[Met Performance] CID:91520
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
I Gioielli della Madonna {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/12/1925.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
December 12, 1925 Matinee
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Maliella................Maria Jeritza
Gennaro.................Giovanni Martinelli
Carmela.................Marion Telva
Rafaele.................Giuseppe Danise
Biaso...................Angelo Badà
Totonno.................Max Altglass
Ciccillo................Giordano Paltrinieri
Rocco...................Paolo Ananian
Stella..................Nannette Guilford
Concetta................Charlotte Ryan
Serena..................Henriette Wakefield
Girl....................Grace Anthony
Girl....................Phradie Wells
Girl....................Mary Bonetti
Dance...................Florence Rudolph
Dance...................Albert Troy

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Antonio Rovescalli
Choreographer...........August Berger

Alternate title: The Jewels of the Madonna.

Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America


Metropolitan's First Performance of Familiar Wolf-Ferrari Work Resolves Itself into Personal Success for Soprano-Good Singing by Martinelli and Colorful Crowds Aid Work, which Again Impresses as Theatrically Effective but Lacking in Musical Sincerity

MARIA JERITZA has a new and highly sensational role to excite the admiration of those for whom the star, not the opera, is the thing. This is the one important fact to be chronicled with respect to last Saturday afternoon's performance of "I Gioielli della Madonna" at the Metropolitan, It connotes a prophecy that the Wolf-Ferrari thriller, musically vulgar and esthetically insincere though it is, will be the most popular of the year's additions to the répertoire. This prophecy, however, dates back to the time Mr. Gatti-Casazza announced his new works last spring. This work was, on its face, the only one of the novelties and revivals which could have been selected for its known box-office appeal.

"The Jewels of the Madonna" waited fourteen years for incorporation in the Metropolitan's activities, and during that time became a commonplace in the répertoires of most of the opera houses of the world. Given in Chicago only year later than its premiere on Berlin and repeatedly performed in New York (including a representation at the Metropolitan) by the middle-western organization, its last vestige of novelty vanished years ago. It has appealed strongly to the element that thinks of opera chiefly in the terms of "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacei," the two most typical works of the school to which must be consigned the earlier "Gioconda," as well as the late "Fedora," "Tosca" and "II Tabarro."

If the Metropolitan delayed long before accepting "The Jewels" as worthy of a place with these other veristic operas, there was nothing to indicate half-heartedness in the presentation. The opportunity to cast Mme. Jeritza as Maliella may or may not have been the raison d'être of the undertaking, but it did virtually assure a sensational success. About her was grouped a cast of artists who have proved their capabilities many times. All the adjuncts of spectacle, including a stage band, a chorus so large as to overcrowd the stage, with children among the participants, and scenery imported from Italy, were utilized. The stage manager, von Wymetal, plainly had devoted himself arduously to the task of giving animation, color and verisimilitude to the throngs of the first and final acts. A detail was the use of a young woman, not a statue, to represent the Virgin in the first act procession.

Meyerbeer at his worst never wrote an opera more clearly designed to pander to current taste than Wolf-Ferrari did in "The Jewels of the Madonna." The story of low-life in Naples, with its violence and its brutishly sensual climax at the end of the second act, has the theatrical effectiveness of the old-fashioned cheap melodrama. The composer, though he employs a huge apparatus, exceeding that of Wagner and comparable to the orchestra of Richard Strauss, has not sought to glorify it, or to deepen its faint glimmerings of the psychological. He has met it on its own ground, and has written vulgar music for a vulgar tale. Some of it, as the little mandolin serenade of Rafaele, and various snatches of tune in the [beginning] of the first act, is of comic opera merit. The intermezzi, played before the second and third acts, are scarcely of higher inspiration. The vocal ariosi allotted Gennaro are sentimentally lachrymose. The one outstanding melody, "Benedicimi tu," of the duet between Gennaro and Carmela, is a good tune of its kind-reaching about the same level of semi-popular inspiration as Ponchielli's "Voce di Donna," or Mascagni's "Cavalleria" prayer-but the composer proceeds to belittle it by an orchestral repetition, restaurant style, immediately after the duet, as well as by using it in a way that approaches bathos in the death scene of Gennaro.

Orchestrally, there is much that is sensuously rich, but the ear tires of the use of the instruments as if they were so many additional human throats whose chief mission was to sing melodies as full-bloodedly as possible. There is no lack of the Neapolitan folk element, and the tinkle of mandolins adds to the sentimentality of the soaring, well-sugared strings. Dramatically, the music underscores the action chiefly through variations of dynamics. It is louder when anyone is excited, that is about all. But like the libretto, it is good "theater," in a melodramatic rather than a psychological or even a genuinely emotional vein.

Mme. Jeritza's Maliella is the most lawless character she has yet presented. Though she looks anything but Italian in a curly red wig, and might be more easily identified with the gutters of Vienna, Stockholm, Ostend or Amsterdam than those of Naples, there is no questioning the depths of Maliella's origin. In styling her a "trollop" (the English translation of "squaldrina") Rafaele may almost be said to have paid her a compliment. Whether there is anything personally attractive in such a character is a question of personal tastes, but the tigerish energy, the abounding vitality, and the sheer recklessness of the impersonation gave it a theatrical vividness which no other Maliella of American disclosure has possessed. Something of this artist's personal radiance vanishes whenever she dispenses with the familiar blond hair, and hers is a figure for the satin robes of Elsa and Elisabeth, or the boy's attire of "Rosenkavalier," rather than for the short skirts of this hoyden. But her beauty reasserted itself when the stolen jewels glittered upon her in the stage moonlight at the climatic conclusion of the second act. Otherwise, there was more of an appropriate devilishness of facial expression than of her familiar charm.

In support of the star, but hardly on the same plane of vivid effectiveness, Mr. Martinelli gave a ploddingly good and withal sympathetic delineation of the unhappy Gennaro. Much of his singing had tonal beauty as well as virility and power. His voice was particularly fresh and vital in the final episode of Gennaro's suicide, which he managed about as well as the cheap sentimentality of the scene would permit. Mr. Danise's Rafaele was less fortunate in that, physically, he was miscast. It was not within the possibilities of make-up for him to be the "tall, handsome young fellow," as the leader of the Camorrists is described in the score. He sang sonorously and gave the part a routine impersonation which, needless to say, fell far short of Mme. Jeritza's in the passionate scenes between them.

Miss Telva's attractive voice was somewhat overwhelmed by the orchestra in the duet, and there was no particular individuality of character in her Carmela. Mr. Bada, on the contrary, succeeded, with 'his usual knack, in making the small part of Biaso a distinctive personality. Lesser figurants contributed competently to the ensemble. Worthy of individual mention was the dancing of Florence Rudolph and Albert Troy, "Apaches in the Camorrist" scene.

Musically, Gennaro Papi had the scored well within his grasp, and conducted an orchestral performance that was about all it should have been. The chorus sang sonorously and well. Mr. von Wymetal's stage direction had many details to merit praise, particularly in the movement of the crowds in the first act. The Camorrist scene, however, seemed overcrowded and quite possibly a better effect would have been achieved with fewer participants. The setting the work of Antonio Rovesocalli, of Milan, were sufficiently elaborate though of that routine, canvassy, oleographic appearance noted in, most imported sets for novelties at the Metropolitan.

The chief participants were before the curtain many times, with Conductor Papi joining them after the second act when the applause was particularly enthusiastic. The buzz in the lobbies, however, left no doubt that this was Jeritza's triumph, and one of the most striking of her American career.

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