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Title: Interpreters
Author: Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: MARY GARDEN AS CHÉRUBIN (1905)]


_Carl Van Vechten_

_A new edition, revised, with sixteen illustrations and an epilogue_


New York Alfred A Knopf


COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1920, BY


    the unforgettable interpreter of Ariel,
           Zelima, Louka, Wendla,
             and Columbine,
          Fania Marinoff, my wife_


Olive Fremstad           11

Geraldine Farrar         39

Mary Garden              59

Feodor Chaliapine        97

Mariette Mazarin        117

Yvette Guilbert         135

Waslav Nijinsky         149

Epilogue                177


Mary Garden as Chérubin        _Frontispiece_


Olive Fremstad as Elsa                    18

Olive Fremstad as Sieglinde               20

Olive Fremstad as Kundry                  24

Geraldine Farrar as Elisabeth             40

Geraldine Farrar as Violetta              46

Geraldine Farrar as Louise in _Julien_    52

Mary Garden as Chrysis                    72

Mary Garden as Mélisande                  76

Mary Garden as Fanny Legrand              90

Feodor Chaliapine as Mefistofele         112

Mariette Mazarin as Elektra              128

Yvette Guilbert                          140

Waslav Nijinsky in Debussy's _Jeux_      168

Geraldine Farrar as Zaza                 190

Mary Garden as Cléopâtre                 196

Olive Fremstad

_"C'est que le Beau est la seule chose qui soit immortelle, et qu'aussi
longtemps qu'il reste un vestige de sa manifestation matérielle, son
immortalité subsiste. Le Beau est répandu partout, il s'étend même
jusque sur la mort. Mais il ne rayonne nulle part avec autant
d'intensité que dans l'individualité humaine; c'est là qu'il parle le
plus à l'intelligence, et c'est pour cela que, pour ma part, je
préférerai toujours une grande puissance musicale servie par une voix
défectueuse, à une voix belle et bête, une voix dont la beauté n'est que

Ivan Turgeniev to Mme. Viardot.

The career of Olive Fremstad has entailed continuous struggle: a
struggle in the beginning with poverty, a struggle with a refractory
voice, and a struggle with her own overpowering and dominating
temperament. Ambition has steered her course. After she had made a
notable name for herself through her interpretations of contralto rôles,
she determined to sing soprano parts, and did so, largely by an effort
of will. She is always dissatisfied with her characterizations; she is
always studying ways and means of improving them. It is not easy for her
to mould a figure; it is, on the contrary, very difficult. One would
suppose that her magnetism and force would carry her through an opera
without any great amount of preparation. Such is not the case. There is
no other singer before the public so little at her ease in any impromptu
performance. Recently, when she returned to the New York stage with an
itinerant opera company to sing in an ill-rehearsed performance of
_Tosca_, she all but lost her grip. She was not herself and she did not
convince. New costumes, which hindered her movements, and a Scarpia with
whom she was unfamiliar, were responsible in a measure for her failure
to assume her customary authority.

If you have seen and heard Olive Fremstad in the scene of the spear in
_Götterdämmerung_, you will find it difficult to believe that what I say
is true, that work and not plenary inspiration is responsible for the
effect. To be sure, the inspiration has its place in the final result.
Once she is certain of her ground, words, music, tone-colour, gesture,
and action, she inflames the whole magnificently with her magnetism.
This magnetism is instinctive, a part of herself; the rest is not. She
brings about the detail with diligent drudgery, and without that her
performances would go for nought. The singer pays for this intense
concentration. In "Tower of Ivory" Mrs. Atherton says that all Wagnerian
singers must pay heavily. Probably all good ones must. Charles Henry
Melzer has related somewhere that he first saw Mme. Fremstad on the
stage at Covent Garden, where between her scenes in some Wagner music
drama, lost in her rôle, utterly oblivious of stage hands or
fellow-artists, she paced up and down in the wings. At the moment he
decided that she was a great interpretative artist, and he had never
heard her sing. When she is singing a rôle she will not allow herself to
be interrupted; she holds no receptions between scenes. "Come back
after the opera," she says to her friends, and frequently then she is
too tired to see any one. She often drives home alone, a prey to
quivering nerves which keep her eyeballs rolling in ceaseless

Nothing about the preparation of an opera is easy for Olive Fremstad;
the thought, the idea, does not register immediately in her brain. But
once she has achieved complete understanding of a rôle and thoroughly
mastered its music, the fire of her personality enables her easily to
set a standard. Is there another singer who can stand on the same
heights with Mme. Fremstad as Isolde, Venus, Elsa, Sieglinde, Kundry,
Armide, Brünnhilde in _Götterdämmerung_, or Salome? And are not these
the most difficult and trying rôles in the répertoire of the lyric stage

In one of her impatient moods--and they occur frequently--the singer
once complained of this fact. "How easy it is," she said, "for those who
make their successes as Marguerite and Mimi.... I should like to sing
those rôles...." But the remark was made under a misconception of her
own personality. Mme. Fremstad would find Mimi and Marguerite much more
difficult to compass than Isolde and Kundry. She is by nature Northern
and heroic, and her physique is suited to the goddesses and heroines of
the Norse myths (it is a significant fact that she has never attempted
to sing Eva or Senta). Occasionally, as in Salome, she has been able to
exploit successfully another side of her talent, but in the rendering of
the grand, the noble, and the heroic, she has no equal on our stage. Yet
her Tosca always lacked nobility. There was something in the music which
never brought the quality out.

In such a part as Selika she seemed lost (wasted, too, it may be added),
although the entrance of the proud African girl was made with some
effect, and the death scene was carried through with beauty of purpose.
But has any one ever characterized Selika? Her Santuzza, one of the two
rôles which she has sung in Paris, must be considered a failure when
judged by the side of such a performance as that given by Emma
Calvé--and who would judge Olive Fremstad by any but the highest
standards? The Swedish singer's Santuzza was as elemental, in its way,
as that of the Frenchwoman, but its implications were too tragic, too
massive in their noble beauty, for the correct interpretation of a
sordid melodrama. It was as though some one had engaged the Victory of
Samothrace to enact the part. Munich adored the Fremstad Carmen (was it
not her characterization of the Bizet heroine which caused Heinrich
Conried to engage her for America?) and Franz von Stuck painted her
twice in the rôle. Even in New York she was appreciated in the part. The
critics awarded her fervent adulation, but she never stirred the public
pulse. The principal fault of this very Northern Carmen was her lack of
humour, a quality the singer herself is deficient in. For a season or
two in America Mme. Fremstad appeared in the rôle, singing it, indeed,
in San Francisco the night of the memorable earthquake, and then it
disappeared from her répertoire. Maria Gay was the next Metropolitan
Carmen, but it was Geraldine Farrar who made the opera again as popular
as it had been in Emma Calvé's day.

