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Music: The Nose and the Thumb

3 minute read

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt stayed home with a cold. Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies were, as usual, solidly barnacled with jewelry. Lucius Beebe, who had condescended to the wartime informality of a black tie, apologized: “I feel as naked as a jay bird.” Somebody stole a mink coat while its owner, the wife of a South American diplomat, was not looking. It was said that Lily Pons had lost an emerald. An air-raid warden, in a tuxedo, white arm band and white steel helmet, wandered around the lobby announcing a blackout. “The most individual and interesting performer,” averred New York Times Critic Olin Downes, “. . . was the horse.”

As to the stage performance of Boris Godunoff, which opened the Metropolitan Opera’s diamond jubilee season last week, Critic Downes was right. The horse, a splendid specimen of white charger from the Ben Hur Stables, succeeded repeatedly in bringing down the house. On several occasions as his rider, Tenor Armand Tokatyan, soared toward a top note, the animal turned a ripely expressive backside to the audience and obliged Tokatyan to sing squarely into the scenery.

Culture Marches. But the crowning event of the Metropolitan’s jubilee opening did not occur on the stage. It was the achievement of Mrs. Henry L. Doherty, widow of the utilities magnate (Cities Service). Seated among Manhattan’s beauty and chivalry in the Metropolitan’s bar, over a bottle of vintage ’28 champagne, plump, vigorous Mrs. Doherty treated a press photographer to a fine demonstration of the simple, or one-ply, nose-thumb. The gesture had true sweep, high photogenic quality (see cut), and was generally conceded to be the most striking cultural event in the Metropolitan since Lawyer Richard Knight’s historic cartwheel in the same room (TIME, Dec. 11, 1939)From the Met’s first week it seemed obvious that Manhattan’s third wartime opera season was going to sound very much like, and sell even better than, its second. Every performance (reflecting the current boom in Manhattan show business) was a sellout. Many foreign singers would continue to be missed. Only new singer to raise a ripple of anticipation was the 18-year-old coloratura Patrice Munsel (TIME, Nov. 22), scheduled for a debut in Mignon. The Met’s brightest stars this year, as last, were its conductors. The first week included an exquisitely polished Tristan (Sir Thomas Beecham), a brilliant Rosenkavalier (George Szell).

Already operagoers had one big disappointment: the plan for a U.S. premiere of Serge Prokofieff’s new opera based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which might have been the sensation of the season, had been called off. Reason: Joseph Stalin insisted on a Moscow premiere first.

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