Ruysdael

Conductor...............Alfred Hertz

Director................Loomis Taylor [Debut]
Designer................Paul Paquereau

[Mona was winner of a $10,000 prize for a new opera and received four performances in one season.]

Unsigned review in the Brooklyn Eagle


A Somber Incident of Ancient Britain Is Told in Fitting Music


Mme. Homer in Chief Role of Princess Wins High Praise

"Mona," the opera composed by Professor Parker, to libretto by Brian Hooker, both good Americans and scholars in the respective spheres, had its first hearing last evening at the Metropolitan Opera House. This is the prize work for which
Mr. Gatti-Casazza paid $10,000, and a very large audience, evidently stimulated
to attend somewhat on that account, and also because it wanted to hear opera in English, not translated from foreign tongue, was in attendance. And it was ready to applaud, as was shown after the first act, when, from standees. from the galleries and from all over the house, came round after round of cheers. After the second act, too, the principals, as well as Professor Parker and Mr. Hooker, Mr. Hertz, the conductor, and others in the management were called before the curtain to receive applause, accompanied by flowers in wreaths, harps and all manner of floral offerings As the last curtain was dropped, the audience remained to applaud.

The story of the libretto has been given in "The Eagle;" it tells of an attempt of early Britons, under Roman rule, to regain their freedom and of its failure. So far as dramatic force is concerned, the book contains comparatively little, as the effort of the Britons is, after all, an incident. But the librettist injects a fine literary quality, with a psychologic background and also beauty in the phrasing. So far as his choosing of words that may be fluently given by the artists, however, he is at fault. Still, this did not much matter last night, for there were very few in the audience who were able to hear uninterruptedly all of the words as sung; a libretto was needed for the English as much as though the book were in a foreign tongue. Much misunderstanding of the need of a book in English exists, the popular belief being that Italians, for instance, do not need a book in an Italian opera. The fact that Italians do not listen especially to the words, as a rule, but, knowing the story, take their enjoyment in hearing the music.
As the action drags much of the time in all three acts in "Mona," Mr. Hooker had to put into his book much dialogue, which compelled the composer to resort frequently to recitative, or that which passes for it. Besides, Mr. Hooker delved into self-consciousness, especially in the role of Mona, making her in long passages in the first act question her call to lead her people to freedom. It distinctly made for monotony. This moralizing began in the first act and there was enough of it in the last act, those who had egged her on at first to lead the war blaming her when defeat came. A touch of human nature was there.

Professor Parker wrote in most scholarly fashion his score throughout. There are motives somewhat after the Wagnerian style, for each of the characters and each is taken in a different key. This made for restlessness, especially since the phrases are short and few, are carried to a conclusion such as satisfies and rests the ear. Very little of the symphonic swing could be noted and the climaxes are few. But very beautiful were they when they were allowed to enter, and beautifully were they led up to by Mr. Hertz, though his addiction to dynamics more than occasionally smothered the voices of the singers.

It is a sad story that is sung and acted in "Mona" and sadly and severely has the composer fulfilled his task. Owing to the tragedy nature of the work Professor Parker was bound to bring out its sadness musically; he might perhaps have done it more emotionally. Somberness runs through all three acts, only lightened by one character, that of Nial, a role wonderfully well taken by Albert Reiss, who, by the way, was one of the artists making himself the best understood in the English, although not American, as were most of the other artists. Nial is a changeling, whatever that may mean, and he seemed to represent cheer and a large measure of sanity in his pretended insanity, his love of birds, of dancing to all the sounds of nature and his efforts to understand what all the muddle about war really meant. To his dancing the professor showed, in the beginning of the second act, a scene in a wood, with Druidic altar set up in the foreground, that he could write lilting phrases.

Mme. Louise Homer sang as she seldom has been heard to sing in the role of Mona. The music written for her is most difficult, carrying high, long-sustained notes and dropping an octave or raising an octave, or skipping to some other even more strange interval; and this for dramatic effect. The composer, even as Wagner, seemed to have little mercy on the voice. And who but Homer could sing the music? She was especially effective in the close of the opera in singing the lament over Gwynn's body, she having killed him, believing he was a traitor. It was one of the rare bits of rhythmic writing.

Mr. Martin, as Quintus, otherwise Gwynn, loving Mona, keeping from her until the last the knowledge that he was the son of the Roman Governor, and trying to quell the insurrection, sang well his most difficult role. He might have been more uniformly forceful in his acting, but he did not frequently lack in that respect.

Putnam Griswold's big form was well fitted for the role of the Roman Governor and his big baritone voice gave a needed thrill; moreover, he acted with due command. Lambert Murphy as Caradoc, chief bard of Britain, contributed his suave tones. Herbert Witherspoon as Arth was forceful and tuneful, and Rita Fornia took well the role of his wife, Enya. William Hinshaw had a role that well fitted the opera, that of Gloom, a Druid, and tremendously did his voice roll out. Basil Ruysdael had the role of an old man.

The stage settings were in the best manner of the Metropolitan; all were most carefully prepared. In the first act, showing the interior of a hut, the semi-barbaric nature of the ancient Britons was shown by the addition to the cast of a real bear cub, which ate with relish food handed out from time to time by Nial. The woodland scenes following, especially in the last act, showing a dark pass in the mountains, before daybreak, with lights of the Roman town in the far distance, were especially artistic.

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