[Met Performance] CID:181040

Metropolitan Opera Premiere, New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 5, 1959

Debut : Leonie Rysanek, Harold Sternberg, Carl Ebert, Caspar Neher

Macbeth (1)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave/Andrea Maffei
Leonard Warren

Lady Macbeth
Leonie Rysanek [Debut]

Jerome Hines

Carlo Bergonzi

William Olvis

Carlotta Ordassy

Gerhard Pechner

Harold Sternberg [Debut]

Walter Hemmerly

Osie Hawkins

Calvin Marsh

Bloody Child
Emilia Cundari

Crowned Child
Mildred Allen

Erich Leinsdorf

Carl Ebert [Debut]

Caspar Neher [Debut]

Mattlyn Gavers

Giuseppe Verdi

Macbeth received seven performances this season.

Production a gift of The Metropolitan Opera Guild

Review 1:

Review in Variety signed by "Land."

Verdi's "Macbeth," 112 years old, is a new and wonderfully welcome addition to the repertory at the Metropolitan Opera House. It arrives widely misidentified as an American "premiere." although the work was done 18-odd years ago by the old New Opera Co. and was mounted by Julius Rudel at the N. Y. City Center (Margaret Webster staging) in 1957. Not to overlook the concert version given by Thomas Scherman's Little Orchestra Society.

This is an exciting show as well as a full-blooded, highly melodic opera full of pyschological characterization derived from Shakespeare's stage play. Its "first" at the Met proved last Thursday (5) one of the more exciting occasions of recent seasons. Partly, this was due to the chain-reaction explosions of audience enthusiasm for the debuting soprano, Leonie Rysanek, from Vienna. She proved a powerful and shaded Lady Macbeth, though occasionally a trifle "wholesome" in appearance and beauty of voice for such a dagger-happy Highland lassie.

There may be talk as to whether Maria Callas would have been a more edgy, gore-obsessed Lady Macbeth had she not quarrelled with the Met management and lost the chance. Misguided fans of Callas shouted her name aloud (she's in Italy at the moment) in regret that this was not be her night. It was very definitely Mme. Rysanek's. Seldom does any soprano, especially on a debut register so dramatically. No matter that the Met held the lights, the curtain and the music to allow the third act ovation to exhaust its full force. The point is that the soprano had built up a magnificent head of audience steam. She may well cherish this performance forevermore as "a, or the, peak of her career."

'Macbeth" is a many-scened opera which is "loaded" with fine singing, solo and group. There were respectable, earned smaller ovations for Jerome Hines (Banquo) and Carlo Bergonzi (Macduff) though these roles are quite minor in the libretto of F. M. Piave. The authority in the pit of Erich Leinsdorf (substituting for the hospitalized Dimitri Mitropoulos) was masterly, and the audience's mood of rhapsody rewarded him mountingly during the evening so that Leinsdorf was nip-and-tuck with Leonard Warren of the title role as second man on the prestige totem pole.

Within the over-all gratitude for such a vital and electrifying new item as "Macbeth" why quibble about the witches, or some of the details of Carl Ebert's staging? the opera affords exquisite singing and remarkable (for an opera) melodrama. The sets of Caspar Neher (with an assist) by Robert Paddock) cannily mingle dark tones, gaunt terrain, and peevish pinks. In investiture, as in music, this Scotland of "Lucia di Lammermoor" look and sound like East Lynne in hamfat.

"Macbeth" is the eighth work by Verdi in the Met rep, and a stunning success. As a guess it ought to become the demand ticket that Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was last season.

Review 2:

Review of Louis Biancolli in the New York World-Telegram


A sumptuous production of Verdi's "Macbeth"-featuring the debut of the noted Viennese soprano, Leonie Rysanek-made Metropolitan Opera history last night.

More than a century old, the Shakespeare opera had never been staged at the Metropolitan, though at least three other companies have produced it here, in one form or another in the last two decades.

This may not be Verdi at his consistent best, but it is Verdi in command of a masterly musical speech, and a Verdi who was learning how to write the two Shakespearean masterpieces of his old age. For all its fluctuations between great and near-great, between consummate power and banal theatricalism, 'Macbeth" is an opera that belongs in the working repertory. Its supreme moments are unforgettable.

The Metropolitan production is both handsome and costly. A fascinating thing to watch in its spacious medieval interiors and rugged ghostly exteriors. It is also quite a treat for the ear. This was largely due last night to the sturdy and incisive conducting of Erich Leinsdorf, to the splendid choral work, to the commanding artistry of Leonard Warren as Macbeth-but most conspicuously to the lady making her debut.

