[Met Performance] CID:73500
World Premiere
The Blue Bird {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/27/1919.
 (World Premiere)
(Debuts: Gladys Axman, Margaret Farnam, Kathryn Kennedy, Anna Staber,
Marguerite Florence, Eugenie Manetti
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 27, 1919

World Premiere
In French


THE BLUE BIRD {1}
A. Wolff-Maeterlinck

Tyltyl..................Raymonde Delaunois
Mytyl...................Mary Ellis
Fairy...................Jeanne Gordon
Dog.....................Robert Couzinou
Cat.....................Margaret Romaine
Bread...................Mario Laurenti
Fire....................Angelo Badà
Water...................Adeline Vosari
Sugar...................Octave Dua
Milk....................Marie Tiffany
Light...................Flora Perini
Father Tyl..............Paolo Ananian
Mother Tyl..............Florence Easton
Grandmother Tyl.........Louise Bérat
Grandfather Tyl.........Léon Rothier
Night...................Frances Ingram
Happiness...............Mary Mellish
Maternal Love...........Florence Easton
Joy of Understanding....Gladys Axman [Debut]
Joy of Justice..........Margaret Farnam [Debut]
Joy of Beauty...........Cecil Arden
Father Time.............Léon Rothier
Little Lover............Minnie Egener
Little Lover............Helena Marsh
Mme. Berlingot..........Jeanne Gordon
Girl....................Edna Kellogg
Children: Adeline Vosari, Margarete Belleri, Emma Borniggia, Marguerite Florence [Debut], Kathryn Kennedy [Debut], Eugenie Manetti [Debut], Anna Staber [Debut], Phyllis White

Conductor...............Albert Wolff

Director................Richard Ordynski
Designer................Boris Anisfeld

The Blue Bird received eight performances this season in French.

[Alternate Title: L'Oiseau Bleu]


Photograph of Mary Ellis as Mytyl in The Blue Bird by Lifshey-Anderson.

Review by Richard Aldrich in the New York Times


WORLD PREIMIERE OF "THE BLUEBIRD"

Poet Maeterlinck, in Central Box, Sees Production of Albert Wolff's Opera.

COMPOSER IS APPLAUDED

Interallied Charities Will Receive At Least $30,000 from Gala House

The first of the new operas to be produced this season at the Metropolitan Opera House was given there last evening - the setting made of Maurice Maeterlinck's fairy play "The Bluebird," by Albert Wolff, the new French conductor of the opera house, who is a composer as well as a conductor. It was the first representation of the new opera on any stage and was given at a special performance, for the benefit of four charities - the Fund of the Queen or the Belgians, the Millerand Fund for French Orphan Children, the Three Big Sisters' Organization- Catholic. Protestant, and Jewish) and the Milk for Children of America Fund. The occasion acquired special distinction by the presence of the poet, Maurice Maeterlinck, just arrived in New York on his first visit to America, as well as of the composer, Mr. Wolff, who conducted the opera; and also the Belgian Ambassador, Baron Cartier de Marchienne and Baroness Cartier de Marehienne and the Belgian Consul General M. Pierre Mali and Mme. Mali.

The prices of admission had been greatly increased; and as there was a very large attendance, the charities on whose behalf the performance was given benefited by an amount estimated last evening at not less than $30,000, and perhaps more.
Before the performance began the orchestra played the Belgian, French and American national airs.
At the end of the third act Mr. Maeterlinck appeared upon the stage before the curtain and was enthusiastically applauded and called out several times. With him came Mr. Wolff, and a large laurel wreath was presented to each. Afterwards Mr. Anisfeld, the designer of the scenery, was called and came out with Mr. Maeterlinck and Mr. Wolff.


The play of "The Blue Bird," upon which the opera is based, has been familiar to admirers of Maeterlinck's art among the readers of his works and among the theatrical public. It was produced here at the Century Theatre, then called the New Theatre, on Oct. 2, 1910, when it created a deep impression by the beauty of the work itself, as well as of the performance.

On the face of it "The Blue Bird "is simply an imaginative fairy story. Tyltyl and Mytyl are the children of a poor woodchopper. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, but for them there is no tree nor Christmas stocking. Tucked into bed, and supposed to be asleep, they yield to the temptation to creep out and watch through the window the preparations for the holiday in a rich neighbor's home across the street.

