[Met Performance] CID:94060
New production
Die Zauberflöte {62} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 11/6/1926.

(Debut: Editha Fleischer
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 6, 1926 Matinee
New production


DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE {62}
Mozart-Schikaneder

Pamina..................Elisabeth Rethberg
Tamino..................Rudolf Laubenthal
Queen of the Night......Marion Talley
Sarastro................Paul Bender
Papageno................Gustav Schützendorf
Papagena................Louise Hunter
Monostatos..............George Meader
Speaker.................Clarence Whitehill
First Lady..............Editha Fleischer [Debut]
Second Lady.............Phradie Wells
Third Lady..............Marion Telva
Genie...................Charlotte Ryan
Genie...................Grace Anthony
Genie...................Dorothea Flexer
Priest..................Arnold Gabor
Priest..................Ludwig Burgstaller
Guard...................Max Bloch
Guard...................William Gustafson

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Director................Samuel Thewman
Designer................Serge Soudeikine

Die Zauberflöte received seven performances this season.

Review of Oscar Thompson in the November 13, 1926 issue of Musical America

'Magic Flute' Sounds Again in Revival at Metropolitan

Mozart's still cryptic compend of the sublime, the ridiculous and the masonic, "Die Zauberflöte," re-appeared at the Metropolitan Saturday afternoon, Nov. 6, after an absence of ten seasons. The first of Giulio Gatti-Casazza's novelties and revivals, it possessed the allure of a spectacular extravaganza, as well as that of one of the most celebrated and historic of operatic scores.

Moreover, the cast given it was not without popular enticements of its own, the principal singers among the feminine participants being Marion Talley as The Queen of the Night and Elisabeth Rethberg as Pamina- rôles consecrated to the memory of some of the most refulgent names of a hundred and thirty- five years of lyric stage. Saturday's audience was correspondingly large and eager. Something more than the interest customarily evinced in any addition to the repertoire stirred as subscribers took their seats and standees foregathered at the rail. Among them were Mozart enthusiasts, for whom the singers and Serge Soudeikine's scenic panoply were secondary considerations. But a larger number, no doubt, thought not so much of the etesian springs of which they were to sip, as of the vocalists and the stage splendors Mr. Gatti-Casazza had promised them.

That a reaction of cordiality, rather than any very conflagatory enthusiasm, was subsequently discernible in the audience's appreciation of what had been set before it, can scarcely be attributed to any palling of the effect of Mozart's music, though it has sparkled and ingratiated itself with more of brilliance and persuasiveness in other years. Perhaps a fair appraisal should wait until additional representations are experienced. It may be that Saturday's production was not what it will be. The circumstance that the usual dress rehearsal open to the reviewers was suspended may have been an indication that all was not ready. The slowness with which the stage transformations were achieved in the opera's sixteen changes of scene tended to corroborate this hypothesis. Rarely is an opera so much as two minutes late in starting at the Metropolitan. This one was more than five. Therein was sounded something of a keynote for the afternoon.

As if to offset the tendency of the visual action to drag, imposed by the use of spoken lines instead of the substitutional recitatives, Conductor Artur Bodanzky hurried the tempi throughout the first half of' the performance, and the chief impressions left with the reviewer, aside from details of the singing and staging, were of alternate hurry and delay - of scenes that slipped past, insufficiently emphasized, and of waits between them that were disproportionately long. If ever the Metropolitan needed a revolving stage, it was Saturday. Much of the effect of a costly, even a lavish, production, doubtless was lost through inadequacy of mechanics.

Having commissioned Serge Soudeikine, the neo-fantast who so successfully designed the "Petrushka" and "Rossignol" sets, to provide a color phantasmagoria for Schiekaneder's unfathomable fairy tale, and having placed Samuel Thewman in charge of the stage, Mr. Gatti searched through his bulky roster and selected the following cast: (see above)

The presence among the singers of several of these names gave the cast a current prestige in some degree comparable with that of the more notable of the many performances that have intervened since the work was first heard in America in the eighteen-thirties. The last previous representations were in the season of 1916-17, when the work was heard three times, after having figured extensively in the repertoire since the opera year 1912-13, when it had the unusual number of nine performances.
Those who could recall the 1916 "Magic Flute" did not remember it as a particularly superior one; but in some instances at least they were frank to say that they preferred the older sets and the manner in which the stage transitions were then achieved.

Of Saturday's cast, Mme. Rethberg, at least, was equal to all the exactions of the opera - in voice, style, taste, comportment, appearance. It is unlikely that many Paminas have brought a lovelier quality of tone to her airs and duets, and to that marvelous "Dagger" quartet in which Mozart proved how dramatic the most lyrical use of four feminine voices can be. If the entire performance could have been on a similar plane, it would have been a notable one irrespective of spectacle or details of stage management.

