[Met Performance] CID:93070
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Don Quichotte {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 04/3/1926.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
April 3, 1926 Matinee
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


DON QUICHOTTE {1}
Massenet-Cain

Don Quichotte...........Fyodor Chaliapin
Dulcinée................Florence Easton
Sancho Pança............Giuseppe De Luca
Pedro...................Grace Anthony
Garcias.................Minnie Egener
Rodriguez...............George Meader
Juan....................Angelo Badà
Ténébrun................Paolo Ananian
Servant.................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Servant.................Arnold Gabor
Bandit..................Louis D'Angelo
Bandit..................James Wolfe

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Choreographer...........August Berger

Alternate title: Don Quixote

Don Quichotte received seven performances this season

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Tribune

There have been brave men in France; but of them all, surely the bravest was the late Jules Emile Frederic Massenet. This intrepid composer, gifted with the spiritual distinction of a butler, the compassionate understanding of a telephone girl, and the expressive capacity of an amorous tomtit, had the courage to choose as a subject for music the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the most exquisitely piteous figure in the imaginative literature of the world. Monsieur Massenet, composer of "Manon" and the "Meditation Réligieuse," selected as the theme for an opera the 'Don Quixote of Cervantes, and with it he did his worst. The result of this incredible adventure was displayed to us on Saturday afternoon.

The "Don Quichotte" of Massenet and his librettist-confederate was not new to our town. It was performed at the Metropolitan on February 3, 1914, though not by the company indigenous to that theater. The exhibitors of this "heroic comedy" were the members of the Chicago-Philadelphia Opera Company. Vanni Marcoux (who introduced the part to Paris in 1910) was the Don Quichotte, and Mary Garden was La Belle Dulcinée. Mr. Campanini conducted. But Saturday's production was the first by our resident opera troupe, and is thus to be credited among Mr. Gatti-Casazza's promised "novelties and revivals."

There have been many attempts at a tonal setting of the incomparable story, from Sajon's "Don Chisciotto della Mancia," produced at Venice in 1680, to De Falla's "El Retablo de Meese Pedro," heard in New York this season. Massenet's derivation (composed in 1909, performed for the first time at Monte Carlo, February 24, 1910), is surely the most futile. It is based upon a comedy made out of Cervantes's novel by the French shoemaker-poet, Jacques le Lorraine, and turned into a libretto by Massenet's industrious co-worker, Henri Cain.

Massenet has told us that what "charmed" him and moved him to write "Don Quichotte" was the "stroke of genius" displayed by Le Lorrain in his play "when he substituted for the coarse wench at the inn Cervantes' Dulcinea, the original and picturesque La Belle Dulcinée"-a characteristic comment! He says nothing about the achievement of his librettist, Henri Cain, in turning the marvelous original of Cervantes into a dull and feeble travesty-a thing so lifeless, so trite, so tedious, that you stand amazed at the power of transmutation which could make over a supreme romance, a thing of inexhaustible comedy and pathos and beauty, into what is surely the flattest and thinnest libretto that was ever set to music.

A few of the externals of the great tale survive-the Don himself, a mere sentimental silhouette; Sancho Panzo, his salt and savor all deleted, his humor become buffoonery, recognizable only by his paunch, his fears and his devotion; Rosinante and Dapple; the windmills, and the Don's exalting passion for Dulcinea.

In the first act there is Spanish dancing under the casement of Dulcinea; Don Quixote and Sancho enter on their famous mounts. There is a serenade for the Don and a duel with Dulcinea's lover, and the knight sets forth to recover the lady's necklace from the bandits who have stolen it. In Act II we see the Don contriving rhymes for a love song; he charges the windmill, a dummy flies through the air, and the curtains close upon the picture of the damaged knight escorted from the scene by Sancho. Act III shows him captured by the bandits, but in the end subduing them by his piety and courage, so that they give him the desired necklace and set him free. Act IV is concerned with the triumphant restoration of the necklace to La Belle Dulcinée, the knight's proposal of marriage, the lady's mockery ("A lawful wife! Ha! ha!"), her contrite revelation of her wantonness, and the Don's collapse. In the last act, set "in the gorge of an old forest," Don Quixote, brokenhearted, dreaming of enchanted isles, visioning his ideal lady, dies upon his feet.

