[Met Performance] CID:124000

Opening Night {54}, General Manager: Edward Johnson

Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, November 21, 1938

Debut : Maria Caniglia

Otello received seven performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune

The Opera Season Opens With 'Otello,' Martinelli and New Soprano

From a strictly realistic standpoint, it does not matter very much what opera is selected for the opening night of a Metropolitan season. The success of the occasion is preordained: it is written in the stars (of whom, by the way, there should be a few in the cast). But if that were attended to, the inaugural work could be almost any choice at all from the Metropolitan's extensive repertoire, active or inactive. It might be "Tristan" or "Mignon," "Madama Butterfly" or "Dinorah"- perhaps only "Parsifal" or "In the Pasha's Garden" would not serve.

But except for such obvious misfits. General Manager Johnson, after making sure of a few lyric magnets for the box office, could draw the title of the opera from a hat, and set his mind at rest, assured that the house would be jammed, the lobbies filled with cameramen and the joyous glare of flashlights, and the corridors and boxes and paraquet adorned with those who would properly grace the No. 1 opening of the New York season.

This being the case, it seems almost like an act of superfluous generosity when the Management chooses for its initial opera a work that is something more than the implement for an occasion-when the chosen vehicle is, for example, an opera such as Verdi's "Otello," wherewith the Metropolitan's fifty-fourth regular season was started prosperously on its course last night.

A little more than half a century ago, Verdi sent to his copyist the last pages of the score of "Otello." His biographer tells us that he hated to see them go. He felt as though he had lost a friend. "Poor Otello!" he wrote to his librettist, Boïto "he will be back no more." Yet "Otello" as a music-drama has survived the years with a vitality and a splendor and an integrity that defy the passing of time,

This extraordinary work, composed by a man of seventy-four, seems more than ever to be charged with an intensity of passion and fidelity that have set it finally among the great achievements of the musico-dramatic mind. It is the ranking tragedy in the operatic art of Italy. It is worthy of its subject. Verdi called Shakespeare "the greatest authority on the heart of man"; and much of Shakespeare's compassionate understanding is reflected in this subtly comprehending and deeply human score, which gives us musical incarnations of Othello and Desdemona and Iago, shown in their habits as they lived and thought and felt, steeped in the tragic essence of the poet's creative will.

This music has the clarity and the eloquent terseness of the Latin mind. The raging storm with which the opera opens, as the people of Cyprus await on the storm-drenched quay the arrival of Otello, would have seemed to the more expansive Northern mind to need a preparatory and descriptive prelude. But Verdi lifts his curtain on the opening scene after three curt and terrific measures of the orchestra; and those few measures concentrate such power and intensity in their brief extent that the fury of the tempest seizes our imaginations at a stroke. The music leaps upon us out of the silence like an unleashed elemental force, and we are overwhelmed by it. Similarly, at the end, after the savage and pitiful and ironic tragedy has reached its end, Otello's farewell to the slain Desdemona tells us all that there is for us to know and feel in less than thirty measures of concentrated truth and beauty.

Last night's performance was made expressive by the fervor and artistic devoutness of the chief participants. The newcomer in the cast, Maria Caniglia, the Neapolitan soprano who was making her American debut as Desdemona, is a singing-actress of exceptional feeling and sincerity, a gracious and gentle personality, equipped with a sense of the theater and a voice which often serves her responsively as a vehicle of dramatic utterance and lyric speech. She was vocally ill at ease in the first two Acts, but later she sang with greater freedom and security, and often with affecting beauty and communicative eloquence. She is apparently an artist of sensibility, blessed with the rare gift of simplicity and repose, knowing the secret of saying much with economy and control. She was warmly greeted by her hearers.

Mr. Martinelli has made his Otello the finest and most telling thing he does. It was a noble and vivid creation when he set it before us almost a year ago; and since then he has deepened and enriched it, made it more poignant and pitiful in its anguish and its ultimate remorse. No wonder he stirred profoundly the audience that followed the evolution of the drama and the baring of Otello's tortured mind and soul. This achievement is the fitting crown for Mr. Martinelli's long and honorable career.

Mr. Tibbett also, has matured his conception and embodiment of his role. This Iago is now much closer to the pattern of Verdi's Shakespearean transcription; and Mr. Tibbett is more effectual in its embodiment, more fluent and plastic and subtle, a puissant and terrible instrument of evil and insensate hate

The remainder of the cast, identical with that of last year's revival contributed in their several ways. Mr. Panizza conducted a responsive orchestra, and the chorus sang with opulent tone and abundant spirit. Thus was a work of singular vitality and genius brought nearer to the listeners of our time; for the Metropolitan's audience was hearteningly sprinkled with members of its future public, the indispensable and adorable Younger Generation.

Photograph of the audience at the 1938 opening night performance of Otello.

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