[Met Performance] CID:122270

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, December 22, 1937

Otello received eleven performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Oscar Thompson in The New York Sun:

It was not youth that was served at the Metropolitan Opera House last night, save as the order of genius that went into the creation of Verdi's "Otello" is forever young. The miraculous score which the old master of Busseto composed at 74 came back into the repertory after an absence of twenty-four years with its freshness unabated, its vitality unsapped. One of the largest audiences of the season was present for the return. The applause was tumultuous and in certain instances so ill-timed as to be seriously disturbing to the progress of the performance. If not all of this show of enthusiasm was above suspicion in spite of assurance that the claque is merely a legend today, much of it had the ring of genuine enthusiasm.

As Otello, Giovanni Martinelli, now in his twenty-fifth season at the Metropolitan, shared with Verdi the proof that success is not the particular perogative of the young. His characterization of the Moor must be ranked among his best achievements. Undoubtedly the music taxed his voice and he was not always fully equal to its demands, either for power or beauty of tone. But from the clarion "Esultate" of his first entrance he brought to its every bar a sincerity, a fervor, and a comprehension of what the music could be made to yield in dramatic expressiveness that merited profound respect. However, it was in his acting that Mr. Martinelli most fully confirmed the impression of a newly accelerated artistic growth which he imparted at some of his performances last season.

Subtler Iagos than that of Lawrence Tibbett undoubtedly have walked the same boards. But one may question whether parts of the music , particularly the narrative of Cassio's dream, "Era la notte", have been more beautifully sung. The Credo was delivered with sting and power. And there was no evasion of the upward curve to the high A natuarl, commonly indicated rather than sung. The pictorial was not slighted by Mr. Tibbett. But some bits of his stage business were unfortunate. So too, the melodramatic laugh used in mockery of the prostrate "Lion of Venice".

The somewhat baffling shuffling of Desdemonas, whereby Gina Cigna replaced Eide Norena at the Opera Guild rehearsal on Monday. and Elisabeth Rethberg sang last night's performance, may have been the cause of some tentativeness in the impersonation which was finally uncurtained. Mme. Rethberg's performance was one of seasoned routine and security in the music, with the "Salce! Salce!" and the "Ave Maria" smoothly and sympathetically sung, but otherwise rather nondescript.

Since "Otello" is an opera in which the orchestra is on a plane of importance equal to that of the vocalists, much of the success of the revival was fairly attributable to Ettore Panizza's skillful and authoritative conducting. His instrumental ensemble played well and the chorus was a credit to Fausto Cleva. The stage direction of Herbert Graf called for more reservations. Nor was the new scenic investiture by Donald Oenslager all that could have been hoped for an appropriatness and charm, though its freshness and high color apparently won for it the approval of a considerable part of the audience.

However familiar it may be, the Verdian orchestra compels new admiration in this score for its aptness, its delicacy, its refinement, its power, and most of all, its character suggestion. The opera remains one of the two really satisfying transmutations of Shakespeare for the purposes of the lyric stage, the other being "Falstaff".

Olin Downes in The New York Times noted:


Then came Mr. Martinelli. Of all the soloists his was the predominating individual achievement of the evening. The terrible entrance music of Otello, probably the most difficult tenor's entrance, from the vocal standpoint in opera, he contrived magnificently. The timber of the voice, in high tessitura, the fire and majesty of the delivery of the passage would have been in themselves token of his knowledge, his eloquence and control of his resources.

The voice of the veteran stood him in good stead, especially in the upper register. But it was more than a question of voice in its deep truthfulness and sincerity that informed every moment of acting and singing. The love duet demanded more of tonal beauty than either Mr. Martinelli or Mme. Rethberg gave it, but the mood was pervasive. The highest point of Mr. Martinelli's interpretation were the singing of the farewell to arms in the second act, which caused applause to interrupt as it concluded, and the great monologue of the third act, a place where the singer profoundly moved his hearers by this consistent intensity and nobility. This passage brought a greater demonstration, more than deserved by the accomplishment. The artist was sunk entirely in the interpreter. Mr. Martinelli was Otello, in profound and tragic bearing, the suggestion of great and uncontrollable force and agony-a figure which never failed to evoke admiration and pity.

