[Met Performance] CID:73730
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Zazą {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/16/1920.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 16, 1920
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


ZAZĄ {1}
Leoncavallo-Leoncavallo

Zazą....................Geraldine Farrar
Milio...................Giulio Crimi
Cascart.................Pasquale Amato
Anaide..................Kathleen Howard
Bussy...................Millo Picco
Natalia.................Minnie Egener
Mme. Dufresne...........Cecil Arden
Totņ....................Ada Quintina
Malardot................Angelo Badą
Floriana................Frances Ingram
Claretta................Phyllis White
Simona..................Veni Warwick
Michelin................Mario Laurenti
Augusto.................Pietro Audisio
Courtois................Louis D'Angelo
Duclou..................Pompilio Malatesta
Lartigon................Paolo Ananian
Marco...................Giordano Paltrinieri

Conductor...............Roberto Moranzoni

Director................Richard Ordynski
Set designer............James Fox

Zazą received nine performances this season.

[David Belasco, upon whose drama the libretto was based, attended rehearsals.]

Review of W. J. Henderson in the New York Sun

"Zaza," a lyric comedy in four acts after the play by Berton and Simon, text and music by Ruggero Leoncavallo, was performed for the first time in this city at the Metropolitan Opera House last evening. The history of the opera promises to bear a resemblance to that of the drama. The latter was produced in Paris with Mme. Rejane in the title role and it achieved a distinguished failure. Nevertheless the astute David Belasco, reading the reports, discerned in the drama possibilities which might be developed in favor of Mrs. Leslie Carter. He acquired the American rights to the play, taught Mrs. Carter how to impersonate the heroine and glory descended upon what was left of the creation of Berton and Simon.

Leoncavallo's opera has a record of failure. It may have been the eagle eye of Mr. Gatti-Casazza, but more likely was that of the eminent Mr. Lou Tellegen, which perceived in it the possibilities to be expanded into realties by the charm of Geraldine Farrar. But no matter how the opera came to be chosen for production at the Metropolitan, the fact was clear last evening that the magic kiss of Miss Farrar had awakened it from a long sleep. The town will know today that the popular American soprano has been equipped with a new role which fits her perfectly, and that Leoncavallo's "Zaza" is just Geraldine Farrar with vocal and scenic accessories.

For this reason the solemnity of criticism dissolves itself in amiable smiles. There is nothing of serious moment to be said about the late Mr. Leoncavallo's music. Considerable can be said about the play, and there will be much protesting by all those to whom the women mercilessly described by William Winter as "trollopes" are not fit subjects for dramatic treatment.

But discussion of the play must be futile. If you do not admit that the sorrows of a lady of untrammeled emotions should be set forth on any stage, you will decline to believe that there can be merit in such a drama in any circumstances. If you do believe in the analysis of wayward souls, then you will be greatly interested in Miss Farrar's impersonation. But in neither case will you be at all disturbed by the music.

Miss Farrar has had her successes in the portrayal of holy virgins and she has had her failures. With regret for a past entirely lost one recalls her Elisabeth in "Tannhaeuser." One remembers with greater distinctness her glorified Goose Girl in "King's Children." And there is the lachrymose Suor Angelica, holy, but not a virgin; a Mater Dolorosa in a nun's veil. And shall we add Ariane, or was she too much a woman to be of entirely spotless soul?

Miss Farrar's scarlet ladies rise quickly before the memory, but they permit dark desires to slumber in peace. One cannot omit mention of her Thais, who bravely labored to shamelessly be seductive, but was obviously doomed to sanctity from the instant of her first appearance on the stage. Her Carmen shows more temper than temperament. One recollects with a certain relish for sheer brutality her shocking incarnation of the besmirched Louise in the last act of "Jullien."

But not till last evening did Miss Farrar emerge into the glare of the footlights as the real siren. Never before did she reach the abandon of the creature of absolutely uncontrolled passion. In the opera of Leoncavallo she has found her opportunity, or did she perhaps find it in the faith of David Belasco, whose master craftsmanship seems to have moulded the Metropolitan production into a thing of vivid, scarlet, theatrical life.

