[Met Performance] CID:127490

La Bohème
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, January 5, 1940

Debut : Jarmila Novotna

La Bohème (339)
Giacomo Puccini | Luigi Illica/Giuseppe Giacosa
Jarmila Novotna [Debut]

Jussi Björling

Muriel Dickson

John Brownlee

George Cehanovsky

Norman Cordon

Louis D'Angelo

Lodovico Oliviero

Carlo Coscia

Gennaro Papi

Désiré Defrère

Costume Designer
Blaschke & Cie

La Bohème received eight performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

Another Metropolitan debut of high unusual interest was that of Jarmila Novotna, yesterday evening as Mimi in "La Boheme." Mme. Novotna's experience of music drama, thus far, has ranged all the way from operetta to the representative lyrical and coloratura roles in scores of Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini of "Boheme" and also "Butterfly." She sang in the "Magic Flute" under Toscanini at Salzburg. It was anticipated earlier in the season that she, a Czech singer, would make her first appearance here in Smetana's 'Bartered Bride," but that production appears to have been given up for the present by the Metropolitan, and Mme. Novotna made her initial appearance as the seamstress in the more romantic and delectable of the Puccini music-dramas.

Mme. Novotana presented her character with charming simplicity, feeling and high artistic intelligence. The voice is not remarkable for opulence or sheer beauty, but it was expressively employed. It has ample range and is capable both of brilliance and emotional expression. The singer's sincerity was manifest. This Mimi was more than a puppet or merely a foil for a tenor with his romanza. Her modesty and naïveté, her infatuation with her poet, were plain and unaffected so far as the stage was concerned. The high C at the end of the [first] act was a simple matter to negotiate. This was also the moment when Mr. Björling, the Rodolfo, found it necessary, on account of a "frog" which momentarily nearly closed his throat, to relinquish his unison C after what was almost a staccato attack, normally is a note which Mr. Björling has easily at command and one that many of his colleagues may envy him. At the end of this act there was a special demonstration for Mme. Novotna, whose name was called repeatedly by the audience and was heard through the tumult and acclaim. Twice in the evening she was interrupted by applause.

Mr. Björling's romanza in Act also held up the show. His voice seemed if anything fuller and more colorful than last season, but it is a pity that he tends to the old fashioned tenor's trick of hanging on to his high notes whether this is appropriate or not, as long as breadth and vocal chords endure. That is unnecessary for a singer as gifted and accomplished. The other Bohemians fulfilled their tasks admirably. Miss Dickson's Musetta struck the essential note of frivolity and at the last pathos. Mr. D'Angelo's Benoit and Alcindoro are excellent, even though the Metropolitan tendency to clown and exaggerate every humorous character is not absent here.

Mr. Papi conducted with more than his customary imagination and by so much did his performance have limited vigor and movement. The occasion attracted an unusually large audience.

Review 2:

Review of Francis D. Perkins in the Herald Tribune

Adding a twenty-third opera to the list of works which it has produced within less than six weeks, the Metropolitan Opera Association presented Puccini's "La Boheme" last night for the first time this season and Jarmila Novotna, the eighth singer to make an initial appearance upon this stage since the [first] evening, became the newest of the Metropolitan's Mimis in a group of six principals representing an equal number of lands of origin. An audience which included two well known former interpreters of Mimi, Lucrezia Bori and Frances Alda, gave the Czech soprano an enthusiastic vocal and manual welcome.

Mme. Novotna, who, non-professionally, is the Baroness Georg Daubek, had won much operatic acclaim in Europe before she made her American debut in San Francisco last fall. Her only previous public appearance here was as the singer of the relatively few, while exacting, measures of the soprano solo in Arturo Toscanini's performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on Dec. 2.

As the appealing, if not particularly steadfast character who dies lyrically before the four sorrowing Bohemians, Mme. Novotna made a very favorable first impression and, as a Mimi which pleased the eye, gave no reason to wonder why Rodolfe should have become an immediate victim of love at first sight. From a dramatic point of view, her interpretation was sympathetic and in good taste, setting forth the personality of the role, while her singing and demeanor suggested a relative freedom from the nervousness which traditionally besets a Metropolitan debut. There was a slight vocal unsteadiness in her first few lines, but thereafter the absence of this not unfamiliar drawback was a laudable feature of her singing.

For much of its compass, her voice was well produced and was characterized by well phrased tones of pleasing quality, while expressive color was not absent. A net impression, however, of a certain unevenness was produced by some of the higher notes in outspoken passages in which the tone became spread or gave a suggestion of effort not noticeable elsewhere in her singing. This was avoided in certain top notes, such as the offstage closing measure of Mimi's music in the first act, which is often a source of difficulty, and the performance as a whole gave reason to await Mme. Novotna's next appearance with much interest.

Muriel Dickson, making her first 1939-'40 operatic appearance, portrayed Musetta with spirit and vividness, although a certain excess of Musetta's petulance could be noticed in her singing in the second act, which did not represent her best quality of tone. Mr. Björling, who sang Rodolfo here last season, displayed a voice of firm quality and expressive capacity, which gave contradictory hints of power and of a certain tensity of production. His effective performance from a vocal point of view was accompanied by a visual interpretation which if not exceptionally notable, played its due share in the general dramatic picture. Mr. Brownlee was a meritorious Marcello, and Messrs. Cordon and Cehanovsky were at home in their roles, while Mr. D'Angelo contributed to the diverting elements of the production as the baffled landlord and Musetta's equally baffled escort.

The still persuasive atmosphere of vitality, freshness and youth which characterizes most of the music and makes "La Boheme," for many of us, the most ingratiating of Puccini's three best known operas, was sometimes incompletely realized; there were moments when the performance might have profited by more momentum and elasticity, especially in the Cafe Momus scene. But then, the orchestra had had an exacting afternoon session with "Parsifal." Mr. Papi received two or three special rounds of applause.

There is one slightly contradictory point in this opera: Rodolf and his comrades dwell upon the exceeding coldness of the weather in the first scene, but neither they nor the other patrons of the Cafe Momus seem to find any discomfort in dining outdoors immediately afterward. Still, it is unlikely that many admirers of "La Boheme" will be disturbed on this account.

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