[Met Performance] CID:106430

United States Premiere, New Production

The Fair at Sorochintzy
Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, November 29, 1930 Matinee

In Italian

The Fair at Sorochintzy (1)
Modest Mussorgsky | Modest Mussorgsky
Maria Müller

Frederick Jagel

Ina Bourskaya

Ezio Pinza

Old Crony
Giuseppe Danise

George Cehanovsky

Pastor's Son
Marek Windheim

Angelo Badà

Max Altglass

Pompilio Malatesta

Rita De Leporte

Cesare Del Grande

Giuseppe Bonfiglio

Tullio Serafin

Ernst Lert

Serge Soudeikine

Rosina Galli

August Berger

Translation by unknown
The Fair at Sorochintzy received 5 performances this season.
The musical edition completed and orchestrated by Nikolai Tcherepnin was performed.

Review 1:

Review in Town Topics

People who went to the season's first première at the Metropolitan last Saturday afternoon expecting to find '"The Fair at Sorochintzy" an orgy of mud and vodka must have been grievously disappointed. To be sure, they heard a Little Russian folk opera, but light and gay and often exceedingly charming. The village which the brush of Serge Soudeikine had depicted was as spick and span as if Holland had grown it, and you were positive every peasant's house could boast the latest word in "confort moderne." And the costumes the villagers wore - delightfully artistic in cut and coloring - would have graced a fancy dress ball at the Winter Palace of old.

The only serious interruption suffered by the melodious festivity (so different from the home life of "Boris Godounoff"!), occurred in the second act when the drunken Tcherevik dreamed his dream. There Moussorgsky's tone poem, "A Night on the Bald Mountain," was introduced to show us what was troubling the old fellow's booze-logged brain. But that Moussorgsky "Valpurgis Night" is music of no especial terror in this year of grace, and Mme. Rosina Galli, we found, in devising the "choreographic intermezzo" which kept step with the score, had graciously imported favor and prettiness into an overflown meeting of the inferno.

It was interesting to observe that this folk piece, which Moussorgsky left incomplete and which Nicholas Tcherepnine finished, acted clearly enough. A mere summary of the libretto takes up so much space that one might have supposed otherwise. But to watch the "Fair" is simple enough.

One is easily aware of Tcherevik's bibulous habit, of his wife Khivria's preoccupation with the pastor's son, of the love affair of the daughter Parassia with young Gritzko, which despite Khivria ends in a happy betrothal. And one is not too much bothered by the machinations of the gypsy, who figures as the "god from the machine." Altogether, except for some tedious solo stuff in the second of the three acts, the "Fair" proved to be an amiable entertainment presented in a smooth Italian manner.

To complain because it wasn't more Russian would be foolish when you remember the Italian translation used and inspect the names in the cast. And as a matter of fact one of the most satisfactory of the singing-actors was the Italian basso, Ezio Pinza, as Tcherevik.

Other particularly commendable impersonations were those of Khivria by Mme. Bourskaya (an authentic Russian), and of the pastor's son by Marek Windheim (a Pole.) Mme. Müller looked and sang pleasingly as Parassia. Mr. Jagel as Gritzka was the conventional operatic tenor. Mr. Serafin, who conducted, obtained a smooth ensemble.

Review 2:

Review of A. Walter Kramer in Musical America

Moussorgsky's 'Fair' in Premiere at Metropolitan

Slavic Folk Comedy Proves Diverting Pasticcio

First American Hearing Given to Posthumous Opera Arranged by Tcherepnine from Composer's Sketches - Work Sung in Italian by Largely Non-Slavic Cast - Elaborate Ballet Divertissement Based on "Night on Bald Mount" Is Colorful Episode

Fifty-five years after Modeste Moussorgsky conceived the idea of writing an opera based on Gogol's tale, "Sorochinskaya Yarmarka," which I am assured means "The Fair at Sorochintzy," the Metropolitan Opera Company offered its patrons at the Saturday matinee of Nov. 29 the American premiere of this three-act musical comedy, as completed and orchestrated by the contemporary Russian, Nikolai Teherepnine.

