[Met Performance] CID:56250
United States Premiere
Julien {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/26/1914.
 (United States Premiere)
(Debut: Ettore Coppini
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 26, 1914
United States Premiere


JULIEN {1}
Charpentier-Charpentier

Julien....................Enrico Caruso
Louise....................Geraldine Farrar
Fairy.....................Louise Cox
Beauty....................Geraldine Farrar
Girl......................Geraldine Farrar
Grandmother...............Geraldine Farrar
Grisette..................Geraldine Farrar
High Priest...............Dinh Gilly
Peasant...................Dinh Gilly
Showman...................Dinh Gilly
Comrade...................Paolo Ananian
Stonebreaker..............Paolo Ananian
Voice from Abyss..........Paolo Ananian
Voice from Abyss..........Lambert Murphy
Officiant.................Lambert Murphy
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Louise Cox
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Vera Curtis
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Marie Mattfeld
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Sophie Braslau
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Maria Duchène
Dream Maiden, Nightmare...Lila Robeson
Acolyte...................Albert Reiss
Peasant Woman.............Maria Duchène
Laborer...................Angelo Badà
Woodcutter................Pietro Audisio
Waiter....................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Waiter....................Julius Bayer
Fairy.....................Vera Curtis
Fairy.....................Louise Cox
Fairy.....................Rosina Van Dyck
Undesignated role.........Jeanne Maubourg

Conductor.................Giorgio Polacco

Director..................Jules Speck
Set Designer..............Paul Paquereau
Choreographer.............Ettore Coppini [Debut]

Julien received five performances this season.

[Costumes were copied from the original production at the Opéra Comique in Paris.]


Review of Henry Krehbiel in the Tribune

"JULIEN" SUNG AT THE METROPOLITAN

Charpentier's Sequel to His "Louise" Heard for First time Outside Paris

CARUSO AND FARRAR IN LEADING ROLES

Series of Lyric Tableaus Which Depict Disintegration of a Poet's Soul, His Work.

Gustave Charpentier's "Julien," denominated by its author a "lyric poem in prologue, four acts and eight tableaux," was sung last night at the Metropolitan Opera House, its production being the third of Mr. Gatti-Casazsa's promised novelties. "Julien" received its initial performance in Paris on the evening of June 4, 1912 on the stage of the Theatre National de l'Opéra Comique; the chief parts on it at occasion being interpreted by Margarete Carré and by MM. Rousselière, Bordogne and de Creus. The reception accorded the opera was by no means universally enthusiastic, though the public appeared to like it and thronged the house at every performance. Its long period of gestation, the hopes aroused by the fact that it was a sequel to "Louise" and the general impression in Paris that its composer was the greatest operatic genius France had produced since the death of Charles Gounod, had heightened public interest to a pitch which would have been satisfied only by a work of consummate power and imaginative splendor. Judged by these standards "Julien" proved to be a failure, the Parisian critics declaring it obscure as to meaning, undramatic and in melodic invention scarcely the equal of its predecessor.

Under these circumstances Mr. Gatti-Casazza's announcement of his intention to present it at the Metropolitan was received with many misgivings. No other theatre, either in France or out of it, had announced it for production, and thus New York was to be the second city in the world to hear the new opera. Mr. Gatti, however, persisted in his intention, believing that the resources of the Opéra Comique had been insufficient for its proper presentation and holding that, whatever might be its dramatic weaknesses, it was yet a work conceived in an unusual nobility of mood and executed in a manner entirely original to its creator. The labor given to its production was enormous, Mr. Gatti stating that it was more difficult of presentation than two "Parsifals." But, whatever may be its fate, last night's performance amply justified the Metropolitan director's faith in the work's unusual merits. If "Julien" is not a "Louise," neither is it a dreary imitation of Debussy, nor a perfumed degradation of Richard Wagner. Charpentier stands on his own legs and says what he has to say in a way he alone would say it.

The Opera's Story.

The story of the opera, if story it can be called, was given at length in last Sunday's Tribune. It is an allegorical series of tableaux depicting the disintegration of a poet's soul, through disappointment, doubt, spiritual pride, and sensuality. Julien is the same poet who figures in "Louise," and the action opens in his room in the Villa Medici in Rome. Here he is living in happiness with Louise, his soul aflame with the vision of Beauty with which he is to regenerate suffering, sinning humanity. He falls asleep, and Louise, regarding him, laments the fact that he is daily becoming more and more enamored of his work, but adds:
  'What matter, if his genius
  Makes him immortal:
  My future?
  His work will tell of it!
  That is enough for me!"
With this brief scene reality ends and the rest of the opera, which is Julien's dream, begins.

