[Met Performance] CID:8550
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Norma {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/27/1890.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Reviews / Chapter: Lilli Lehmann as Norma)

Metropolitan Opera House
February 27, 1890
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
In German

Bellini-F. Romani

Norma...................Lilli Lehmann
Pollione................Paul Kalisch
Adalgisa................Betty Frank
Oroveso.................Emil Fischer
Flavio..................Albert Mittelhauser
Clotilde................Louise Meisslinger

Conductor...............Walter Damrosch

Director................Theodore Habelmann

Translation by unknown

Norma received three performances this season.

[This performance was a benefit to supplement the earnings of Lilli Lehmann.]

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times

There was a curious mixture of atmospheres at the Metropolitan Opera House last evening. Bellini's "Norma," one of the star works of the Italian repertory and one of the most characteristic of the operas of the old style, was sung by German, with that devotion and earnestness which mark Teutonic labors in dramatic art. It would have not been difficult to forecast the results. They were precisely such as one might have expected. The dramatic aspects of the evening's work was notable. All concerned in the performance acted and sang with the greatest earnestness. It was in those flexible graces of song in which the Italians excel that the Germans were deficient.

The opera was chosen by Frau Lehmann for her benefit, and from a financial point of view her selection was a very wise one. This public is sufficiently familiar with her interpretation of dramatic rôles in which facile vocalization has no special part, and there was, of course, no small curiosity to hear her in a rôle combining dramatic sentiment with colorature singing. From an artistic point of view the choice does not seem to be so commendable. There is no artistic reason why Lilli Lehmann should present herself to the New York public as a colorature singer. She may have been actuated by a not unnatural desire to display her versatility, but to get up a performance of Bellini's "Norma" for her benefit savors rather of self-esteem than of a strong devotion to honest art. Chorley, to be sure, declares that "Norma" is Bellini's most dramatic opera, and he is quite right. It is very dramatic indeed - for Bellini.

But the time has gone by when the serious music lovers of this community can be induced to accept "the worn-out elementary rhythms" of the Italian stage and its surprising fiorituri, against which even Fétis cried out as dramatic. The old-fashioned Italian opera can only maintain its hold as an excuse for exhibitions of vocal technique, and it is pretty safe to say that Lilli Lehmann selected "Norma" for that very purpose. She was probably anxious to score a success in a style of singing with which her name and fame have not been associated. She certainly met with popular success. She demonstrated that her voice possessed far more flexibility and that she had a greater command of the pure ornamentation of signing that anyone suspected, and so long is it since the public has heard so excellent an exhibition of this sort that the audience was fairly carried away.

It must be said, however, that Frau Lehmann took many of the elaborate ornamental passages at a very moderate tempo and sang them with very evident labor, thus depriving them of much of that brilliancy which the smooth, mellow, pliable Italian voices impart to them. Fiorituri without brilliancy have no "raison d' étre," and no Italian diva of standing would have received half the applause that Fräu Lehmann did for singing these passages as she did. The audience was excited by astonishment at the fact that she could do it at all.

The singer's real success was greatest in the sincerity and forcefulness of the histrionic side of her work, and in the singing of those numbers in which her tragic power was of more value than the lamented Bellini's lyric lace work. She was an imposing and beautiful figure as the erring and wronged priestess, and she never sang Brünnhilde with more vigor and feeling. But after all we must confess that we have heard a number of singers on the Italian stage whose rendering of the ornamental passages would have caused us much less anxiety. Frau Lehmann is one of the greatest living dramatic sopranos. She should remain content with fame.

Herr Kalisch was a very acceptable Pollione, or Server, as he was called in the German version. He was earnest, vigorous, and picturesque, and displayed a few high notes which some may not have suspected him of possessing. But he, too, labored under the disadvantage of finding some of the involved passages difficult. Fräulein Frank was a harmless Adalgisa, and Herr Fischer was a rotund and dignified Oroveso. Fräulein Meisslinger was an acceptable Clothilde. The chorus was excellent, and so was the orchestra. Walter Damrosch conducted admirably. The house was phenomenally large and the enthusiasm was great.

Review of Henry Krehbiel in the Herald

It was scarcely necessary that a benefit performance should have been arranged for Madame Lehmann to vindicate the significance which she has attained in the operatic activities of the American metropolis. No one can have followed the doings at the Metropolitan Opera House without having reached the conclusion long ago that a tremendously large proportion of the proud achievements of that institution is directly due to the genius and devotion of this marvelously gifted woman. So far as the extra performance enabled the public to testify their appreciation of her merits in an especial manner, and to put that testimony in a form more substantial than joyful noise and ruddied palms, it was, of course, beautiful and gratifying. Still, it is much to be hoped that the custom, which is not without its threats of danger to the permanency of German opera, will not become fixed. If this could not be said without reflecting upon the noble artistic attributes of Madame Lehmann, it would be churlish to say it; but the unselfishness with which she has contributed her labors to advance the cause of a broader and better artistic culture than the old conception of opera stood for, justifies the utterance from a source that has surely never been niggardly in praising her who is beyond peradventure one of the greatest lyric artists alive.

It requires no deep penetration to discover why Madame Lehmann chose "Norma" for her benefit. It enabled her to add another to the many proofs which she has given in the past of her great versatility as a singer. It also served to disprove in part the assertion so frequently made that devotion to the lyric drama in its latest and most significant phase necessarily precludes excellence in the old-domain of beautiful singing. So far as Madame Lehmann is concerned such a criticism ought never to have been uttered, for nothing has been plainer during the five years of her American sojourn than the fact that the superlative merit of her performances in Wagner's dramas has been as much due to the soundness and thoroughness of her specifically musical training as to the extraordinary character of her natural endowments. Over and over again she has presented herself as a model which the ambitious young singers of today ought to study with a sense of particularly keen gratitude for the opportunity which her presence vouchsafes them. Perhaps her splendidly effective performance in a role which has never had fewer capable representatives than just now will help to a more general recognition of this truth; and thus one more merit be found for the unexpected revival of " Norma," which, be it also said, is not without its merits of another kind. There are many things in this old opera which are dignified and beautiful in a dramatic as well as an absolutely musical sense.

Review / Chapter: Lilli Lehmann as Norma.

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