The reader will notice that the reviewer harps "upon my daughter." The play and Miss Farrar are the things, not the music. There is music, to be sure, and some of it fits the crime perfectly. It neither illuminates nor interferes with the drama. It is often futile, often a mere blank, but by no means infrequently in excellent accord with the sentiment of the situation. If there are few vocal climaxes, the two or three that exist are theatrically well planned.

Zaza's sentimentalizing in the first scene about her bulbous mother makes the first appeal to Mr. Leoncavallo's lyric muse, which, however, finds something more important in the rapturous provision of Dufresne of his facile descent into the arms of Zaza, The second act affords less opportunity for the spreading of the wings of song of which Mendelssohn wrote so tenderly, but in the third there is room, and to spare. In politely agitated cantilena Dufresne apostrophizes his desk, which is littered like his heart. Later comes the well remembered scene between Zaza and the child. Ah, the child! What would the emotional drama be without the precocious juvenile actress? But in opera? Well, there was but one solution, to let the child speak its lines while the orchestra played suppressed sob music in a sort of suffocated whisper.

In the fourth act Leoncavallo almost reached the heart of the situation in his setting of the passionate outbreak of the faithful but neglected Cascart, an opportunity of which Mr. Amato made apt use and with which he stirred his hearers. The duet between Dufresne and Zaza is written by a practiced hand, but for the matter of that one can say the same of the entire score. There is even a love theme-such a dear old acquaintance-which wends its way from scene to scene and sighs its mellifulous life away over the corpse of exhausted passion.

But it is impossible to regard the music of this opera as a subject for critical analysis. It is facile, smooth, suitable and sometimes even felicitous, but it never leaves the stage for flights into the realm of imagination. In truth it is probable that general opinion will declare its best pages to be those of the first act, which take place behind the scenes of a music hall. Here indeed Leoncavallo has caught the spirit of the environment and has composed music gay, vivacious, bordering on vulgarity, devoid of depth and altogether appropriate.

This whole scene will be popular. Every one likes to peep into dressing rooms and touch the dangerous borders of the naughty world which is believed to hide in such regimes. "Zaza" presents an animated [version] of that fabled wickedness. All sorts of things go on, drinking, smoking, lovemaking, high kicking, kissing, sudden embraces, biting-but this is a family newspaper. The theatre of to-day does not shy at such doings, but the opera has been more decorous. Even Carmen is a New England schoolma'am compared to Zaza.

To return to Miss Farrar. Her impersonation is the opera. Let it be added that it is a work of art. She plays skillfully along the gamut of emotions. In the first scene she ranges from gayety to petulance and thence to passion. In the scene with the child and the brief episode with the wife she reaches the delineation of real feeling. No actress of the spoken drama could interpret the scene better than she. Her final act is equally good, albeit the material here is less difficult to manage. Miss Farrar usually improves in her roles. However, it might be hazardous to modify last evening's impersonation. The master hand had touched it, the hand of Belasco. It is likely that Miss Farrar will alter it to its benefit.

The production of the opera is what should be expected from the present direction of the Metropolitan. There is much merit in the scenic attire and in the general treatment of the action. There is little distinction in the portraiture of the chief actors. Mr. Crimi could not quite visualize the erring Dufresne, nor could he infuse into Leoncavallo's rather insipid music the note of feeling. His performance was creditable, inasmuch as it disclosed a sincere intent to meet the purposes of the dramatist.

As the patient Cascart Mr. Amato was histrionically admirable . He looked and acted the part. He sang it only tolerably. Kathleen Howard contributed a broadly drawn caricature of the role of Anaida, the mother of Zaza, and Frances Ingram as Floriana, a would-be rival of Zaza in music hall conquests, unveiled a generous picture of the siren charmer. But it was not within her power to equal the proportions of the massive pedestals upon which Miss Farrar reared her portrait of Zaza.



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