The thing, as drama, never comes to life. It has no continuity of pattern, no tension, no substance. It is operatic sawdust of the most unnourishing kind. A composer of imagination, even of fancy, might have given it flavor of a sort; but not Jules Massenet! The last man in the world, indeed, who should have attempted to write music for even such a travesty of Don Quixote as Henri Cain's libretto was the ineffable Jules. Poor Massenet, that male milliner of music, what chance had he of setting the great dreamer to music that would be anything but an indignity to Cervantes? Don Quixote, in the original, is nothing if not noble: Massenet, as a composer, knew not the meaning of the word. Cervantes' creation goes to the roots of compassionate tenderness, pitiful laughter: Massenet's humanity and sensibility as an artist were never more than skin deep. The humor of "Don Quixote" is the profoundest, the most philosophical, the most touching, in all literature: the humor of Massenet is to seek.

In this score, Massenet is at his worst. The music is a prodigy of vacuous ineptitude. Its impotence is breathtaking. You wonder how even a tenth rate composer could front such a subject as that of "Don Quixote"-diluted and trivialized though it is in this libretto-and bring himself to set down the paltry stuff that constitutes this score. The music has not a gleam of authentic beauty, or fine feeling, or characterization. Of the wistful ardor, the rich comedy, the valorous tenderness, the searching and insupportable pathos that are implicit in the subject and essential to it, there is not a trace. The invention throughout is puerile. The music is a maddening trickle of banalities, shallow, tepid, tasteless. If Massenet had not already gone to his accounting, horribly would the ghost of Cervantes haunt and reproach him for this miserable, degrading travesty!

Its only conceivable excuse for survival is that it gives Mr. Chaliapin a stalking-horse for a superb impersonation. This extraordinary artist has gone beyond Massenet and Le Lorrain and Cain (happily named in this instance, for he has slain a brother in letters ). He has gone, evidently, to the figure of the nobly fanatical dreamer as he exists for us all in Cervantes, and has recreated him almost in defiance of the shabby trio who defaced a masterpiece. In Chaliapin the true Don Quixote comes alive across the footlights.

Visually, the character stands before you, aided by a make-up that is in itself a creative triumph-save that the figure is a little over-stalwart for tile spare, worn frame of Cervantes' Knight. Mr. Chaliapin evokes for you the image of the man and the projection of his burning spirit almost wholly by means of his consummate genius as an actor. He sings the music very badly-with persistent disregard of the pitch, with defective rhythm, poor tone. But these things, under the circumstances, hardly matter. It would indeed be far better if Mr. Chaliapin should frankly content himself with speaking his lines, as the Bandits are required to do. What matters is the superb, transfiguring histronism of this unrivalled artist, who has taken the poor empty skin of the librettist and filled it with the body and soul of Don Quixote, making it luminous with his incandescent ecstasy, his shining belief in a world of fantasy that is more actual to him than the stupid realities that balk and defeat him, the beautiful dignity and exaltation that never desert him even in those abysses of absurdity which only so great a spirit could survive.

Florence Easton was not shrewdly cast for the role of La Belle Dulcinée, and (surprisingly for her) she sang badly off the key in her entrance song. And is it not time for Mme. Easton to begin to consider the benefits of a sagely chosen diet? Others do-why not opera singers; for whom the need of visual illusion is of the first importance?

Mr. De Luca was admirable in the buffo role of Sancho, and the rest of the cast were adequate in utterly inconsequential parts. Mr. Thewman's handling of the crowd scenes was not very happy, nor was there much edification to be derived from the infantile prancings of the Corps de Ballet in the fourth act. Mr. Urban's settings were neat and conventional. If the show can be saved, it will be by virtue of Mr. Chaliapin's magnificent embodiment-which, by the way, Massenet in his "Recollections" had not the decency or intelligence to praise, though he mentions almost everyone else in the cast but this great artist who created the rôle at its premiere, and "thrills with happiness" at the thought of "the palace of Monaco and His Serene Highness the Prince." Massenet the eternal lackey!



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