Julien sets out to redeem the world. His spirit faints a moment at the sight of the band of Poets who have failed, but with Louise at his side, as the symbol of the Beauty that he seeks, he passes on. At the Temple of Beauty the High Priest warns him of the temptations which beset him, but as he persists he is finally crowned by Louise, now become the Spirit of Beauty, who warns him to beware of pride and to love without ceasing.

The next act, laid in a wooded country, finds Julien already doubting in his mission. Louise, or rather her spirit, appears in a young girl, who would have him stay with her and her family, but Julien refuses her and passes on. The third act is on the Breton coast, and here the Poet, pursued by the phantoms of unbelief, vainly seeks refuge. The Grandmother begs him to believe in something beyond himself; but Julien, listening to the voices of the lost, with them curses God.

Lower and lower he sinks, until, a human wreck, he emerges into a riotous crowd on the Place Blanche before the Moulin Rouge. Here he is accosted by a girl of the streets, in whom he recognizes the spirit of his Louise, but who has sunk with his sinking. She drunkenly sings of the pleasure of carnality. For a moment he is roused by a vision of the Temple of Beauty and of the mission to which he has been false - then he sinks in a drunken stupor at the feet of the lost girl:

Such is the libretto, a veritable apotheosis of pessimism, to which M. Charpentier has composed his music. Let it be said at once that the composer is a true poet, his lines are beautiful in themselves, his ideas gracefully expressed - but then - "cui bono?" Even if we grant the practicality of such a subject for operatic treatment, what has M. Charpentier accomplished? At most we have the [first] scene, a scene rich with promise and suggestion, resolving itself into the, phantasmagoria of a dream. The final scene is one of utter bestiality - but what effect has it had upon the Poet, who all the time is sleeping in the Villa Medici, watched over by his faithful Louise? It is scarcely probable that M. Charpenticr painted his last scene simply as a realistic study of Montmartre. He began his libretto in a spirit of missionary zeal, and surely an epilogue is needed to resolve the final discord and to give unity and meaning to the idea. Yet the grunts of the absinthe-soaked Poet and the cackling laugh of the drunken Prostitute are the sounds we carry away with us. It all looks suspiciously much as if M. Charpentier had begun aflame with the zeal of a humanitarian fanatic and had ended with precious little interest left in anything at all!

A Dramatic Last Act.

Yet if the failure of the composer to show us the effect of the dream upon the Poet robs the work of any ethical significance, the very scene of bestiality with which the opera closes, and which is unsatisfactory as the culmination of the composer's symbolism, is yet the only act possessing a shred of dramatic interest. This scene, horrible as it is, has in it, none the less, action, color, dramatic contrast, and in its twisted, perverted fashion, lyric ecstasy. This scene, in the slang phrase, "gets over." The audience is interested, stirred, horrified; it realizes that at last drama has been enacted upon the stage: it may protest against that particular type of drama, but its emotions are reached none the less.

Charpentier's Fallacy.

It is here that the whole fallacy of Charpentier's scheme becomes suddenly apparent. Up to this point he has been giving us a series of philosophical discussions, practically the whole period being devoted to the intellectual ratiocinating of the hero. Julien, a sort of twentieth century Hamlet, a Hamlet sensual and incontinent, sings and sings and sings - not because his heart is over-  flowing with emotion, but because his brain is torn with doubt. The world flouts him, and in song he wonders why. The Chorus of Lost Poets rings his brain, and his brain reacts. But not once is there a moment of honest emotional fulfillment.

When Ambroise Thomas wrote his "Hamlet" he took good care to omit the philosophy and to leave in the melodrama. Verdi found "Othello" is a fit subject for his genius, because "Othello" is a drama of primal passion, not of intellectual subtleties. It is true that Wagner has at times approached the danger line; but here the sheer emotional drive of his music suddenly obliterates all else - who cares for the words sung by the lovers in the immortal second act of "Tristan?" Schopenhauer may lurk in the shadows, but Wagner surges supreme through the orchestral storm!

But Charpentier has set out to do what no one has ever succeeded in doing, and he has failed, Even if it were possible to understand each word it is doubtful whether any audience would find itself interested in the downward wabblings of this esthetic hero. High as may have been the composer's ideal, it was an ideal unsuited to the stage, however suited it may be for a treatise or a novel. In a word, he has violated the primal law of the theatre - instead of giving us thought through emotion he has striven to give us emotion through thought.

