THE MUSIC BOX
The Metropolitan opera is back in Boston till the end of the week, and provoking, besides enthusiasm for its generally high standards, the usual amount of speculation on the future of opera as a whole. During the New York season, opera comes in for a pretty steady critical barrage, most of it written by critics more interested in good theatre than good music, and certainly, from the point of view of acting, staging, and occasionally the plots themselves, opera can be laughably ineffective as theatre.
The slavish devotion of the movies to authentic local color and the realism of modern acting have naturally whetted general impatience with the fact that the Met's scenery continues to be predominantly mid-Victorian and its acting in the good old Italian tradition, pure ham with a whiff of garlic. These are real objections that nobody would try to deny, but they have nowhere near the importance for opera that they would for spoken drama. Opera's source, and its principal excuse for existence, is the wonderful physical satisfaction of hearing a well-trained human voice, an appeal not basically different from that of a good, boxing match or track meet, which, of course, is no argument for opera's artistic value, but a very good one for its continued existence despite changing fashions in theatre and musical styles. Whether a person likes opera or not is largely a matter of temperament, and condemning it for its theatrical shortcomings is like panning a movie on the grounds of a bad musical score. The scenery and acting exist to provide a convincing background for the singing, and the more effective it is the more effective the opera, but the quality of the music should be by far the most important standard of judgment. Shakespeare had to paint his scenery in words, and Wagner's eloquent orchestra does much more towards suggesting the barbaric atmosphere of his Nibelung saga than all the fancy dragons, thunderstorms, etc., that the "Met" can produce.
The "Met" usually assembles its best casts for Boston performances, and next week is no exception. There will be a chance to hear their beautifully sung and staged "Orfeo," the magnificent Wotan of Friederich Schorr, who will very soon be leaving the boards altogether, the fiery Carmen of a French newcomer, Djanel, and the unique Marschallin of Lotte Lehmann in "Der Rosenkavalier" who, like Monty Woolley in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," has spent her whole life training for the part. Keeping such a hugely expensive company on its financial feet during the war is becoming increasingly difficult, and this may be the last time for a good many years that Boston will hear any first rate opera at all.