[Met Performance] CID:82180
Mefistofele {40} Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 11/28/1922.

(Review)


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 28, 1922


MEFISTOFELE {40}

Mefistofele.............Fyodor Chaliapin
Faust...................Beniamino Gigli
Margherita..............Frances Alda
Elena...................Frances Peralta
Wagner..................Giordano Paltrinieri
Marta...................Flora Perini
Pantalis................Flora Perini
Nerčo...................Giordano Paltrinieri

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

Review (unsigned) in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

CHALIAPIN HEARD IN 'MEFISTOFELE'

Season of Grand Opera by New York Company at the Academy

A Fine Performance of Boito's Romantic Opera Applauded by Brilliant Audience

The season of grand opera for 1922-23 was auspiciously opened at the Academy of Music last evening in the presence of a large and brilliant audience with a fine performance by the New York Metropolitan Opera Company of Boito's romantic and spectacular opera "Mefistofele," which was given with a cast presenting Beniamino Gigli in the part of Faust and Feodor Chaliapin and Mme. Frances Alda appearing as Mephistofeles and Marguerite respectively.

Of the three best known and most important settings of Goethe's poetic and philosophical drama it is perhaps alike to the spirit and to the letter of the original. There is no denying either the melodic charm of the dramatic interest of the version which is by far the most popular of any, and in which a genuine creation of genius must be recognized, but the libretto of Gounod's immortal opera is not much more than a simple love story in which Mephisto is divested of any Satanic malignity and is reduced to the proportions of a demoralizing, boring companion, and in which the element of the supernatural is deliberately relegated to the rear. Barbier and Carre were far more solicitous of knocking together a good working play than they were of transferring any of Goethe's philosophy or mysticism to the lyric stage.

In these respects the "Damnation of Faust" of Berlioz more nearly approaches a realization of the unattainable, and is therefore deserving of a more serious consideration. In its imaginative power as in its melodic beauty his music is wonderfully fine, while for the manner in which it communicates a sense of the supernal and evokes visions of other worlds than ours, it is quite unsurpassed and unsurpassable. Who can conceive of a more vivid world picture of fairy land than some passages of his covey! Unfortunately, the artistic value of "La Damnation de Faust" is sadly impaired by the defects of its dramatic construction. It is not so much a play as a succession of loosely related episodes. Its characters are devoid of vitality and substance, and because of its incoherence, because of the lack of any logical development, its attainment to any high degree of impressiveness is hopelessly precluded.

It may be objected that neither is Boito's book a compact and dramatically consequential creation, and that is true enough; but it does afford a comprehensive survey of Goethe's poem such as no other attempts. It conducts the spectator over the whole distance which the German master's drama traverses, from the prologue in heaven through the streets of Frankfurt and the heights of the Brocken to the Elysian fields of classic Greece, and back to the study where the action began, and throughout its course from first to last the supernatural factor is affirmed and stress is laid upon the malignity of the Satanic being by whom the tragedy has been conceived and is being constructed. Nor is there any suggestion of bon hommie about the Mephisto of Boito's portrayal. He is a cruel devil whose grotesque repulsiveness is a true index to his evil nature, whose attitude toward humanity is one of appalling malevolence, and whose only satisfaction is to torment the victims of his deception.

Such are the ideas by which Chaliapin's conception of the character is animated and which in his impersonation of it are worked out with an extraordinary skill in the elaboration of illustrative detail, and with a remarkable range of picturesque effect and emotional intensity. It seems strange that when Chaliapin first assumed the role in this city which was on November 28, 1907, in association with Geraldine Farrar, Marie Rappold and Riccardo Martin, more attention should have been given to what was then considered the extravagant and outlandish way he dressed the part than to the way in which he sang and acted it. Last night his costumes were certainly far from being conventional, but they did not produce the former shock and it was the power of his vocalization and the intensity of his dramatic emotion that riveted the attention and aroused the admiration of a spell-bound audience. No less than his Boris Godunoff, Chaliapin's Mephisto is a genuine and deeply impressive creation.

It will be understood that it was the salient feature of the performance, but there were others in the cast who justly shared with the great Russian the honors of the evening, and who materially contributed to the success that was achieved. As has been said the character of Marguerite was assumed by Mme Frances Alda, whose representation of it in every way was one of ideal merit. In looks, actions and in voice her Marguerite was altogether charming. Her vis-a-vis was that fine tenor, Beniamino Gigli, who has taken a merited place among the leading tenors of the day, and who not only possesses a beautiful voice, but who has acquired a cultivated art, which enables him to use it to the best advantage. He sang his music with much fluency and expression and acted with spirit and intelligence. There have been more romantic Fausts than he, but that is another story.

Others in the cast were Mme. Peralta, who made a tuneful and stately Helen of Troy, and Mme. Perini, who doubled the parts of Marta and Pantalis. The opera was handsomely and picturesquely mounted and appropriately costumed and the ballet in the Brocken scene was sufficiently good to be an enjoyable feature of the evening's entertainment. Moranzoni conducted.



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