[Met Performance] CID:92460
World Premiere (Skyscrapers)
Gianni Schicchi {13}
Skyscrapers {1}
Pagliacci {247}
Metropolitan Opera House: 02/19/1926.

(Debuts: Roger Dodge, John Alden Carpenter, Robert Edmond Jones, Samuel Lee
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 19, 1926


GIANNI SCHICCHI {13}

Gianni Schicchi.........Giuseppe De Luca
Lauretta................Queena Mario
Rinuccio................Giacomo Lauri-Volpi
Nella...................Grace Anthony
Ciesca..................Laura Robertson
Zita....................Kathleen Howard
Gherardo................Angelo Badà
Betto...................Paolo Ananian
Marco...................Louis D'Angelo
Simone..................Adamo Didur
Gherardino..............Stefan Eisler
Spinelloccio............Pompilio Malatesta
Amantio.................Léon Rothier
Pinellino...............Vincenzo Reschiglian
Guccio..................Arnold Gabor

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


World Premiere

SKYSCRAPERS
{1}
A Ballet of Modern American Life
John Alden Carpenter

Strutter................Albert Troy
Herself.................Rita De Leporte
White Wings.............Roger Dodge [Debut]

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

"Skyscrapers" is a ballet which seeks to reflect some of the many rhythmic movements and sounds of modern American life. It has no story, in the usually accepted sense, but proceeds on the simple fact that American life reduces itself essentially to violent alternations of WORK and PLAY, each with its own peculiar and distinctive rhythmic character. The action of the ballet is merely a series of moving decorations reflecting some of the obvious external features of this life, as follows:

Scene 1 - Symbols of restlessness.
Scene 2 - An abstraction of the Skyscraper and of the WORK that produces it - and the interminable crowd that passes by.
Scene 3 - The transition from WORK to PLAY.
Scene 4 - Any "Coney Island" and a reflection of a few of its manifold activities - interrupted presently by a "throw-back," in the movie sense, to the idea of WORK, and reverting with equal suddenness to PLAY.
Scene 5 - The return from PLAY to WORK.
Scene 6 - SKYSCRAPERS.

Designer................Robert Edmond Jones
Mise-en-scène...........John Alden Carpenter [Debut]
Mise-en-scène...........Robert Edmond Jones [Debut]
Stage Director..........Samuel Lee [Debut]
Negro Group Organized by Frank Wilson
Acknowledgment is made of valuable suggestions in regard to the production, offered by Walt Kuhn.

Skyscrapers received six performances this season.



PAGLIACCI {247}

Nedda...................Mary Lewis
Canio...................Vittorio Fullin
Tonio...................Antonio Scotti
Silvio..................Lawrence Tibbett
Beppe...................Giordano Paltrinieri

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


Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

'Skyscrapers' Acclaimed as Genuinely American

MODERN AMERICAN LIFE SYMBOLIZED IN `SKYSCRAPERS'

Jazz Spirit Invades Metropolitan Opera House with World Premiere of Carpenter Ballet - Lively Novelty Is Acclaimed as in Large Degree Accomplishing Its Purpose to Reflect Its Era - Work and Play Are Contrasting Motives of Spectacle Which Suggests Broadway Revue, but Has Musicianly Score

For weal or woe, America has at last produced an art work in the jazz spirit. John Alden Carpenter's "Skyscrapers," presented at the Metropolitan Opera House, for the first time anywhere, the evening of Feb. 19, was an emphatic success. More than that, it gave indication of being such a work as will go around the world as an authentic American achievement, reflecting the rhythmic movements and sounds of our modern city life, pulsating with the feverish energy of the era it epitomizes, thumbing its nose at the fogram tastes of those to whom the age, its dances, its music, its whole outlook on life are a sorry descent into noisy, unbridled animalism.

It has been the opinion of this writer, as of others who have written about the art possibilities of jazz, that the ballet is the art form in which the popular idiom may most logically be employed, since this idiom is, of itself, a by-product of the dance. "Skyscrapers" is called by Mr. Carpenter "A Ballet of Modern American Life." It is constructed on the thesis that this modern American life reduces itself essentially to violent alternations of Work and Play, "each with its own peculiar and distinctive rhythmic character."

The "work" is as intense as the "play." But when the whistle blows - off for Coney Island - dance all night - then punch the time clock and back to work - a phantasmagoria of motion, sans story, sans romance, sans much of anything pertaining to those emotions with which the art of the past has been chiefly concerned, but for all its grotesque triviality, perilously near the living truth.

With Skyscrapers, Broadway came to the Metropolitan; perhaps, the reverse was true, and the last citadel of classic and romantic art went over to the cause of Broadway. In its essence, "Skyscrapers" is a Revue, a Follies, in a more compact and logical form, refined beyond the ordinary desires of Revue or Follies audiences, and danced to a score composed by a gifted musician who brought genuine craftsmanship to his task. In a word, "Skyscrapers" is about what these popular Broadway dance shows might be, and ought to be, if the theaters producing them had any art purpose back of their catering to the universal craze for jazz dancing.