Mme. Fremstad is one of those rare singers on the lyric stage who is
able to suggest the meaning of the dramatic situation through the colour
of her voice. This tone-colour she achieves stroke by stroke, devoting
many days to the study of important phrases. To go over in detail the
instances in which she has developed effects through the use of
tone-colour would make it necessary to review, note by note, the operas
in which she has appeared. I have no such intention. It may be
sufficient to recall to the reader--who, in remembering, may recapture
the thrill--the effect she produces with the poignant lines beginning
_Amour, puissant amour_ at the close of the third act of _Armide_, the
dull, spent quality of the voice emitted over the words _Ich habe deinen
Mund geküsst_ from the final scene of _Salome_, and the subtle, dreamy
rapture of the _Liebestod_ in _Tristan und Isolde_. Has any one else
achieved this effect? She once told me that Titian's Assumption of the
Virgin was her inspiration for her conception of this scene.

Luscious in quality, Mme. Fremstad's voice is not altogether a tractable
organ, but she has forced it to do her bidding. A critic long ago
pointed out that another singer would not be likely to emerge with
credit through the use of Mme. Fremstad's vocal method. It is full of
expediences. Oftener than most singers, too, she has been in "bad
voice." And her difficulties have been increased by her determination to
become a soprano, difficulties she has surmounted brilliantly. In other
periods we learn that singers did not limit their ranges by the quality
of their voices. In our day singers have specialized in high or low
rôles. Many contraltos, however, have chafed under the restrictions
which composers have compelled them to accept. Almost all of them have
attempted now and again to sing soprano rôles. Only in the case of Edyth
Walker, however, do we find an analogy to the case of Olive Fremstad.
Both of these singers have attained high artistic ideals in both ranges.
Magnificent as Brangaene, Amneris, and Ortrud, the Swedish singer later
presented unrivalled characterizations of Isolde, Armide, and

The high tessitura of the music allotted to the _Siegfried_ Brünnhilde
is a strain for most singers. Mme. Nordica once declared that this
Brünnhilde was the most difficult of the three. Without having sung a
note in the early evening, she must awake in the third act, about
ten-thirty or eleven, to begin almost immediately the melismatic duet
which concludes the music drama. Mme. Fremstad, by the use of many
expediences, such as pronouncing Siegfried as if it were spelled
Seigfried when the first syllable fell on a high note, was able to get
through with this part without projecting a sense of effort, unless it
was on the high C at the conclusion, a note of which she frequently
allowed the tenor to remain in undisputed possession. But the fierce joy
and spirited abandon she put into the acting of the rôle, the passion
with which she infused her singing, carried her victoriously past the
dangerous places, often more victoriously than some other singer, who
could produce high notes more easily, but whose stage resources were
more limited.

I do not think Mme. Fremstad has trained her voice to any high degree of
agility. She can sing the drinking song from _Lucrezia Borgia_ and
Delibes's _Les Filles de Cadix_ with irresistible effect, a good part of
which, however, is produced by her personality and manner, qualities
which carry her far on the concert stage, although for some esoteric
reason they have never inveigled the general public into an enthusiastic
surrender to her charm. I have often heard her sing Swedish songs in her
native tongue (sometimes to her own accompaniment) so enchantingly, with
such appeal in her manner, and such velvet tones in her voice, that
those who heard her with me not only burst into applause but also into
exclamations of surprise and delight. Nevertheless, in her concerts, or
in opera, although her admirers are perhaps stronger in their loyalty
than those of any other singer, she has never possessed the greatest
drawing power. This is one of the secrets of the stage; it cannot be
solved. It would seem that the art of Mme. Fremstad was more homely,
more human in song, grander and more noble in opera, than that of Mme.
Tetrazzini, but the public as a whole prefers to hear the latter,
just as it has gone in larger numbers to see the acting of Miss Garden
or Mme. Farrar. Why this is so I cannot pretend to explain.


_from a photograph by Mishkin (1913)_]

Mme. Fremstad has appeared in pretty nearly all of the important, and
many of the lesser, Wagner rôles. She has never sung Senta, and she once
told me that she had no desire to do so, nor has she been heard as Freia
or Eva. But she has sung Ortrud and Elsa, Venus and Elisabeth, Adriano
in _Rienzi_, Kundry, Isolde and Brangaene, Fricka, Erda, Waltraute,
Sieglinde, one of the Rhine maidens (perhaps two), and all three
Brünnhildes. In most of these characterizations she has succeeded in
making a deep impression. I have never seen her Ortrud, but I have been
informed that it was a truly remarkable impersonation. Her Elsa was the
finest I have ever seen. To Ternina's poetic interpretation she added
her own greater grace and charm, and a lovelier quality of voice. If, on
occasion, the music of the second act proved too high for her, who could
sing the music of the dream with such poetic expression?--or the love
music in the last act?--as beautiful an impersonation, and of the same
kind, as Mary Garden's Mélisande.

Her Venus was another story. She yearned for years to sing Elisabeth,
and when she had satisfied this ambition, she could be persuaded only
with difficulty to appear as the goddess. She told me once that she
would like to sing both rôles in a single evening--a possible feat, as
the two characters never appear together; Rita Fornia, I believe,
accomplished the dual impersonation on one occasion at the behest of
Colonel Savage. She had in mind a heroine with a dual nature, sacred and
profane love so to speak, and Tannhäuser at the mercy of this
gemini-born wight. She never was permitted to try this experiment at the
Metropolitan, but during her last season there she appeared as
Elisabeth. Montreal, and perhaps Brooklyn, had seen this impersonation
before it was vouchsafed New York. Mme. Fremstad never succeeded in
being very convincing in this rôle. I do not exactly understand why, as
its possibilities seem to lie within her limitations. Nor did she sing
the music well. On the other hand, her abundantly beautiful and
voluptuous Venus, a splendid, towering, blonde figure, shimmering in
flesh-coloured garments, was one of her astoundingly accurate
characterizations. At the opposite pole to her Sieglinde it was equally
a masterpiece of interpretative art, like Duse's Camille "positively
enthralling as an exhibition of the gymnastics of perfect suppleness
and grace." In both these instances she was inspired perhaps to realize
something a little more wonderful than the composer himself had dreamed
of. The depth and subtlety and refinement of intense passion were in
this Venus--there was no suggestion here of what Sidney Homer once
referred to as Mme. Homer's platonic Venus!


_from a photograph by Aimé Dupont_]

Her Sieglinde is firmly intrenched in many of our memories, the best
loved of her Wagnerian women and enchantresses. Will there rise another
singing actress in our generation to make us forget it? I do not think
so. Her melting womanliness in the first act, ending with her complete
surrender to Siegmund, her pathetic fatigue in the second act (do you
not still see the harassed, shuddering figure stumbling into view and
falling voiceless to sleep at the knees of her brother-lover?) remain in
the memory like pictures in the great galleries. And how easily in the
last act, in her single phrase, by her passionate suggestion of the
realization of motherhood, did she wrest the scene from her
fellow-artists, no matter who they might be, making such an effect
before she fled into the forest depths, that what followed often seemed
but anticlimax.

