[Met Performance] CID:85260
Mefistofele {44} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/26/1923.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 26, 1923


MEFISTOFELE {44}
Boito-Boito

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

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Designer................Boris Anisfeld
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli

Mefistofele received four performances this season.


Unsigned review in Musical America:

In Russia Chaliapin is a man of many parts, but here, as he is reported to have remarked, he is generally required to play the devil. Certainly the repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera last week would have justified such a complaint, except that the arrangement was one for congratulations rather than lamentations. Mr. Chaliapin was asked to play the devil twice, first in Boito's
"Mefistofele" and then in Gounod's "Faust."

The performances of these works brought excellent opportunities to other leading members of the company. Frances Alda was the heroine on each occasion, Beniamino Gigli sang Faust in "Mefistofele," and Giovanni Martinelli was allotted the name part in the Gounod work. However, the most spectacular feat was reserved for Mr. Chaliapin.

Here was material to appeal to the actor as well as the singer, and the Russian bass rose to it in such a way that in "Faust," on Friday night, something of the magic enthusiasm which marked the great artist's return to us in "Boris" two seasons ago was recaptured by the audience. It was Chaliapin's first appearance as Mephistopheles since he came out of Soviet Russia, but a New York audience saw him in the role when he was here in 1908

Anyone who took the opportunity of making a close comparison of the Russian artist's two performances last week found further proof of his superb art. He reveled in this gesture permitted by the management. On Monday he was the sinister, frowning figure of the Italianized "Faust." On Friday he threw off his somber trappings and stood forth in the flaming red garb of the French tempter, a gay devil, ready with song and even horse-play when the action suggested the possibility of a startling prank. True, the spirit was always one of mockery, and if the comedy was sometimes broad and rollicking it was none the less effective.

A Memorable Performance

This was a funny devil indeed, so irresistible in the first two acts that one wondered how he would be devilish in real earnest when he reached the church scene. However, one reckoned without one's Chaliapin. He was terrific in hounding the broken Marguerite, and the last flourish of his black cloak, as he vanished beneath the earth, gave a startling touch of realism to an episode which more often than not proclaims the existence of the sliding trap. Here was a dark thing of evil, swallowed by the ground, swept away as if enveloped in a swirl of heavy smoke.

Yet this Mephistopheles came forth again to frisk through the scene of the serenade and the duel, to strike another attitude with that flowing black cloak, raising it on his sword point, and sweeping Faust away as if under a streaming pennant of sin. It was theatrical, but it was magnificent.

Theatrical, but magnificent! There you have the whole story of this Mephistopheles. See Chaliapin in "Mefistofele" and you see a figure consistently malevolent, weaving his snares while his eyes burn from beneath the cowl of a monk, lording it with sinister strength over the witches' orgy. But in the Gounod version, this Chaliapin has no delusions about the nature of the rôle, and he plays it for all he is worth, plucking Siebel from his path, literally, so that Siebel can only kick with feet above the ground; emphasizing his mocking grin with fitting gestures, and repeating these gestures; swaggering, romping, and posturing. In truth it is a performance to remember.

In song, Chaliapin's sonorous organ made fine music of the first scene with Faust last week. He reveled in "The Calf of Gold," and responded to an overwhelming ovation by repeating the second verse. The Serenade, also was admirably done.

Alda's Fine Achievement

Altogether, this first "'Faust" of the season was very fine vocally. Mme. Alda sang the heroine with charm of clear voice that easily brought her full honors. It was a week of rich achievement for the soprano. The two Marguerites are necessarily more alike than the two devils, but Mme. Alda was careful to draw certain lines of distinction, befitting the musical contrasts. Her voice was never better than in this present season. On Monday she sang the airs of Boito exquisitely, and she was none the less entrancing in the light music of Gounod on Friday.

With the further exception of Kathleen Howard, who impersonated two markedly different Martas in manner quite excellent, the casts of the two operas differed, and they are best considered in chronological order.

Gigli Sings Beautifully

Beniamino Gigli had a fine night as the Faust of "Mefistofele." His appearance in one of his most favored parts for the first time in a season is always an event, and there was no exception to the rule on Monday. With each season, Gigli is growing as an actor, and in the Boito opera his work is excellent. If the beauty of his voice overshadows the other details of his characterization, it is because of the surpassing nature of that voice. There is a wealth of material in Boito's score to bring out the quality of the tenor's song, and last week he achieved another triumph. Frances Peralta did well as Elena in the Grecian scene, and Flora Perini also was admirable as Pantalis. Angelo Bada as Wagner and Giordano Paltrinieri as Nereo completed the cast. Roberto Moranzoni made the most of the impressive orchestral passages.



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