• U.S.

The Metropolitan

8 minute read

Gatti Dominates the Heights to Which He Has Brought His House.

Thais. Mme. Jeritza opens the Metropolitan opera season Monday, Nov. 5, in Thais (Massenet). Aida (Verdi) will be given on Wednesday; La Tosca (Puccini) on Thursday; Die Meistersinger (Wagner) on Friday; Romeo et Juliette (Gounod) on Saturday afternoon, and Rigoletto (Verdi) on Saturday night.

Story of Thais. Athanaय, a Cenobite monk living in the Theban desert near Alexandria, worships God through self-mortification. On a visit to Alexandria he meets Thaïs, beautiful courtesan who worships Venus. Nicias, a young Sybaritic philosopher, has bought her love for one week. The monk Athenaय perceives in a vision that his mission is to spiritualize Thaïs, to make her the bride of Christ. His ancient comrade, Pelamon, says: “My son, ne’er mingle with the people of this era”; Nicias laughs in scorn; the mob throws stones; yet he succeeds in reforming Thaïs. Thaïs sees the emptiness of pleasure, is led in ecstacy to a convent. Then Athanaय leaves her, but finds that he loves her in the flesh. Madly he denounces God, says nothing is real ” but life and passion in the human,” returns to the convent. But beautiful Thaïs is converted and dies singing ” I see God.”

In the novel of Anatole France the monk continues to exist, shameless and bitter; in the opera he is forgotten.

Singers. On hand are Sopranos Jeritza, Matzenauer, Easton, Bori, Delaunois; Contraltos Wakefield, Howard; Tenors Gigli, Martinelli; Baritones Scotti, Wolf, Danise, Didur; Bassos Rothier, D’Angelo.

Gatti. The season finds the Metropolitan high in the joys of tranquillity, prosperity, prestige. It is the 16th year of Mr. Giulio Gatti-Casazza’s directorship. Few cares there are to vex the brows of impresario and Board of Directors. Deficits, the bane of opera, are not heard of. There are no violent dissensions that break upon the public ear. People of musing memory may be diverted to go back to the very different state of things that prevailed during Mr. Gatti’s first years.

In 1908 it was announced that the opera manager, Mr. Conreid, had resigned because of ill health. A new manager was needed — more than a manager, a giant, a prodigy. Metropolitan and deficit had become synonymous words. For years the organization had staggered along under heavy losses. Philanthropic patiences were said to be verging on exhaustion. With financial evils there were bickerings and disturbances. And when you have singers and musicians dissensions become wars and disputes pitched battles. Some subtle intelligence and masterful hand was needed to put the Metropolitan on its feet. The process normal to good business — and the Directors of New York’s opera have always been business men — was to pick the best known success in the field of operatic management. Such a well known success was not far to seek.

In Milan, Signer Giulio Gatti-Casazza, a marine engineer by profession, had taken hold of La Seal a Opera House in a time when that historic institution was in a bad situation, in a couple of years had rehabilitated it in an extraordinary manner, had brought a regime of order and economy, at the same time had increased the quality of performances immensely. Here was the obvious man for the internationally minded Directors of the Metropolitan. Many of their customers thought that they should have patriotically selected an American, but they seemed of the opinion that it was better to save money under a foreigner than lose it under an American — a rather sensible American point of view — and they engaged Gatti-Casazza for a trial term of one year. And so there came to New York’s opera the tall, heavy, gravely dignified, reserved, aristocratic man, whose sagacious beard is gray now after the passage of 15 years but whose deep-set eyes retain all of their studying intentness.

Gatti’s coming gave promise of many ructions. He was an Italian, the first Italian to direct at the Metropolitan. There had long been a New York opera feud between the Italians and the Germans. At the first mention of the new impresario it blazed to new heights. The Germans were powerful and combative. Large sections of the New York musical world concurred with them indignantly that the rule of an Italian would mean the ruin of Wagnerian opera at the Metropolitan. Gatti, too, had a reputation for keeping singers sternly under discipline. The singers at the Metropolitan, like most singers, loved discipline not at alL They knitted their brows and waited. The new manager stipulated in his contract that he would bring with him Arturo Toscanini, then already famous. This orchestra conductor enjoyed a well earned renown for handling singers without gloves.

