[Met Performance] CID:109390

United States Premiere, New Production

La Notte di Zoraima
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, December 2, 1931

La Notte di Zoraima received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


"La Notte di Zaimora," One Act Work, Has its American Premiere at Metropolitan


Little Opportunity for Singing Owing to Continuous Noisy Movement - A Poor Libretto

Italo Montemezzi's one act opera, "La Notte di Zoraima," the libretto by Mario Ghisalberti, was performed last night for the first time in America in the Metropolitan Opera House. The opera is poor as a libretto and a composition. The high tragedy of "La Nave" and above all "The Love of Three Kings" gives place to melodrama of the most out-dated sort and one that does not help the composer,

In fact it is hard to understand why or how the composer of "L'Armore de tre re" could accept such a libretto. The place and period of the piece are Peru after the first Spanish conquest. Zoraima, Inca Princess, driven with her lover Muscar from her throne, has been hiding in the hills, feigning madness, plotting vengeance. Muscar is waiting to waylay a Spanish convoy. Pedrito, the Spanish leader, cherishes a dark and Scarpian passion for Zoraima. He ambushes Muscar and wounds him. Muscat is hidden by Zoraima. Pedrito follows the fugitive, gun in hand. A disreputable crowd of cornpatriots follow on his heels, having captured an insurgent, and ascertained from him Muscar's hiding place. Zoraima, to save Muscat, promises herself to Pedrito if he is set free. Pedrito dismisses the Spaniards, pledging his life that Muscar shall not escape. But the Incan Princess overcomes his hesitations by her beauty, and promises him sanctuary in the hills. Muscar is released. Leonora Gioconda Zoraima waits for signal fires to show that he is safe and separated from his foes by blazing forests. Then she stabs herself and dies to slow music as Pedrito is hounded by his enraged countrymen and presumably destined to execution, In all this trash - it is the fitting word for an absurd dramatic concoction - there is not a single real character or logical development, and if the atrocious English parallel of the Italian text in the libretto is an indication, it is the poorest kind of verse.

What could be done with this? .Did Montemezzi, despondent because of the only partial success of other works, believe that his success lay in the road of shilling melodrama? Or was he, a poet by nature, a symphonist in opera, who nevertheless did not lose the beautiful lyricism which is his birthright, feel that brutal action and lurid d?nouement would fertilize his creative gift and result in a work of novelty and freshness of style?

He has preserved in this score the symphonic manipulation of motives, and written in a melodious and wholly undistinguished manner. The music is, in greater part, a distant echo of "The Love of Three Kings." In other pages it is passingly Wagnerian and passingly Verdi of the fat melodic manner of Verdi's early and more lurid period. The libretto would hardly admit of Montemezzi saying anything very distinguished in his score. The best music is that of the last quarter of the work, because here, at least, is drama of a sort, and the clash of personalities and emotions, But in no place has the composer struck a new note or equaled the earlier opera. The scene of exaltation and sacrifice could hardly have been convincing in its dramatic and literary quality to the artist and gentleman that Montemezzi is, and of course the music shows it. The libretto is a disappointment, the music is a disappointment, and it is hard to exonerate the composer, for he has exchanged his birthright for a mess of pottage.

This opera provides one important woman's role. It was taken by Miss Ponselle, who did not sing very well in the [first] scenes, but in the last part of the opera gave pleasure by the rich quality and sonority of her voice and contrast of color. As an actress with a thankless part she was ineffective. One cannot blame Miss Ponselle that she was so long a-dying and emitting melodic loops of lament that neither deceived nor deeply impressed the audience. But it may be asked just what period her costume belonged to, and if it was truly the custom for Inca maidens to look for enemies in the bushes by raising the palm over the eyebrows and bending forward like effigies of Indian maidens which formerly adorned street corners and cigar stores? And it must be said that this is a poor and badly lighted production.

There is little opportunity for singing in this opera, which is one that apparently aims to distract by continual and noisy movement from beginning to end. Mr. Jagel did well with a few lyrical measures. Mr. Basiola blustered and for the most part shouted as the wholly unconvincing Pedrito. The parts of Manuela and Lyoval are almost of equal unimportance; that of Manuela, mother of Pedrito's child is dramatically superfluous and having not the slightest importance in the story. The one really effective moment was the onrush of the chorus with the insurgent prisoner, and the singing of the chorus remains one of the reliable and excellent features of a Metropolitan presentation. The scenic production, the work of Joseph Novak, was ineffective, a shiftless mixture of styles. The costumes were not very much better. Mr. Serafin conducted with admirable mastery.

There was cordial applause at the end of the opera, which does not mean a great deal, because there is always applause after these performances. Last night was no exceptional rule. It. would be a pleasure to record another triumph for the composer of "L'Amore del tre re," which some of us regard as the finest quality of Italian music drama to have appeared since the days of Verdi. But last night the audience turned to that mainstay of Italian realism, "Pagliacci."

The cast which presented this opera was not distinguished, but it presented the opera with security, therefore effect, for this is a work of dramatic saliency and masterly structure. The stage director of "Notte di Zoraima" was Alexandre Sanine, and for Pagliacci" Hanns Niedecken-Gebhard.

Photograph of Rosa Ponselle as Zoraima with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus in La Notte di Zoraima.

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