[Met Performance] CID:76450
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Don Carlo {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/23/1920.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debut: Gretel Urban

Metropolitan Opera House
December 23, 1920
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
In Italian

Giuseppe Verdi--François Joseph Méry/Camille du Locle

Don Carlo...............Giovanni Martinelli
Elizabeth of Valois.....Rosa Ponselle
Rodrigo.................Giuseppe De Luca
Princess Eboli..........Margarete Matzenauer
Philip II...............Adamo Didur
Grand Inquisitor........Louis D'Angelo
Celestial Voice.........Marie Sundelius
Friar...................William Gustafson
Tebaldo.................Ellen Dalossy
Count of Lerma..........Angelo Badà
Countess of Aremberg....Maria Savage
Herald..................Angelo Badà
Dance...................Rosina Galli
Dance...................Giuseppe Bonfiglio

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban [Debut]
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli
Translation by Lauzières, Zanardini

Don Carlo received seven performances this season.

[This production included the original Act I, the woods of Fontainebleau, and La Pérégrina, the classic ballet in Act III, Scene 1, a grotto in the queen's garden. The interview between Philip and the Grand Inquisitor in Act IV, Scene 1, however, was cut. At the time of her debut, Gretel Urban billed herself as Gretel Urban-Thurlow.]

[During its first three seasons, Don Carlo was presented under the title Don Carlos.]

Review of James Gibbons Huneker in The World

"Don Carlos"

"Don Carlos," grand opera by Verdi in four acts, was sung for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera House last night. The work was last heard there at the old Academy of Music in 1877 under the direction of Max Maretzek; therefore, it is a novelty for this generation. It was produced at the Grand Opera, Paris, March 11, 1867, during the period of the Universal Exposition, when the empire was literally dancing on the edge of a political volcano. The libretto, founded on the tragedy of the same name by Schiller, is by Mery and Camille du Locke, who wrote the prose story for "Aida." In the original production the role of Rodrigo was assumed and sung by Faure, the famous French baritone, but even his participation did not save the opera, which is inchoate as to plot and the score of unequal merit, though interesting to the student of Verdi's stylistic development. On the heels of "Don Carlos" trod "Aida," and for that reason we ought to be grateful to Manager Gatti-Casazza for his production. Otherwise, it can, this huge, lumbering machine, only enjoy here, as abroad, a success of curiosity.

The Schiller play is too old-fashioned and melodramatic for modern taste, but give it with a strong cast and the power and pathos of the plot, the vivid characterization, and the spouting "tirades" stand the fire of the footlights with brilliant results. It should be remembered that Schiller, notwithstanding his patriotism, was primarily a cosmopolitan. One idea possessed him from the cradle to the grave, liberty. It is the leading motive of "William Tell" as it is of the "Robbera" and "Don Carlos." Thanks to the bungling libretto, this bubbling bosh of the romantic love of Don Carlos, the son and heir of Philip II of Spain, with Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, plays an important part, in fact. Rodrigo is the true protagonist, not the rather weak and sickly sentimentalist that is the hero. But the liberty and brother love resolve themselves in a duo, stirring…

One spice of novelty may be found in the story; the hero has fallen in love with his stepmother, to be sure, the pair had plighted their troth in France, in the Forest of Fontainbleau, upon which scene the curtain rises. Now in Blackstone's Commentaries, beloved of all reasonable law students, there is an injunction to the effect that a man may not marry his grandmother, seemingly a needless warning, though you never can tell, in the Poe's fantastic tales a young man narrowly escapes, leading his grandmother to the altar. But a stepmother. Is there any objection in English common law to a man making love to his stepmother, even if he can't marry his sister-in-law? Certainly the temptation to do so is not always overwhelming. Elisabetta of Valois loves Don Carlos, but for reason of state is compelled to marry his father. She is resigned. Her lover rebels. Her love is chaste, though she appears to sizzle operatically; his passion takes refuge in tearful lyrics.

Princess Eboli loves Don Carlos. She betrays the Queen to the King. Carlos, who had already outraged the august feelings of his father by demanding mercy for the thrice-oppressed Flanders, is judged guilty of incest and sent to a gloomy dungeon. The Marquis of Posa visits him and as he is suspected of sedition toward church and state the Inquisition has him murdered as he talks to his friend. This assassination is without dramatic meaning, because in the libretto the preparation of the event is summarily treated. Most of the characters are operatic lay figures, especially the women.

