[Met Performance] CID:120590

United States Premiere, New Production, American Opera

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 4, 1937

Caponsacchi (1)
Richard Hageman | Arthur Goodrich
Mario Chamlee

Helen Jepson

Lawrence Tibbett

Innocent XII
Norman Cordon

Doris Doe

Wilfred Engelman

James Wolfe

Giordano Paltrinieri

George Rasely

Anna Kaskas

George Cehanovsky

John Gurney

Max Altglass

Arnold Gabor

Louis D'Angelo

Lucielle Browning

Kyra Blank

Rabana Hasburgh

Elise Reiman

Heidi Vosseler

Leda Anchutina

Kathryn Mullowny

Daphne Vane

Josef Levinoff

Charles Laskey

William Dollar

Lew Christensen

Douglas Coudy

Richard Hageman

Désiré Defrère

George Balanchine

There was no program credit for a designer, although the work was new to the repertory.
CAPONSACCHI received two performances in one season.

Review 1:

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune

'The Ring and the Book' Yields an Opera in English at the Metropolitan

One day in Florence, almost three-quarters of a century ago, Robert Browning picked up at a bookstall an old, square yellow volume, part print, part manuscript, in which was recounted the trial for murder of Guido Franceschini, a ferocious Roman of the late seventeenth century, who had killed his wife, Pompilia, and her parents. Browning purchased the volume for the equivalent of 16 cents, and became absorbed by the tale of the tragedy it told.

His imagination, released by the ghastly tale of Franceschini the Monster, the immaculate Pompilia, and Caponsacchi the impeccable, yielded at last the famous poem which appeared in 1868 - a four-volume treatment of "an Old Bailey murder story," as Carlyle called it, "which might have been told in ten lines, and only wants forgetting." ?The case became a colossal dramatic fantasy in verse, a series of dramatic monologues, with the blameless Pompilia at its center as an idealized portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning - at least so Leslie Stephen declared. Even the antipodal Tennyson had to admit that the result was "remarkable in many ways"; and Carlyle, despite his somewhat cryptic manner of uttering his opinion, called "The Ring and the Book" one of the most wonderful poems ever written," which no doubt it is.


A few years ago, it occurred to Mr. Arthur Goodrich, the distinguished American author, to turn Browning's poem into a play, with the assistance of Rose A. Palmer. The result, a drama called "Caponsacchi," was produced at Hampden's Theater, New York, in the autumn of 1926, under the direction of Walter Hampden, who played the title rôle. Mr. Goodrich's brother-in-law, Richard Hageman, dropped in at the theater one evening to see the play. "I wanted to get up from my seat" he has said, "and tell them that their play ought to be sung and not spoken. I persuaded Goodrich to write a libretto; and unless you know the poem by heart, it's impossible to tell where he begins and Browning ends."

Mr. Goodrich obliged with a libretto, Mr. Hageman set it to music as a three-act opera, with prologue and epilogue, and it was performed in 1932 (in a German translation) at Freiburg, Germany, where it had ten performances in the course of a three-months' season. When Herr Hitler came into power, the opera was banned. Mr. Hageman doesn't know why. Now, six years after its completion, Mr. Hageman finds his opera on the billboards of the Metropolitan, where it was produced last night, with Mr. Goodrich's English text, for the first time in America (though the prologue and Act I were broadcast to this country from Europe in 1932, and the carnival music has been played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

Mr. Hageman, a Dutchman by birth, has been an active participant in the American musical scene since 1906, when he came here from Holland, where he was born in 1884. He had conducted at the Royal Opera, Amsterdam; and a good many of his thirty years in America have been spent in the orchestra pit of the Metropolitan as assistant conductor and associate conductor. He has conducted also in Chicago, Ravinia Park, Los Angeles and Canada. In New York he has been known to many musicians and students as a vocal coach, accompanist, and composer. Mr. Hageman has been quoted as saying that he composed his opera after studying motion-picture technique "in order to learn how to eliminate the operatic tradition of long scenes and duets that never end."

To Mr. Tibbett has been allotted the role of the miscreant, Guido Franceschini, who marries and murders the beauteous Helen Jepson (Pompilia) for the purpose of obtaining possession of her fortune. In the Prologue, we find Guido on trial before a Court of Justice at the Vatican, with the Pope (Mr. Norman Cordon) concealed behind a curtain as an invisible judge, listening to the story of Guido and the testimony of the priest, Caponsacchi (Mr. Mario Chamlee), who had sought to protect Pompilia and is accused by Guido of illicit love, though in fact the priest's devotion has been wholly chivalrous and pure. Caponsacchi is commanded to tell his story to the Court; the scene is blacked out, and the falling curtain ends the Prologue as Caponsacchi begins: "My story of this crime? So be it, Lords. It was Carnival, In March, a short eleven months ago." . . . The three acts that follow enact the related story. In the Epilogue, the Pope delivers his verdict and pronounces sentence - "Count Guido by the headsman dies tomorrow." He declares Pompilia to be "perfect in whiteness, marvel of soul," and Caponsacchi "a valiant warrior-priest."

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr. Hageman has missed his vocation. If it is fair to judge of his creative musical capacity from the score of "Caponsacchi" - and I cannot imagine why it is not fair to do so - Mr. Hageman is wasting his time and ours. This music is a compendium of musical banalities. One waits with increasing hopelessness for a salient, original, distinguished page, for a measure that will give us the dramatic or poetic subject of the moment in terms of genuinely expressive music. It does not come. The tissue of dismaying platitudes unrolls before one's ears, hour after hour; until at last one despairs, and resigns himself to the deeply dejecting conclusion that this is just another eclectic opera score - unassailably earnest and sincere, unmistakably a product of idealistic aspiration and fervent labor, the issue of an honest purpose and an intelligent mind; but artistically null and void.


The production is not one of the Metropolitan's more distinguished achievements. Its outstanding feature was Mr. Tibbett's vital and dominating portrayal of the nefarious Franceschini. Beside this graphic embodiment, the others scarcely counted. Miss Jepson as the piteous Pompelia was visually decorative, but dramatically and vocally ineffectual. Mr. Chamlee's Caponsacchi had all the virtues but verisimilitude. It may be assumed that Mr. Hageman, who conducted, obtained what he wanted from the orchestra. But the playing of the musicians has sounded more euphonious in other scores. A friendly audience received the opera with apparent cordiality.

Review 2:

Review of Marcia Davenport in the March 1937 issue of Stage magazine

The American premiere of "Caponsacchi," Richard Hageman's tragic opera sung in English, took place on February fourth, with a good cast composed mostly of the highlights of the American branch of the company. Lawrence Tibbett's Guido Franceschini was the outstanding part, and well sung and acted. Mario Chamlee had the title role, Helen Jepson was Pompilia, and Norman Cordon sang two roles - Pope Innocent XII and the Governor of Arezzo. This young basso is proving a useful and welcome addition to the company and is constantly increasing his large repertoire. The rest of the enormous cast was pretty routine. But with fair production, with careful preparation, with all the good will in the world - there is no mitigating the fact that "Caponsacchi" is dull, ponderously, insistently dull, and that the score wanders through a réchauffé of vaguely familiar operatic themes to nobody's good at all. In all its imposing length there is only one scene, the festival in the first act, where things seem even momentarily to get going.

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