Monday, October 14, 2013

Musical Invective

What opera's US premiere is under discussion in the following review excerpts? No fair using web search.

From time to time [general director redacted] seeks to fatten the German repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera, but in spite of such bits of promising nourishment as he picks up here and there, the repertoire seems to remain statically Wagnerian. Young Erich Korngold's "Die tote Stadt" and Max von Schilling's "Mona Lisa" do not appear to have been ecstatically absorbed, and the General Director's latest experiment, [redacted], offered up for the first time on Saturday afternoon, is not likely to do any better. 
The new opera-new, however, only to New York, for it has been available any time these twenty years-is a setting by [composer] of a tale by [librettist]. Neither of these names, of course, means anything here, for none of [composer's[ music heretofore got across the Atlantic and the librettist is an unknown. [composer] is a [nationality], to be more specific-and his opera is a [nationality] "Cavalleria Rusticana," minus anything remotely as good as Mascagni's music.
[couple of paragraphs redacted in their entirety, as they are total spoilers]
It is easily conceivable that such a tale, or something like it, could be made a gripping affair. One has only to think of Sydney Howard's current peasant drama, "They Knew What They Wanted" with Pauline Lord, or of "Cavalleria Rusticana" itself for that matter, to realize this. But there are a dozen reasons why it isn't. One of them is that the Metropolitan Opera House is the Metropolitan Opera House. Another that [diva], the [leading role] is no Pauline Lord; still another that the German translation is either poor stuff or the original is the same. And, chief of them all, that [composer's] music is a pretilly light comic matter trying to characterize the tragic. This music flows along gently and unobtrusively, with a Wagnerian twist and turn every now and again, but never achieves so much as a profile of the drama. 
I'll provide a link after the opera in question is guessed.


bgn said...

Jenufa? I know it was something of a fiasco at its Met premiere sometime in the 20s.

Anonymous said...

Jenufa? With Maria Jeritza? The comparison of the plot to Cavalleria seems to suggest this, although the characterization of the music doesn't sound like even a plausible way of misunderstanding Janacek.

Unknown said...

Jenufa sounds right. Interesting that the reviewer would choose to lump it in with "the German repertoire" if so.

Bryan said...

Jenufa sounds right. Interesting that the reviewer lumped it in with "the German repertoire" if so.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And right you all are; that review ran in the Evening Journal and was written one Irving Weil, who was wrong wrong wrong about everything. The part about being undramatic is especially startling. I nearly started crying during Act III the first time I saw the opera, because I was convinced that the villagers were about to tear Jenufa limb from limb.

Jenufa wasn't heard again at the Met until the 1974-75 season. Here are the principals from that year:

Jenufa..................Teresa Kubiak
Laca....................Jon Vickers
Kostelnicka.............Astrid Varnay
Steva...................William Lewis
Grandmother.............Jean Kraft

A friend who attended one of the performances told me that in addition to the applause for the singers, there was a big ovation for Maria Jeritza, who was in the audience. She lived to be very old, 98 or something, and attended the opera often.

I'll put the whole review in another posting, along with a more positive review from that first year.