[Met Performance] CID:65390
World Premiere
The Canterbury Pilgrims {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/8/1917.
 (World Premiere)
(Debuts: Richard Ordynski, Homer F. Emens, Hildreth Meière
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 8, 1917

World Premiere


THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS {1}
Reginald De Koven--Percy Mackaye

Prioress................Edith Mason
Chaucer.................Johannes Sembach
Alisoun.................Margarete Ober
Squire..................Paul Althouse
Johanna.................Marie Sundelius
Miller..................Basil Ruysdael
Friar...................Max Bloch
Knight..................Robert Leonhardt
Host....................Giulio Rossi
Joannes.................Pietro Audisio
Pardoner................Julius Bayer
Shipman.................Mario Laurenti
Summoner................Carl Schlegel
Man of Law..............Robert Leonhardt
Cook....................Pompilio Malatesta
Girl....................Marie Tiffany
Girl....................Minnie Egener
Richard.................Albert Reiss
Herald..................Riccardo Tegani

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Director................Richard Ordynski [Debut]
Set designer............Homer F. Emens [Debut]
Set designer............James Fox
Costume designer........Hildreth Meière [Debut]

[Fox designed the set for Act I, Emens the others.]

[THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS received seven performances in one season.]

Unsigned Review in the Brooklyn Eagle

DE KOVEN'S OPERA IN ENGLISH, SCORES

Melodious Score to "The Canterbury Pilgrims' Pleases at the Metropolitan

GORGEOUS STAGE SPECTACLE

Tunes That Will Be Popular and a Good General Performance

At last the policy of producing original operas in English at the Metropolitan has scored a profitable success and there is on that stage an opera in English which the general public will run to instead of running away from. The new work is "The Canterbury Pilgrims," with text by Percy MacKaye and music by Reginald De Koven. Its first performance last night was received with a good deal of enthusiasm. The way in which the applause quickened when the composer and librettist appeared with the singers, and the persistence with which audience and artists maneuvered - happily in vain - to draw a speech from one or the other of the pair, showed what the great house thought of the achievement set before it.

A Melodious Score

A year ago Mr. De Koven said in an interview for The Eagle that the man who could write melody and didn't was an idiot - we quote from memory; perhaps his own phrase was more polite, but that was the meaning he intended to convey - and that he intended to write a melodious score. Well, he has kept to his purpose. The opera is genuine De Koven and might be described as "Robin Hood" grown up. It is more dignified, has a wider sweep and greater power, but he has not neglected the art of writing tunes which sing themselves over in the head of the listener as their phrases recur on the stage. There isn't any "Brown October Ale" in this score, to be sure, but the "Eglantine" song will be on half the pianos in the country and on many records before the year is out, while "Some Other Star" duet for soprano and tenor and the lovely sextet of the second act will follow the long succession of popular operatic excerpts to the concert stage. The ensembles, too, are stirring and impressive. If they are not at all times up to the level of the elegance and distinction of the sentimental portions of the score they do the work for which big ensembles are written; to carry of climaxes by raising the spirit of singers and audience alike to a high pitch. Perhaps criticism will be aimed at the music of the last scene, the big spectacle of the west front of Canterbuy Cathedral, when King Richard comes to church and when he honors Chaucer and frees him from the wiles of the wife of Bath. When the trumpets began to play on the stage for this pageant, a man in the orchestra stalls cried out, "Oh, like Aida!" It isn't, of course, like "Aida" in melody but merely in general effect. From "The Prophet" to "Aida" so many big marches have been written for stage spectacles that it is difficult for such work not to be hackneyed but Mr. De Koven's ensemble is at least ear-filling and pulse-stirring, as may be guessed when one or two of the phrases suggest the "Hallelujah Chorus" from "The Messiah."

A Well Written Libretto

Mr. Mackaye has written one of the best librettos in the range of operatic literature; one, indeed, in regard to which the use of the word "literature" is not a satire or a sacrilege. He has taken effective characters from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," and has introduced Chaucer as the chief figure among them, in a plot which is predominantly comic and reflects the hearty English humor of the Fourteenth Century with a subsidiary stain of sentiment and poetry. The way in which the music rather than the story dominates an opera is seen in the fact that Mr. De Koven's score readjusts this balance and gives the dominance of the work to the sentiment. The only place where this emphasis hurts the effect, however, was in the third act, where the wife of Bath disguises herself in a Knight Tenmplar costume and the story is broadly and rollickingly comic. The scene, however, seems to be dominated by the spirit of the lovely "Some Other Star" duet sung a little earlier. Perhaps this will be changed when Margarete Ober becomes firmer and surer in her presentation of the wife. It is a part which ought to fit her like her clothes, and it does in some of the earlier scenes, where she is vigorous and broadly funny. Her disguise, however, seems to hamper her freedom, and she played and sang as if she were feeling her way. That should disappear with repetition. For the rest, the cast and the performance were admirable.

Mr. De Koven has gone just a little daft on tenors, having provided three good tenor parts, while his best bass and his baritones are subordinate. He is safe, however, so long as he has Sembach, Paul Althouse and Reiss to sing, and he got some especially beautiful, delicate effects from the juxtaposition of voices of Sembach and Althouse instead of the monotony which might have been expected. Sembach was particularly sympathetic and wholly admirable in the sentiment of the part, and toward the close his voice rang out with thrilling effect.

A special and distinct word of praise should be said for Albert Reiss, as the young king, for his mirror song. This was the one song in the opera in which all the English words could be heard, and it was a convincing demonstration that English can be distinctly sung if only the singer will take the trouble. Even Mr. Althouse, born to the tongue, was not so intelligible as Reiss. The latter played, too, with a splendid authority which befits a king of romance. Next to Reiss in clearness of enunciation came Sembach. As much of the text got over the footlights as was absolutely necessary if one had taken the precaution to read the libretto in advance. In a smaller house one should hear the lines of the Wife of Bath, but the comic sprit of them is simply swallowed up in the Metropolitan. Even such choice bits as "Shut Up" and "Liar" which came catapulting from the stage, failed to sustain the comic atmosphere for long. Ruysdael did wonders with the small part of the Miller, while Edith Mason scored another success as the Prioress, her small, but clear and true voice sustaining itself timely in the concerted music. Marie Sundelius was also excellent as Johanna, and the general performance was creditable. With repetitions, the comic scenes should take on something of the freedom and verve which mark the apprentices' scene in "Die Meistersinger," the nearest parallel to these on the operatic stage.

To sum up, Messrs. Mackaye and De Koven have written a stirring comic opera with a charming and sometimes dominating sentimental element, which promises to be widely popular. If the gorgeous scenic production could be reduced sufficiently for a regular theater stage there would be no question of its popularity. In so far as the Metropolitan audience and the theater audiences are of one mind its success is assured. The tired businessman who is dragged to the opera by the chains of social duty will find at least one score which will not put him to sleep. About the time he catches himself humming "Eglantine" and "Some Other Star" he will want to know what it is all about and the sale of librettos will quicken. Altogether the promise that an American opera will hold its own in popular favor with the lighter works of Italy, France and Germany is brighter than it has even been in our history.



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