[Met Performance] CID:82700
New production
Guillaume Tell [William Tell] {15} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/5/1923.

(Debuts: Jessie York, August Berger

Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 5, 1923
In Italian
New production


GUILLAUME TELL [WILLIAM TELL] {15}
Rossini-Jouy/Bis/Marrast

Guillaume Tell............Giuseppe Danise
Mathilde................Rosa Ponselle
Arnold..................Giovanni Martinelli
Walter..................José Mardones
Gesler..................Adamo Didur
Melcthal................Louis D'Angelo
Hedwige.................Flora Perini
Jemmy...................Marie Sundelius
Fisherman...............Max Bloch
Leuthold................Millo Picco
Rodolphe................Angelo Badà
Dance...................Florence McNally
Dance...................Jessie York [Debut]
Dance...................Jane Overton
Dance...................Jessie Rogge

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Vittorio Rota
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Choreographer...........August Berger [Debut]
Translation by unknown

William Tell received seven performances this season.

[The Overture was played before Act II.]


Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America:

Rossini, as all his commentators make known, sought to write in a new idiom when he composed "Tell." It was the first of a projected series of five operas for Paris, and it implied a consciously altered orientation. The patter of somersaulting vocables, the brilliance of bravura ornamentation, the lively pace of his most characteristic melodies, the glibness of his secco and the famous Rossini crescendo-all hallmarks of his Italian manner-were discarded. Influenced by Spontini, Méhul and others, and sensing something of what was to come in Meyerbeer and the grand manner, he strove to be "serious." He had been studying Beethoven's symphonies with Habeneck, and he knew that in northern Europe his lilting earlier works were regarded as frivolous and superficial. "Faust" was to have been his next undertaking after "Tell," Goethe's philosopher having come into his ken along with Schiller's patriot.

Adopted French Formulas

In accepting the libretto proffered him by Etienne Jouy, Spontini's old collaborator, and Hippolyte Bis, Rossini committed himself to a type of opera essentially French and therefore utterly foreign to him, an Italian of Italians. His copious flow of ideas did not desert him as the many fine choruses and the succession of melodious solos still prove, but in seeking French "dignity" and the French "sense of proportion and breadth" (as the feuilletonists of the day described his newer aims) he wrote what comes to the ear today as high-sounding and grandiloquent. He adopted French formulas which conventionalized his utterance and robbed it of its individuality. "The Barber of Seville" is a work unsurpassed in its genre - save, of course, those of Mozart's operas which have something of the same intent-but "William Tell" does not reach the meridian of pompous splendor achieved by the later operas of the grand manner.

The score's lack of characterization and of delineative aptness, as those elements are viewed today, takes from it the pretensions it once had to being something other than a parade of melodies in set forms. In point of dramatic construction it has the patent absurdities expected of a work of the period, perhaps no more and no less than any Meyerbeer, Halevy or early Verdi opera. It is forever starting and stopping and then starting again, with not a few instances of an empty stage between the set numbers. Many of the airs and choruses have their measure of Rossinian inspiration, and they can be listened to today with pleasure, but they by no means cast in a shadow the melodies of earlier and less vaunted Rossini.

As has been true of most of the representations given "William Tell" since its premiere in Paris in 1829, liberal cuts were made in the score last Friday, the final scene being reduced to little more than a tableau. Rossini wrote five acts, but one and sometimes two usually disappeared when the opera was staged. A performance in Paris in 1856 which abjured all cuts began at seven o'clock in the evening and lasted until one in the morning. There are few such gluttons for punishment in New York audiences. The Metropolitan representation, using the four-act version, with two scenes in the last act, began at eight and was over at a few minutes past eleven. Much might be recounted of the history of the work, and there are many amusing anecdotes which could be related, but anyone interested can turn at his convenience to a wealth of literature on the subject. There are veteran opera-goers in New York who remember not only the Metropolitan representations of 1894, in which Tamagno was the chief luminary, but those of the German company under Leopold Damrosch in the eighties. A more limited number can tell from their own store of experience of the success of Mierzwinski as Arnold in the Mapleson performances at the Academy and of Patti's assumption of the part of Mathilde. The contretemps when Libia Drog forgot her words and stood helpless and silent, after having begun Mathilde's second act solo, and when Tamagno, unable to aid her, fled from the stage, remains a favorite story with the graybeards.

