[Met Performance] CID:5570
United States Premiere
Merlin {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/3/1887.
 (United States Premiere)
(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 3, 1887
United States Premiere


MERLIN {1}
Carl Goldmark--Siegfried Lipiner

Merlin..................Max Alvary
Viviane.................Lilli Lehmann
King Arthur.............Adolf Robinson
Morgana.................Marianne Brandt
Demon...................Emil Fischer
Lancelot................Wilhelm Basch
Glendower...............Georg Sieglitz
Gawein..................Max Heinrich
Modred..................Otto Kemlitz
Bedwye..................Rudolph Von Milde
Maid....................Leonore Better
Maid....................Ida Klein
Maid....................Sylvia Franconi
Maid....................Wilhelmine Mayer

Conductor...............Walter Damrosch

Director................Mr. Van Hell
Set Designer............Henry E. Hoyt
Costume Designer........Carl Schäffel
Choreographer...........Giovanni Ambroggio

[The program states that "The castle in the first act is painted by Mr. Hoyt from a sketch made by a lady of New York."]

Merlin received five performances this season.


Review in The New York Times (presumably W. J. Henderson)

METROPOLITAN OPERA. HOUSE

The production of Goldmark's "Merlin," the opera most recently made known to European audiences by a composer of recognized rank, adds to the heavy obligation under which the New York public stands toward the Metropolitan Opera House, represented by its ambitious and untiring director, Mr. Edmund C. Stanton. The bringing forth of lyric drama of any kind is in itself a task of no mean difficulty; that of placing upon the stage a work by a modern composer, which requirement not only singers and actors of great gifts and talent, but an admirable orchestra and chorus and such scenic attire as our forefathers never dreamed of, is simply a herculean labor, of which the spectator, who enjoys in his stall the fruits of all the toil and outlay, has not the faintest conception. The happy accomplishment of the endeavor- and the production of "Merlin" at the Metropolitan last night was completely successful - claims, as implied above, the gratitude and applause of the whole music-loving community.

The story of "Merlin" is unfolded in three acts, and its incidents grow out of the following plot. The devil, intending to beget a race that shall drive all goodness out of the world, has united himself to a virgin, who has borne him a child. This child is Merlin. The mother's purity prevails in him, and instead of furthering the devil's plans he seeks to thwart them. The devil learns through the all-wise Fay Morgana that Merlin will lose his power if he falls in love with a woman, and at this stage of events the book of the opera begins. The first act opens with an appeal to Merlin for aid for King Arthur. Merlin summons his familiar demon, who, though his slave, is really allied with the parent devil, and King Arthur is victorious. The demon, however, is restless under Merlin's yoke, and when he learns from the Fay Morgana that his master's might will vanish when tainted with earthly desires, he throws into his path Viviane, with whom the seer immediately becomes desperately enamored. The second act is chiefly made up of love passages between Merlin and Viviane, and progresses in the seer's magic garden, where all manner of strange and beautiful sights meet the eye. The seer's bliss is rudely interrupted by another cry for succor from King Arthur, and Merlin, realizing his weakness, strives to cast off Viviane. The maiden, angered at his change of feeling, tears the power of a magic veil which the demon has left with her. As it touches Merlin's brow the smiling landscape vanishes with a crash and Merlin is beheld on a high rock, borne down by fiery fetters. In act third act the same scene is looked upon. Viviane slumbers in the foreground as the Fay Morgana, appears and tells her that Merlin may be saved from perdition through a woman's self-sacrifice. Once again comes a cry for help from King Arthur, and when it reaches Merlin's ear he pledges his soul to the demon. In exchange for his freedom the chains fall from his limbs, and Merlin, rushing into the fray, wins victory at the cost of a fatal wound. As the seer is brought back by the victorious host, the demon claims him. Then Viviane, mindful of the Fay Morgana's words, stabs herself to the heart, and as she lies lifeless-upon her lover's breast, the fiend, foiled at last, sinks to the netherworld.

