[Met Performance] CID:88510
La Juive {32} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/12/1924.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 12, 1924


LA JUIVE {32}
F. Halévy-Scribe

Rachel..................Florence Easton
Eléazar.................Giovanni Martinelli
Princess Eudoxie........Charlotte Ryan
Prince Léopold..........Ralph Errolle
Cardinal de Brogni......Léon Rothier
Ruggiero................Arnold Gabor
Albert..................Louis D'Angelo
Herald..................James Wolfe
Major-domo..............James Wolfe
Dance...................Rosina Galli
Dance...................Giuseppe Bonfiglio

Conductor...............Louis Hasselmans

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli

La Juive received five performances this season.

Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

Metropolitan Restores "La Juive" to Rèpertoire After Four Years' Absence

Not so much a revival as a resumption, Halèvy's "La Juive" flaunted its banners at the Metropolitan again on Friday night for the first time in four seasons. Still brilliant in the brave panoply provided for it in 1919, when it emerged from the half-forgotten past as a novantique, it paraded its princesses and prelates, flashed its swords and halberds, pitted Jew against Gentile, mingled the vengeful with the pietistic, invoked the aid of a spectacular ballet and ended in a grisly plunge into boiling oil - heaping pageantry, melodrama, every conceivable emotion and much stentorian singing in a manner inevitably Meyerbeerian - and yet remained an opera of no small measure of musical charm.

This was its first performance at the Metropolitan since that unforgettable Christmas Eve when Enrico Caruso, the greatest of Eleazars, wore the mask of opera for the last time while in a crucifixion of pain. The Rachel of that cast, Florence Easton, reappeared at Friday night's performance, and two others familiar in the earlier representations - Leon Rothier as Cardinal Brogni and Louis d'Angelo as Ruggiero - contributed to the feeling that the opera had never been very far from the proscenium. With Urban's beautiful settings apparently as fresh as when new and with Rosina. Galli, Giuseppe Bonfiglio and the children's ballet again entrancing in virtually the same divertissements as before, only one really salient difference was to be noted. Caruso was gone - and with him vanished not only a heavenly mezza-voce that in the Passover scene thrilled the most sophisticated listeners to the verge of tears, but a character portrayal which by its own genius almost succeeded in lifting the antiquated melodramatic plot, creaking on its hinges, into the rarer atmosphere of music drama.

The new Eleazar, Giovanni Martinelli, was a highly successful one. He sang with a plenitude of ringing, stirring tone. He met some of the more strenuous exactions of the music with more of certitude than Caruso - for the sovereign tenor's high tones were showing the ravages of the pounding he long had given them. The plaudits for Martinelli after the third act lament were as thunderous as those given Caruso and not in many seasons has he been called so many times before the curtain. Moreover, the rôle was intelligently and sympathetically acted and free of both stiffness and exaggeration. For some, it followed a little too closely (and needlessly so) the general lines of Caruso's portrait, which was not altogether in accord with the traditions. Caruso's comedy, which played no small part in humanizing the figure of Eleazar, was his own interpolation. It was delightful, but not inevitable. By sacrificing something of the dignity with which others have clothed the part Caruso gained in power of characterization, but in a way peculiar to his own personality. Martinelli's methods were similar and, as already stated, highly successful. Perhaps they will become more individual as he grows deeper in the role.

With due credit given, it remains to be chronicled that Eleazar was but one of three outstanding personages in the restoration. He shared about equally in importance with Mr. Rothier's Cardinal and Miss Easton's Rachel. The former remains as fine an achievement as the veteran French bass has encompassed in his fourteen years at the Metropolitan and, more than any other figure in the opera, he approached in voice, appearance and bearing "the grand manner" of "La Juive's" heyday.