Mme. Fremstad never sang the three Brünnhildes in sequence at the
Metropolitan Opera House (of late years no soprano has done so), but she
was called upon at various times to sing them all separately.
Undoubtedly it was as the Brünnhilde in _Götterdämmerung_ that she made
the most lasting impression. The scene of the oath on the spear she
carried into the realms of Greek tragedy. Did Rachel touch greater
heights? Was the French Jewess more electric? The whole performance
displayed magnificent proportions, attaining a superb stature in the
immolation scene. In scenes of this nature, scenes hovering between life
and death, the eloquent grandeur of Mme. Fremstad's style might be
observed in its complete flowering. Isolde over the body of Tristan,
Brünnhilde over the body of Siegfried, exhibited no mincing pathos; the
mood established was one of lofty calm. Great artists realize that this
is the true expression of overwhelming emotion. In this connection it
seems pertinent and interesting to recall a notable passage in a letter
from Ivan Turgeniev to Pauline Viardot:--

"You speak to me also about _Romeo_, the third act; you have the
goodness to ask me for some remarks on Romeo. What could I tell you that
you have not already known and felt in advance? The more I reflect on
the scene of the third act the more it seems to me that there is only
one manner of interpreting it--yours. One can imagine nothing more
horrible than finding oneself before the corpse of all that one loves;
but the despair that seizes you then ought to be so terrible that, if it
is not held and _frozen_ by the resolution of suicide, or by another
_grand_ sentiment, art can no longer render it. Broken cries, sobs,
fainting fits, these are nature, but they are not art. The spectator
himself will not be moved by that poignant and profound emotion which
you stir so easily. Whereas by the manner in which you wish to do Romeo
(as I understand what you have written me) you will produce on your
auditor an ineffaceable effect. I remember the fine and just observation
that you once made on the agitated and restrained little gestures that
Rachel made, at the same time maintaining an attitude of calm nobility;
with her, perhaps, that was only technique; but in general it is the
calm _arising from a strong conviction or from a profound emotion_, that
is to say the calm which envelopes the desperate transports of passion
from all sides, which communicates to them that purity of line, that
ideal and real beauty, the true, the only beauty of art. And, what
proves the truth of this remark, is that life itself--on rare
occasions, it is true, at those times when it disengages itself from all
that is accidental or commonplace--raises itself to the same kind of
beauty. The greatest griefs, as you have said in your letter, are the
calmest; and, one could add, the calmest are the most beautiful. But it
is necessary to know how to unite the two extremes, unless one would
appear cold. It is easier not to attain perfection, easier to rest in
the middle of one's journey, the more so because the greater number of
spectators demand nothing else, or rather are not accustomed to anything
else, but you are what you are only because of this noble ambition to do
your best...."

In the complex rôle of Kundry Mme. Fremstad has had no rival. The wild
witch of the first act, the enchantress of the second, the repentant
Magdalene of the third, all were imaginatively impersonated by this
wonderful woman. Certain actors drop their characterizations as soon as
the dialogue passes on to another; such as these fail in _Parsifal_, for
Kundry, on the stage for the entire third act, has only one word to
sing; in the first act she has but few more. Colossally alluring in the
second act, in which she symbolized the essence of the "eternal
feminine," Mme. Fremstad projected the first and third act Kundry
into the minds and hearts of her audience.


_from a photograph by Mishkin (1913)_]

Well-trained in Bayreuth tradition, this singer was no believer in it;
she saw no reason for clinging to outworn ideals simply because they
prevailed at the Master's own theatre. However, she did not see how an
individual could break with tradition in these works without destroying
their effect. The break must come from the stage director.

"If Wagner were alive to-day," she once said to me, "I don't believe
that he would sanction a lot of the silly 'business' that is insisted
upon everywhere because it is the law at Bayreuth. Wagner was constantly
changing everything. When he produced his music dramas they were so
entirely new in conception and in staging that they demanded
experimentation in many directions. Doubtless certain traditions were
founded on the interpretations of certain singers--who probably could
not have followed other lines of action, which Wagner might have
preferred, so successfully.

"The two scenes which I have particularly in mind are those of the first
act of _Tannhäuser_ and the second act of _Parsifal_. Both of these
scenes, it seems to me, should be arranged with the most undreamed of
beauty in colour and effect. Venus should not pose for a long time in a
stiff attitude on an uncomfortable couch. I don't object to the couch,
but it should be made more alluring.

"The same objection holds in the second act of _Parsifal_, where Kundry
is required to fascinate Parsifal, although she is not given an
opportunity of moving from one position for nearly twenty minutes. When
Klingsor calls Kundry from below in the first scene of that act, she
comes against her will, and I think she should arise gasping and
shuddering. I try to give that effect in my voice when I sing the music,
but, following Bayreuth, I am standing, motionless, with a veil over my
head, so that my face cannot be seen for some time before I sing.

"One singer can do nothing against the mass of tradition. If I changed
and the others did not, the effect would be inartistic. But if some
stage manager would have the daring to break away, to strive for
something better in these matters, how I would love to work with that

Departing from the Wagnerian répertoire, Mme. Fremstad has made notable
successes in two rôles, Salome and Armide. That she should be able to do
justice to the latter is more astonishing than that she should emerge
triumphant from the Wilde-Strauss collaboration. _Armide_, almost the
oldest opera to hold the stage to-day, is still the French classic
model, and it demands in performance adherence to the French grand
style, a style implying devotion to the highest artistic ideals. Mme.
Fremstad's artistic ideals are perhaps on a higher plane than those of
the Paris Conservatoire or the Comédie Française, but it does not follow
that she would succeed in moulding them to fit a school of opera with
which, to this point, she had been totally unfamiliar. So far as I know,
the only other opera Mme. Fremstad had ever sung in French was _Carmen_,
an experience which could not be considered as the training for a
suitable delineation of the heroine of Gluck's beautiful lyric drama.
Still Mme. Fremstad compassed the breach. How, I cannot pretend to say.
No less an authority than Victor Maurel pronounced it a triumph of the
French classic style.