There is little space here for a narration of the history of. Moussorgsky's posthumous piece. Its trials and vicissitudes have been many, owing to the fact that the composer left it in a very fragmentary condition at his death. Suffice it to record here that it passed through the hands of Karatigin, a musicologist; of Liadoff, the composer, who orchestrated parts of it; of Cui, who made a version for the stage in 1915, produced in St. Petersburg on Oct. 13, 1917, but put aside during the stormy days of the Russian revolution of that year; and finally of Tcherepnine, who, having transferred himself and his activities to Paris, where he wrote some pleasant ballet bits for the late Diaghileff, set himself the task of making a complete stage version, using music of Moussorgsky's to fill in vacant places and orchestrating it all anew in what he has described as "the style in vogue amongst the masters of the Russian national school of the time." Of this last I will speak later, as I do not agree with him.

On March 17, 1923, this Tcherepnine version was heard at the opera at Monte Carlo under the reviser's own baton. In the cast was our good friend, John McCormack, as Gritzko. The other singers of that occasion are only names, as far as the United States is concerned.

Italian Text Used

At Monsieur Gunsbourg's opera house it was given in the French version of Louis Laloy as "La Foire de Soróchintzi." Strange as it may seem, the Metropolitan, true to its policy of giving operas in their original tongue, especially Russian operas, viz., "Boris" and "Prince Igor," sang it the other day as "La Fiera di Sorócinzi." If there is a language which is at opposite poles with Russian, it is Italian. Here was an opportunity to simulate the ruggedness of some of Moussorgsky's setting of words to music by having a first-rate English version prepared by a competent littérateur. The Metropolitan avoided scrupulously doing that - even a German version would have been preferable - but it chose the most operatic of languages, rather than the most appropriate for the occasion, and sang it in Italian. There are some fairly broad bits in the text, which translated into English might have offended squeamish subscribers a decade or two ago. But in this year of grace 1930, with the current theatre saying whatever it chooses to say without reservation, there was little reason for the management to worry on that score. Had there been, the English enunciation of any group of operatic singers taken en masse would have done much to conceal the text.

I often wonder how we should react to a performance of a work by any one other than Moussorgsky which was not actually the work of the composer. With Moussorgsky one takes things for granted: lack of musical erudition, inability to express himself orchestrally, a life filled with tragic, sordid episodes that left him little time for study. "The Fair at Sorochintzy," as we listened to it at the Metropolitan premiere, is at best no more than a work based on musical fragments of "The Fair" and other music of the hapless Russian realist.

The Moussorgsky Fetish

In 1913 when Arturo Toscanini gave us that flaming interpretation of "Boris Godounoff," the name Moussorgsky was on the lips of cognoscenti and music-lovers as the man of the hour. Here was the Russian who was a real Russian. He made no concession to public taste, we said proudly, as in the case of Tchaikovsky, who wasn't a Russian composer at all, but a European one. (If you believe this, ask the rest of Europe how European it has held Tchaikovsky to be for the past years!) Kurt Schindler, in his admirable volume "A Century of Russian Song," published in 1911, had made us acquainted with some Mussorgsky songs. He had also produced the cantata, "Joshua," at a Schola Cantorum concert. Up to that time the music of Moussorgsky, barring "The Song of the Flea" and one or two other tiny items, was unknown here, and similarly so in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, four not negligible musical lands.

This idiom was new to us and we called it great. Seventeen years have passed since that memorable morning, when at the dress rehearsal of "Boris" we sat enthralled. We have heard more Moussorgsky, the "Night on the Bald Mount," extracts from "Khovantchina," many of the grim songs, the "Pictures at an Exposition" for piano and the overly decorated orchestral version of them by Maurice Ravel. Those of us who do not believe in jumboism, who do not bow to musical idols, who evaluate artistic productions discerningly, have for some time found the veneration of Moussorgsky a fetish. To be sure he has a marked personality, but one so limited that one may say, as Irishman so pointedly: "When you hear him once, you've heard him again." "Boris" is the best Moussorgsky; the rest of it sounds like "Boris," only not nearly half so well; nor is it half so good.

An Episodic Work

Thus did we feel as we listened to the three acts of this musical comedy, "The Fair." There are delightful musical episodes scattered through its pages, some of which win us by their melodic fragrance, others by their unyielding, racy tang. The melody from "Night on the Bald Mount" which appears as Gritzko's "Pourquoi mon triste coeur," is a gem; so is Khivria's music in the second act before the entrance of the Pastor's Son; similarly the closing pages of the first act, Italianate writing, sprung from the same source as the love music of the False Dmitri and Marina in "Boris." The Gopak, with which the opera concludes, is a captivating dance; for me it is an old friend, as I transcribed it as a violin piece and published it with G. Schirmer, Inc., back in 1913.