Mr. Tibbett's Iago is naturally not so mature. He sang the part, on the whole, admirably, which was expected, but not with the sardonic significance and saliency of detail which are in text and music. If he had sustained through the evening sotto voce singing of Iago's dream he would have given a greater performance. This does not mean that Verdi ever intended his Iago to preserve a mouse-like pianissimo through four acts-quite the contrary. But it does mean that with more restraint and nuance, and more continence and point in acting this figure would have gained in significance and fitted better the frame of the drama. The duet at the end of the second act is a case in point, when Mr. Tibbett took the center of the stage and sang not to Otello but straight at the audience. The inference would have been that he and he only was the hero of the situation. On the same stage many will remember the dissimulation, the hypocritical assumption of deathless devotion and friendship of a Scotti or Amato-demonstrations addressed not to the public, but to Otello.

Miss Rethberg took the part of Desdemona on short notice and her performance steadily gained in tone quality and warmth of expression as the evening progressed. She proved again her experience and authority as a singer and this under circumstance that were additional testimony to her musicianship.

Francis D. Perkins in The New York Herald Tribune:


Mr. Martinelli's voice was not fully warmed up until the second act, but thenceforth his impersonation deserved considerable praise. The tenor's music, with its frequently high tessitura, is frequently exacting, and there were some signs of effort in the first act duet with Desdemona, but later he sang with unexpected freedom and was mainly successful in portraying the tumultuous emotions, the mingled jealousy and rage which animate the character. Mr. Tibbett was in fine voice, his singing was marked by notable emotional coloring in addition to volume and fluency. As an actor he was effective, while sometimes making Iago the focal point of the drama slightly to excess, or overstating its melodramatic characteristics, with the laugh following 'Ecco il leone" as an instance. It is true that both Otello and Iago are dominated by a single emotion, and thus have a melodramatic characteristics-Shaw described Shakespeare's tragedy as "a play written in the style of Italian Opera," and Boito's notable adaptation has further simplified the characters. Yet there are more subtleties in Iago's character and its expression than Mr. Tibbett brought out; their revelation can be looked for with waxing familiarity with the role. Mme. Rethberg, called in at short notice to replace Eide Norena, was an appealing Desdomona, offering some exquisite singing besides some of more debatable merit.

Pitts Sanborn in The New York World-Telegram:


Inevitably the stage was dominated by Giovanni Martinalli as Otello and Lawrence Tibbett as Iago, who have been doing these roles together in various cities-most recently in London and Paris-but not previously in New York. It is safe to predict repetitions here in goodly number. Mr. Martinelli expressed eloquently the diverse and violent emotions of the Moor, yet without exceeding the modesty of nature.

Mr. Tibbett;s Iago had evidently been worked out and developed with infinite care. Subtlety, finesse, polish were there; now a bubbling volatility, now a dour and medative inaction. Mephistophelian in half-tints was this villain; whatever the evil, a figure of buoyancy and grace, timeless in essence, yet redolent of the renaissance. Singing and acting were complements. The "Credo" went well and better still "Era la notte"-a masterpiece of color, shading and phrasing. A blind man would have been at no loss to follow the progress of this Iago.

Elisabeth Rethberg, a mature and placid Desdemona, tryingly costumed, contributed some beautifully sustained and euphonious singing, especially in the "Willow Song," and some that was neither.

Samuel Chotzinoff in The New York Post:

?Mr. Martinelli gave no illusion of strength and that largeness of soul which Shakespeare heroes all possess, whether they are tragic or comic. As for being lyrical the Italian's voice showed too many evidences of strain for him to be so designated. His Otello was fussy and irritable rather than dignified and desperate. He was the personification of jealousy on a small scale, one too small to meet the large proportion of the drama and the music.

Iago is as great in villainy as Otello is in innocence and both Shakespeare and Verdi have done extraordinarily well by him. Last night Mr. Tibbett made him a surface villain with little subtlety and less imagination, though he sang him sonorously. One missed the craftiness, the seeming righteousness and the sheer love of evil which the character conveys in the text and the music. Of course Mr. Tibbett is, one might say, a smooth-article on the stage, and whatever he attempts never fails to reveal signs of theatrical craft.

Miss Rethberg, who replaced Miss Norena as Desdemona, sang well throughout the evening, particularly in the last act. Her "Ave Maria" was artless and touching and provided the best bit of vocalism in the performance.

Photograph of Elisabeth Rethberg as Desdemona by Willott.

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