The question that will be most generally propounded concerning Herr Goldmark's "Merlin" touches the relation the composer's newest opera bears to "The Queen of Sheba," through which he is widely known in Europe and exclusively in the United States. Au inquiry of this sort could be more easily answered later on when many somewhat recondite characteristics and beauties of the score that are scarcely to be detected on a single hearing reveal themselves, and yet we fancy that a reply to it can be given with some definiteness even after the first representation of "Merlin." As a dramatic work it is in some respects superior to "The Queen of Sheba." Both subjects being legendary, we take it that there is quite as much human interest in the love of Merlin and Viviane as in the infatuation of Assad for Solomon's royal guest, and there is far more life and variety in the story of Merlin than in the semi-Biblical plot of the earlier achievement. That the score of "Merlin" will lift its composer to a higher plane than that to which be has been assigned by critical admirers as well as by the general public is more doubtful The somewhat depressing influence of the Hebro-Oriental modes pervading well neigh every scene in "The Queen of Sheba" is not felt In "Merlin," which abounds in wholesome and spirited music; at the same time there is no denying that the element of local color distinguishing "The Queen of Sheba" is missed in "Merlin" and that nothing original has been contrived to take its place. Moreover, "Merlin" is reminiscent of its predecessor and. unfortunately, suggestive again and again of the influence of Wagner. The great duet in the second act, admirable and effective though it is, recalls so vividly and persistently the duet in the second act of "Tristan und Isolde" that the listener, while deeply stirred by its passionate intensity, cannot escape the conclusion that at his best Goldmark is not a creative prodigal genius. As to its scoring, "Merlin," as may be imagined from the slightest acquaintance with the composer's works, is a masterpiece. The living musician has borrowed from the dead reformer many of hiss devices and processes; but be has almost consistently kept clear of Wagnerian contusion and ugliness; his themes, if not strikingly new, are graceful and symmetrical, and his harmonies generously sweet and fluent when not productive of rich and brilliant tone color.

With the consciousness, as expressed already, that a single performance of an opera is quite insufficient to acquaint the listener with all its excellences, the impression wrought by the music of "Merlin," last evening, may be hurriedly noted. In the first act were conspicuous some capital descriptive passages for the orchestra, performed while the demon summons up the mists and will-o'-the-wisps which are to lead King Arthur's foes astray; a lively and tuneful march-movement; some spirited and. melodious verses sung by Merlin when he greets the King; a charming bit of accompaniment to Viviane's narrative of her meeting with Merlin, and the elaborate concerted number, commencing with the septet and finely worked up to a powerful vocal and instrumental climax, with which it is, perhaps, to be regretted that the act does not terminate. In Act II Merlin's monologue, which is supplied with a delightful accompaniment, minding one - as do many parts of the score - of the accompaniment to Aasad's story of his first view of the Queen of Sheba, first claims notice, and after this are a few pages of very pretty and catching ballet music. The capital number of the act, however, is the duet between Merlin and Viviane, which reminds the auditor through the situation of the personages, as well as through its measures, of the second act of "Tristan and Isolde," the ebb and flow of passion and the tempestuous outbreaks and spells of perfect serenity being all reproduced within its limits, and the orchestra being treated much in the same manner, though, as may be surmised, with rather less force and glow than in Wagner's work. The third act of "Merlin" is the least interesting of the three divisions of the opera, although the apparition of the Fay Morgana gives rise to some very dainty measures, and the final scene in which Viviane ends her life to redeem Merlin lacks neither beauty nor eloquence.

Last night's performance was a triumph for most of the persons concerned in it. Merlin is by all odds the best thing Herr Alvary has done thus far; the music of the character lies well within his voice, he sings it with feeling and good taste, and the alternate dignity, tenderness, despair and passion or the personage were expressed by methods that were alike artistic and impressive. Fräulein Lehmann's brilliant voice and comely presence are admirably fitted to Viviane, and, in the last act especially, her representation rose to a very exalted emotional plane. Herr Robinson was an acceptable King Arthur, although his intonation was not always faultless, and Herr Fischer was a sonorous Demon. The numbers allotted to the Fay Morgana were capitally sung by Fräulein Brandt. The remaining roles were assigned to Herren Kemlitz, Heinrich, Basch, von Milde, and Seiglitz. The scenic attire for "Merlin" is all that could be desired, and in the enchanted garden, Mr. Hoyt, the scenic artist of the establishment, has done himself particular credit. The change of the garden into a wilderness will no doubt be more swiftly effected hereafter; the change back to the garden scene was, per contra, very neatly managed. The orchestra, under Walter Damrosch, went through its work with its wonted zeal and accuracy. There were repeated recalls for the artists after the curtain had fallen upon each act - Mr. Damrosch being included in the summons to reappear after act first - and at the termination of the performance, which was reached upon close to midnight, the audience united in a demonstration of enthusiastic approval of the opera and its representation.



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