But do charming, small-dimensioned pieces constitute an opera? I think not. Certainly not one for one of the world's leading opera houses to advance as a novelty for a public which has already passed through an Autumn of discontent, operatic and otherwise. "The Fair," amusing as some will find it, simply does not hold the musical interest of critical listeners. It is altogether too much of a pastiche - this much labored upon, transmogrified, revamped, newly orchestrated opera, based, so to speak, on a theme by Modeste Moussorgsky.

Of Mr. Tcherepnine's portion I would speak with deep regard. A masterly musician, he has orchestrated this music superlatively well. But I take issue with him as to his having done it in the "style in vogue amongst the masters of the Russian national school of the time." He means Moussorgsky's time, I take it. Among these master was Rimsky. He was in fact the master. This instrumentation is, if I may speak my mind, not that at all. It is sweeter, thinner, purer manner, and more of our time. Clarity, transparency, beauty it has. But bite, character, primitiveness it lacks woefully.

Production Is Colorful

Tullio Serafin conducted, on the whole very admirably, and the chorus distinguished itself, as trained by the always efficient Giulio Setti. In spite of the fact that the Metropolitan lists on its program both a stage director, Ernst Lert, and a stage manager, Armando Agnini, the production, so far as the stage is concerned, was scarcely thrilling. The [first] scene at the fair was tame, the crowds badly handled, the appearance of the peasants, even allowing for their cleaning up to attend "La Fiera di Sorócinzi," much too spick and span. Russian peasants are among the most colorful in the entire world. But these were actually "dressy."

Ballet a Feature

Rosina Galli devised a gripping divertissement for the ballet, to the music of the "Night on the Bald Mount," in the episode representing Tcherevik's dream. And August Berger did well with the final "Gopak.'" I hope someone will tell Maestro Serafin that this is an Allegretto saberzando, not a Presto furioso. I am surprised that M. Tcherepnine had not done so before the premiere.

The settings of Serge Soudeikine were less than we have come to expect from so imaginative a painter. They might have fascinated us in 1915, when this color scheme was new in this part of the world. Today they are just "à la Russe."

Singers All Capable

Frederick Jagel as Griztko sang his music with beauty of voice and tasteful phrasing. As Parassia, Maria Müller was more than worthy. Ezio Pinza proved himself a capital comedian as Tcherevik, as did Marek Windheim as the Pastor's Son. Ina Bourskaya made Khivria vividly interesting, George Cehanovsky was a vivid Gipsy, and Giuseppe Danise a satisfactory Old Crony. The other parts were sung by Messrs. Bada, Altglass and Malatesta. After the second act the principals, Miss Galli and Messrs. Tcherepnine, Serafin, Soudeikine, Lert and Setti were repeatedly called before the curtain.

As I look back on it all, I am wondering why Mr. Gatti-Casazza did not devote the amount of time and energy which he expended on "La Fiera di Sorócinzi" on that very considerable opera, "Pique Dame" by a gentleman named Peter Tchaikovsky. There's a good story for you, operatically speaking. And, oh, what lovely music!

Other Opinions

Olin Downes in The New York Times: "It cannot be called a work of sustained or particular greatness. . . . The sketches of Moussorgsky have been skillfully eked out by Mr. Tcherepnine.... On the whole he has done an excellent piece of work. He has orchestrated with too fine taste, possibly, for a lyric theatre as large as the Metropolitan. . . ."

Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune: "Much of the score is fourth-rate Moussorgsky. . . . Yet in the second act there are strokes of genius. . . . The texture of the score at its best is rich and treasurable. Mr. Tcherepnine . . . has undoubtedly done his best . . . the fault is Moussorgsky's, not his."

W. J. Henderson in the New York Sun: "The abundant choral music of the score is all fashioned from material grown out of the native soil and possessing valuable racial and musical quality. But there are too many pages which do not exercise for an American audience the fascination they must have for Russians . . ."

Oscar Thompson in the New York Evening Post: ". . . distinctly inferior Moussorgsky. . . . Mr. Tcherepnine did about all that could be expected of a skilled artisan. . . . His orchestration is euphonious and clear - orchestration especially advantageous for the singers. .?. The score betrays at every step . . . lack of design."

Pitts Sanborn in the New York Telegram: "The Fair" is full of bright, melodious music, at times positively idyllic. Especially delightful is the tenor solo in Act I. . . If "The Fair" finds favor here, it will do so through the agreeableness of the score and certain broad comic situations."

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