[Met Performance] CID:120240

Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, January 9, 1937 Matinee Broadcast
Broadcast Matinee Broadcast

Ponselle's costumes were designed by Valentina.
Available for streaming at Met Opera on Demand
Rebroadcast on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio

Review 1:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times



Soprano Appears in the Title Part of Bizet Opera at its Second Performance


Sings José at Metropolitan - Julius Huehn Other Newcomer as Escamiilo

Bizet's "Carmen" received its second performance of the present Metropolitan season yesterday afternoon, with Rosa Ponselle in the leading part. There was a new José, Sydney Rayner, and the Escamillo on this occasion was Julius Huehn. These were the principal features of fresh interest in the cast.

Miss Ponselle's Carmen, observed last season for the first time on the Metropolitan stage - or anywhere else - was then a subject of considerable discussion. Her reappearance in this part, after a number of repetitions of the performance last season and the interval of months in which to mature the conception, gave notice of certain genuine developments.

The interpretation is now more authoritative, less exaggerated, at least in the earlier part of the opera than it was, and the music is better sung with more fidelity to the score. Sometimes the low tones were made thicker than they need have been to get the contralto kind of resonance and induce dramatic or amorous emphasis, but in general, the low register was one of the very advantageous tone colors of Miss Ponselle's performance. And from the dramatic point of view, there are in the first act certain details which gave it greater significance and more beauty.

The seguidilla, the action and dialogue which led up to it and gave the whole episode its setting, offers a case in point. The Habanera was really sung, and the natural beauty of the voice was a treat to the ear. In the first and second act the use of spoken dialogue, following the original version of the opera, was a happy thought. There were new and interesting details of action, in part consequent upon the fact of Miss Ponselle's new partners on the stage. She made her "business" coincide with theirs and she modified some passages, no doubt with consideration of the rest of the cast.

Innovation Is Introduced

The standard of singing, however, was not uniform, as witness Carmen's later passages of the second act. At the end of the third act, in the closing scene with José, Miss Ponselle introduced an innovation, for the Metropolitan stage, in the spoken ejaculation, many times repeated, of "Escamillo! Escamillo!" and the additional confession. "Je suis a toi!" There was a good deal of action here and in other places, most of it was not ill judged; some of it was superfluous.

These are details of a part evidently studied intensively and with much care. Sometimes Miss Ponselle hit the mark squarely in song, nuance, action. In general she is much more contained in the role, hence more effective, with less disproportionate commotion, than she had been, But still the performance is not consistently drawn to scale, and sometimes the effort to be dramatic is overdone. And finally, whatever the moment, it must be said that this Carmen is singularly lacking in that which is genuinely sensuous and seductive. In these respects it seldom rings true.

It is not an exciting or a distinguished interpretation, at best. If it were, the fact that some outspoken criticism had made Miss Ponselle over-conservative in the drawing of the character and delivery of the music; the matter could be corrected and properly proportioned; and, indeed, it has taken very great artists, on occasion, many years to work out an interpretation in a way suitable to themselves. On the other hand, when the artist has convincing ideas, they generally are felt, and exert a potent effect, some time before they are presented in their final shape.

Missed in Other Parts

With every wish to do justice to a greatly gifted artist and one of the exceptional voices of a generation, the conclusion reached by this commentator is that Miss Ponselle is not the type of singer best fitted for the Carmen rôle. It is a great pity that we hear her so little at the Metropolitan and, last season and thus far to this one, in no other part, The singer of Vestale and Norma and a dozen other of great lyric roles of the repertory is sorely missed in such representations.

In general yesterday's "Carmen" performance at the Metropolitan was pedestrian and imprecise when it was not inept. The fresh and young voice of Mr. Rayner was one of the best features, although the tone got a little hard now and again, and there was some unnecessary strain. His French has benefited materially by his years at the Opéra Comique, Dramatically he is commonplace, and he has still to learn the niceties of tone and style.

Mr. Huehn's Escamillo is neither the dashing figure nor the brilliant and effective singer that this part requires.

Also, there is infinitely more bite, vividness of color, movement and emotion in the score than Mr. Papi releases. His was a lackadaisical and commonplace reading.

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