[Met Performance] CID:89850
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Pelléas et Mélisande {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 03/21/1925.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
March 21, 1925 Matinee
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Pelléas.................Edward Johnson
Mélisande...............Lucrezia Bori
Golaud..................Clarence Whitehill
Arkel...................Léon Rothier
Geneviève...............Kathleen Howard
Yniold..................Louise Hunter
Physician...............Paolo Ananian

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

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban

[Bori's costumes were designed by Erté.]

Pelléas et Mélisande received four performances this season.

Review of Lawrence Gillman in the New York Herald Tribune
Miss Bori had the difficult task of being the second Mélisande seen in New York; and the first was Mary Garden. Comparisons are needless under the circumstances. It is a pleasure to be able to say that Miss Bori brought Mélisande to life-in her own way, a way that departed from the traditions as we have known them here; yet in an incarnation that had unity of plan and line, sensitiveness of feeling, delicacy and vividness of denouement. At her best, she was truly touching, as in the final love scene in the park, and in that scene of insupportable pathos and beauty, the death of the shadowy, inarticulate, enigmatic little Princess, that haunted creature, "so quiet, so timid, so silent." In the terrible scene in which Mélisande is mishandled by the insensate Golaud there was too much restraint, and this scene, one the most tragically moving in all opera, lacked something of its full effectiveness. Miss Bori should urge Mr. Whitehill to greater violence here; the moment is not one for a mild shaking. The text, the music, ask for ferocity.

Mr. Johnson's Pélleas is a memorable performance. In no other of his roles has he made more telling use of his rare intelligence, his insight, his art as a singer and actor. He struck the right balance between the gravity, the simplicity, the aloofness and reserve that are essential to the character, and the sense of passion under difficult restraint. This passion shows itself in the curious tension and sudden vehemence which Debussy conveys in his marvelously subtle declamation-as in that piercing lift of the voice part in Pélleas's first speech about his dying friend, Marcellus, at the words "avant elle si je veux"; or as in the most perturbing of all the passages that Pélleas has to sing; his soliloquy as he awaits his last interview with Mélisande in the park. It was a delight to hear the beautiful voice part, with its infinite varieties of nuance, so beautifully and so eloquently delivered as they were by Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Whitehill's Golaud is shrewdly composed and developed; a remarkable study in the progressive ravages of the agony of doubt, suspicion, jealousy, and at last the agony of remorse. The Arkel of Mr. Rothier was touching in it benignity and tenderness; the role has never been so nobly sung in New York. Miss Kathleeen Howard as Geneviève set forth an embodiment deftly poised and reticent, and scrupulously in the picture. Miss Hunter's Yniold was a bit too conscious and sophisticated. Mr. Ananian as the Physician was all that was needful.

To Mr. Hasselman's adroit and sympathetic conducting was due a large part of the vitality and flow of the performance. It is fatal to drag the tempi in "Pélleas"; yet it ill brooks an inconsiderate haste. Mr. Hasselman was felicitous in his choice of pace; in his adjustment of the delicate planes of orchestral tone to the dynamics of the voice parts and to the acoustics of the vast house.

One must not forget to give credit to Mr. von Wymetal for his skillful direction of the stage; nor to most of the singing actors for their diction; nor, finally, to the huge audience on Saturday for their absorbed attentiveness, their evident appreciation of the fact that they were excellently engaged in making momentous musical history. Both "Pélleas" and its public have at last come into their own.

From a review by W. J. Henderson in The New York Sun

It was given at the Metropolitan on Saturday for the first time in that theater and the production was one of the greatest artistic triumphs of Mr. Gatti-Casazza's administration. The harmonious cooperation of all the "arts tributary to the drama" effected this happy result. Joseph Urban's scenery, sympathetically conceived and exquisitely executed, the use of raised platforms and limited spaces of illumination and shadowy side draperies to diminish the barren spaces of the great stage, the generally judicious use of lights and the restraint of action, gesture and voice by the principals united in forming a dramatic illusion having continual significance. Wilhelm von Wymetal, the stage manager, again demonstrated his fitness for his important post.

Of the individual impersonations much more could be said than can be contained within the limits of a single article. Lucrezia Bori will have to face the inevitable comparisons with Mary Garden, whose singular personality and unique singing were manifestly created by Mother Nature for this part. But Miss Bori, while preserving her own identity, has added to her gallery of portraits another of rare aesthetic quality, of appealing tenderness, of underlying emotions and of exterior beauty ravishing to the eye and searching to the heart. Her Mélisande will dwell in the memory beside her Fiora.

Edward Johnson went to France and studied Pélleas with the originator of the role. His impersonation is perfect in style and in delicate suggestion. It is the essence of Debussy and its graceful physical investiture adds to its poetic charm. These two protagonists of the drama have well mastered the elusive idiom of Debussy's modernized medieval chant in which Jean Christophe found that he painted love and death inarticulate. Miss Bori and Mr. Johnson project across the footlights the meaning of the futile search of the two lovers for words.

Mr. Whitehill's Golaud is destined to be remembered as one of the great tragic figures of the contemporaneous opera stage. There will be debate about it; and some will cavil at his methods in certain moments; but of the power and authority of the impersonation the future will entertain no doubt. Leon Rothier was simple and dignified as Arkel and Miss Howard equally so as Geneviève. Miss Hunter was most commendable in the strenuous Yinold episode. Mr. Ananian represented the physician.

Louis Hasselmans conducts French operas a the Metropolitan and this one fell to his lot. Perhaps in some few details his reading might be improved, but as a whole it is admirable. He perceives the nature and purpose of Debussy's art. His orchestra holds well to the low colors and the burbling iridescence, and his musical interpretation of the score has mood and meaning. That perhaps is nearly all that any conductor can accomplish.

Photograph of Lucrezia Bori and Edward Johnson in Pelléas et Mélisande by Herman Mishkin.

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