The Met database, in case you were wondering, is the devil. At least as far as my office work is concerned. Nonetheless, some fun items:
Tristan, 1959: "People seemed disinclined to go home. The lights in the theatre were dimmed, but men and women throughout the house remained near their seats, applauding for Miss Nilsson's return. After more than fifteen minutes of plaudits, the enthusiasts let Miss Nilsson return to her dressing room."
Ballo, 1963: "Her [Nilsson's] closest partner in credibility as well as vocal excellence was Robert Merrill, long a fine-sounding Renato and now a believable one in action as well. The current state of Richard Tucker's Riccardo was observed on an earlier occasion this season, and might be summarized as a combination of the sublime (to the ear) and the ridiculous (to the eye)."
Martha, 1897: "An audience of 2500 people at the Metropolitan Opera House last night saw Armand Castelmary die on the stage, and applauded to the echo, thinking it a splendid bit of acting."
Norma, 1952 (Callas' debut): "Already warmed by ermine, the ladies in the audience at the Metropolitan Opera's opening night (is) were further comforted by the sure knowledge that they held tickets of admission in greater demand than "My Fair Lady." Priced at $35 and scalped at upward of $200 the implication was clear: grand opera was topping George Bernard Shaw set to polka music...
For Maria Callas cannot be dismissed by cheering the tenor or bestowing an ovation upon her mezzo-soprano sidekick. Nor by the standees (those audibly opinionated ones) sneering that she had adnoids and a rich husband. Such cracks were plentiful at the Met Monday before the final triumphant Act IV curtain at midnight. They suggest that the Callas publicity buildup had been too successful for the lady's own good and equally that her own "claque" was inferior in vigor to those of Del Monaco and Barbieri. Of course there are not supposed any longer to be "claques" at the Met. Just partisans.
Actually such partisanship and enthusiasm represents more than the unpredictability of an opening night (or of any night). Herein lies the strong meat of audience reaction. Without this caring and dividing of the masses, in or out of evening attire, grand opera would not be grand."
Walkure, 1935: "Mme. Flagstad is that rare avis in the Wagnerian woods - a singer with a voice, with looks, with youth. She is not merely another of those autumnal sopranos who passed their prime when the Kaiser was a boy, and whose waistlines have gone to that bourne from which no slenderness returneth...
She is solacing to the eye - comely and slim, and sweet of countenance. "I still need a Sieglinde!" wrote Wagner despairingly to a friend while he was casting the "Ring" for Bayreuth sixty years ago. "That need," he added, "is a calamity - for she must be slender." Wagner knew his Germans. Yesterday was one of those comparatively rare occasions when the exigent Richard might have witnessed with happiness an embodiment of his Sieglinde. For this was a beautiful and illusive re-creation, poignant and sensitive throughout, and crowned in its greater moments with an authentic exaltation."
Um, that 1935 Walkure bit sounds like a straight version of our favorite NYT critic.
Tristan 1952 with Nilsson can't be right, as her US debut was in 1956, Met debut 1959. Maybe it's a typo for 1962?
Thanks for the heads up. Totally my typo...I've corrected it.
Very nice research, Alex. (Is database mining the right term?) I enjoyed reading this.
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