[Met Performance] CID:91120
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
La Vestale {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/12/1925.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debut: Albert Troy
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 12, 1925
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
In Italian


LA VESTALE {1}
Spontini-Jouy

Giulia..................Rosa Ponselle
Licinio.................Edward Johnson
High Priestess..........Margarete Matzenauer
Cinna...................Giuseppe De Luca
Pontifex Maximus........José Mardones
Consul..................Paolo Ananian

Act I Ballet - Dance of Homage
Goddess: Lilyan Ogden
Corps de Ballet

Act II, Scene 2 Ballet - Fête in Honor of Venus
a) Nuptial Dance - Corps de Ballet
b) Autumnal Fête - Florence Rudolph, Albert Troy [Debut], Corps de Ballet
c) Grecian Dance - Corps de Ballet
d) Dance of Jugglers and Finale - Corps de Ballet

Conductor...............Tullio Serafin

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Choreographer...........August Berger
Choreographer...........Rosina Galli

Translation by unknown

[Alternate title: The Vestal Virgin.]

La Vestale received five performances this season.

First Met performance of La Vestale November 12, 1925


Review of Lawrence Gillman, New York Herald Tribune

We have little doubt that Spontini would have been delighted with the Metropolitan's production of "La Vestale" which Mr. Gatti presented last night for the first time in that house. Its splendor and massiveness would have rejoiced his megalomaniac soul. First of all there was the Vestal herself, Rosa Ponselle; for here was the "youngest" Vestal who was obviously young. Here was a singer who could sing Spontini's long, gravely sculptured melodies with the required sense of line and dignity of style, and with the formal and somewhat stilted pathos, that is their quaint and special mark-as in her second act aria, "Tu che invoco con ororre"; for Miss Ponselle sang these passages of cantilena with admirable phrasing, with loveliness of tone, and severity of style, and she was no less admirable in those moments of true dramatic expression with which the score abounds. Margarete Matzenauer, with her always dependable musicianship, her intelligence, and her natural affinity for the moods and molds of grandiose tragedy, was as obviously well cast, and her singing and acting were as impressive as anything we have lately had from her. Edward Johnson made the staggering transition from last week's Pélleas to last night's Licinio as if all types of tenor lovers were within his scope. Last night he displayed a histrionic composition that was duly in the grand manner, yet charged with a fervor and plasticity of feeling that brought it nearer to our sympathies than Spontini's unwarmed lyricism could have done. Mr. De Luca as Cinna, likewise gave an enkindling touch to the figure of Licinio's devoted friend and Mr. Mardones, inevitable High Priest of the operatic temples of all climes and ages, did his best for Pontifex Maximus.

As for the opera itself, we agree with Mr. Gatti-Casazza that it was worth doing. Spontini was not quite a genius. His musical imagination was far too limited to entitle him to be ranked with his great predecessor, Gluck; yet he had an austerity of style that sometimes reminds one of Gluck, and a power of dramatic augmentation that often recalls the master of "Orfeo" There is not much to be said for [his] melodic invention, nor for his harmonic resourcefulness. But he knew the orchestra, wrote for it with authority, and developed it potentialities of expression.


Review of Irving Weil in the Evening Journal

Talking about a premiere of Gaspare Spontini's "La Vestale" in the year 1925 seems completely foolish for the opera started its career nearly a hundred and twenty years ago in Paris and then swept triumphantly over the rest of Europe. However, foolish or not, here we are recording its final arrival in America last night via the Metropolitan. It was the third of Mr. Gatti-Casazza's novelties thus far in the young season and the first really genuine one. So far as anybody has been able to find out, all the other impresarii (we believe that is the plural for the genus) from Maratzek to Hammerstein ever happened to light on this Spontini opera. And we are thoroughly astounded at their blindness or deafness, for it is still a remarkably interesting and beautiful old classic.

We have had plenteous, not to say copious doubts at times about Mr. Gatti's judgment when it comes to the choice of new matters for the Metropolitan repertoire, but in producing "La Vestale" he has turned on the neatest tricks of his eighteen years here. It is not only the finest kind of fine old music, but its effectiveness is still so hearty, so certain, and it is so gorgeous a spectacle and so unhackneyed a stage tale, that it ought to become a best seller to boot.

"La Vestale" is really a revelation of how much the genius Spontini was. It should be remembered that he was contemporary of Beethoven and Cherubini and that this opera of his preceded the best work of Rossini and Bellini and, of course, of von Weber and Meyerbeer. All these last four, it now appears, were a very good bit beholden to him. Indeed, it is no longer possible to imagine "Norma" at all, for instance, as anything more than about half Spontini. The music, whilst disclosing a touch here and there of the influence of Gluck, has an outline and depth unmistakably it own. Moreover, it not only illustrates the stage action, but intensifies fittingly the text. There is much recitative in the opera as was customary at the time, but even this is strikingly robust and often rises to the contour or arioso.

The belated American success of the opera last night was due in very considerable measure to the splendor, the care and smoothness of Mr. Gatti's production; to the understanding and sympathetic direction of Tulio Serafin, who conducted, and to the unusually fine singing and acting of the principals. Rosa Ponselle was the Roman Vestal of the title who lets the altar fire perennially alight to Vesta go out when Licinio invades the temple. Her singing and acting of this role was the high spot of her career on the Metropolitan stage. She has never done anything else even approaching it. She has not always been notable for the discretion, to say nothing of the beauty of her singing, and her acting at times has been not much better than operatic windmill gesticulations. But her Vestal last night completely wipes out everything we have ever had against her.

No other woman now at the Metropolitan can sing like this. It was pure, limpid, lovely tone, always completely within suave control, never striving for more than legitimate and needful effect, continuously expressive of the textual line. There was both superb power and delicate restraint in the handling of the voice, the power never forced, the restraint skillful and unobvious. If Miss Ponselle can go on like this-and there is now no good reason why she shouldn't-she is going to be Mr. Gatti's prime vocal possession.

Margaret Matzenauer was the High Priestess of Vesta and of late years she has done nothing better. The Licinio was Edward Johnson, not acutely suited to the role, but handling it with his usual human touch and singing the music very well, if not brilliantly. Giuseppe De Luca as another baritone friend of the hero, was three or four grades better than adequate, and Jose Mardones made an impressive Pontifex Maximus. Josef Urban's sets, especially his first-act triumph of Rome in stone-temples and arch-were boldly imagined. Wilhelm von Weymetal's stage direction deserves far more than the miserly work of praise that is left and the same goes for Giulio Setti's training of his chorus.


Photograph of Rosa Ponselle as Giulia in La Vestale by Lumiere, New York.



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