The moods of Quinault's heroine, of course, suit this singing actress,
and she brought to them all her most effectual enchantments, including a
series of truly seducing costumes. The imperious unrest of the first
act, the triumph of love over hate in the second, the invocation to La
Haine in the third, and the final scene of despair in the fifth, all
were depicted with poignant and moving power, and always with fidelity
to the style of the piece. She set her own pace in the finale of the
first act. The wounded warrior returns to tell how a single combatant
has delivered all his prisoners. Armide's half-spoken guess, _O ciel!
c'est Renaud!_ which she would like to have denied, was uttered in a
tone which definitely stimulated the spectator to prepare for the
conflict which followed, the conflict in Armide's own breast, between
her love for Renaud as a man, and her hatred of him as an enemy. I do
not remember to have seen anything on the stage more profound in its
implied psychology than her acting of the scene beginning _Enfin il est
en ma puissance_, in which she stays her hand with dagger uplifted to
kill the enemy-hero, and finally completely conquered by the darts of
Love, transports him with her through the air to her own fair gardens.

The singer told me that she went to work on this opera with fear in her
heart. "I don't know how I dared do it. I suppose it is because I had
the simplicity to believe, with the Germans, that Kundry is the top of
everything, and I had sung Kundry. As a matter of fact my leaning toward
the classic school dates very far back. My father was a strange man, of
evangelical tendencies. He wrote a hymn-book, which is still in use in
Scandinavia, and he had a beautiful natural voice. People often came for
miles--simple country people, understand--to hear him sing. My father
knew the classic composers and he taught me their songs.

"This training came back to me when I took up the study of _Armide_. It
was in May that Mr. Gatti-Casazza asked me if I would sing the work,
which, till then, I had never heard. I took the book with me to the
mountains and studied--not a note of the music at first, for music is
very easy for me anyway; I can always learn that in a short time--but
the text. For six weeks I read and re-read the text, always the
difficult part for me in learning a new opera, without looking at the
music. I found the text of _Armide_ particularly difficult because it
was in old French, and because it was in verse.

"I worked over it for six weeks, as I tell you, until I had mastered its
beauties as well as I could, and then I opened the music score. Here I
encountered a dreadful obstacle. Accustomed to Wagner's harmonies, I was
puzzled by the French style. I did not see how the music could be sung
to the text with dramatic effect. I attended several performances of the
work at the Paris Opéra, but the interpretation there did not assist me
in solving the problem. I tried every phrase in fifty different ways in
an attempt to arrive at my end, and suddenly, and unexpectedly, I found
myself in complete understanding; the exquisite refinement and nobility
of the music, the repression, the classic line, all suggested to me the
superb, eternal beauty of a Greek temple. Surely this is music that will
outlive Wagner!

"Once I understood, it was easy to put my conception on the stage. There
is no such thing as genius in singing; at least one cannot depend on
genius alone to carry one through an opera. I must know exactly how I am
going to sing each phrase before I go upon the stage. Nothing must be
left to chance. In studying _Armide_ I had sketches sent to me of every
scene, and with these I worked until I knew every movement I should
make, where I should stand, and when I should walk. Look at my score--at
all these minute diagrams and directions...."

_Armide_ was not a popular success in New York, and after one or two
performances in its second season at the Metropolitan Opera House it was
withdrawn. With the reasons for the failure of this opera to interest
the general public Mme. Fremstad, it may well be imagined, had nothing
to do. Her part in it, on the contrary, contributed to what success the
work had. New York opera-goers have never manifested any particular
regard for classic opera in any tongue; _Fidelio_ or _Don Giovanni_ have
never been popular here. Then, although Caruso sang the music of Renaud
with a style and beauty of phrasing unusual even for him, his appearance
in the part was unfortunate. It was impossible to visualize the
chevalier of the romantic story. The second tenor rôle, which is very
important, was intrusted to an incompetent singer, and the charming rôle
of the Naiad was very inadequately rendered; but the principal fault of
the interpretation was due to a misconception regarding the relative
importance of the ballet. There are dances in every act of _Armide_;
there is no lovelier music of its kind extant than that which Gluck has
devoted to his dancers in this opera. Appreciating this fact, Mr.
Toscanini refused to part with a note of it, and his delivery of the
delightful tunes would have made up a pleasant half-hour in a
concert-room. Unfortunately the management did not supplement his
efforts by providing a suitable group of dancers. This failure was all
but incomprehensible considering the fact that Anna Pavlowa was a member
of the Metropolitan company that season. Had she appeared in _Armide_,
its fate in New York, where it was performed for the first time one
hundred and thirty-three years after its original production in Paris,
might have been far different. It may have been impossible for Mr.
Gatti-Casazza to obtain the co-operation of the dancer. Times change. In
1833 Taglioni, then at the height of her powers, danced in London the
comparatively insignificant parts of the Swiss peasant in _Guillaume
Tell_ and the ghostly abbess in _Robert le Diable_. This was the season
in which she introduced _La Sylphide_ to English theatre-goers.

The history of Richard Strauss's _Salome_ in New York has been told so
often that it seems quite unnecessary to repeat it here. There must be
few indeed of those who will read these lines who do not know how the
music drama received only one public performance at the Metropolitan
Opera House before it was withdrawn at the request of certain directors.
At that one performance Olive Fremstad sang the rôle of Salome. She was
also heard at the private dress rehearsal--before an auditorium
completely filled with invited guests--and she has sung the part three
times in Paris. The singer threw herself into its preparation with her
usual energy, and developed an extraordinary characterization. There
was but one flaw, the substitution of a professional dancer for the
Dance of the Seven Veils. At this time it had occurred to nobody that
the singer who impersonated Salome could dance. How could any one sing
the music of the tremendous finale after getting thoroughly out of
breath in the terpsichorean exhibition before Herod? The expedient of a
substitute was resorted to at the original performance in Dresden, and
Olive Fremstad did not disturb this tradition. She allowed Bianca
Froehlich to take off the seven veils, a feat which was accomplished
much more delicately at the performance than it had been at the dress
rehearsal. In Paris a farce resulted from the custom when Mme.
Trouhanova not only insisted on wearing a different costume from the
Salome whose image she was supposed to be, but also took curtain calls.
I think it was Gemma Belincioni, the Italian, who first conceived the
idea of Salome dancing her own dance. She was followed by Mary Garden,
who discovered what every one should have noticed in the beginning, that
the composer has given the singer a long rest after the pantomimic

Aside from this disturbance to the symmetry of the performance, Olive
Fremstad was magnificent. Her entrance was that of a splendid leopard,
standing poised on velvet paws on the terrace, and then creeping slowly
down the staircase. Her scene with Jochanaan was in truth like the
storming of a fortress, and the scene with the Tetrarch was clearly
realized. But it was in the closing scene of the drama that Mme.
Fremstad, like the poet and the composer, achieved her most effective
results. I cannot yet recall her as she crept from side to side of the
well in which Jochanaan was confined, waiting for the slave to ascend
with the severed head, without that shudder of fascination caused by the
glimmering eyes of a monster serpent, or the sleek terribleness of a
Bengal tiger. And at the end she suggested, as perhaps it has never
before been suggested on the stage, the dregs of love, the refuse of
gorged passion.

Singers who "create" parts in great lyric dramas have a great advantage
over those who succeed them. Mary Shaw once pointed out to me the
probability that Janet Achurch and Elizabeth Robins only won
enthusiastic commendation from Bernard Shaw because they were appearing
in the Ibsen plays which he was seeing for the first time. He attributed
a good part of his pleasure to the interpretations of these ladies.
However, he was never satisfied with their performances in plays with
which he was more familiar and he never again found anyone entirely to
suit him in the Ibsen dramas. Albert Niemann was one of the first tenors
to sing Wagner rôles and there are those alive who will tell you that he
was one of the great artists, but it is perhaps because they heard him
_first_ in lyric dramas of such vitality that they confused singer and
rôle. Beatty-Kingston, who heard him in 1866, said (in "Music and
Manners") that he had torn his voice "to tatters by persistent shoutings
at the top of its upper register, and undermined it by excessive worship
at the shrines of Bacchus and the Paphian goddess.... His 'production'
was characterized by a huskiness and scratchiness infinitely distressing
to listen to...." No allowances of this sort need be made for the deep
impression made by Olive Fremstad. At the Metropolitan Opera House she
followed a line of well-beloved and regal interpreters of the Wagner
rôles. Both Lilli Lehmann and Milka Ternina had honoured this stage and
Lillian Nordica preceded Mme. Fremstad as Kundry there. In her career at
the Metropolitan, indeed, Mme. Fremstad sang only three operas at their
first performances there, _Salome_, _Les Contes d'Hoffmann_, and
_Armide_. In her other rôles she was forced to stand comparison with a
number of great artists. That she won admiration in them under the
circumstances is the more fine an achievement.

I like to think, sometimes, that Olive Fremstad is the reincarnation of
Guiditta Pasta, that celebrated Italian singer of the early nineteenth
century, who paced triumphantly through the humbler tragedies of _Norma_
and _Semiramide_. She too worked hard to gain her ends, and she gained
them for a time magnificently. Henry Fothergill Chorley celebrates her
art with an enthusiasm that is rare in his pages, and I like to think
that he would write similar lines of eulogy about Olive Fremstad could
he be called from the grave to do so. There is something of the mystic
in all great singers, something incomprehensible, inexplicable, but in
the truly great, the Mme. Pastas and the Mme. Fremstads, this quality
outstrips all others. It is predominant. And just in proportion as this
mysticism triumphs, so too their art becomes triumphant, and flames on
the ramparts, a living witness before mankind to the power of the

_August 17, 1916._

Geraldine Farrar

[Illustration: Mme. Farrar's insigne.]

The autobiography of Geraldine Farrar is a most disappointing document;
it explains nothing, it offers the reader no new insights. Given the
brains of the writer and the inexhaustibility of the subject, the result
is unaccountable. Any opera-goer who has followed the career of this
singer with even indifferent attention will find it difficult to
discover any revelation of personality or artistry in the book.
Geraldine Farrar has always been a self-willed young woman with a
plangent ambition and a belief in her own future which has been proved
justifiable by the chronological unfolding of her stage career. These
qualities are displayed over and over again in the book, together with a
certain number of facts about her early life, teachers, and so on. Of
that part of her personal experience which would really interest the
public she gives a singularly glossed account. Very little attention is
paid to composers; none at all to operas, if one may except such meagre
descriptions as that accorded to _Julien_, "a hodge-podge of operatic
efforts that brought little satisfaction to anybody concerned in it."
There are few illuminating anecdotes; no space is devoted to an account
of how Mme. Farrar composes her rôles. She likes this one; she is
indifferent to that; she detests a third; but reasons for these
prejudices are rarely given. There is little manifestation of that
analytic mind with which Mme. Farrar credits herself. There are sketchy
references to other singers, usually highly eulogistic, but where did
Mme. Farrar hear that remarkable performance of _Carmen_ in which both
Saleza and Jean de Reszke appeared? For my part, the most interesting
lines in the book are those which close the thirteenth chapter: "I
cannot say that I am much in sympathy with the vague outlines of the
modern French lyric heroines; Mélisande and Ariane, I think, can be
better intrusted to artists of a less positive type."

Notwithstanding the fact that she has written a rather dull book,
Geraldine Farrar is one of the few really vivid personalities of the
contemporary lyric stage. To a great slice of the public she is an idol
in the sense that Rachel and Jenny Lind were idols. She has frequently
extracted warm praise even from the cold-water taps of discriminating
and ordinarily unsympathetic critics. Acting in opera she considers of
greater importance than singing. She once told me that she ruthlessly
sacrificed tone whenever it seemed to interfere with dramatic effect.
As an actress she has suffered from an excess of zeal, and an impatience
of discipline. She composes her parts with some care, but frequently
overlays her original conception with extravagant detail, added
spontaneously at a performance, if her feelings so dictate.


_from a photograph by Reutlinger_]

This lawlessness sometimes leads her astray. It is an unsafe method to
follow. Actors who feel the most themselves, unless the feeling is
expressed in support of carefully thought-out effects, often leave their
auditors cold. It is interesting to recall that Mme. Malibran, who may
have excelled Mme. Farrar as a singer, had a similar passion for
impromptu stage "business." She refused to give her fellow-artists any
idea of how she would carry a part through, and as she allowed her
feelings full sway in the matter misunderstandings frequently arose. In
acting Desdemona to the Otello of the tenor, Donzelli, for example, she
would not determine beforehand the exact point at which he was to seize
her. Frequently she gave him a long chase and on one occasion in his
pursuit he stumbled and cut himself on his unsheathed dagger. Often it
has seemed that Mme. Farrar deliberately chose certain stage "business"
with an eye to astounding, and not with any particular care for the
general roundness of her operatic performance. It must also be taken
into consideration that no two of Mme. Farrar's impersonations of any
one rôle are exactly similar, and that he who may have seen her give a
magnificent performance is not too safe in recommending his meticulous
neighbour to go to the next. Sometimes she is "modern" and "American" in
the deprecatory sense of these words; in some of her parts she exudes no
atmospheric suggestion. There are no overtones. The spectator sees
exactly what is before his eyes on these occasions; there is no
stimulation for the imagination to proceed further. At other times, as
in her characterization of the Goosegirl in _Königskinder_, it would
seem that she had extracted the last poetic meaning out of the words and
music, and had succeeded in making her audience feel, not merely
everything that the composer and librettist intended, but a great deal

At times she is a very good singer. Curiously enough, it is classic
music that she usually sings best. I have heard her sing Zerlina in _Don
Giovanni_ in a manner almost worthy of her teacher, Lilli Lehmann. There
is no mention of this rôle in her book; nor of another in which she was
equally successful, Rosaura in _Le Donne Curiose_, beautifully sung
from beginning to end. Mme. Farrar is musical (some singers are not;
Mme. Nordica was not, for example), and I have witnessed two
manifestations of this quality. On one occasion she played for me on the
piano a good portion of the first act of _Ariane et Barbe-Bleue_, and
played it brilliantly, no mean achievement. Another time I stood talking
with her and her good friend, Josephine Jacoby, in the wings during the
last act of a performance of _Madama Butterfly_ at the Brooklyn Academy
of Music. There was no air of preoccupation on her part, no sense on
ours that she was following the orchestra. I became so interested in our
conversation, for Mme. Farrar invariably talks well, that I did not even
hear the orchestra. But her mind was quite capable of taking care of two
things at once. She interrupted a sentence to sing her phrase off stage,
and then smilingly continued the conversation. I shall never forget this
moment. To me it signified in an instant what Mme. Farrar has taken the
pains to explain in pages of her autobiography and which is all summed
up in her own comment, written at the time on the programme of the
concert of her Boston début, May 26, 1896: "This is what I made my début
in, very calm and sedate, not the least nervous."

But Mme. Farrar's vocal method is not God-given, although her voice and
her assurance may be, and she sometimes has trouble in producing her
upper tones. Instead of opening like a fan, her high voice is frequently
pinched, and she has difficulty in singing above the staff. I have never
heard her sing Butterfly's entrance with correct intonation, although I
have heard her in the part many times. Her Carmen, on the whole, is a
most successful performance vocally, and so is (or was) her Elisabeth,
especially in the second act. The tessitura of Butterfly is very high,
and the rôle is a strain for her. She has frequently said that she finds
it easier to sing any two other rôles in her répertoire, and refuses to
appear for two days before or after a performance of this Puccini opera.

Mme. Farrar is a fine linguist. She speaks and sings French like a
Frenchwoman (I have expert testimony on this point), German like a
German, and Italian like an Italian; her enunciation of English is also
very clear (she has never sung in opera in English, but has often sung
English songs in concert). Her enunciation of Maeterlinck's text in
_Ariane et Barbe-Bleue_ was a joy, about the only one she contributed to
this performance. And in _Königskinder_ and _Le Donne Curiose_ she was
equally distinct. In fact there is never any difficulty about following
the text of an opera when Geraldine Farrar is singing.

The rôles in which Mme. Farrar achieves her best results, according to
my taste, are Manon, the Goosegirl, Margherita (in _Mefistofele_),
Elisabeth, Rosaura, Suzanna, and Violetta. Cio-Cio-San, of course, is
her most popular creation, and it deserves to some extent the applause
of the populace, although I do not think it should be put in the above
list. It is certainly not to be considered on the same plane vocally.
Other rôles in which she is partially successful are Juliette and
Marguerite (in Gounod's _Faust_). I think her Ariane is commonly
adjudged a failure. In _Madame Sans-Gêne_ she is often comic, but she
does not suggest a _bourgeoise_ Frenchwoman; in the court scenes she is
more like a graceful woman trying to be awkward than an awkward woman
trying to be graceful. Her Tosca is lacking in dignity; it is too
petulant a performance, too small in conception. In failing to find
adequate pleasure in her Carmen I am not echoing popular opinion.

I do not think Mme. Farrar has appeared in _La Traviata_ more than two
or three times at the Metropolitan Opera House, although she has
probably sung Violetta often in Berlin. On the occasion of Mme.
Sembrich's farewell to the American opera stage she appeared as Flora
Bervoise as a compliment to the older singer. In her biography she says
that Sarah Bernhardt gave her the inspiration for the composition of the
heroine of Verdi's opera. It would be interesting to have more details
on this point; they are not forthcoming. Of course there have been many
Violettas who have sung the music of the first act more brilliantly than
Mme. Farrar; in the later acts she often sang beautifully, and her
acting was highly expressive and unconventional. She considered the rôle
from the point of view of make-up. Has any one else done this? Violetta
was a popular _cocotte_; consequently, she must have been beautiful. But
she was a consumptive; consequently, she must have been pale. In the
third act Mme. Farrar achieved a very fine dramatic effect with her
costume and make-up. Her face was painted a ghastly white, a fact
emphasized by her carmined lips and her black hair. She wore pale yellow
and carried an enormous black fan, behind which she pathetically hid her
face to cough. She introduced novelty into the part at the very
beginning of the opera. Unlike most Violettas, she did not make an
entrance, but sat with her back to the audience, receiving her
guests, when the curtain rose.


_from a photograph by Aimé Dupont (1907)_]

It has seemed strange to me that the professional reviewers should have
attributed the added notes of realism in Mme. Farrar's second edition of
Carmen to her appearances in the moving-picture drama. The tendencies
displayed in her second year in the part were in no wise, to my mind, a
result of her cinema experiences. In fact, the New York critics should
have remembered that when Mme. Farrar made her début at the Metropolitan
Opera House in the rôle of Juliette, they had rebuked her for these very
qualities. She had indulged in a little extra realism in the bedroom and
balcony scenes of Gounod's opera, of the sort with which Miss Nethersole
created ten-minute furores in her performances of Carmen and Sapho.
Again, as Marguerite in _Faust_ (her Margherita in _Mefistofele_ was a
particularly repressed and dreamy representation of the German maiden,
one instinct with the highest dramatic and vocal values in the prison
scene), she devised "business" calculated to startle, dancing the jewel
song, and singing the first stanza of the _Roi de Thulé_ air from the
cottage, whither she had repaired to fetch her spindle of flax--this
last detail seemed to me a very good one. In early representations of
_Madama Butterfly_ and _La Bohème_ her death scenes were fraught with an
intense realism which fitted ill with the spirit of the music. I
remember one occasion on which Cio-Cio-San knocked over the
rocking-chair in her death struggles, which often embraced the range of
the Metropolitan stage.

These points have all been urged against her at the proper times, and
there seemed small occasion for attributing her extra activities in the
first act of Bizet's opera, in which the cigarette girl engaged in a
prolonged scuffle with her rival in the factory, or her more recent
whistling of the seguidilla, to her moving-picture experiences. No, Mme.
Farrar is overzealous with her public. She once told me that at every
performance she cut herself open with a knife and gave herself to the
audience. This intensity, taken together with her obviously unusual
talent and her personal attractiveness, is what has made her a more than
ordinary success on our stage. It is at once her greatest virtue and her
greatest fault, artistically speaking. Properly manacled, this quality
would make her one of the finest, instead of merely one of the most
popular, artists now before the public. But I cannot see how the cinema
can be blamed.

When I first saw the Carmen of Mme. Farrar, her second or third
appearance in the part, I was perplexed to find an excuse for its almost
unanimous acclamation, and I sought in my mind for extraneous reasons.
There was, for example, the conducting of the score by Mr. Toscanini,
but that, like Mme. Farrar's interpretation of the Spanish gypsy, never
found exceptional favour in my ears. Mr. Caruso's appearance in the
opera could not be taken into consideration, because he had frequently
sung in it before at the Metropolitan Opera House without awakening any
great amount of enthusiasm. In fact, except as Des Grieux, this Italian
tenor has never been popularly accepted in French opera in New York. But
_Carmen_ had long been out of the répertoire, and _Carmen_ is an opera
people like to hear. The magic of the names of Caruso, Farrar, and
Toscanini may have lured auditors and critics into imagining they had
heard a more effective performance than was vouchsafed them. Personally
I could not compare the revival favourably with the wonderful Manhattan
Opera House _Carmen_, which at its best enlisted the services of Mme.
Bressler-Gianoli, the best Carmen save one that I have ever heard,
Charles Dalmores, Maurice Renaud, Pauline Donalda, Charles Gilibert,
Emma Trentini, and Daddi; Cleofonte Campanini conducting.

At first, to be sure, there was no offensive over-laying of detail in
Mme. Farrar's interpretation. It was not cautiously traditional, but
there was no evidence that the singer was striving to stray from the
sure paths. The music lies well in Mme. Farrar's voice, better than that
of any other part I have heard her sing, unless it be Charlotte in
_Werther_, and the music, all of it, went well, including the habanera,
the seguidilla, the quintet, and the marvellous _Oui, je t'aime,
Escamillo_ of the last act. Her well-planned, lively dance after the
gypsy song at the beginning of the second act drew a burst of applause
for music usually permitted to go unrewarded. Her exit in the first act
was effective, and her scene with Jose in the second act was excellently
carried through. The card scene, as she acted it, meant very little. No
strain was put upon the nerves. There was little suggestion here. The
entrance of Escamillo and Carmen in an old victoria in the last act was
a stroke of genius on somebody's part. I wonder if this was Mme.
Farrar's idea.

But somehow, during this performance, one didn't feel there. It was no
more the banks of the Guadalquivir than it was the banks of the Hudson.
_Carmen_ as transcribed by Bizet and Meilhac and Halévy becomes
indisputably French in certain particulars; to say that the heroine
should be Spanish is not to understand the truth; Maria Gay's
interpretation has taught us that, if nothing else has. But atmosphere
is demanded, and that Mme. Farrar did not give us, at least she did not
give it to me. In the beginning the interpretation made on me the effect
of routine,--the sort of performance one can see in any first-rate
European opera house,--and later, when the realistic bits were added,
the distortion offended me, for French opera always demands a certain
elegance of its interpreters; a quality which Mme. Farrar has exposed to
us in two other French rôles.

Her Manon is really an adorable creature. I have never seen Mary Garden
in this part, but I have seen many French singers, and to me Mme. Farrar
transcends them all. A very beautiful and moving performance she gives,
quite in keeping with the atmosphere of the opera. Her adieu to the
little table and her farewell to Des Grieux in the desert always start a
lump in my throat.

Her Charlotte (a rôle, I believe, cordially detested by Mme. Farrar, and
one which she refuses to sing) is to me an even more moving conception.
This sentimental opera of Massenet's has never been appreciated in
America at its true value, although it is one of the most frequently
represented works at the Paris Opéra-Comique. When it was first
introduced here by Emma Eames and Jean de Rezske, it found little
favour, and later Mme. Farrar and Edmond Clément were unable to arouse
interest in it (it was in _Werther_, at the New Theatre, that Alma Gluck
made her operatic début, in the rôle of Sophie). But Geraldine Farrar as
the hesitating heroine of the tragic and sentimental romance made the
part very real, as real in its way as Henry James's "Portrait of a
Lady," and as moving. The whole third act she carried through in an
amazingly pathetic key, and she always sang _Les Larmes_ as if her heart
were really breaking.

What a charming figure she was in Wolf-Ferrari's pretty operas, _Le
Donne Curiose_ and _Suzannen's Geheimness_! And she sang the lovely
measures with the Mozartean purity which at her best she had learned
from Lilli Lehmann. Her Zerlina and her Cherubino were delightful
impersonations, invested with vast roguery, although in both parts she
was a trifle self-conscious, especially in her assumption of
awkwardness. Her Elisabeth, sung in New York but seldom, though she
has recently appeared in this rôle with the Chicago Opera Company, was
noble in conception and execution, and her Goosegirl one of the most
fascinating pictures in the operatic gallery of our generation. Her
Mignon was successful in a measure, perhaps not an entirely credible
figure. Her Nedda was very good.


_from a photograph by White (1914)_]

Her Louise in _Julien_ was so fine dramatically, especially in the
Montmartre episode, as to make one wish that she could sing the real
Louise in the opera of that name. Once, however, at a performance of
Charpentier's earlier work at the Manhattan Opera House, she told me
that she would never, never do so. She has been known to change her
mind. Her Ariane, I think, was her most complete failure. It is a part
which requires plasticity and nobility of gesture and interpretation of
a kind with which her style is utterly at variance. And yet I doubt if
Mme. Farrar had ever sung a part to which she had given more
consideration. It was for this opera, in fact, that she worked out a
special method of vocal speech, half-sung, half-spoken, which enabled
her to deliver the text more clearly.

Whether Mme. Farrar will undergo further artistic development I very
much doubt. She tells us in her autobiography that she can study
nothing in any systematic way, and it is only through very sincere study
and submission to well-intended restraint that she might develop still
further into the artist who might conceivably leave a more considerable
imprint on the music drama of her time. It is to be doubted if Mme.
Farrar cares for these supreme laurels; her success with her
public--which is pretty much all the public--is so complete in its way
that she may be entirely satisfied with that by no means to be despised
triumph. Once (in 1910) she gave an indication to me that this might be
so, in the following words:

"Emma Calvé was frequently harshly criticized, but when she sang the
opera house was crowded. It was because she gave her personality to the
public. Very frequently there are singers who give most excellent
interpretations, who are highly praised, and whom nobody goes to see.
Now in the last analysis there are two things which I do. I try to be
true to myself and my own conception of the dramatic fitness of things
on the stage, and I try to please my audiences. To do that you must
mercilessly reveal your personality. There is no other way. In my humble
way I am an actress who happens to be appearing in opera. I sacrifice
tonal beauty to dramatic fitness every time I think it is necessary for
an effect, and I shall continue to do it. I leave mere singing to the
warblers. I am more interested in acting myself."

There is much that is sound sense in these remarks, but it is a pity
that Mme. Farrar carries her theories out literally. To me, and to many
another, there is something a little sad in the acceptance of easily won
victory. If she would, Mme. Farrar might improve her singing and acting
in certain rôles in which she has already appeared, and she might
enlarge her répertoire to include more of the rôles which have a deeper
significance in operatic and musical history. At present her activity is
too consistent to allow time for much reflection. It would afford me the
greatest pleasure to learn that this singer had decided to retire for a
few months to devote herself to study and introspection, so that she
might return to the stage with a new and brighter fire and a more
lasting message.

_Farrar fara--forse._

_July 14, 1916._

Mary Garden

"_Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose._"

Gertrude Stein.

The influence of Ibsen on our stage has been most subtle. The dramas of
the sly Norwegian are infrequently performed, but almost all the plays
of the epoch bear his mark. And he has done away with the actor, for
nowadays emotions are considered rude on the stage. Our best playwrights
have striven for an intellectual monotone. So it happens that for the
Henry Irvings, the Sarah Bernhardts, and the Edwin Booths of a younger
generation we must turn to the operatic stage, and there we find them:
Maurice Renaud, Olive Fremstad--and Mary Garden.

There is nothing casual about the art of Mary Garden. Her achievements
on the lyric stage are not the result of happy accident. Each detail of
her impersonations, indeed, is a carefully studied and selected effect,
chosen after a review of possible alternatives. Occasionally, after a
trial, Miss Garden even rejects the instinctive. This does not mean that
there is no feeling behind her performances. The deep burning flame of
poetic imagination illuminates and warms into life the conception
wrought in the study chamber. Nothing is left to chance, and it is
seldom, and always for some good reason, that this artist permits
herself to alter particulars of a characterization during the course of
a representation.

I have watched her many times in the same rôle without detecting any
great variance in the arrangement of details, and almost as many times I
have been blinded by the force of her magnetic imaginative power,
without which no interpreter can hope to become an artist. This, it
seems to me, is the highest form of stage art; certainly it is the form
which on the whole is the most successful in exposing the intention of
author and composer, although occasionally a Geraldine Farrar or a
Salvini will make it apparent that the inspiration of the moment also
has its value. However, I cannot believe that the true artist often
experiments in public. He conceives in seclusion and exposes his
conception, completely realized, breathed into, so to speak, on the
stage. When he first studies a character it is his duty to feel the
emotions of that character, and later he must project these across the
footlights into the hearts of his audience; but he cannot be expected to
feel these emotions every night. He must _remember_ how he felt them
before. And sometimes even this ideal interpreter makes mistakes.
Neither instinct nor intelligence--not even genius--can compass every

Miss Garden's career has been closely identified with the French lyric
stage and, in at least two operas, she has been the principal
interpreter--and a material factor in their success--of works which have
left their mark on the epoch, stepping-stones in the musical brook. The
rôles in which she has most nearly approached the ideal are perhaps
Mélisande, Jean (_Le Jongleur de Notre Dame_), Sapho, Thais, Louise,
Marguerite (in Gounod's _Faust_), Chrysis (in _Aphrodite_), and Monna
Vanna. I cannot speak personally of her Tosca, her Orlanda, her Manon,
her Violetta, or her Chérubin (in Massenet's opera of the same name). I
do not care for her Carmen as a whole, and to my mind her interpretation
of Salome lacks the inevitable quality which stamped Olive Fremstad's
performance. In certain respects she realizes the characters and sings
the music of Juliet and Ophélie, but this is _vieux jeu_ for her, and I
do not think she has effaced the memory of Emma Eames in the one and
Emma Calvé in the other of these rôles. She was somewhat vague and not
altogether satisfactory (this may be ascribed to the paltriness of the
parts) as Prince Charmant in _Cendrillon, la belle_ Dulcinée in _Don
Quichotte_, and Grisélidis. On the other hand, in _Natoma_--her only
appearance thus far in opera in English--she made a much more important
contribution to the lyric stage than either author or composer.

Mary Garden was born in Scotland, but her family came to this country
when she was very young, and she grew up in the vicinity of Chicago. She
may therefore be adjudged at least as much an American singer as Olive
Fremstad. She studied in France, however, and this fortuitous
circumstance accounts for the fact that all her great rôles are French,
and for the most part modern French. Her two Italian rôles, Violetta and
Tosca, she sings in French, although I believe she has made attempts to
sing Puccini's opera in the original tongue. Her other ventures afield
have included Salome, sung in French, and Natoma, sung in English. Her
pronunciation of French on the stage has always aroused comment, some of
it jocular. Her accent is strongly American, a matter which her very
clear enunciation does not leave in doubt. However, it is a question in
my mind if Miss Garden did not weigh well the charm of this accent and
its probable effect on French auditors. You will remember that Helena
Modjeska spoke English with a decided accent, as do Fritzi Scheff, Alia
Nazimova, and Mitzi Hajos in our own day; you may also realize that to
the public, which includes yourself, this is no inconsiderable part of
their charm. Parisians do not take pleasure in hearing their language
spoken by a German, but they have never had any objection--quite the
contrary--to an English or American accent on their stage, although I do
not believe this general preference has ever been allowed to affect
performances at the Comédie Française, except when _l'Anglais tel qu'on
le parle_ is on the _affiches_. At least it is certain that Miss Garden
speaks French quite as easily as--perhaps more easily than--she does
English, and many of the eccentricities of her stage speech are not
noticeable in private life.

Many of the great artists of the theatre have owed their first
opportunity to an accident; it was so with Mary Garden. She once told me
the story herself and I may be allowed to repeat it in her own words, as
I put them down shortly after:

"I became friends with Sybil Sanderson, who was singing in Paris then,
and one day when I was at her house Albert Carré, the director of the
Opéra-Comique, came to call. I was sitting by the window as he entered,
and he said to Sybil, 'That woman has a profile; she would make a
charming Louise.' Charpentier's opera, I should explain, had not yet
been produced. 'She has a voice, too,' Sybil added. Well, M. Carré took
me to the theatre and listened while I sang airs from _Traviata_ and
_Manon_. Then he gave me the partition of _Louise_ and told me to go
home and study it. I had the rôle in my head in fifteen days. This was
in March, and M. Carré engaged me to sing at his theatre beginning in
October.... One spring day, however, when I was feeling particularly
depressed over the death of a dog that had been run over by an omnibus,
M. Carré came to me in great excitement; Mme. Rioton, the singer cast
for the part, was ill, and he asked me if I thought I could sing Louise.
I said 'Certainly,' in the same tone with which I would have accepted an
invitation to dinner. It was only bluff; I had never rehearsed the part
with orchestra, but it was my chance, and I was determined to take
advantage of it. Besides, I had studied the music so carefully that I
could have sung it note for note if the orchestra had played _The
Star-Spangled Banner_ simultaneously.

"Evening came and found me in the theatre. Mme. Rioton had recovered
sufficiently to sing; she appeared during the first two acts, and then
succumbed immediately before the air, _Depuis le Jour_, which opens the
third act. I was in my dressing-room when M. Carré sent for me. He told
me that an announcement had been made before the curtain that I would
be substituted for Mme. