W. J. Henderson in the New York Sun:
The forty-third year of the Metropolitan Opera House and the nineteenth season of opera under the direction of Giulio Gatti-Casazza began last evening when Spontini’s “La Vestale,” age 109, was presented. The opening of the opera is rated as an event. In the social life of the town it has a special and lively significance, but with that this department has no concern.
Unfortunately the importance of the opera in the musical life of New York is variable. The endless repetitions of ‘Cavalleria” and “Tosca” and the rest of the hardy perennials furnish little or nothing of value to the reporter or the commentator, and the chronicler is therefore duly grateful when a new work, no matter how flimsy, is produced or the venerable dead “doomed for a certain time to walk the night.”
It would not be easy to suggest a happier selection for the opening of the new season than that made by the astute impresario. The choice of any of the shopworn scores would have caused the inference that a first night was bound to be brilliant, no matter what was given. But “La Vestale” was an initial offering possessing an element of novelty, for not everyone has yet heard it, and stressing the oft repeated proclamation that American singers shall have their day in this American opera house.
The best advertised prima donna in the world is an American, but she is held in reserve for the approaching revival of Mozart’s last opera. Meanwhile, let none of us forget that long before the star of the West was heralded as the celestial illumination of a new era in our national glory we had Rosa Ponselle who, despite her name, is a Connecticut American. In the production of “La Vestale” Miss Ponselle achieved one the most notable successes obtained by a soprano in recent years. It was therefore gratifying to those who rejoiced in the beauty and compelling force of her impersonation last season that she should be permitted to enjoy the splendors attending the beginning of the lyric winter’s tale.
Furthermore “La Vestale” is a fine old classic opera and imparted an artistic dignity to the occasion which it has not always had. We do not write operas after the Spontini model now and probably any attempt to adapt it to the treatment of a modern subject would be to court disaster. But the pomp and circumstance of the score are singularly appropriate to the sock and buskin tragedy.
The music often struts, but it is never vulgar. It has always an aristocratic quality and a peculiar kind of antique sonority which, by a subtle association of ideas, persistently reminds this writer of gone but not forgotten port wine. And the voice parts can be sung, whereby singers can exhibit all that is best in their voices and their styles. For such reasons, if for no others, we may rejoice that Mr. Gatti picked “La Vestale” to lift the barrier of the nineteenth season.
We should perhaps rejoice more if the pruning knife were judiciously applied to the score. The first act endured for one hour last evening and there are few audiences that can face that record with fortitude. When Wagner created one hour acts he was doing it when Napoleon was still on the front pages. The act could be much improved by a curtailment of the excessively sober festivities over the return of the hero. There is altogether too much lassitudinous dancing.
For some other reason more or less occult the performance was heavy footed. It was not all the fault of Miss Ponselle for she imparted most of the fire that warmed the veins of the presentation. She was generally excellent in voice and always admirable in artistic purpose. Mme. Matzenauer as the head of the college of vestals strode majestically and sang sonorously. She again exhibited acquaintance with the grand style. Mr. Lauri-Volpi assumed the glory of the Roman conqueror, but his heroics were none too convincing.
Mr. de Luca returned to his former role of the friend of Licinus. He seemed to be sadly out of voice, but preserved his authority of manner. Ezio Pinza, a newcomer, orated the bass pronouncement of the Pontifex Maximus and gave promise of being a useful addition to the company. There is little else to be said. The audience was large, but the familiar excitement of an opening night was absent. There was a prevailing apathy which the venerable classic with its conventional formalities failed to remove. And the general want of life in the performance did not tend to arouse the somnolescents.
Born on this day in 1923 soprano Victoria de los Angeles.
Birthday anniversaries of composer Roger Quilter (1877), conductor Eugen Jochum (1902) and baritone Ernest Blanc (1923).
On this day in 1952 the Johnny Mercer musical Top Banana opened on Broadway.