[Met Performance] CID:122900

La Bohème
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 10, 1938

Debut : Jan Kiepura

La Bohème (326)
Giacomo Puccini | Luigi Illica/Giuseppe Giacosa
Bidú Sayão

Jan Kiepura [Debut]

Natalie Bodanya

Carlo Tagliabue

George Cehanovsky

Norman Cordon

Louis D'Angelo

Max Altglass

Carlo Coscia

Gennaro Papi

Review 1:

Review of Samuel Chotzinoff in the Post

Jan Kiepura's Metropolitan Debut in 'La Bohème'

Polish Tenor Brings a New Sort of Rodolfo Into the Operatic Scene

"La Bohème" was enlivened at the Metropolitan last night by Mr. Jan Kiepura, a Polish tenor who was making his New York debut in the part of Rodolfo. Mr. Kiepura's fame among us has, I am told, hitherto rested on some films of the musical variety, so it was not surprising to find the Metropolitan packed last night with subscribers and standees eager to see the tenor in the flesh. Duly at the end of the great first act aria, Mr. Kiepura was the recipient of prolonged, thunderous hand-clapping, so that he was forced to abandon the kneeling posture which he had assumed before Mimi and acknowledge his vociferous reception. This he did in Continental fashion, smiling and extending clenched hands toward the auditorium. It was what I suppose is called a triumph.

Appraising Mr. Kiepura's merits I find it difficult to dissociate his voice from his personality. As breezy a star as ever twinkled in an operatic sky, the Polish tenor, personable in dress and figure, injected high spirits into the role of Rodolfo and turned that ordinarily pompous and bombastic poet into a musical-comedy hero. Youthful and energetic, the Polish Rodolfo moved about his business and that of his colleagues on the stage with cinema assurance. There was, I thought, a lack of modesty in his demeanor as he heard Mimi's voice for the first time, "Una Donna," cried Mr. Kiepura and rubbed his hands in sophisticated anticipation, a gesture which quite upset my notion of Rodolfo as a sensitive, romantic, high-minded and starving poet of the Latin quarter.

Yet Mr. Kiepura managed to be likable as he tried to suit the action to the word and song, for he evidently believes in force and realism on the opera stage. Thus, he listened intently to Mimi's story, sometimes getting in her way as he bent toward her to show his concern and interest. Not for a moment did he assume the traditional operatic stance. On the contrary, he was always finding something to do, no matter who was singing. His fellow artists may have found his behavior disconcerting, but I, for one, deemed it refreshing and amusing.

As I hinted before, Mr. Kiepura's voice is tinged with the colors of his personality, A pleasant tenor, robust, in texture and extensive in range, it reflects nicely the confidence, the daring and the self-approbation of the man. A true individualist, Mr. Kiepura has his own ideas of the score, and they are often not altogether in accord with those of Puccini. When composers desire to turn their music over to the mercies of the artist they usually disclose their intention in the words "a piacere." Mr. Kiepura sang his music as if Puccini had forgotten to indicate that release. It seemed not quite fair to me that the audience would discover and acclaim Mr. Kiepura at the end of the initial act.

The presentation held otherwise familiar figures only. Miss Sayao was a wistful and not very musicianly Mimi. Miss Bodanaya was Musetta, and the Messrs. Cehanovsky, Tagliabue and Cordon were Mr. Kiepura's fellow Bohemians. Mr. Papi conducted "a piacere."

Review 2:

Review of Noel Strauss in The New York Times:

Here was a Rodolfo with youth, exuberance and fervor, capped by a magnetic personality which somehow managed to give new life to the whole proceedings on the stage. It was these elements in his electrifying portrayal rather than any outstanding abilities as an actor or vocalist that counted most saliently in his victory.

The voice by nature is one of unusually pure quality and evenness. At its best it possessed warmth, sensitiveness of color, and emotional urge. But during the first three acts its full beauties emerged but once, namely in the "Addio" duet. There Mr. Kiepura's voice became largely free of the constricted, white, pushed kind of tone which frequently occurred elsewhere. If, with his other fine assets he sings with the restraint disclosed in the duet mentioned throughout his future performances here, he should sweep all before him.

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