[Met Performance] CID:70800
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Crispino e la Comare {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 01/18/1919.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
January 18, 1919 Matinee

Metropolitan Opera Premiere

L. Ricci/F. Ricci-Piave

Crispino................Antonio Scotti
Fairy...................Sophie Braslau
Annetta.................Frieda Hempel
Fabrizio................Thomas Chalmers
Mirabolano..............Andrés De Segurola
Del Fiore...............Giordano Paltrinieri
Bortolo.................Pietro Audisio
Asdrubale...............Paolo Ananian

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

Director................Richard Ordynski
Set designer............Pieretto Bianco
Costume designer........Louise Musaeus

Crispino e la Comare received four performances this season.

[In Act III Hempel interpolated Il Carnevale di Venezia (Benedict).]

[Alternate title: Crispino and the Fairy.]

Review in the February 8, 1919 issue of The Literary Digest:


"When a new book comes out I generally read an old one," said Dr. Johnson or some other old worthy who chiefly delighted in quenching new enthusiasms. Whether a Metropolitan Opera audience may be credited with similar intentions, their recent treatment of operatic fare is similar enough to recall the old arbiter of Fleet Street opinions. Puccini's wiles are hardly strong enough to hold attention, while the seventy-year-old outpourings of the Ricci brothers in the witty and fantastic form of "Crispino e la Comare "- "The Shoemaker and the Fairy "- set the Metropolitan audience into thrills of delight. Since so many destructive agencies have been abroad in the world the prospect of losses makes us hold the tighter to what we have, and perhaps reflect that "old wine, old books, old friends are best." "Crispino" has never before been thought worthy of revival at the dignified Temple of Music on Broadway, although Mr. Hammerstein made it vocal in Thirty-fourth Street when he had Madame Tetrazzini for its roulades and staccati. Back of that we are turned to the old Academy of Music in Fourteenth Street with Adelina Patti in 1884, or still earlier with Clara Louise Kellogg in 1864, or a year later in Brooklyn, when the palm went to Ronconi, "the greatest buffo that two generations can remember," says Mr. Krehbiel in The Tribune. All this antiquarian lore the critics reel off as though the history of New York's operas were at their tongue's end; and so it may be unless some enthusiastic delver has supplied them all with the forgotten facts. Mr. Henderson, who evinces some contempt of antiquarians, shows the readers of the New York Sun that the present revival was demanded by the need of giving Mme. Hempel's floridities a field for activity. "One cannot die of pulmonary adagio in the final scene of "La Traviata' forever," he facetiously remarks. "Therefore, since there are no new operas for florid singers, let us away to the dead past and cull flowers from the cemetery," Mr. Henderson enlarges the historic perspective:

"Crispino e la Comare" was last sung in this town at the Manhattan Opera House on February 1, 1909. It was a memorable night, but not because Luisa Tetrazzini was singing in the Ricci brothers' opera at the temple of art reared by the unquenchable Oscar Hammerstein. The real importance of the night consisted in the fact that at the Metropolitan Marcella Sembrich made her farewell appearance as Mimi. It was her final performance of an opera, for at her farewell on February 6 she sang in portions of three different operas. "Crispino e la Comare" on that evening was sturdily aided by the good old operatic tractor "Cavalleria Rusticana." The "opera-buffa" had been revived on March 6, 1908, for precisely the same reason that it will be revived, to provide a role for a florid singer.

Mme. Tetrazzini was Mr. Hammerstein's continual problem, and he, too, had to turn to the past for solution. For precisely the same reason Cleofonte Campanini will have to revive it in the course of time. If the Galli-Curci vogue does not die out as quickly as the Tetrazzini excitement did "Crispino e la Comare" will have its turn in the repertory of the Chicago Opera Company.