Whether it is incumbent on the Metropolitan to show Broadway what it might do, and should do, is another matter. The fact that must be recorded here is that the Metropolitan management called upon Broadway to help mount "Skyscrapers" properly, and the results proved the wisdom of this course. Though the regular Metropolitan ballet, augmented. from the ballet school, provided the dancers, the work was staged and directed by Sammy Lee, of revue fame. The scenery and costumes were designed by Robert Edmond Jones. similarly borrowed for the occasion. He, with Mr. Carpenter, worked out the mise-en-scene and the dance succession. "Valuable suggestions by Walt Kuhn" were also acknowledged on the printed program. A Negro group, organized by Frank Wilson, that both sang and danced, was no immaterial factor.

With the parting of the curtains for "Skyscrapers," blinking red lights are revealed at either side of the stage that are at once understood to represent traffic signals. These, as the program makes clear, are "symbols of restlessness." A fantastic "drop" is lifted and reveals "an abstraction of the skyscraper" and "the work that produces it - and the interminable crowd that passes by." Girders in angular confusion are etched against vacancy, men in the semblance of overalls go through the motions of violent labor, while shadows in human shape move listlessly, meaninglessly by.

The whistles blow, the workers emerge, each steps into the arms of a short-skirted, bare-legged partner, and there is a dancing exodus for the resorts of pleasure. The stage picture that follows is one of striking illusion, representative of "any Coney Island," with its Ferris wheels, its scenic railways, its street shows, its heedless, fun-mad, dance-addled crowds, swirling through rhythmic figures and formations, glorifying the American girls' nether extremities, with no particular thought as to whether she has either brain or heart.

There is a "throw-back," as movie parlance has it, to the idea of work, with a sudden cessation of the dancing, and a return, in the midst of the Coney Island revelry, to the men in overalls swinging their sledges and crouched about their riveting fires. This is followed by an equally violent reversion to play, which flappers, sailors, minstrel show end men, comic policemen and characters of a midway plaisance manipulated in colorful, but on the whole, orderly successions of dances. The fifth scene brings the transition from play to work, as the men in overalls surrender their dance partners to return to the labors of the skyscraper. Gigantic shadows, suggesting a Herculean power behind the building of a great city's business edifices, are cast upward against the girders as the ballet ends.

The Negro chorus, recruited from Harlem, has a curious place in the Coney Island scene. White Wings, a blackface street sweeper, goes to sleep propped against a traffic sign. Shadowy figures emerge, as in a dream, and sing in melancholy mood, until with a sudden snapping of the strain, they begin dancing, one by one. Then White Wings wakes and takes up the same jerky, jazzy steps. This part was well presented by Roger Dodge.

Of the other principals, Albert Troy did some effective "strutting" in a costume that outdid any caricature of the newspaper comic strips. Rita De Leporte was lively and engaging in appearance as Herself. The stars of the performance, however, were the four men in evening clothes - Carpenter, Jones, Lee and Hasselmans - who were called before the curtain repeatedly at the ballet's close. Doubtless, there has been more original and more highly vitalized dancing in various Broadway shows than the best of that in "Skyscrapers." In spite of Lee and Jones, there were some very conventional evolutions in the jazz choreography. But it never missed fire and it never dragged. Perhaps its chief lack was that of virile masculinity in the Coney Island scene. It is difficult to understand why the sailors of this revel were callipygian Venuses, instead of hearty, swaggering, roistering males.

Carpenter's score, however, is what is of real importance in "Skyscrapers." It is the work of one who has mastered his materials. More often it is of a semi-jazz, than of a real jazz character; sometimes, as in the episode of the singing Negroes, it is even remote from the spirit of jazz. His jazz and semi-jazz are not bald incorporations of cabaret tunes. He has created his own musical ideas, save for a few incorporated phrases of "Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground," and a fleeting suggestion or two of "Yankee Doodle," "Dem Goo-Goo Eyes" and various vaguely remembered "Blues." The work was written for a symphonic orchestra, not for jazz band. Saxophones and a banjo have parts, but rather minor ones. This is not literal jazz, but jazz as it has filtered through the mind of a musician who thinks in terms of art, and whose purpose was to write an art work, not merely to add to America's store of popular music. Having chosen the subject he did, with the intent to represent the externals of present-day city life in this country, it is impossible not to agree with him that the jazz idiom is the appropriate one. As the composer said in explaining his aims, to create a musical commentary on contemporary American life without reference to jazz would be for an American musician "a difficult, if not a painful task."

"Skyscrapers" is empty or worthwhile as an art work in proportion to the emptiness or worthwhile qualities of those things it personifies. As a personification of them it is to be admired - not highly original perhaps - since Stravinsky, Strauss and others contributed to its technical and coloristic facture - but musicianly and accomplishing just what it set out to do.



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