[Met Performance] CID:70040
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
La Forza del Destino {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/15/1918.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debuts: Rosa Ponselle, Alice Gentle, Giordano Paltrinieri, Witold Gordon
Reviews / Chapter: Rosa Ponselle)

Metropolitan Opera House
November 15, 1918
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Leonora.................Rosa Ponselle [Debut]
Don Alvaro..............Enrico Caruso
Don Carlo...............Giuseppe De Luca
Padre Guardiano.........José Mardones
Preziosilla.............Alice Gentle [Debut]
Fra Melitone............Thomas Chalmers
Marquis de Calatrava....Louis D'Angelo
Curra...................Marie Mattfeld
Mayor...................Paolo Ananian
Trabuco.................Giordano Paltrinieri [Debut]
Surgeon.................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Dance...................Rosina Galli
Dance...................Giuseppe Bonfiglio

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

Director................Richard Ordynski
Set designer............Ernest M. Gros
Set designer............James Fox
Costume designer........Witold Gordon [Debut]
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli [Debut]

La Forza del Destino received nine performances this season.

[Gros designed the sets for the Church of the Madonna, the encampment and the Cloister of the Madonna; the other sets were created by scenic artist James Fox.]

Alternate title: The Force of Destiny.

Review of Max Smith in The New York American:

For once, though, the general manager, usually somewhat timid, took what seemed to be a great risk. He allotted the principal feminine part of "La Forza del Destino" to an absolute novice, to a young woman who had never before made an appearance of the operatic stage, who only nine months ago, in fact, had been singing as Miss Ponzelli with her sister on the vaudeville stage. No wonder, then, that more than a few persons, before the rise of the curtain last night, felt misgivings, despite their trust in Signor Gatti-Casazza.

Happily Miss Ponselle, for that is the name the new prima donna has adopted for the lyric stage, justified the faith the management had shown in her powers, even if she did not fulfill the most extravagant promises of her sponsors. It is absurd to assert that she is as great a singer as Rosa Raisa of the Chicago Opera Company. But there is no telling what a young woman may eventually attain who after less than a year of assiduous study manages to appear as associate soprano to Enrico Caruso on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera House. With her recent past in mind it must be acknowledged that her success last night was nothing short of sensational.

To return to Verdi's opera-for further reference to the new soprano may be held in abeyance for a moment-the Metropolitan Opera Company surely was justified in taking "La Forza del Destino" into its lap. Verily it is surprising that Giulio Gatti-Casazza waited so long. Yet it there hardly reason to suppose that the work will receive as much favor here as it has for reasons puzzling to critics, in Italy. There, it would seem, it enjoys popularity hardly second to that of "Trovatore."

Taking it all in all, "La Forza del Destino" is a distinctly tiresome work-a work decidedly inferior to "Un Ballo in Maschera," though written several years later. Unquestionably this is due in large measure to the character of the libretto. What composer, indeed, could have moulded so doleful a drama as that which Piave wrought out of Saavedra de Rivas's old-fashioned play into organic operatic shape? Yet must some of the responsibility for the results be ascribed to Verdi himself. He has written pages that may be counted among his best achievements in that period, and no doubt the truly inspired episodes in the score, so full of characteristic emotional and dramatic vitality, serve to counteract the ennui caused by expanses of music as famous and cheap almost as some of the emanations of Ponchielli or Meyerbeer. But as one of Verdi's most enthusiastic biographers has said "The few inspired melodies are not sufficient to establish the beauty of the opera. Isolated bits of a magnificent mosaic, placed side by side, do not form an harmonious artistic whole."

After hearing "La Forza del Destino" last night, the justice of Monaldi's remarks must be acknowledged. 'The faults of this Partitura-real faults that justify criticism in its censure-are the unfortunate choice of the libretto and the partial, if not absolute lack of organic unity of the opera. Among the threads that form the musical woof of this work there are no connections and relations. Thus pages of pure, fresh melody, uttered with great purity of style, are thrown into juxtaposition with others that are nothing commonplaces, even of vulgarities. Grave faults surely are these, and inexplicable in the author of "Un Ballo in Maschera."

Opera-goers should know the story of "La Forza del Destino" in advance. It is not easy to grasp without further elucidation what the performance provides. But the writer will perhaps be excused from giving an outline here. A sufficiently explicit, though somewhat grotesquely expressed, sketch may be found in the librettos. In the arrangement employed in the Metropolitan Opera House, part of the second act is drawn into the first act, with a short pause between scenes. The second and third acts also are dove-tailed so that the second intermission falls between Don Carlos's scena and aria, "Urna fatale del mio destino," and the ronda, "Compagni, nostiano." The third act, from which Don Alvaro's and Don Carlo's duet is elided, ends as in the original, with the "Rataplan" chorus. The fourth act is divided into two scenes.

