[Met Performance] CID:90020
Faust {346} Metropolitan Opera House: 04/1/1925.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
April 1, 1925


FAUST {346}

Faust...................Edward Johnson
Marguerite..............Marie Sundelius [Last performance]
Méphistophélès..........Michael Bohnen
Valentin................Giuseppe De Luca
Siebel..................Ellen Dalossy
Marthe..................Kathleen Howard
Wagner..................Paolo Ananian

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

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Tribune

'Faust' With a New Devil: Mr. Bohnen's Mephisto in Gounod's Opera

Michael Bohnen, the Metropolitan's irrepressible basso, is the perfect non-conformist of opera. He and tradition are about as likely to meet as Mr. Kipling's East and West; and this, in his case, is all to the good. Mr. Bohnen is one of that exceedingly small group of artists in any field who incline you to accept from them what you would never dream of accepting from any one else. For Mr. Bohnen, despite the things one regrets in him - his staginess, his self-consciousness, his insistence upon being the bride at every dramatic wedding and the corpse at every lyric wake - is nevertheless the possessor of extraordinary gifts.

You may dislike his Wotan in "Die Walküre," an embodiment curiously without pathos, without high dignity - for, whatever contempt you may have for Wotan's character, the music that Wagner allots to him in "Die Walküre" is almost invariably noble, Yet the power, the vividness, the variety of histrionic invention which Mr. Bohnen's impersonation displays, the commanding authority of the actor's personality, are not easy to resist. You may question his Sachs because of its lack of poetry and inwardness, its persistent overemphasis; you may wonder why, as the Wotan of "Rheingold," Mr. Bohnen chooses to unbosom himself so freely, and thus give disproportionate emphasis to an unimportant phase of his embodiment. Nevertheless, despite your reservations, you will, in all probability, be aware that you have been observing a singing-actor of exceptional force and magnetism and histrionic skill - an actor with a superb sense of the stage, a singer of voice and temperament, an artist who, whatever he does, is always engrossing and effectual. And at his best Mr. Bohnen is magnificent - his Caspar in "Die Freischütz," and his Hagen in "Götterdämmerung" are among the remarkable portrayals of the contemporary lyric theater.

No doubt there were apprehensive shudders among those who most sedulously trim the wick of operatic tradition when it was announced that Mr. Bohnen would sing the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod's "Faust" at the Metropolitan - a role as thickly incrusted with tradition as the procedures of the House of Lords. Mr. Chaliapin, as we all remember, ruffled the wick-trimmers exceedingly when he first amused himself with Gounod's devil at the Metropolitan; and it was not difficult to believe that Mr. Bohnen would go Mr. Chaliapin one better, at least, in his dealing with the role. Mr. Bohnen sang his first Mephistopheles at the Metropolitan last night in French; and it is not likely that many of those who heard and saw it will soon forget it, whether they approve it or not.

It was like no Mephistopheles that we have ever seen at the Metropolitan, this huge, enveloping, bull-voiced devil, garbed in smoke gray, who hovered over Siebel and Marta like a gigantic maleficent bat, a night bird of evil whose form was mysteriously merged into the falling dust of Marguerite's garden - this utterly un-Gallic Devil, speaking the French of Berlin, singing at times with neither grace nor expertness, yet assuring the eye, the ear, the imagination.

Mr. Bohnen was obviously nervous, and will give a better account of himself at his second "Faust." He had never sung Mephistopheles before in French - nor, we understand, had he sung any role in the French tongue before last night. No wonder he was perturbed and that his singing and enunciation were insecure; no wonder he muffed some of his business in the second scene. Yet this was a performance of singular power; neither subtle nor sinister, often thick fingered and over-comic; yet achieved with enormous gusto and vitality; and it was stormily applauded by the audience, which rewarded Mr. Bohnen with repeated curtain calls. Edward Johnson was an admirable Faust, poetic and distinguished in action, beautifully adroit in song.

The Marguerite of Maria Sundelius was persuasive through its sincerity, simplicity, restraint, its true charm, and some of her mezza voce singing was delightful. Miss Sundelius and Mr. Johnson, by the way, were the only principals who stayed in their rôles while the curtain was up. Valentin never forgot that he was Mr. de Luca, the admired baritone, and came blandly out of his part to acknowledge the applause after his first act cavatina. Nor did Mr. Bohnen scruple to smirk and bow at his applauding audience after his "Veau d'or."

Kathleen Howard was the Martha, Ellen Dalossy the Siebel, Paolo Ananian the Wagner. Mr. Hasselmans, very much at ease in Gounod's Zion, conducted well.



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