[Met Performance] CID:74150
New production
Parsifal {85} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/19/1920.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 19, 1920 Matinee
In English
New production


Parsifal................Orville Harrold
Kundry..................Margarete Matzenauer
Amfortas................Clarence Whitehill
Gurnemanz...............Léon Rothier
Klingsor................Adamo Didur
Titurel.................Paolo Ananian
Voice...................Jeanne Gordon
First Esquire...........Mary Ellis
Second Esquire..........Jeanne Gordon
Third Esquire...........Octave Dua
Fourth Esquire..........Mario Laurenti
First Knight............Angelo Badà
Second Knight...........Louis D'Angelo
Flower Maidens: Marie Sundelius, Mary Ellis, Raymonde Delaunois,
Margaret Romaine, Marie Tiffany, Jeanne Gordon

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky
Director................Richard Ordynski
Designer................Joseph Urban

Translation by Henry E. Krehbiel, musical editor of the New York Tribune.

Parsifal received six performances this season.

Review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times

Wagner's "Parsifal" was given yesterday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time since the United States began its part in the war. There was a very large audience, such an audience as the performances of "Parsifal" in days gone by used to attract. The previous performance was on Good Friday, 1917, April 6, the day the United States entered the war.

It was in many ways a different "Parsifal" that was heard yesterday. It was given in English, in a translation made for the Metropolitan Opera Company by H. E. Krehbiel. All the important singers in the cast were new to it except Mme. Matzenauer, the Kundry, and Mr. Clarence Whitehill, the Amfortas. Both of these artists took part in the last previous performance, and Mr. Bodanzky now, as then, conducted. There was a completely new scenic decoration for the music drama. And, most important of all, there had been a restudy of the work, a new consideration of the problems that confront conductors and singers, the "reading."

The performance was, on the whole, a fine one, though different in important respects from those that this public has been accustomed to. The most important of the new features was, of course, the English in which the singing was done. Something was said last Sunday in this newspaper about the quality of the translation made by Mr. Krehbiel. It will be put easily at the head of "Parsifal" translations in the dignity, beauty and appropriateness of the diction employed. It is a piece of literature, the work of a scholar, a student of the Wagnerian drama for many years, a musician as well as a literary man, thus cognizant of the practical as well as the aesthetic requirements of such a translation. It may be said that it meets a very high test of a translation in not reading or sounding like one, but like a piece of English verse written for its special purpose.

This "Parsifal" comes at once to the bar of English opera to answer the question how much was understood by the listeners; in how far did it meet one of the chief performances in the vernacular by making itself intelligible? The answer will probably depend on a number of different things; in what part of the house it was heard, how heavy the orchestration was in any particular passage, and what singer was singing. Mr. Harrold, as Parsifal, made himself best understood of any of the singers; his English diction is excellent, and especially when he was supported by a lightly scored orchestra line after line of his speeches could be understood. Mr. Whitehill, the Amfortas, was also in many passages easily intelligible.

It is natural that the English-speaking singers should be most successful in this-though there have been occasions when they have not been. Mr. Rothier was unfortunately not able to get many of his English phrases over the footlights. Those he did were marked not unnaturally by more or less French accent. Nor was Mme. Matzenauer uniformly successful in her diction or her pronunciation. So far as at least one listener was concerned, the total number of comprehended lines was disappointingly small. Words, phrases, were often to be caught; a whole line or a whole sentence, unfortunately, rather seldom.

The performance had much that was fine; it could not in all respects bear comparison with the best that are remembered at the Metropolitan since 1903, but so many of the cast were new in their parts that much improvement may be expected from greater familiarity. Mr. Bodanzky's conducting was masterly throughout. He gave a performance of the orchestral score of great richness, finish of detail and beauty of tone. It was remarkable, as it was in other days, for the great skill with which he kept it below the voices, never overwhelming them, and yet moving in a ceaseless dramatic flux, reaching infinitude of dynamic gradations and climaxes and of eloquent expression.

Mr. Harrold, if not the most impressive of Parsifals, acted with great skill and understanding and sang well, though perhaps he is not so much at home in this music as in that of another kind. Mr. Whitehill's Amfortas is well remembered and is as fine as ever. Mme. Matzenauer is perhaps not so successful as Kundry as she is in some other parts. Passages of the music seem high for her; and in places where she needed an equable mezza voce, as in the temptation scene, her voice was unsteady. Mr. Rothier's impersonation of Gurnemanz is a most interesting one, sympathetic, touching, deeply human; a striking illustration of how so accomplished an actor can find himself in a part so thoroughly strange to him as this one must be. In the garden scene the chorus of the flower girls was a little acidulous; and doubtless will sweeten with greater practice. The grail knights sang well, though certain dangerous passages in intonation were not always successfully passed.

The new scenery in large part commands admiration. It is "Parsifal" sensed by an entirely new imagination. There is a special curtain used before all the scenes, after the raising of the familiar gold brocade; a dim fantasy of Titurel's vision, Parsifal holding the spear and gazing in ecstasy upon a slim figure with the glowing grail. There was disappointment for some in the setting of the first scene. This should be "a forest glade, over which the surrounding trees cast a shade which lends it solemnity without gloom: From the middle foreground there is a gradual slope downward to a deep-lying forest lake."

There is no "forest glade." There is a single line of tall trees whose lowest branches interlace so as to form symmetrical Gothic arches; the effect is less of a forest glade than of a rustic arbor in natural wood. The lake is there, but not a "forest lake." Its further shores is a rugged rocky cliff and on its green surface there seem to float ice floes-yet this cannot be in the mountains of Gothic Spain, where Monsalvat stands. For most, the beautiful forest glade of the old setting, with its real forest lake, is the truer, more imaginative picture.

The Hall of the Grail is superbly figured in the new scenery. The cupola is suggested rather than shown, supported by half a dozen gigantic columns. The wall surface seems a delicately tinted dull mosaic. The whole effect is finer and more architectural than that of the old setting. Klingsor's castle shows a massive wall, beyond which is seen only the green glowing sky. There is no "room," but a curious sort of pulpit, in which Klingsor works his magic, overlooking a deep pit toward the audience and looking into space beyond the wall. It is all curious, inexplicable, and perhaps it ought to be. When this scene vanishes the magic garden that appears is richly adorned with strange blooms like gigantic harebells, yellow, orange, scarlet. Rich draperies
of blossoms hang from the trees. There are the suggestions of Arabic ornament on the stonework and the castle wall. In the middle of the garden is a little domed pagoda, in which Kundry appears. when her time comes. Against the sky lies the sharp outline of a snow-clad mountain.

The demolition of the castle and the garden at Parsifal's exorcism is presented more subtly than in the old scenic version. When the crash comes, complete darkness supervenes; then, as through a torn mist, Parsifal is seen dimly with the spear erect, saying his last words to the prostrate Kundry. Once more there is a new touch in the scene of Gurnemanz's hut as the third act opens. It is beneath a beetling cliff. On the other side is the edge of a dark forest; between them rolling hills, clad in vernal green, stretching away to a distant mountain. There was plenty of applause after the second act, and the chief singers as well as those otherwise largely concerned in the performance came and bowed.

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