[Met Performance] CID:127910

La Traviata
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, February 7, 1940

La Traviata (232)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Jarmila Novotna

Charles Kullman

Giuseppe De Luca

Thelma Votipka

Alessio De Paolis

Baron Douphol
Wilfred Engelman

Marquis D'Obigny
George Cehanovsky

Dr. Grenvil
Louis D'Angelo

Lucielle Browning

Lillian Moore

Monna Montes

Ettore Panizza

Review 1:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Baritone at the Metropolitan in 'Traviata' After 6 Years - Novotna Sings Violetta

The performances of two artists, the one a newcomer this season and the other a veteran who returned after an absence of years to the company, and a performance of exceptional animation and gusto produced the best interpreted "Traviata" that has been offered the public in many seasons last night in the Metropolitan Opera House. The artists were Jarmila Novotna and Giuseppe de Luca.

Miss Novotna, the Czecho-Slovak soprano, had already shown her intelligence, refinement and sincerity in earlier appearances and other parts. But "Traviata" is thus far, and unmistakably, her crowning achievement. She sings the virtuoso passages with a security and brilliance ample for all practical purposes. What is much more important is the fact that she conceives the music, from first note to the last, dramatically, and portrays the character with an aristocratic sensibility and simplicity which, at last, bestows upon the role its full meaning and power.

Miss Novotna Praised

Here is an admirable actress, who never exaggerates or misses an expressive detail. Her appearance on the stage is eminently representative of the heroine of the tale. Miss Novotna is a beautiful figure on the stage, whose passion or agony never means loss of dignity or betrayal of the greatness of sorrow. No measure of the text, sung with the purest and most admirable Italian, lost its effect or failed to carry over the footlights. The word and the tone were indissoluble; the phrasing was that of the finest musician. Pathos was never overdone; by contrast the elan of her attack when she began the "Sempre libera" made the pulse beat quicker, yet never lost the mood of the desperate gayety of the condemned.

Very often the Violetta or "Traviata," is estimated by her first act and last-the first affording her a sustained air with a bravura windup, and the last act being so charged with feeling that the most uninspired singer can hardly neutralize the impression of the scene and the music. But the second act, on this occasion, was what it should be, an increase in dramatic tension over the first; and we fail to remember a soprano who has done as much with it. To hear the "Cosi alla misera" sung, for nearly a total exception, "piano," almost as the aside of a woman who faced the eternal parting, and with a pathos that wrung the heart, and then the wild outcry of the stricken spirit, was to have a new understanding of the character in the drama and the genius of Verdi. In fact, there were for many listeners new meanings in this masterpiece of an opera which the public has so obstinately cherished for nearly a hundred years, while so-called intellectuals showed their pedantry and blindness by decrying it.

Genius of Work Discussed

In every page there is genius. At the beginning of the third act one marveled anew at the means by which a simple dance rhythm and an almost banal melodic twist are made completely to convey the frightful agitation and premonition of evil which oppresses Violetta as she surveys while her heart breaks the whole festive scene. Here if less to do and perhaps more difficulty in doing it than in the more obvious drama of earlier passages. However, no one we had seen in the part approached the tragical dignity and the frozen terror with which the "frail one" perceived the presence of Alfredo. But one could go on narrating details of plot, music and of this interpretation and we would still be far from the musical and emotional sum of it. Miss Novotna is a great Violetta.

The second sensation of the evening came when Giuseppe de Luca, the veteran baritone and master of noble cantilena, who had left the Metropolitan when Gatti-Casazza retired in 1934, and had since remained away from America, stepped from the wings in the second act in his role of Germont pere. It was not surprising that, on receiving the thunderous tribute of the audience, it was hard for Mr. de Luca to control his features or summon the breath to sing. The emotional situation very probably intensified his performance. And when he did open his mouth the first five notes made the pulses beat because of the art and the beauty of the song. The quality of the legato, the perfection of the style, the sentiment which ennobled the melodic phrase, struck the whole audience. Probably many were not able to analyze their sensation, which lay in the artist's vocal skill and his lofty conception of a melody which verges so perilously upon the sentimental, but was made on this occasion a wholly acceptable expression of genuine humanity. Or was it the atmosphere of the moment made this expression acceptable, as it would not have been at some other time?

But no! It was again Verdi's lyricism, Verdi's supreme knowledge of the human heart and his miraculous power of conveying that by means of the simplest tune, of which we were made newly aware. Then there was the dignity of the figure, the perfection of the acting. Thus a young singing actress of radiant beauty and interpretative resource, and a veteran of many years of mastery, gave the whole opera of "Traviata" an ordinarily unsuspected measure of meaning. There is no need at this time to expatiate upon other highly creditable features of this performance, which have been discussed on earlier occasions. Mr. Kullman's youth, and warm and manly voice, his straightforward if not particularly subtle treatment of his part may not have been most sensitively in accord with the composer's style, but here, again, was youth, conviction and warm impulse. And there was the orchestra, once or twice ragged in attack, but directed by Mr. Panizza with much authority, expertness and sense of theatre. An immense audience was very demonstrative.

Photograph of Jarmila Novotna as Violetta in La Traviata by Wide World Studio.

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