Miss Easton is singing too hard. Cast too frequently in heroic roles, she plainly is drawing very heavily on her vocal resources and on her physical vitality as well. One can only marvel at the manner in which she steps from "Carmen" to "Gioconda" or from Wagner to Mozart, and still more, at her singing Rachel in "Juive" one night and Elisabeth in "Tannhäuser" the next. There must be limits to the endurance even of one who knows so well as she how to make the best use of her voice. There was no conservation or stinting of her vocal powers Friday. Rachel is a heavy part and she was unsparing in giving to emotional climaxes all the volume and stress at her command. More than once there was momentary suggestions of hoarseness. But it was singing which could only command admiration for its beauty of tone, its mastery of style and its fine intelligence, even when it carried with it a sense of more than necessary driving of the voice. One was thankful for the quieter scenes, which took away this impression of too intensified effort. Of these the last, in which Rachel goes to her horripilating doom, afforded opportunity for emotional appeal of which Miss Easton made the most. It is difficult to conceive of this scene being sung and acted with more telling restraint. Her success here naturally was more complete than in those scenes where she called upon a vocal organ of moderate power to magnify itself though sheer intensity of singing.

The Leopold of Ralph Erolle was by far the best the Metropolitan casts have possessed. Not only did he sing the difficult music, high in its tessitura, with apparent ease and silvered tone, but he imparted to the character - at least a thankless one - a certain distinction and manliness it lacked in other hands. Charlotte Ryan, one of the younger sopranos of the company, was put forward in the part of The Princess, perhaps before she was ready for it. She began her florid air in the second act nervously and did not achieve its embellishments as smoothly as she might have done otherwise. Later in the finale of the Festival Scene, she sang some vey lovely high tones and managed her part of the prison scene with Rachel like a veteran. The rôle is one which in the earlier days of the opera was entrusted to most important singers of bravura, but the Metropolitan has chosen to make it a secondary one. Of the other and lesser principals Louis d'Angelo was a familiar and competent Albert, Arnold Gabor sang Ruggiero admirable and James Wolfe gave due import to the few phrases allotted the Herald and the Major-Domo. There was a change in the orchestra pit, Louis Hasselmans taking over the burden hitherto borne by Artur Bodanzky.

There are tangible beauties in Halèvy's scoring with many individual solo effects of distinct charm and these were clearly disclosed. Wagner, it will be remembered, thought well of Halèvy, while scorning Meyerbeer. Did he remember the long English horn introduction to Eleazar's third act air when he conceived the [beginning] of the last act of "Tristan"? The similarity is one only of timbre - yet it prompts conjecture. The fashion to deprecate the music of Meyerbeer naturally reacts against Halèvy. It was "La Juive" that opened the way for "Les Huguenots" and "Le Prophète." Yet the resemblance is perhaps more superficial that is commonly recognized. Halèvy's airs are far more sensitive, more inherently musical, than Meyerbeer's. For the most part they suffer from understatement (considering the standards of the day) rather than from the pompous dilation of the period. There are brief and fugitive melodies, such as the one used for the concerted passages intervening between the parts of the long bass air, "Si Rigeur," in the first act, which many another composer would have converted into an important separate number, and it is not difficult to conceive of much more capital being made of the inspiration which entered into the melodies allotted Rachel and Eleazar at the close of the first act. Today their final unison phrases carry something of a thrill, but the melodies themselves seem undeveloped and incidental. Set pieces like "Si Rigeur," "Rachel, quand du Seigneur," "Il Va Venir" and the Passover music are, of course, exceptions, but they are worthy ones. Audiences of this late date can only regret that Halèvy saw the necessity of ruining some fine dramatic writing - as in the scenes between the Princess and Rachel, and the Cardinal and Eleazar in the prison - by needlessly appending old-fashioned two-part duets of too obvious tunefulness after he had built emotional affect of no little effectiveness. The recitatives, stogy and all very much alike, inevitably grow tedious. In these Halèvy was the victim of his time.

There are few ballets in opera more charming than those in "Juive," as given at the Metropolitan, and no little of their charm must be traced to the door of the music itself. The Ländler in the first act is an insinuating melody, and the divertissement of the third, in which the Metropolitan's juveniles disport themselves to everyone's delight, present as a succession of quaint and winning old tunes, entrust to just the right instruments to given them charm. Rosina Galli danced delightfully, and the same may be said of her partner, Bonfiglio and the entire ballet contingent. "La Juive" is an impressive spectacle; it has melodies of worth and charm and the Metropolitan presents it in a manner to minimize the dryness of the recitatives, the cumbersome complications of the plot and the outmoded characterizations in the less vital portions of the score.



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