[Met Performance] CID:104950

New Production

L'Elisir d'Amore
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, March 21, 1930

L'Elisir d'Amore (41)
Gaetano Donizetti | Felice Romani
Nina Morgana

Beniamino Gigli

Giuseppe De Luca

Dr. Dulcamara
Ezio Pinza

Philine Falco

Tullio Serafin

Wilhelm Von Wymetal

Set Designer
Joseph Novak

L'Elisir d'Amore received six performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Oscar Thompson in the April 10, 1930 issue of Musical America


Donizetti's Melodious Opera Fortunately Cast When Brought Back After Interval of Ten Years-Gigli in Caruso's Old Role Evokes Protracted Demonstration With "Una Furtiva Lagrima" - Nina Morgana Wins Success as Adina - De Luca and Pinza Admired - Serafin Conducts Spirited Performance

If not "sigh for sigh," the Metropolitan audience which witnessed and harkened to the revival of Gaetano Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" the evening of March 21, gave laugh for laugh and held up the performance something more than five minutes with applause that was by no means furtive after Beniamino Gigli had expended his most impassioned sweetness on "Una furtiva lagrima." The intermissions buzzed with talk of Caruso - of the last time he had sung this music at the Metropolitan the night of Nov. 18, 1920 - of the subsequent performance in Brooklyn when a broken blood vessel that compelled dismissal of the audience after the first act gave warning of the beginning of the end. How Caruso used to repeat the second part of the aria of the furtive tear was variously re-told. It was a night for reminiscences, but it was also a night for jubilation over one of the happiest of recent undertakings at the opera house. Fortunately cast, the revival was a singing success. And singing successes have not been numerous in the last few seasons.

Mr. Gigli, after waiting eight years to inherit that share of the mantle of the fallen represented by "L'Elisir" and "Una furtiva lagrima" converted the role of Nemorino into one of his most thoroughly agreeable achievements of the house of Gatti. At his elbow in making Donizetti's old comedy chuckle of tunes was Ezio Pinza, whose Dulcamara was the best quack doctor this opera has boasted in its relatively recent career at the Metropolitan. Coincidentally, it was Mr. Pinza's most irresistible impersonation. Giuseppe de Luca sang Sergeant Belcore, the role so long identified with Antonio Scotti, and made it sufficiently his own.

There was an eleventh hour Adina in Nina Morgana, called to the footlights when Editha Fleischer reported herself too ill to sing. Miss Morgana met her opportunity with as admirable singing as she has placed to her credit during the entire period of her association with the company. Philine Falco completed the cast. Over all was the invigorating zeal of Tullio Serafin, who conducted a performance full of spirit and humor, if at times a little too full-throated for the singers. Wilhelm von Wymetal's stage direction achieved its ends circumspectly and the new scenic investiture by Josef Novak was brightly hued and otherwise more than acceptable. Giulio Setti's chorus again disclosed the results of thorough preparation. Curtain recalls were numerous and accompanied by applause which had other than the usual perfunctory ring.

In Its Heyday Before Verdi

Now York's experience with "L'Elisir d'Amore," which Donizetti composed in 1838, dates back to the days of Palmo's opera house, in the early eighteen-forties. Members of the company which first brought this work to Manhattan included the father and mother of Adelina Patti, the one a tenor, the other the prima donna soprano. The opera's heyday in the last century preceded the rise of Verdi, and it was curiously long in reaching the Metropolitan. Not until Conried's time - and Caruso's - was it mounted in the Broadway house, a score of years after the [inauguration] of the Metropolitan in 1883. Giulio Gatti-Casazza revived the work in the first year of his consulship and again Caruso was the Nemorino. Bonci, it appears, also sang some performances, but at the Metropolitan the part was peculiarly the property of the great tenor whose name has become a legend in less than a decade since he was on the boards in the full prime of his powers.

