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Program book advertisement for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1897 residency at the Auditorium Theatre

During the Chicago Orchestra’s first decade, the ensemble frequently performed in the pit when the Metropolitan Opera’s touring company traveled through the Midwest.

One of the most extensive residencies during that era occurred during the 1896-97 season, when the Met collaborated with the Orchestra over a six-week period—from February 22 through April 3, 1897—spending four weeks in the Auditorium Theatre followed by a two-week tour to Saint Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Together they gave over forty performances of fifteen different operas, including Bizet’s Carmen; Flotow’s Martha; Gounod’s Faust, Philemon and Baucis, and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Massenet’s Le Cid; Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Aida and Il trovatore; and Wagner’s Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan and Isolde.

The touring company included some of the most important singers of the day, many performing multiple roles, including: Emma Calvé as Carmen, Marguerite, and Santuzza; Jean de Reszke as Don José, Faust, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan; and his brother Édouard de Reszke as King Marke, Leporello, Mephistopheles, Ramfis, and the Wanderer. Other singers included Mathilde Bauermeister, David BisphamGiuseppe CampanariFélia Litvinne, and Eugenia Mantelli, among many others, and Metropolitan Opera house conductors were Enrico Bevignani, Luigi Mancinelli, Louis Saar, and Anton Seidl.

Boito’s Mefistofele was performed once during the residency, on March 2, 1897, with the following cast:

Mefistofele Pol Plançon, bass
Faust Giuseppe Cremonini, tenor
Margherita and Elena Emma Calvé, soprano
Wagner and Nereo Igenio Corsi, tenor
Marta and Pantalis Eugenia Mantelli, mezzo-soprano
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Carlo Corsi, director
Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 

Pol Plançon, photographed in Paris in 1881 by Wilhelm Benque

In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described Plançon—who also performed the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust on the tour—”M. Plançon as Mefistofele was forceful and majestic. In much of the detail he was the creature of Gounod’s libretto, but for one important exception, Boito’s Devil is thoroughly Italian. He is more noisy, impetuous, vindictive. The French composer has treated his subject with greater elevation of satire. Gounod’s French suavity and politeness never forsook him even when he set about depicting the Devil. Boito, true to Italian instinct, made his a personage terrifying, from the melodramatic point of view,. His Mefistofele never for a moment is allowed to forget what a bad person he is, and that is the chief thing he has to do in this entire opera. He is like a picture by [Gustave] Doré, red drapery, piercing eyes, and a background of smoke.”

For more details on the Metropolitan Opera’s Chicago residencies, check out the company’s performance history database.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir, and bass Riccardo Zanellato in the Prologue to Boito’s Mefistofele on June 22, 23, 24, and 25, 2017.

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Announcement for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser on December 17, 1960.

On December 17, 1960, Georg Solti made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducting the Paris version of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The cast included Leonie Rysanek, Irene Dalis, Hans Hopf, Jerome Hines, and the house debut of Hermann Prey. (Twenty-two-year-old Teresa Stratas was scheduled to perform as the Shepherd, but she was replaced by Mildred Allen.)

According to Robert Sabin, reporting for Musical America: “In some ways, Tannhäuser is a severer challenge to the conductor than the Ring operas or Wagner’s other mature masterpieces, but Mr. Solti had solved every one of its ticklish problems of tempo, balance, phrasing and dramatic emphasis. Most notable were the fluidity of his tempos, the transparence of texture he achieved and the emotional vitality of his conception. True, the Bacchanale was pale and certain of the ensembles could have been weightier and more majestic. But this was a price willingly paid for the flow and clarity of Mr. Solti’s conception. He kept the audience absorbed every minute up to the last note and he richly deserved the prolonged ovations he received (in which the orchestra, be it noted, joined).”

The incredible MetOpera Database indicates that Solti conducted a total of thirty-seven performances with the company, including Tristan und Isolde, Otello, Boris Godunov, Aida, and Don Carlo. His final performances were two special concerts on March 27 and 28, 1964, given in memory of John F. Kennedy, that included a scene from Parsifal (with Jess Thomas, Jerome Hines, and Marcia Baldwin) and Verdi’s Requiem (with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Carlo Bergonzi, Cesare Siepi, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus).

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Theodore Thomas

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Last night - Maestro Riccardo Muti and the CSO with pianist Kirill Gerstein (@kgerstein) perform Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico, R. Strauss’ Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. Photos by @toddrphoto.

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