The tiresome ancients will inevitably recall Adelina Patti in the role of Annetta. All old men are nuisances. They remember things that happened before we were born, whereas for us the world began only when we first took notice of it. And there is a general belief among us that things were not better fifty years ago than they are now. So be it. Let the young cherish their faith and their delight, God bless them! Let them be certain that Galli-Curci is a greater queen of floridity than Patti; that Rosa Raisa is a more imposing, dramatic singer than Lilli Lehman; that Sophie Braslau is infinitely superior to Scalchi, and that compared with Crimi, Italo Campanini, if brought back to earth, would prove to be a pale shadow. But the tiresome ancients who have sorrowfully watched the descent of public taste at the opera and who have felt almost stunned at times at the attitude toward unutterably bad singing are not guessing when they speak of Adelina Patti. As Marcella Sembrich said to this writer upon a certain occasion, 'When you speak of Patti, you speak of something that was only once."

Crispino e la Comare" was just the sort of opera she could glorify. Its performance calls for ebullient spirit, infectious gaiety, and scintillating song. Patti, as Frangcon-Davies used to say, "was a witch." She was ravishing in comedy. Her wicked eyes filled with a thousand lights, and her mocking smile, which in spite of its mockery made you smile too, and her exquisite beauty, coupled with her marvelous silver flute of a voice and her gushing outpour of tone - Ah, well, as Mr. Werrenrath sang to us the other day, "Ring out the old, Ring in the new."

Welcome Frieda Hempel as Annetta and may she give the young joy and make the old forget their foolish regrets. One has much confidence in her ability to do this. By all accounts it was amply done; and even the old days of Ronconi, if there were any to recall them, were put in hazard of eclipse by Mr. Scotti's superb art. The story of the opera which has disturbed so much historic dust is of the slightest. Sylvester Rawlings, in The Evening World, warns us not to "bother about the book": Of all the inane chatter that is to be found in most English translations from the Italian, this is the worst. The improbable story is an absurd commingling of the human with the supernatural. Briefly, it is of a cobbler whose wife is a street ballad-singer, both unsuccessful, the family in dire poverty. Driven to desperation, the cobbler is about to cast himself into a well, when from it emerges a fairy, who gives him gold, tells him to become a doctor, and he shall amass a fortune. If he sees her (nobody else can, of course) the patient will die; if he doesn't see her the patient will live. The scheme works. With wealth the cobbler becomes arrogant, abuses his wife and family, and is punished by the fairy by transportation to her subterranean abode and told he must die for his sins. He repents, is restored to his family and they live together happily ever after. The details are obvious to anybody who knows this much of the tale."

Turning again to Mr. Henderson, who wrote his monolog quoted above on the "tiresome ancients" before the Metropolitan performance, we find that the singers of to-day apparently shook all the "The melodic character of the opera is similar to that of a hundred other works of the Italian "buffo" type. It might have been composed by Donizetti or Cimarosa or some other of the long line of "maestri." But although it discloses no striking individuality, the music is filled with the buoyancy, the sparkle, and the gaiety of Italy's humor.

"In the hands of such artists as those in yesterday's cast it must always please an audience. The performance was admirable in spirit and in detail. A hard-hearted human would be the one who found no pleasure in it. Miss Hempel sang and acted Annetta charmingly. Her comedy was light, discreet, and contagious. Her singing was fluent, luminous, and elegant. Not to be outdone by her predecessor, she sang Benedict's variations in the banquet scene, herself garbed in a costume revealing a fine appreciation of the situation.

"Mr. Scotti as Crispino was irresistible. All old operagoers know that this remarkable actor sweeps the scale of impersonation from Scarpia to Don Pasquale with supreme ease, but at no time has his comic acting been so full of champagne as it was yesterday. As Dr. Mirabolano Mr. de Segurola was immensely funny, and Mr. Chalmers as Fabrizio completed the comic trio. Miss Braslau sang the music of the fairy in a thoroughly suitable style. The chorus had little to do, but did it well, and the duties of the orchestra were of comparatively small weight. The opera was presented with new scenery, which was well conceived and well painted.

The Tribune's Mr. Krehbiel finds this opera "spikes the heavy ordnance of criticism." "The story of the opera is delightfully humorous, and the music charming - sensuously, ingratiatingly, insinuatingly charming."

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