Pitts Sanborn in the Globe:
There are a number of old works of genius that ought to be heard here oftener than has been the custom, provided a performance can be obtained that approximates adequacy. Such of these operas as were written in the palmy days of Italian song Mr. Gatti-Casazza can approach with more assurance than many a fellow impresario for, with all that is said about the present decline of the art of singing, it happens to be certain bel canto operas that our distinguished impresario has of late years presented with a maximum of vocal success. Witness performances at his house this season of “L’Elisir d’ Amore” and “Martha,” and the matinee performance of “Rigoletto.”
The old work of genius he revived at the Metropolitan last night, the “Puritani” of Bellini, is an opera which ill deserves the generation of silence it has suffered at that house, broken only by such echoes as strayed over from West Thirty-fourth street, where the enterprising Oscar Hammerstein let it be heard four times during his tenancy of his own Manhattan Opera House. After three and eighty years enough of beauty and power remain in the score of “I Puritani” to make a satisfactory performance worth an attentive hearing by any one who has escaped or outgrown the late Victorian prejudice against the older Italian repertory, accompanied by a blind – and deaf – devotion to every measure Wagner ever wrote.
Wagner, by the way, for all his thunderous warfare on operatic convention and his intolerant, calculated dogmatism, granted some praise to Bellini and the Maestro Mancinelli, whose words are listened to in Italy and ought to be in New York, not so long ago spoke of Bellini as the Italian Wagner. At first glance such an attribution is, in view of Verdi, Ponchielli and the moderns, to say the least astonishing. Compared even with Donizetti’s orchestration, that of Bellini is thin, nor was Bellini an innovator in the harmony of the day or a daring dissenter from established form.
What the Maestro Mancinelli had in mind was the truthfulness of Bellini’s declamation, as well as the justice of expression in his sustained melody. In “La Sonnambula.” in “Norma,” and in “I Puritani” one finds the same unaffected truthfulness in the treatment of recitative. In “La Sonnambula” the recitative is genuinely simple, without either pretentiousness or false modesty, as befits the simple, pastoral subject. In “Norma.” it has an elevation that never becomes stilted or bombastic. Neither Gluck nor Wagner found a loftier declamatory utterance than the magnificent recitative that preludes Norma’s “Casta Diva”. . . .
Mr. Lazaro has an exceptionally high voice for Arturo, and an exceptionally rich voice as well, and all the fervor any part requires. In the last act his high notes – the highest I am sure I have ever heard a tenor sing, though I cannot be certain whether he stopped at D, E flat, E or mounted even to F! – were in their power and quality, as well as their dizzy altitude, simply electrifying.
He often sang, too, in admirable style and with the finesse and the repose the music demands. But in those latter particulars he showed at times that he still has something to learn. I fancy he will learn it quickly if he profits by his opportunity to listen attentively to Mr. Caruso, his admitted elder and therefore in no sense a rival, every time the incomparable Italian sings in “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Martha,” or any other of the bel canto operas. As Elvira Mrs. Barrientos, though in a part written for Grisi, did the best singing I have ever heard from her in any part, not only as regards quality of tone, but in speed, rhythm, and phrasing, The audience applauded her thunderously at the end of “Qui la voce.” She was always a distinguished figure.
So was Mr. de Luca in Tamburini’s part of Riccardo, and no bel canto of the evening was finer than his. The voice of Mr. Mardones sounded so beautiful in the music of Giorgio that one regretted the rôle is short. However there is the great “Liberty Duet” for baritone and bass, which Rossini, writing from Paris to a friend in Rome, assured the latter he must have heard in that holy city when Tamburini and Lablache boomed out its measures on the stage of the Italiens in Paris. Throughout that piece Messrs. de Luca and Mardones kept the house in a volcanic eruption of applause. If, at the fall of the curtain, Mr. Gatti-Gasazza had had the orchestra swing right into the “Marseillaise” nothing could have prevented a riot.
The chorus, Mr. Setti’s chorus, was again superb. Mr. Moranzoni conducted with understanding, sympathy, infinite care, and an exhilarating sense of effect; the scenery was all one need ask for. And all these elements had their due part in one of the most brilliant evening’s Mr. Gatti-Casazza has ever provided our town.
Born on this day in 1926 mezzo-soprano Rita Gorr.
Born on this day in 1939 soprano Angeles Gulin.