One by one the latter-day Caruso roles were taken over by other tenors, but "L'Elisir," which he had sung regularly some five times a season for about five seasons, remained out of the repertory. Lionel, Eleazar, Samson and Jean of Leyden were passed on, together with Andrea Chenier - announced for Caruso - either to Mr. Gigli or Mr. Martinelli, but "Una furtiva lagrima" was to be heard only at an occasional Sunday night concert. To the last, Caruso had remained a lyric tenor in this opera, contriving always to slough off the baritonal weight of tone he brought to Eleazar and Samson, so as to sing Donizetti's music with the lighter, purer tenor quality of his earlier seasons in America. Among the Adinas who sang opposite him were Marcella Sembrich, Frieda Hempel and Mabel Garrison. Scotti was for long the Belcore of Belcores, though de Luca also had sung the part. Adamo Didur was the Dulcamara in the last of the Caruso performances.

With the opera out of the repertory only a decade, and with some performances under other auspices in the interim, "L'Elisir" came back no stranger to a considerable part of the audience which applauded the newest revival. The story of the opera is too readily accessible in innumerable handbooks of plots to justify retelling here. Musically, "L'Elisir" has airs which, like the poor - though they are not poor airs - are with us always. But the life of this elixir is choral as much as soloistic, and its buffo comedy counts quite as much in giving sparkle to the cup that cheers, if it does not greatly inebriate, in this, quite another century than Donizetti's.

The weaver's son of Bergamo wrote some sixty-four operas between 1818 and 1844, a period of only twenty-six years - averaging well above two a year - and of these only six, "Lucia," "Don Pasquale," "Favorita," "The Daughter of the Regiment." "Lucrezia Borgia," and "L'Elisir have had any part in the history of the Metropolitan. Today "L'Elisir," if it cannot boast anything like consistent a place in the repertory as "Lucia" (missing, by the way, from the records, to date, from the waning seasons at the Metropolitan, though sung by the company in Philadelphia), has more of freshness for the modern ear than the more "serious" works.

Donizetti had not the whiplash of Rossini; his humor is less sharply cut. But aside from Rossini there is no other composer of the Italian buffo style who has survived the buffo period as well as Donizetti has survived it in "L'Elisir." Once the opera had gathered its due measure of momentum after an unaccountably slow start at this revival, it kept up a tingle of delight by its alternation of sprightly and dexterous choruses, sentimental airs and amusing by-play.

Miss Morgana a Success as Adina

Miss Morgana's skilled treatment of the soprano airs and duets, and particularly that of the "Contract Air" in the last scene - almost immediately after the protracted demonstration accorded Mr. Gigli for his singing of "Una furtiva lagrima" - would have been highly creditable if she had been accorded the maximum of preparation and rehearsal. She sang smoothly, with the requisite flexibility of tone, and with the caressing legato style that is an essential for this music. The tone was limpid, the embroidery of florid phrases easily and cleanly achieved. Moreover, she was an engaging Adina to look upon.

Mr. Gigli was much more than primo tenore. He was also primo buffo. In his hands, Nemorino became a droll bumpkin, not to be followed through his love-making and his duping at the hands of the quack doctor, without smiles and chortles. But even the indignity of Belcore's boot, deftly applied in the region of time-honored insults, did not so much as ruffle the dulcet quality of his song. If Nemorino was all kinds of a boob, he was a likable one, and he had a miracle imprisoned in his throat. "Una furtiva lagrima," though very admirably sung, was surpassed in beauty of tone by some other moments of Mr. Gigli's singing, particularly in the second act entreaty, "Adina, credemi."

Mr. Pinza was the soul of unction and of fraud as Dulcamara. He had the well-oiled patter for the buffo music which fell to him, and once he had passed "Udite, udite, o rustici," which in some manner lacked its essential point, he lost no opportunity in underscoring both his music and his stage action, so as to make of the part a consistently droll character unlike any other he has delineated at the Metropolitan. For this reviewer, he proved beyond cavil that in the recent "Don Giovanni" revival he should have been cast as Leporello, and not the Don, In this connection, it should not be forgotten that such notables as Edouard de Reszke and Feodor Chaliapin sang Leporello at the Metropolitan.

Mr. de Luca found his first solo, "Come Paride vezzoza," somewhat low for his voice, but his style carried him through. Thereafter he gave richly of his accustomed art to the role of Nemorino's soldier-rival. 'L'Elisir," it would seem, is due for another considerable stretch of popularity in the house where, despite its late recognition, it had become something of a fixture in the days when Caruso, with no regulation to the contrary, was often called upon to repeat the second part of his meditation on the furtive tear. With the identical cast; the Donizetti opera was repeated the night of March 27.

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