Miss Rysanek, a lovely woman of 30, gifted with a superb voice and marked acting ability, proved a sensation in the role of Lady Macbeth. One could understand why many persist in dubbing this opera, Verdi's "Lady Macbeth." Those who heard Miss Rysanek sing the role in a concert version at Carnegie Hall two years ago will recall the powerful impression made by this operatic charmer in the famous sleepwalking scene. Last night she was again magnificent in that scene which is as perfect as anything Verdi ever wrote before "Otello." Against an awesome vista of rising staircases, she sang and acted the part with immense communication. She sang it with great beauty of tone, too-which is where fortunately for us, she let Verdi down. For that stubborn realist wanted an ugly voice for the part, and an ugly woman to go with it. Miss Rysanek disqualified on both counts.

Indeed, if one trusted one's eye and ear, this wasn't a Lady Macbeth to hate. The voice was too beautiful, the face and figure ditto, and there was even a kind of helpless poignancy and pathos about it all. The crowd loved her. That is, everybody loved her except the lone crusader who shouted "Brava Callas!" just before Miss Rysanek uttered her [first] lines. Whatever his motive, one earnestly hopes he was among those shouting "Brava Rysanek!" at the end.

Others who sang well last night were Jerome Hines as Banquo and William Olvis as Malcolm. Besides his other preoccupations, the Macduff of Carlo Bergonzi seemed to be fighting the last traces of a cold. The chorus was brilliant.

The many-styled sets and costumes were the work of Caspar Neher, who with Carl Ebert, the new Metropolitan producer, took part in the German revivals of early Verdi operas in the 1920s that led to the rediscovery of this near masterpiece, "Macbeth."

Review 3:

Review of Robert Coleman in the N. Y. Mirror

Rysanek Triumphs at Met

After catching a dress rehearsal of Verdi's "Macbeth" at the Metropolitan Opera House this week, we can only wonder why the Met has failed to include it in the repertory for lo these many years. Though it is an early, transitional, work, it has the mark of the master. It is a prophecy of the "Otello" that was to come. Verdi himself liked "Macbeth," with good reason. For he invested it with music that is rousing and melodious. It has gorgeous arias and ensembles. Choppy, yes. But librettist Piave was no Boito. We are grateful that Rudolf Bing is a Verdi enthusiast, for otherwise we might never have heard this stirring - and neglected - work at America's top opera house.

Bing engaged Carl Ebert to direct "Macbeth," and Caspar Neher to design the production, since they had worked together felicitously on pioneer revivals in Europe. Ebert's staging is effective and most of Neher's sets and costumes are striking. However, the latter's closed stage for the final battle scene cramped the action, and the pastel uniforms struck us as less than warlike.

Bing signed Maria Callas to create the role of Lady Macbeth at the Met, but, after a disagreement with that temperamental diva, replaced her with Leonie Rysanek. It has been Mme. Rysanek's fate to substitute for Mme. Callas with other American organizations under similar circumstances. In our opinion, Bing and the Met subscribers got a break in this instance. At the dress rehearsal, Mme. Rysanek - due to the rigors of preparing for the assignment - gave but intermittent flashes of her powers. But these were enough to cause this reviewer to predict a triumph for her on [premiere] night. This, she had.

In our book, Mme. Rysanek is the most distinguished addition to the Met's roster since Renata Tebaldi. Few stars can match her for looks, and only a handful can act in the same league with her. As for her voice, it has a remarkable range. Forte or pianissimo, it is always under perfect control. Her lower register is rich. Her top notes soar above a chorus. She has amazing facility and flexibility. We found her the most exciting artist to reach the Met in many a semester. Frankly, we'll take her any day in the week over Callas. She's at home with Wagner or Verdi. Few others are. And she's modest.

Leonard Warren, as that ambitious weakling, Macbeth, gave one of his finest performances at the run-through. He must have been magnificent at the preem. His voice was as clear as a bell, and met every test beautifully. Moreover, he can act with the best in opera. Jerome Hines and Carlo Bergonzi were excellent as Banquo and Macduff. Their voices were resonant, and they mimed with feeling.

When conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos was unfortunately stricken with a heart attack, Erich Leinsdorf stepped into the breach. Seldom have we heard the Met's orchestra to better advantage than under his baton. His reading of the score was intelligent and dramatic. And his understanding of the singers' problems was admirable.

Production photos of Macbeth by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

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