[Met Performance] CID:186220

Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, November 15, 1960

Debut : Jane Rhodes

Carmen (597)
Georges Bizet | Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halévy
Jane Rhodes [Debut]

Don José
Nikola Nikolov [Last performance]

Teresa Stratas

Lorenzo Testi

Carlotta Ordassy

Helen Vanni

Paul Franke

George Cehanovsky

Norman Scott

Clifford Harvuot

Nancy King

Bruce Marks

Jean Morel

Review 1:

Review of Paul Henry Lang in the Herald Tribune

A new Carmen is like a new Ophelia, eternally fascinating, for the role is inexhaustible in meaning and nuance and a great artist can make us wonder whether we have ever before known this fateful gypsy. But the role equally fascinates singers, and although it really fits a mezzo best, even high sopranos and low contraltos try their vocal chords at it.

Their number would fill Leporello's famous catalogue: hopeful beginners and seasoned veterans, short plump sorceresses and tall willowly femme fatales, blondes with dark wigs and brunettes with their own tresses, girls who never forget that singing must always be musical, and others (unfortunately, quite a few) who believe that crooning below the pitch suggested by the composer excites the male animal.

Jane Rhodes was the new Carmen last night at the Met. Despite her English name she is a native Parisian and every sound and gesture of hers was authentically and attractively French. Miss Rhodes is a distinguished singer with a fine voice that is perhaps basically a mezzo but she is comfortable in all regions and has a ringing high register. The new Carmen is an excellent actress who moves on stage with natural ease, but above all she is an artist who knows what it is all about.

A singer must know that while this opera is a red hot music drama it is an absolutely unique case in the history of opera, for it unites piquant cabaret music and popular Spanish dance rhythms with the highest art in a marvelous organic whole. The popular element is present everywhere but always informed with the most tasteful, original, and attractive refinements that make the work into one of the most sparkling scores ever conceived.

Miss Rhodes never violated the canons of taste and art, rather she always remembered that the dosage of rawness and of delicately pointed art work is exact and psychologically perfect. She always reacted to the state of mind and character of the other protagonists. The vacillating Don José, blinded by passion, is a demoralized man - she moved in for the kill at the right moment and with the right accents. The healthy brutality of Escamillo provoked entirely different reactions - and so it went throughout the opera.

The French soprano is a happy acquisition, and if surrounded by a proper cast, she will bring this great opera to life. Unfortunately, the assistance she received was poor, and even dismal. I must except the regular standbys of the Met - the minor figures are all good - and the choral singing was very fine, but with one exception the other principals are nowhere near her stature.

Teresa Stratas (Micaela) is a youngster with an appealing and clear voice. She played the ingénue with pleasant simplicity, her intonation was excellent and in general she deported herself like a veteran though she is at the very beginning of a promising career.

It was a great mistake to permit Lorenzo Testi to join this cast; he is no major league singer and his total lack of a low register made his bravado embarrassingly ridiculous. Nikola Nikolov (Don José) has a voice but it is not a polished one and is entirely unsuited for the, lyric finesse required by this role, but the main trouble with this production must be laid at the conductor's door.

Jean Morel is a solid musician who has distinguished himself with able symphonic performances, but he never caught the spirit of this fiery music. From the very first measures of the overture, which should start out with the frenzy of a carnival, one felt limpness and misplaced urbanity. The conductor must tear into this music, stoke the fires, though also keep an eye on the pressure gauges. This tame and somewhat imprecise conducting won't do; Miss Rhodes deserves a maestro who has a good deal of her temperament.

It is known that Mr. Bing is very eager to refurbish "Carmen." If he does so it would be a good idea to get rid of Guiraud's recitatives which disfigure the work. Every time I heard the sixth chord that customarily opens an eighteenth century recitative, I was taken aback - what is this passionate love story, a cantata ?

Review 2:

Review of Robert Sabin in Musical America

The saving grace of this generally rather decrepit performance was the presence of the French soprano Jane Rhodes, who made her debut at the Metropolitan in the title role of "Carmen". Miss Rhodes has been singing in this role in the lavishly spectacular production currently at the Paris Opera.

It was her acting, rather than her singing, which impressed one on this occasion. After seeing how magnetically she can hold a stage and how psychologically detailed a characterization she can build, it is not surprising to learn that she studied at the Paris Centre d'Art Dramatique and made her stage debut at the Theatre du Châtelet, before embarking on her operatic career. Her Paris Opera debut was in 1957, as Marguerite in Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust".

Miss Rhodes has also appeared as Salome and Senta, which may be a partial explanation of the far from happy state of her voice, which was spread and breathy at the top and uneven in scale. She does not have the volume or sturdiness of voice, in my opinion, to sing such roles safely. Even in "Carmen" she had her problems with the lower range. Ideally, the role should be sung by a true mezzo-soprano who can go up, rather than by a soprano who can go down, for the coloration is predominantly mezzo. Be all this as it may, Miss Rhodes gave us a Carmen that was visually alive and dramatically assured.

Vocally, the general state of affairs may be clarified by the fact that Miss Stratas won herself a tremendous ovation for her charming and smooth, but by no means extraordinary, performance of "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante". It was simply that the audience was starved for some polished and pure-toned singing.

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