[Met Performance] CID:92670
United States Premieres
La Vida Breve {1}

Le Rossignol {1}
Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 03/6/1926.
 (United States Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
March 6, 1926 Matinee
United States Premiere

De Falla-Fernández Shaw

Salud...................Lucrezia Bori
Paco....................Armand Tokatyan
Grandmother.............Kathleen Howard
Sarvaor.................Louis D'Angelo
Carmela.................Merle Alcock
Manuel..................Arnold Gabor
Singer..................Millo Picco
Four Voices: Charlotte Ryan, Grace Anthony, Angelo Badà, Max Altglass

Act II:
"Sevillana" by Florence Rudolph and Giuseppe Bonfiglio
"Jota" by Florence Rudolph, Giuseppe Bonfiglio and Corps de Ballet
Conductor...............Tullio Serafin

Director................Wilhelm Von Wymetal
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Choreographer...........August Berger

La Vida Breve received five performances this season.

United States Premiere
In French


Nightingale.............Marion Talley
Fisherman...............Ralph Errolle
Cook....................Ina Bourskaya
Emperor.................Adamo Didur
Chamberlain.............Gustav Schützendorf
Bonze...................James Wolfe
Death...................Henriette Wakefield
Japanese Envoys: Max Altglass, Millo Picco, Giordano Paltrinieri
Lantern Servants: Laura Robertson, Max Altglass, Mary Bonetti

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Designer................Serge Soudeikine
Translator unknown

Alternate titles: Solovey; The Nightingale.

Le Rossignol received five performances this season.

Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America:

The music is of more consequence and adroitness, though it may never greatly stir audiences bent primarily on emotional stimulus. Its chief characteristic, aside from its admirable workmanship, is its abundance of atmosphere, the score is thoroughly Hispanic, without any undue concession to the type of Spanish popular music which the world so commonly associates with the land of the Hidalgos. There is occasional employment of these popular rhythms, and the several airs of Salud at times suggest the songs of Alvarez ("La Partida," "A Granada" and their kin), but such moments are unobtrusive and they, too, contribute atmosphere. The score is at all times fluent and unforced, simple and direct in its effect, though woven with a latter-day complexity of fabric, much more symphonic than the familiar Italian operas of the day. Guitars and a tuned anvil are stage accessories to the orchestral instruments. There is one haunting fragment of melody for a solo cello as Salud gazes through the grill at the happy wedding scene.

"La Vida Breve" was composed before de Falla's Paris sojourn, where he was the recipient of favors from Debussy and Dukas, and is regarded as free of the Gallicisms found in some of his vocal and piano music. One fancies, however, that there are Parisian influences in the scoring, which is said to have undergone considerable revision. De Falla has been described as one who is continually seeking after perfection, melting down and recasting works that have already had success in public performance, and going back over old ground endlessly in a meticulous quest for improvement in his handiwork. "La Vida Breve" tends to confirm this. Though an early opus, it is one of no mean polish. Its workmanship may be said to transcend its inspiration, though the score lacks brilliance, as it lacks power and dramatic interest. It possesses a modest measure of charm as well as deftness, and it bespeaks sincerity as truly as it does musicianship. That it tends toward monotony in its lack of highlights and spectacular moments, is not to be denied. In its entirety, "La Vida Breve" causes one to question whether de Falla is a composer for the stage, in spite of joyful remembrances of "El Retablo" and the "Three Cornered Hat." It reveals, instead, a minor symphonist astray on alien grounds.

The performance was carried chiefly on the fair shoulders of Lucrezia Bori, a Salud for a Zuolaga to paint. She was bewitchingly attractive in her native Spanish costumes, and her first-act lovemaking had in it a touch of wistfulness predictive of the tragedy to come. She made the most of her limited dramatic opportunities in the last two scenes and died as pathetically as the situation would permit. But Salud is not a definite character, and the others of the opera are less so. Of Miss Bori's singing, it is possible to speak only in terms of praise. She did particularly well with the air that had previously been heard here in concert, "Life for the Laughter Loving," sung as Salud awaits her lover's coming in the first scene.

Kathleen Howard, with an unusually good make-up, was pictorially effective as the gypsy Grandmother, though she had little to sing or do; and Merle Alcock, who was called upon only to look happy, then distressed, was an ornamental bride. As Paco, the lover, Armand Tokatyan sang and acted in the vein, though at his first entrance he was submerged by the orchestra. Louis D'Angelo and Arnold Gabor were creditable as Uncle Sarvaor and Manuel, respectively. Why Millo Picco, as A Singer, felt compelled to address his words and gestures to the audience instead of the stage assembly, in his second-act tribute to the bride and groom, is perhaps of no great moment, since he gave the phrases musical tone.

The four off-stage solo voices were well utilized. Mr. Serafin conducted a performance that was musically admirable, and the stage management (with Armando Agnini in costume among the guests of the wedding party to keep its groups from petrifying) was equally good. Urban's settings, of a rather photographic type, were agreeable in line and color. It was their merit or their defect to suggest actual places. The dances were prettily achieved and the audience gave them generous applause.

…."Le Rossignol," sung in French, was accorded the background of humoristic phantasy it demands. Special curtains, garishly hued and gilded, as well as grotesque and imaginative sets so designed as to give the effect of an inner stage, were painted for this production by Serge Soudekine, the Russian artist, whose peregrine art embellished last year 's "Petrushka" revival. He matched Stravinsky's Orientalism-here largely a matter of employing the pentatonic scale-with an orgy of Asiatic color.

Though "Rossignol" as an opera was utterly new to all save a few who may have seen performances of it in Paris, the most salient parts of the score had been made familiar through orchestral performances of the later symphonic poem, "Le Chant du Rossignol," utilizing the same material, first played in New York two seasons ago. Between the original opera (brought out in 1914) and the parturition of the symphonic poem, there was also a version of the work for choreographic ballet. Some of those familiar with "Rossignol" in each of its three successive stages abroad, describe the ballet as the happiest of the three forms.

Stravinsky's "Rossignol" score, like his "Petrushka," has sounded more striking in the concert hall than when wedded with pictorial action. It was tamed in the opera pit, and lost not a little of its rhythmic fascination. The 'March of the Mandarins," for instance, sounded very commonplace on this occasion, though it has glinted with a myriad lights in its symphonic surroundings. So, too, the episode of the mechanical nightingale from Japan.

The chief vocal melodies, the simple, essentially Russian song of the Fisherman, and the ornate, melismatic air, somewhat reminiscent of Rimsky's "Coq d'Or," by which the Nightingale extols the beauties of the garden of "forgotten graves" and woos homesick death away from the stricken Emperor, are of charm in either form-whether vocal, as in opera, or entrusted to brass or wood as in the orchestral version.

Miss Talley's voice sounded fuller and less juvenile in this music than in either "Rigoletto" or "Lucia." It again reinforced this writer's belief that it is in the main well produced and that what it most needs is the growth that will come from much singing, judiciously guarded to prevent impairment of the lovely quality of the greater part of her scale. There was a suggestion of tentativeness in some upper tones, but hers was a part of a taxingly high tessitura and the young singer achieved its succession of altitudinous tones with no trace of fatigue or other difficulty. Mr. Errolle, too, sang smoothly and with an attractive quality of tone. The others in the cast were little more than brightly costumed fantoccin, though a special word should be said for the Cook of Ina Bourskaya.

Mr. Serafin conducted energetically and with a gratifying surety. It probably was due to the difference of the mode of presentation, and not to any shortcoming on his part, that the orchestra lacked both the haunting sweetness and the tingling zest of well-remembered concert performances of "Le Chant du Rossignol."

Photograph of Lucrezia Bori and Armand Tokatyan in De Falla's La Vida Breve by Herman Mishkin.

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