There is much rumbling and futile attempts of the alleged guilty ones to explain. Don Carlos is whisked away in the awful arms of his royal ancestor, the ghost of Charles V. The Queen collapses, the King makes impotent motions. In the Schiller play Carlos is snatched by the Inquisition - that first aid to desperate dramatists. Verdi, who set so many bad librettos, succumbed to this stodgy mess. Yet the enormous melodic vitality of the Italian coped with the unrealities of the tale and, in more than one instance, successfully. There is the celebrated "Don Fatale," beloved war horse of contraltos and mezzo-sopranos, in which the Princess Eboli - Margaret Matzenauer laments her gift of fatal beauty and not as is often fancied, Don Carlos. As it does not lie well within the range of Mme. Matzenauer's voice, it was not altogether effective last night. But how dramatically she sang it. There are several duos, one trio and some solos that are dramatically intense, but the style is not homogeneous throughout. Verdi wobbles from the sublime to the trivial, though the dramatic accent is never absent.

There are echoes of his earlier music, premonitions of his later manner. "Otello" is hinted at in the orchestration. You hear "Les Huguenots" and strangely enough in the first song of Princess Eboli, charmingly delivered by Matzenauer, "In the Lovely Garden," "Carmen" is anticipated; possibly the source was Spanish; therefore common to Verdi and Bizet. The Marquis of Posa is well characterized and admirably realized by de Luca, while Didur made a superb portrait of the gloomy, bigoted, and jealous monarch, Philip II. His costume is a copy of the Titian at the Prado. Both these artists, Didur and de Luca, played with splendid results. Martinelli was the hero and sang with unusual spontaneity, though overweighted by his costume. He is singing and acting with fire this season.

Rosa Ponselle, upon whose big shoulders rested the ugly robes…Disappointing as she often is, we feel that the future is hers if she so wills it. She is in sad need of competent coaching. The native richness of her vocal and dramatic endowments - for there is plenty of temperament, latent as yet - ought to bear wonderful fruit sometime. A Caruso in petticoats? Who knows what she may achieve with labor rightfully directed (we repeat regretfully). She displayed emotional draught on this occasion, and with a role not nearly so "grateful" as Leonora in "La Forza del Destino" after all a top notch artistic achievement. But, as we said two seasons ago, this young woman has an arduous tramp before she attains the peak of operatic Parnassus. We hope she will succeed. In the interim she should reduce her too, too solid flesh. Matzenauer disfigured her majestic presence with an impossible wig at the rehearsal, but was raven black last night, to her great improvement.

The court of Phillip II lacked distinction, with the exception of Maria Savage, who minded the Countess of Arenberg, exiled by the angry King for allowing the Queen to remain alone with Carlos. This lady, an accomplished actress as to poses and pantomime, was the exponent in the scene who looked and acted like an aristocrat. The chorus sang well, there were chanting monks who reminded the cowardly, fanatical King that all vanity ended in dust. The chief monk was ably impersonated by Gustafson. A newcomer, a Hungarian, Miss Delossy, proved a welcome surprise, vocally and personally. She has an agreeable voice and is an intelligent actress. The Voice from Heaven was the voice of Marie Sundelius, therefore heavenly. The auto-da-fe missed fire, though we saw the smoke. Mr. Urban, to our way of thinking, has been happy in some of his new scenic sets. The cloister is atmospheric, with its dim, religious lighting and mysterious loggia and the landscape that is in Part II of the same act, he secures a picturesque ensemble not unlike one of Segantini's canvasses depicting the Engadine. The scale of greens and blues and browns are harmonious. To Mr. Papi goes the credit of an adequate performance. He has made cuts, he might make more; at least half an hour would not be missed. The official timekeeper of the establishment, Mr. Tom Bull, informed us that the dress rehearsal consumed three hours and thirty-six minutes. Too long, say we, for a composition that lacks a salient profile. However, it was received with enthusiasm by a large audience. Last but not least, Rosina Galli with the agile Bonfiglio, danced the Ballet of the Peasants, the music to which reveals little originality, but the convolutions and scene are gorgeous. "Don Carlos" as a transitional type in Verdi's artistic evolution is well worth seeing and hearing.

Photograph of Giovanni Martinelli in the title role of Don Carlo.

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