Curiously enough, New York has never heard the work sung in French, the language of the original, though it was as "Guillaume Tell" that the opera was first heard in America in 1842, New Orleans having been the city of its introduction. Manhattan has had performances in Italian, German and English, and it was the Italian version; with the title listed as "Guglielmo Tell," which the Metropolitan's largely Italian cast sang at this revival.

Cast Proves Admirable One

Giuseppe Danise was Mr. Gatti's selection for the baritone part of Tell. He sang richly and well and acted with the most commendable restraint. Nothing in the opera was more gratifying or artistic than his delivery of Tell's adjuration to his son, "Resta Immobile," at the moment of preparation for the supreme test of his marksmanship-the shooting of the apple from Jemmy's head in the square at Altdorf.

To Giovanni Martinelli fell the task of coping with the exceptionally high and very taxing role of Arnold, on which the success of the opera in the past seems always to have pivoted. Nourrit created it, Duprez gloried in it, Tamberlik found it just what he needed to exploit his prodigious upper tones, and Tamagno gave to it his wealth of stentorian powers. Right manfully did Mr. Martinelli measure up to its demands for prodigality of voice, both in volume of tone and merciless expenditure of top notes. More than in any previous undertaking, he seemed a "tenor de force," as Tamberlik was styled. If he was somewhat spent after the "Muto Asil" air of the last act, it was not to be wondered at, for the pace he set for himself was an altogether strenuous one.

Rosa Ponselle, who has returned to the Metropolitan becomingly slender, was an admirable Mathilde. Her one solo, the air "Selva Opaca," was gratefully sung, and her big voice played no small part in the impressive effect of the last act finale.

Marie Sundelius added another to her recent successes as Jemmy, singing her music with charm and beautiful tone and giving a measure of conviction t her depiction of the boy, in spite of a costume which suggested a Vassar or Bryn Mawr gymnasium rather than medieval Switzerland.

Others in the cast were José Mardones, whose big and resonant voice gave weight and sonority to the music of Walter; Louis D'Angelo, excellent as Melchthal; Max Bloch, who returned to the company after an absence of several years to sing the Fisherman's air of the first act, a difficult task well performed; Millo Picco as Leuthold, Angelo Bada as Rudolph and Flora Perini as Hedwig. Separate mention must be made of Adamo Didur's portrayal of Gessler. He gave to that rather preposterous operatic villain something of the pictorial quality that has distinguished so many of his roles.

Chorus and Ballet Prominent

"William Tell" abounds in ensemble singing, not only in many choral numbers, but duets, trios and the like. The first-act scene between Arnold and Tell, including the tenor air, "Ah, Matilde, io t'amo amore," and the famous trio of the second act, "La gloria infiamma" for Arnold, Tell and Walter, stood out with their traditional effulgence. If there was something of tedium in the music of the gathering of the clans, the "Tyrolienne" chorus remained one of the most effective moments of the score.

The dances of the third act were altogether charming, employing, as they did, the male members of the ballet who have not been much occupied recently, and some of the children, as well as the fair femininity of the corps. There was also a divertissement in the first act of a less pretentious nature, in which a shooting pantomime gave indications that the youth of the canton were better dancers than they were archers.

Gennaro Papi, who conducted, applied himself industriously to his task of keeping the opera moving, and guided the orchestra in a performance of the ineluctable overture-shifted to a place between the first and second acts, so as to be heard by the usual late comers-which so pleased the audience that there was a rather determined effort to force him to repeat it. The applause which followed its familiar gallopade was the heaviest of the evening.



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