Consideration of Miss Talley's first assumption of the very difficult, but not particularly grateful, part of The Queen of the Night is not such a simple matter. Perhaps, here, especially, a more just evaluation could be reached later on. It was no small feat for a singer who first set foot upon the operatic stage less than a year ago to have coped with the ride at all - far less, to have gained that considerable measure of success which Miss Talley achieved. But the doubt remains as to whether she should have been permitted, or called upon, to undertake it this early in her career. Because of its unusual upward flights and its arduous rapid passages, there are experienced artists for whom Gilda and Lucia have no terrors who would be reluctant, indeed, to pit their top registers against the phrases of the usually nameless "Astrifiamemante."

True, there are but two solos allotted her, neither of them protracted, and they demand no competition with the bravura flute. But each of these, as written, climbs to a somewhat terrifying high F - the first air once, the second almost half a dozen times. If the reviewer's ears reported correctly, Miss Talley sang no F's on this occasion. In 'O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn," she followed the precedent of some of her predecessors and mounted easily to a D, apparently well content with this alternative. The later and still more difficult "Der Halle Rache," with its succession of staccato F's, was, we believe, transposed. If we are wrong, our apologies are extended. Whether the circumstance that Miss Talley (perhaps not quite so calm as she appeared) sang sharp at the time she was clicking off these altitudinous phrases indicated that she could have vocalized higher quite as readily, need not to be entered into here.

The young soprano's voice sounded fuller than it did a year ago, and was no whit less musical. But this musicality was again most pronounced in the lower and medium tones - for which there was little call; and least in those stepladder effects which Mozart wrote to gratify his sister-in-law, Josefa Hofer, possessor of an abnormally high voice. The Queen of the Night, it would seem, is the last achievement to be demanded of a youthful coloratura. Not only the utmost finish, but the surety and poise that are seldom to be acquired save by years of stage experience, are essential in this part. Moreover, something sinister - some touch of cruelty in the flash of tone - is a dramatic requisite; and not the corrosive tenderness that is the fundamental appeal of Miss Talley's singing at its best.

The singer's make-up, too, was not altogether fortunate. Viewed through glasses, there was a baby pink-and-whiteness about this supposed virago, suggesting anything but an embodiment of unprincipled and obnoxious power. To sum it all up, Miss Talley's achievement was that of a very gifted girl, the fortunate possessor of an unusual voice united with a highly developed, but not yet thoroughly perfected, technic, who had stepped a little beyond her depth and who might better have undertaken this role at some later period in her career.

A sufficiently lively and mildly amusing Papageno, Gustav Schützendorf very wisely permitted the duet, "Bei Mannern," with Mme. Rethberg, to become almost a soprano solo with a half-voice baritone obbligato - since his vocal tone was not the best attribute of a meritorious but not exactly mercurial characterization. Rudolf. Laubenthal's Tamino had more of earnestness than of Mozartean deftness. There is, after all, some difference between this music and that of Wagner. Paul Bender was moderately successful with the two celebrated bass airs of Sarastro, "O Isis and Osiris" and "In diesen heil'gen Hallen," bringing to them all the dignity associated with their Rosicrucian symbolism, but it is not difficult to recall instances in which they have had steadier, more sumptuous tone.

Clarence Whitehill as the Speaker and George Meader as Monostatos were all that was required. So, too, the two trios of women's voices. Editha Fleischer, making her Metropolitan debut as the first of the queen's ladies, made clear that she is an experienced Mozart singer, and in the [first] scene with Tamino gave to the concerted music a buoyancy rather lacking in the performance as a whole. It remained, however, for pert Louise Hunter, a happy thought as Papagena, to infuse something of high spirits and bubbling vitality into those latter scenes which stood most in need of them.

Though a raised inner stage was not used, as in "Cosi Fan Tutte," the theater of Mozart's time was suggested by an inner proscenium with miniature boxes. There were special blue curtains which parted on the first scene, after the traditional knocks of the stage manager had been heard. Thereafter followed scene on scene of curious and sometimes baffling design. Soudeikine's setting has the merit, at least, of being provocative, and it may be assumed that a little controversy can do the present production no harm. To this reviewer, it seemed that imaginative conceptions had been literalized in their execution, that fantastic designs had been reduced in the painting to the commonplace and that what was intended to be garishly bizarre became merely indifferently grotesque. The scenes may have suffered from inadequate lighting, as the costumes undoubtedly did - so, too, the personalities of the singers.

There was applause in moderation after several of the scenes and at the close of each of the acts when the principals were summoned before the curtain. The heartiest approbation of the afternoon undoubtedly was that which followed Mme. Rethberg's very expressive and artfully phrased projection of the air "Ach ich fiihls" - one of the loveliest melodies of this imperishable score. Confronted with such beauty, the listener is content to abandon as "confusion worse confounded" all the fuss and conjecture about Schickaneder's crazy-quilt libretto - symbolic of everything from the ritual of eighteenth century Freemasonry to the hostility of the Empress Maria Theresa - and decide that when a Mozart speaks through opera, the music's the thing.



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