Decidedly the best music of the score is to be found in the first scene of the first act, with its effective overture, and in the final act. These contain Leonora's romanza "Me pelegrina ed orfana," her duet with Don Alvaro, "Ah, per sempre, e mio bell' angiol," the tragic heroine's melodie, "Pace, pace, mio Dio," and the famous concluding terezetto of Leonora, Don Alvaro and Father Guardiano, "Non imprecare, umilati." Here Verdi has expressed himself in a manner that breathes sincerely and throbs with true emotional vitality. Much that intervenes, however, is chaff, although Leonora's famous aria. "Madre pietosa vergine," Alvaro's romanza, "Oh, Tu che in seno agli angeli," and one or two other numbers should perhaps be exempted. For the baritone part of Don Carlo, sung last night by De Luca, Verdi has written little of real value; none for the soprano role of Preziosilla, which was entrusted to Alice Gentle. The choruses have vigor and dynamic power, but also lack inspiration.

It was difficult to believe that Miss Ponselle's earlier stage experiences had been confined to vaudeville, so much assurance she exhibited yesterday while facing a gathering that might well have unnerved her. To judge from her demeanor and her acting one would have taken her to be a youthful singer well versed in the routine of lyric drama. Always in gesture, in pose, and in facial expression did she seem to have perfect command of herself. And this gave cause for quite as much surprise as did the quality of her voice, the control she exerted over it while supporting her tones on an ample supply of breath, and the dramatic intensity she so spontaneously infused in her singing.

Miss Ponselle unquestionably is a woman of very unusual talent, and fortunately nature has endowed her with an excellent stage-presence, as was especially notable when she appeared in the masculine disguise which this Leonora, like another and greater one, assumed. There may be difference of opinion regarding the exact character of the new singer's voice. It has the mellow opulence and warmth of a mezzo in the lower register and responds easily below C natural. Yet , has her voice the range of a dramatic soprano? Only her middle tones are slightly throaty and her high tones not quite free and round in their resonance. Under the circumstances Miss Ponselle is a valuable addition to Signor Gatti-Casazza's company. The Metropolitan Opera Company was in dire need of a "dramatic soprano," and last night's audience welcomed the gifted debutante in a manner that left no doubt of her success.

Needless to say that Enrico Caruso availed himself fully of the opportunities the role of Don Alvaro gave him. In the romanza, "Oh tu che in seno," which he sang half a tone below the original key, his voice has a distinct baritone quality. He aroused enthusiasm, however, in this number, and also in the duets with Carlo. The music of Leonora's vengeful brother, lies somewhat low for Giuseppe De Luca. All the more did one wonder, therefore, why he transposed the "Urna fatale" aria from F to E major. Still, this much-admired baritone artist at all times gave a thoroughly satisfactory portrayal of the Spanish Don. Alice Gentle, who appeared for the first time in the Metropolitan Opera House, was a pretty and vivacious Preziosilla. The garb of the gypsy is becoming to her. Her Carmen is not a stranger to New Yorkers. But her voice sounded somewhat thin in the engulfing spaces of the big theater on Broadway, and her tone-production lacked not only substance but steadiness.

Further comment may be deferred, though the singing of the chorus, the playing of the orchestra under Papi's percussive and electrifying baton, and the dancing of the ballet, which Rosina Galli as prima ballerina, deserve to be mentioned. Several choreographic divertissements were interpolated before the vivacious Tarantella of the score. The final curtain did not fall before 11:45.

Review by James Gibbons Huneker in the New York Times

After many years accumulating the peaceful ashes of oblivion Verdi"s "La Forza del Destino" was dragged last night from its tomb to the "pitiless publicity" of the Metropolitan Opera House stage, and to the surprise of some of the old bones danced with more than a semblance of vitality. The truth is, you can't kill Verdi, that is the best of Verdi, and while "The Force of Destiny" is hardly that, the work is absolutely crammed musically speaking; indeed, there is a surfeit, some of it is of high flavor, much indigestible. The Italian composer always arose to a dramatic situation and he knew how to fill in waste places with appropriate, if not distinguished music. So we have, jostling elbows, the melodramatic, the violent, and the vulgar; even the barrel-organed flavor is not absent, But Verdi rises to a strong episode as a gudgeon to a fly. The book of the opera is largely episodical, as is the original Spanish play from which it derives. When the thrills come they come in squads, not as simple spies, but in battalions. And this is truly Verdian....