Gatti’s first year was in a vague sort of copartnership with Andreas Dippel, who directed the German operas. The German and Italian factions lined up according to the logic of this double management. There were intrigues, counter-intrigues, petitions to the Board of Directors, blasts in the newspapers. At the end of the season Gatti was reengaged. The Board of Directors made it clear that he would continue as sole manager.

The sources of his victory lay in various factors. Under his guidance the German operas grew better. It might have been noted in the first place that Gatti was an ardent Wagnerite then, as he is today, He had made a specialty of Wagner at La Scala. And he had brought with him a prodigious Wagnerian conductor in Toscanini. And then he was a first-rate master of economical management, the sort of man who would shrink a deficit. It did not take the clever business men on the Board of Directors long to observe that. They supported him vigorously. With such sure support an impresario is in a favorable position to deal with singers. The gentleman from Milan understood the art of handling vocal artists. With an unbending dignity and awe-inspiring aloofness, he squelched the natural operatic tendency to loud quarrels, public statements of righteous indignation, webs of intrigue, various forms of sabotage. People who were not amenable to reason went. There was no appeal from his decision.

In a few years his victory was complete. He continued in the work of abolishing the deficit. The standard of performances increased constantly. A war with Hammerstein came and, after many qualmy moments, was carried to victorious conclusion. Chicago opera competition was met without any serious loss of prestige. The great stars whom Gatti found waiting for him when he took the directorship passed with the years — Caruso died and Farrar left the organization. Stars as great have not arisen to take their places, yet the standing of the opera has gone higher. Titta Ruffo and Gallf-Curci have created no new glories for the Metropolitan. Among the newcomers only Jeritza has achieved something like old time Metropolitan stardom. It is here that we encounter an interesting phase upon which the coming season will have large bearing.

Gatti, in the beginning of his reign, placed himself as an enemy of the star system, of the domination of a company by a few famous and favorite singers. He gave emphatic attention to orchestra, chorus, ballet, production. The Metropolitan had always enjoyed fine orchestra conducting. This Gatti sustained with Toscanini and then with his present German conductor, Arthur Bodanzky. In Moranzoni, Papi and Haesselmans he has now a first-rate set of Italian and French conductors. Under Giulio Setti the Metropolitan chorus became a model. The productions — Samuel Thewman is the present stage manager — have kept to a high standard.

A Soprano

A month ago, TIME gave an account of the activities of Roland Hayes, Negro tenor. Last week a Negro soprano, Miss Louetta Chatman, was well received at her first appearance at Aeolian Hall, Manhattan. Although not the first Negro to be heard in recital, she was the first to have been trained by a teacher of her own race — Wilson Lamb.

Perosi’s Psalms

Is Perosi sane once more?

It was announced that Don Lorenzo Perosi (TIME, May 19) would conduct a concert of his own composition at the Roman Cathedral of Fabriano. It was to be his new rendering of the Psalms for the dead, the performance lasting twelve minutes.

The leading music critics of Italy traveled twelve hours to hear him.

Months ago the mad Perosi, greatest of all living liturgical composers, retired to a Franciscan monastery, where the Brothers of the Brown Cowl have lavished care upon him.

His single concert has now roused the critics to unprecedented enthusiasm, for his setting of the Psalms is tempestuous, passionate and far removed from the character of his earlier work, such as the famous Stabat Mater, which the Vatican choir is now giving to Americans. The soprano part has almost insuperable difficulties.

When it was suggested to Perosi that he should compose a new and more elaborate work, he is said to have covered his face with horror. “Never,” said he. “Besides, I am soon starting for a tour of America.”

Is Don Lorenzo Perosi sane?

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com