[Met Performance] CID:91810
United States Premiere
La Cena delle Beffe {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 01/2/1926.
 (United States Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
January 2, 1926 Matinee
United States Premiere

U. Giordano-S. Benelli

Ginevra.................Frances Alda
Giannetto...............Beniamino Gigli
Neri....................Titta Ruffo
Gabriello...............Angelo BadÓ
Tornaquinci.............Louis D'Angelo
Calandra................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Fazio...................Millo Picco
Cintia..................Henriette Wakefield
Lapo....................Max Altglass
Doctor..................Adamo Didur
Trinca..................Giordano Paltrinieri
Laldomine...............Merle Alcock
Fiammetta...............Grace Anthony
Lisabetta...............Ellen Dalossy

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Designer................Joseph Urban

[In the Metropolitan Opera Archives there is one costume sketch for
La Cena delle Beffe signed by Robert Edmond Jones.]

[Alternate title: The Jester's Supper.]

La Cena delle Beffe received eight performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun

'La Cena delle Beffe' is Received with Demonstrations of Favor

"La Cena delle Beffe," opera in four acts, music by Umberto Giordano and book by Sam Benelli, was produced at the Metropolitan Opera House Saturday afternoon. The opera was received with demonstrations of public favor and will probably take a place in the repertoire of the theater. The book is of course a condensed version of the drama known here as "The Jest" in which the Barrymore brothers were distinguished.

With this we have three elements essential to a success - the play itself, the theatrically effective music and an excellent cast. The production was brilliantly made and the principal singers were well suited to their parts. Titta Ruffo, aroused the audience by his impersonation of Neri, brutal, savage, tortured, baffled. No other role in which he has appeared is so nicely measured to his methods.

Mr. Gigli was unexpectedly dramatic as Giannetto, the weakling who overcomes the strong man by cunning. This will be numbered among the popular tenor's best achievements. Mme. Alda found one of her most well chosen parts in Ginevra, the Florentine siren, to whom love was a succession of voluptuous adventures. She looked, sang and acted well. Ellen Dalossy sang herself into the sunlight of public favor by her temperamental treatment of Elisabetta's love scene with Neri. All the others in the cast were competent and the performance staged by Samuel Thewman and conducted by Tullio Serafin, was well knit and symmetrical. The scenes painted by Joseph Urban, were in fine accord with the moods of the play and the singers were well costumed.

From the review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

Such merits as Giordano's setting of this tale possesses, are those bespeaking a craftsman of the theater and a skilled master of the orchestra. He knows how to write for voices. The melodic line is always grateful for the singer, there are plenty of telling high tones and these are conveniently spaced. The composer possesses Puccini's knack of making the voices seem even better than they are-a matter of orchestration.

There is no web spun by the instruments independently of the voice parts; there are few annoyances or distractions in the form of counter melodies or contrapuntal devices. Orchestral commentary, too, is scant, though heed has been taken of the laughing brasses in Verdi's "Falstaff," to the benefit of the first act narrative of Giannetto and the final measures of Act Three, where they bode forth his vindictive exultation.

This is the Puccini singing orchestra, supporting the voice with a glow of tone that merges with the vocal timbre, enhancing it and adding to its resonance and volume. It is the sort of orchestration that makes the "Racconto" in "La BohŔme" seem like the work of a far better singer than the same tenor's "Una Furtiva" in "L'Elisir d'Amore." It is scoring rich, full-blooded, sensuous, and used with sure effect by one who knows his instrumentation.

In the first and final acts, Giordano meets most of the dramatic requirements of the text. He underlines skillfully, if not subtly; he treats conversational interchanges with a felicitous management of accent and phrase. There is no clumsy declamation, no stilted utterance. If the other acts were equally good workmanship, the faults of "La Cena Delle Beffe" would be largely negative-chiefly the lack of individuality and of musical inspiration. But in the second and third acts, where more sustained and obvious melodies are employed, there is much downright banality. Inappropriate and essentially cheap is the tune used to express Giannetto's triumph at the end of the second act-a recurrence of the earlier love music, a feeble glorification of concupiscence. Unworthy of a place in the "Barber of Bagdad" is the comic opera music which Giordano devised for the torturing of Neri in the prison episode. Surely it is a Neapolitan street tune that Giannetto employs to taunt Neri when he ironically counsels patience and tells the helpless prisoner that all is for his own good! And is it conceivably humor that is intended when the high-hatted Doctor of the prison episode introduces a patter-song to these tragic environs, with words that have to do with various ways of testing Neri's madness?

Ruffo as Neri had opportunity to expend the full volume and sonority of his extraordinarily powerful voice. That boastful bully had need of some such voluminous organ though he might have been more patrician in his use of it. In appearance, too, the baritone admirably bodied forth the muscular braggart, and when he struggled with his captors there was more than the usual semblance of a fight. His simulation of madness had effective details, which were partly nullified, however, by others that bordered on the comic. The entire characterization was one of large, rough-hewn lines, as vehement physically as it was vocally, and hammering home its points with the blows of a sledge. It would have benefited if it had been less fidgety. Some of the baritone's big tones were of noble beauty. Others were driven so hard that their resonance lost focus. In all, it was an operatic impersonation of much power, but of curiously conflicting virtues and defects.

Gigli's Giannetto required of him the heroic, robust singing that he has given to "Andrea Chenier." Leaving aside the qualms of those who believe his organ has a lyric beauty that ought never to be sacrificed for the sake of mere volume and intensity of tone, it must be recorded that he poured forth an opulence of voice in this music to match that of Caruso in the same period of his career. Whether such parts are of benefit to him is one thing; his success with this one, quite another.
In the First Act narrative of his mistreatment at the hands of the brothers, "Calato in Arno e pugnalato poi," in the luridly amorous "Mi svestii" of Act Two, and the taxing and theatrically telling "Non e la vita un gioco con la morte?" of the Third Act, he sang with much of sheer vocal splendor, despite a continual pressure for power that might have been disastrous in a voice less admirably produced. In his acting was an earnest effort to delineate the conflict of fear and rage, weakness and vengefulness in Giannetto's nature, and he succeeded rather better than might have been predicted for one whose operatic success has been built almost solely on beauty of voice. This, in spite of moments when he seemed merely, to cartoon the Giannetto of the drama.

Frances Alda looked her best as the pleasurous Ginevra. It is an ungrateful r˘le that has lost most of its real character in the transfer from spoken lines to music. The airs allotted to her are among the cheapest in the score and it is of little importance whether more might have been made of them if sung with steadier tone. The other principals, as enumerated above, contributed with varying success to the effectiveness of the production. Serafin's conducting had a contagious fervor worthy of far better music. In the demand for theatricality, the Metropolitan met Giordano on his own ground. The result, to repeat, was a striking illustration of how successful an opera may be, in spite of (if not because of) a disheartening score.

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