[Met Performance] CID:58840
World Premiere
Madame Sans-Gêne {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/25/1915.
 (World Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
January 25, 1915

World Premiere

U. Giordano-Simoni

Caterina................Geraldine Farrar
Lefêbvre................Giovanni Martinelli
Napoleonê...............Pasquale Amato
Neipperg................Paul Althouse
Fouché..................Andrés De Segurola
Carolina................Vera Curtis
Elisa...................Minnie Egener
Brigode.................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Toniotta................Lenora Sparkes
Giulia..................Rita Fornia
La Rossa................Sophie Braslau
Vinaigre................Max Bloch
Despréaux...............Angelo Badà
Gelsomino...............Riccardo Tegani
Leroy...................Robert Leonhardt
Roustan.................Bernard Bégué

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

Director................Jules Speck
Set Designer............Antonio Rovescalli
Costume Designer........Caramba

Madame Sans-Gêne received nine performances this season.

Review and account in The Literary Digest for February 13, 1915


Not a newspaper, in New York at least, failed to note that the production of Giordano's opera, "Madame Sans-Gêne," at the Metropolitan Opera House, was a "world's première." It constitutes a fact, thinks Mr. W. J. Henderson, of The Sun, to which the attention of some of the skeptics on the other side of the Western ocean ought to be called. Of course their attention is largely taken over by war at present, and they may allege this as the reason for staging the première on this continent. Yet the fact is proved that the Metropolitan is a "thoroughly equipped institution competent to undertake the first production of new works by composers, either native or foreign." The first performance of an opera on any stage, Mr. Henderson points out, is a far more formidable undertaking than the first performance in America after Europe's hearings. For this reason:

"In the latter case the tradition of the work has already been established, its tempi are known, its stage business elaborated, and all its details fitted together in a harmonious whole.

"But the production of an entirely new work is another matter. It is the custom of the theater to speak of such or such an actor as having created such a rôle. In the case of a new opera all the roles have to be created; the choruses have to be created; the interpretation of the instrumentation, the adjustment of the various tempi and modifications of them to the shifting moods and actions; the stage business, the lighting, the costuming, the mise en scène-in short, the opera in its entirety must be created."

Of course, the Metropolitan has other premières to its credit which this writer doesn't overlook. He does not record, however, that European composers were greatly impressed by its gift to the public of "The Pipe of Desire," "Mona," and "Cyrano," all American works that have since kept by their native fireside. Nor was our precedence over Europe in the matter of Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West" much to the argument. For, since the opera was on an American story, the Italians were not very keen about it, anyhow. They felt no hostility to the project of producing it here. Puccini, however, paved the way, and the war doubtless helped persuade Giordano that his opera would suffer no harm in America. Mr. Henderson is far more assertive:

"One point to be made just now is that an Italian composer, sufficiently well established in his own country to be certain of interested hearing, was ready to move forward on the path opened with discretion by Puccini and offer to the Metropolitan for first performance on any stage a work not asking for special recognition on account of its American character.

"The other point is that the requirements of the occasion were met with a brilliancy which could not be excelled anywhere else in the world. The production of "Madame Sans-Gêne" on Monday night last was a triumphant demonstration of the ability of the artistic forces at the Metropolitan to create an opera. The Sun's reviewer reiterates, and without hesitation, the assertion that the thing could not have been done better anywhere else, and is inclined to think it could not have been done so well."

Mr. Finck, of the New York Evening Post, is frankly congratulatory to the composer. He thinks Giordano was "extremely fortunate in having his opera accepted by the Metropolitan, which not only provided a cast such as Italy could not duplicate, but gave it splendid scenic background." Neither he, nor the other critics, are convinced that the work is one of the first order. Mr. Finck tells the story of Sardou's play as the librettist has refashioned it for operatic uses: "Napoleon does not come on the stage till the third act. The first is located in Paris, in the interior of the laundry of Caterina Hübscher, a young Alsatian known as Madame Sans-Gêne because of her free and easy manners. The French Revolution is in full progress. The laundresses are alarmed by the firing and tumult without, fearing for the safety of their employer. Presently Caterina rushes in and indignantly tells about a mob of soldiers who had kissed her in turn. The girls, their work ended, help her close the window-shutters and leave. Left alone, she is about to lock the door when a shot is heard, the door opens, and in comes the Austrian officer, the Count of Neipperg, wounded. She scorns him as a Royalist, but takes pity because of his wounds and begins to dress them, when steps and voices are heard outside, whereupon she hides him in her room and locks the door. Enters her lover, Liefebrre, sergeant of the National Guard, with soldiers, in pursuit of Neipperg. He suspects Catarina of having hidden him, and, wrenching the key from her, enters the room. Presently he returns, and, ordering the soldiers away, tells her he found a dead man in her room. When she accepts the announcement calmly, he admits that it was only a ruse to discover her feelings. The wounded man is alive, and, bidding her take good care of him, he promises to return and arrange for his escape.

"The second act plays in a chateau, nineteen years later. The laundress has become the Duchess of Danzig, and her husband, the former sergeant, is one of Napoleon's favorite officers. She takes a lesson in court manners - much needed, because presently her husband arrives and informs her that Napoleon has advised him to divorce her because of her awkwardness. When he refused to do so, the Emperor asked that she be sent to him, so he could talk with her about the matter.

"He does so, in the next act, accusing her of covering the court with ridicule. But she wins his heart by telling him of the suffering she endured as a "vivandière" of the army, and finally by reminding him of an unpaid laundry biII which he incurred as an ill-paid lieutenant. As she is about to retire, a suspicious noise is heard in the adjoining room. Napoleon orders the lights to be lowered, when Count Neipperg enters and approaches the door of the Empress's room. Mad with jealous fury, Napoleon orders the Count to be shot. In the final act, however the truth comes out. Neipperg had simply come to get a sealed package from the Empress to her father, the Austrian Emperor, begging him to keep the Count in Vienna.

"For operatic purposes the trouble with this libretto is that there is, except in the first act, too much talk and too little action. It is the same as in the cases of "Le Donne Curiose" and other operas of Wolf-Ferrari, which have enjoyed the brief vogue predicted for them in this journal. Now, there is a good deal of "talkee, talkee" in Wagner's operas, too, but his music is so symphonic, so absorbingly interesting, so full of psychological significance, that one does not miss the action. Giordano, it is needless to say, is no Wagner. The orchestral cataclysm which opens his opera is splendidly effective. and every now and then, throughout the score, there is an occasional page or two of dainty or crassly realistic orchestral coloring which arrests the attention; but of melodic originality there are few traces. As in his "Siberia," he scored his best points by introducing Russian folk tunes, so in this French story he makes good use of tunes of the period - the "Carmagnole," "Ça Ira," and "Marseillaise." Since his own music lacks distinction and the charm of individuality, getting less attractive from act to act, it is not necessary to dwell on details."

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).