The work dates from 1862, nearly ten years after "Il Trovatore," so it is charged with reminiscences of the later Verdi. Robust melodies, rousing choruses, sighing ditties, a sentimentality that swoons into saccharine nonsense, processional monks perpetually chanting, lusty soldiers, jolly peasants, the inevitable gypsy girl, and battles, bloody murders-ah! The very debris of romanticism invested with a new life by the potent music maker that was Verdi. It is not that the music is so old-fashioned. Verdi was a very weathercock to new winds, whether they blew from the north or the south. Of Spanish "local color," however, there is little trace. His own musical idiom persists. As the story mounts the music does not pant after it; hence, the most intense part of the opera is in the closing scene, where a powerful dramatic climax is achieved.

The second act in the kitchen of the village inn might be a "Carmen" setting, which illusion is not dispelled by the muleteers and the gypsy girl. In the third act we get the duet between Alvaro and Vargas, made popular by the phonographic record of Caruso and Scotti's singing. There is impressive music in the monastery for both the Abbot and Leonora. That erratic young person, who expiates the crimes of her lover, in honorable love be it understood, has plenty of good music in her role, at the end very effective. The friars carry lighted candles, intoning solemn harmonies.

"La Forza del Destino" was practically a novelty to the overflowing audience last night, except a few who recalled the Mapleson production nearly forty years ago (1880). At times the old machinery unmistakably creaked, but that did not matter much to the enthusiast who had turned out to welcome the lubricating oil applied by Manager Gatti-Casazza. The highlight at the performance was the singing of Enrico Caruso as Don Alvaro, and the brilliant début made by Rosa Ponselle. Place aux dames!

The newcomer is an American born of Italian parentage. Her home town is Meriden, Conn. With her sister she sang in vaudeville and last night marked her first appearance on the operatic stage. She is young, she is comely, and she is tall and solidly built. A fine figure of a woman was the opinion of the experts, and in cavalier costume, she was handsome and embarrassed. Those long boots made her gait awkward; she was too conscious of her legs, and her gestures and gait were angular. But what a promising début! Added to her personal attractiveness, she possesses a voice of natural beauty that may prove a gold mine; it is vocal gold, anyhow, with its luscious lower and middle tones, dark, rich, and ductile.

Brilliant and flexible in the upper register-if there be such a paradox as a vocal register-she is given to forcing the column of breath with the resultant that the tone becomes hard to steeliness, yet a sweet, appealing, sympathetic voice, well placed, well trained. The notes of monotony in the tone color that occasionally intrude may be avoided. Nuance, Nuance, Nuance. That must be mastered. Her nervousness was evident, but after she sang "Addio" in Act 1, she had the audience captured. Her scene and cavatina before the church was astonishingly mature for such a youthful debutante. And she sagged below the pitch on her last note. Unless we are greatly mistaken, our opera has in Rosa Ponselle a dramatic soprano of splendid potentialities. But she has an arduous road to traverse before she can call herself a finished artist.

There is one word with which to characterize Caruso's singing-glorious. That pianissimo whisper when lying on the couch in Act III, showed us the master of artistic vocalism. A lovely legato, and of a sweet sonorousness. He interpreted the role as it should be interpreted, robustly. He was the impetuous soldier, the ardent lover. A stirring impersonation. A sold-out house went wild after this soliloquy in the same act.

José Mardones as the monk was impressive. Miss Gentle also made her début. De Luca had the part of the avenging brother and acted and sang with force and fire. Thomas Chalmers as a humorous monk, played his small part with unction. Louis D'Angelo was the murdered father, and the minor rôles were well enacted by Marie Mattfeld, Paolo Ananian, Giordano Paltrinieri, (début), and Mr. Henchiglian. The ballet tarantella and gypsy dance were danced by the corps de ballet, and the latter, said to have been devised by the fertile Rosina Galli included her own charming self and Bonofiglio. Two of these numbers were employed by Verdi at the Paris production of "Il Trovatore," Remains the orchestra and Conductor Papi. Both were admirable. Later Mr. Papi will doubtless emphasize the dynamic and dramatic accent of the work. Verdi is often brutal, but he always makes a bullseye. The stage settings were in the key of the opera, romantic and picturesque. Young Joe Verdi, late of La Bella Italia, now in Paradise, scored heavily in this year of grace 1918 with an old-time opera. The age of miracles is not yet passed.

Chapter/Review: Rosa Ponselle

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