The Fairy Story

While they are thus engaged the fairy Bérylune enters. She is a witch, and demands that the two children find and bring her the grass that sings and the Blue Bird, to restore to health and happiness her little child. Tyityl and Mytyl take it as a matter of course that they will go and the fairy gives Tyityl a magic cap set with a wonderful diamond which "gives new light to dimmed eyes," discloses the past and the future, shows the soul of things, and turns inanimate objects and dumb animals into speaking Creatures. Everything around the children begins to take life and voice - milk, sugar, light, bread, the fire, the cat, the dog. The window of the cottage suddenly opens, and the little party troops out into the night in quest of the blue bird.


First, they come to the Land of Memory. where they find Gaffer and Granny Tyl, long since dead, and their little brothers and sisters, who have also gone before; then to the Palace of Night, then to the Garden of Happiness, then to the Cemetery, finally to the Kingdom of the Future, where are all the children not yet born. They find various birds, some blue, some not blue enough, some that die when they are caught; but not the blue bird they seek. Having adventured much, they finally return to home and bed. With the morning comes neighbor Berlingot, who much resembles the fairy Bérylune, and who also wishes a bird to humor her little sick girl's fancy and restore her to health. The two children hand over their own modest little turtle dove, when they are amazed to find that he has turned blue. "Why, that's the blue bird we were looking for! We went so far, and he was here all the time! " So they give it, and with the gift the little neighbor recovers her health, and the audience has been touched by the blended beauty of it all.

It was probably inevitable that Maeterlinck's fairy tale should be transformed into an opera. As a spoken drama it is scarcely conceivable but that something of its significance and seductive beauty should be lost; and this was felt by many in the stage production of the play, admirable as it was in many respects. In reading this lovely fantasy there will be in the reader's mind a harmony between all the parts, a subtle blending of them into an imagined environment that the stage manager alone cannot produce. But music should be able to give the higher imaginative atmosphere to a picture that appeals so deeply to the imagination; should be able to impart a glow and a glamour to the stage presentation of Maeterlinck's story that the spoken word is too cold to convey. And glamour must be the essence of any attempt to bring this adventure of dream children before the eyes and ears of an audience. To put it upon the stage taxes the art of the stage manager, the scene painter, the carpenter, the electrician. Music is the solvent that can best bring all these efforts into harmony and show forth as a reality this dreamland of "once upon a time."

Imagination expressed in form and color, light and shadow, grace and simplicity, humor and tenderness and pathos expressed in action must go hand in hand with the sublimating power of music to create and maintain the illusion, to beguile the senses, to transport the listener's fancy into the intangible wonderland of the drama.

Wolff's Method One of Simplicity

If any had expected to find " The Blue Bird" either a second "Pelléas et Méllisande " or a second. "Hansel and Gretel, " they will be disappointed, and agreeably. For there can no more be a second "Pelléas " or a second" Hansel and Gretel" than there was a "Blue Bird." And so, fortunately, there was no attempt to reach either end of this very wide span. Mr. Wolff in writing his score attempted a task that might have presented many difficulties to a composer too ambitious. His method has been one of simplicity. He has taken as his book the play as Maeterlinck made.

Many speeches are shortened as is necessary in turning the spoken drama into the more deliberate movement of the opera, Some difficulties are avoided by the simple method of elimination; as in the case of the long scene in the wood, where the spirits of the trees come forth and unite with the animals to wreak vengeance on these children of the men who have oppressed them since the beginning of time - a scene as perplexing to the musician as to the stage manager and the actors. The scene in the fairy palace at the beginning of their adventures is also cut out for a similar reason.

Mr. Wolff's music is not of elusive subtlety at any point, nor is it sicklied o'er with any too pale cast of thought. There is plenty of hearty red blood coursing through it; there are also passages of delicate fancy. It is good French music of a moderate sort. This kind of opera might have called in the aid of the spirit of folksong; but this is not much in evidence. It does not appear that Mr. Wolff has gone consciously and deliberately to the French popular song for help or suggestion. Yet there are passages where the listener seems to hear a hint of the folk spirit. "The Bluebird" is by no means a French "Hansel and Gretel;" its simplicity is not really in the popular vein. Back of it, beneath and behind its exterior, there is a sophistication not to be overlooked. This exterior is one aspect, the one which Mr. Wolff has chosen to adopt as the suggestion or the melodious and picturesque music he has written. Simplicity rather than sophistication is its outstanding characteristic.

