On this day in 1959 soprano Leonie Rysanek made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Lady Macbeth.
Robert Coleman in the New York Mirror:
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.
On this day in 1887 Verdi’s Otello premiered in Milan.
Birthday anniversaries of sopranos Oxana Petrusenko (1900) and Erna Schlüter (1904), tenor Jussi Björling (1911), bass-baritone Otto Edelmann (1917) and conductor John Pritchard (1921).