[Met Performance] CID:97000

Opening Night {43}, General Manager: Giulio Gatti-Casazza

Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, October 31, 1927

Turandot received seven performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune

The Opera Season Opens at the Metropolitan with "Turandot" and Jeritza

It was precisely at 8:25 o'clock last evening that Maria Jeritza, cleaving the sinister darkness of Mr. Urban's Peking nightfall like a cold, infuriated moonbeam, brought death to the poor young Perisan Prince awaiting his doom upon the wall, and life to the Metropolitan's nascent opera season of 27-28. For, of course, it was not until the Princess Maria Turandot had blazed upon the scene in all her argent vividness, on the loggia of the royal palace high above the Peking rabble, that we sat up at our straightest in the Metropolitan's antique crimson chairs and hailed the blossoming season as an officially opened rose.

Things, to be sure, had been happening on the stage, and in front of it before that. We had seen in the house itself a sight whereat Mr. Thomas Carlyle, if he could have visited the Opera last evening as he did in London a half century ago, would have been as gloriously wroth as we last night were ingloriously edified. "A select populace of high-dizened most expensive persons," he would certainly have roared at the lustrous, pavonine audience.

For Mr. Carlyle was unhandsomely persuaded that the high-dizened persons did not get amusement from Euterpe and. Melpomene. "Those two Muses, sent for regardless of expense (we can fancy him declaring), I could see were but a vehicle. Young beauties of both sexes used their opera glasses, you could notice, not entirely for looking at the stage. And it must be owned that the light in this explosion of all the upholsteries was magical, and made your fair one an Armida, if you liked her better so. In fact, I perceive that the Arts were a mere accompaniment here."

If you were present at the Metropolitan last night, you might have been tempted to conclude that opera has not altered much in the half century and more since sputtering Thomas stamped his way out of the Haymarket and sought the benison of his drowsy riverside at Chelsea. But possibly your eyes, like ours, were bent upon the stage and the orchestra pit last night, if you were as prompt as we were; and there, especially, things had been happening in those preparatory fifteen minutes before the Princess Turandot apportioned death and life. The fiery Mr. Serafin, after acknowledging the welcome of the assembling and high-dizened populace, and of those other enthusiasts whose hands are their fortune, had unloosed the Italo-Mongolian clamors of Puccini's orchestra-that Chinese music so conscientiously à la mode, with D minor polytonally opposed to an unbrotherly C-sharp major.

On the stage itself, those perennial buttercups, the Metropolitan's night-blooming yellow curtains, had unclosed their golden petals and revealed to us the well-remembered bastions and walls and loggia of Mr. Urban's concept of the Violet City of legendary times; and there were the multicolored Chinese crowds listening to Mr. Cehanovsky, as the Mandarin, read the decree of death. We heard the love-lorn slave girl, Liu-this time in the person of Nannette Guilford, instead of Martha Attwood (the only change in last year's cast, and an advantageous one)-utter her imploring cry for help.

We recognized the Unknown Prince Calaf, the son of Timur, disguised as Mr. Lauri-Volpi; for if we had not known him by his princely garb of purple velvet and jade green and the comely figure that he made, we should have known him by the pealing of his trumpet-voice as Eve, so she told Adam, recognized the Tiger by his stripes. Mr. Lauri-Volpi has not forgotten how to fling a high B-flat into an enraptured auditorium although last night he had to wait until the Princess Turandot had come and gone before he got his chance at the conclusion of his insensate apostrophe to the ruinous beauty of that imperial sadist. Nor did we fail to esteem the virtues of Mr. Ludikar's embodiment of Timur, the exiled Tartar king, nor Mr. von Wymental's adroit and expressive handling of the crowds, and the vitality of the choral singing.

But it was again Jeritza, as it was last season, who gave edge and saltency to the lyric drama. None of the other chief characters quite comes to life in this performance - though it is possible that a singing actor more richly endowed with imagination and projective skill than Mr. Lauri-Volpi might give to the venturesome Calaf the stir and hue of romantic verisimilitude. It is still the high integrity, the fusing intelligence, the taut and passionate intensity of Jeritza's performance that focuses whatever of interest the opera possesses, and centers it in this impersonation of burning and bitter beauty.

The fluent grace and. power, the instinct for rhythmic line, the feeling for pose and gesture and accent, the sleepless sense of the theater, that remove Mme. Jeritza so many countless leagues from the flatness and conventionality of that bleating semaphore, the average opera singer,and make it possible for her to touch with a perturbing and caustic passion the harshness and barrenness of the musico-dramatic material with which she is compelled to deal in this excessively difficult rôle. She acted last night with all her old command of tension and of climax, and she delivered with prodigal tone and unrelaxing fervor (barring a slight mishap at the beginning of her second act scene) the cruel music that the score allots to her with so wicked persistence.

Next to her for skill and felicity should be placed the Messrs. Bada, De Luca and Tedesco as the comic and Gilbertian trio of ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong. Mr. Altglass as the Emperor Altoum seemed to stress unduly the decrepitude of the venerable Emperor. Surely Emperors-in opera at least-should be heard as well as seen.

"Turandot" remains a spectacle par excellence, distinguished, in Jeremy Taylor's phrase by "variety, and cost, and curiosity." Dr. Johnson would undoubtedly have been confirmed by it in his belief that music is indeed the costliest of rackets.

As for Puccini's score, it impressed us more definitely than ever before as vehemently and tragically vacuous. Puccini in his last years was reaching out after new ideas, a new technique, a subtilization of style and feeling. For that he deserves as an artist ungrudging praise and honor. He did not need to change, to subtilize; his vast and idolatrous public would have been content to have him go on to the end of time, turning out replicas of "La Bohème" and "Madame Butterfly."

It was immensely to his credit that he chose not to rest content with his incomparable popularity-that he displayed the noble inquietude of the essential artist. Alas, that his desire outran his powers of achievement, his scope as a creator! The shining arms were not meant to carry further, the inner doors not meant to open for him. But at least we cannot say of him, as Henry James so bitterly said of Flaubert, that "he hovered forever at the public door, in the outer court, the splendor of which quite properly beguiled him." Puccini, at least, was eager to listen at the inner chamber. It was not his fault that the door of that room was keyless and forever closed.

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