He writes as a modern Frenchman; he is a Frenchman of today, but he is not allied with the "left wing." Romaine Rolland remarked somewhere in his romance of "Jean Christophe " that every Frenchman has in the bottom of his heart a little of Massenet. Mr. Wolff is not one of the exceptions that are perhaps becoming the rule in these more recent days. There is frank and expressive melody in his music, not, of course, confined in set numbers, spontaneous and flexible in form, not ashamed of gayety or of sentiment, joined to an abundant freedom in modern harmonic expression. He writes with much versatility for the orchestra, with richness and vividness of color, frequently with brilliant illumination of the text. He is in this work no innovator, nor does he disclose a strong original talent. There are here and there many impressions, more or less fleeting of things already heard that are awakened in the memory, even though the finger is not often to be put upon them. Therein is perhaps one of the misfortunes to which the conductor who composes is exposed.

Continuous Declamation


The method of the music is that of continuous declamation of the lines in a more or less melodious recitative, with a running commentary in the orchestra; sometimes significantly thematic, sometimes slightly figured, sometimes expanding into more extended periods. Mr. Wolff's preoccupation is with the
orchestra. There are many scintillating passages enforcing and completing some of the brilliant and imposing effects of the stage, as when the curtain parts upon the great and gloomy hall of the Palace of the Night, and when the adventurous Tyltyl braves all and opens the middle door, the forbidden door, upon the dazzling garden of the bluebirds. There are passages of tenderness and gracious beauty, as that of the meeting of the children and their dead grandparents in the Land of Memory, where later the mood is enlivened to one of vivacity. There is an atmosphere of wonder in the scene of the Future. The music heard in the Garden of Happiness is singularly engaging in its apparent simplicity, and is sometimes curiously suggestive of Gluck.

There are orchestral Interludes: one that pictures the little party setting out from the bedroom on their quest; another when they have emerged from the Palace of Night, as Tyltyl loses hope, regains it and goes on more courageously than ever, an interlude with a "Rêverie" for violin solo introducing the entrance to the Kingdom of the Future. There is a delightfully rhythmical ballet of the Stars as they emerge from the opened door in the Palace of the Night; in the Garden of Happiness a pretty dance of the little "Bohneures."

Much of the success of "The Blue Bird" depends on the way in which the several scenes are brought before the eyes of the spectator; the way in which the designer and painter of the scenery, the costumer, the electrician execute the visible setting of the drama. In nothing is this production more fortunate than in the decorations that have been devised by Boris Anisfeld. These show an imaginative power, a poetic sense, a feeling for, color and design that have realized the poet's vision. Notable is the hall of the Palace of the Night, of what the Poet wished; to be "austere, rigid, metallic and sepulchral magnificence" in black marble, gold and ebony." The color is a darkly harmonious; yet here, as in a number of other places a false note of color is introduced by the use of a mauve pink light and a pink costume of a similar sort of shade at a point where it does some harm. The climax of this scene is the open*ing of the forbidden door upon the smiling, sunlit garden with its fantastic flights of bluebirds. Again the grandiose note is struck in the immense halls of the Kingdom of the Future, "infinite perspectives of sapphire columns supporting turquoise vaults; here, too, an effect of climax is reached in the opening of the great door at the back, showing opalescent clouds above a great galley standing with sails set ready to sail earthward. The calmer landscape mood of the cottage under the great tree in the Land of Memory, picturesquely unreal, at first hidden by the mists; the rich fantasy of unknown vegetation in the Garden of Happiness; the heavy drooping of great gray-green fire over the cemetery, are equally artistic and equally in the spirit of the poet's feigning.

So, too, with the costumes; the fantastic guise in which the. Dog, the Cat, Bread, Fire - a brother of Wagner's Loki - Water, Milk, Sugar appear, and the gorgeousness of Light - they are all a real help in carrying on the illusion and in telling the story. The throngs and the dances in the Palace of Night and the Garden of Happiness, the surging crowds of children in the Kingdom of the Future, are effectively managed.

The cast is one of the largest ever seen at the Opera House. There are no fewer than thirty-three characters enumerated in the house bill. The two children are admirably represented, Tyltyl, by Mme. Delaunois, Mytyl, by Mary Ellis, with spirit, with differentiation of character, with praiseworthy singing and expressive declamation. Leon Rothier and Louise Bérat are delightful as the grandfather and grandmother, and Mr. Rothier again as Father Time; Mme. Eastman and Mr. Ananian as the father and mother, and Mme. Eastman again as Maternal Love; Mme. Perini as Light, Miss Ingram as Night, Miss Gordon as the Fairy, and Mme. Berlingot were among those who made material contributions to this ensemble.

Mr. Wolff conducted his opera with great zeal and spirit, naturally, and secured admirable results from all concerned.




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