Yet Charpentier knows well his theatre, as he proved in "Louise," and as he proves again in the last act of "Julien." Here he is masterly in his handling of the street crowds, in the excitement of the Parisian fete, in the final horrible encounter between Julien and the 'fille des rues.' He knows his Montmartre, Its world of students and models, of midinettes and cocottes, of the flotsam and jetsam of life, Here he is at home. Here he feels life intensely, vitally. Here, instinctively we feel, are his sympathies, this child of twentieth century Bohemia, here among the people who gave him only the other day his Academician's sword, Why, we ask, has he striven to grow wings and to fly into the thin air of the ideal? Surely that air is not for him - who loves so well the smell of the Paris streets, who has felt the poetry of their cries. It is not the noblest life that he has sung, but it is life, and he has sung it well. Vain and evanescent, and utterly unreal is he in his suit of borrowed wings - and just a little ridiculous.

The Music.

But whatever we may think of his dramatic conception, we cannot but be grateful to him as a musician. "Julien" has not the melodic freshness of "Louise"; indeed, many of its best themes are taken bodily out of the earlier work, and its whole first act is but a development of a composition written when he was a student in Rome - "La Vie de Poete." Yet it is a work which in orchestral power, in choral mastery and in the interweaving of haunting rhythms, is worthy of high praise. His handling of the choruses in fact is marvelous. Here, as elsewhere, his instinctive feeling for the crowd breaks forth, and modern Paris surges upon us, turgid, blatant, vulgar; yet tragic, vital and compelling. Who of us could hear that band blowing out its music behind the scenes on the Place Blanche, and not realize that this was life? Who of us in this day of the tango did not feel that crowd's rhythm in his blood?

Charpentier speaks in an idiom of his own. While Massenet was writing rose water melodies and dreaming of the days of paint and powder; while Debussy was inventing a new scale in order to express a life that never existed or could exist; while a whole crew of slavish imitators were vying with one another in the school of these two masters, Charpentier was writing in the only idiom he knew - the idiom of democracy. It is an idiom that is not truly beautiful; it will never lead us to the heights on which dwell Beethoven and Bach, but it is at least honest and alive. Perhaps it is the sincerest expression of modern France which has come to us in recent years.

The Performance.

But of the performance itself, with the possible exception of Mr. Caruso, only praise can be spoken. The stupendous choral difficulties were ably met and overcome by Signor Setti, and in the first act the massed-choruses sang with a precision, a perfection of intonation, resonance of tone which was phenomenal. Signor Polacco, from his conductor's stand, held the ensemble together with splendid mastery and led his musicians through the mazes of the score as if he had known the opera all his life. The drilling of the crowds, their posing, the brilliance of the costuming, all spoke volumes for the stage management of Jules Speck and the taste of Edward Siedle, while Mr. Gatti's scenery, painted by Paquereau, showed not a little imaginative spirit, and the various changes were run off smoothly

The chief protagonist of the opera is, of course, Julien, whom Enrico Caruso, of the golden voice, was chosen to impersonate. Mr. Caruso, admirable artist as he is, is scarcely the figure to give verisimilitude to a poet aflame with an idealistic mission. The great tenor's virtues are not those of the imagination, and Julien is a part which would have tried the powers of a Jean de Reszke. But Mr. Caruso tried his best, and no doubt the audience drew the impression that something or other, was troubling,but whether it was his head, his heart, or his stomach, was not always apparent He sang the music with intelligence, though he was not in as good voice as at the dress rehearsal. Certainly he deserves credit for his willingness to enter into a field strange to his temperament.

Miss Geraldine Farrar impersonated the five characters of Louise: La. Beaute; La Jenue Fine, L'Aleulle and La Fine. In the former she was very much herself, in the second, as charming as any poet could have wished, in the third, again herself, in the fourth, for the first time in her life an old woman - it is of the fifth that we must speak. It was sordid, bestial realism, her girl of the streets, a figure out of Zola, with the laugh of one of Bandelaire's "Femmes Damnés." It was a far cry from Manon, a further one from the Goose Girl; but it was as well sustained as either, a figure as powerful as it was horrible.

Of the other characters first honors went to Mr. Gilly in the three parts of L'Hierephante, Le Paysan and Le Mage. In the latter role he sang a waltz song which ought to become popular on Broadway, and sang it as Broadway will not sing it. The minor parts were all well taken. The audience, a noble one, displayed not a little enthusiasm, and after each act the artists were brought out a number of times to bow their acknowledgments.


Photograph of Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar in Julien by White Studio.



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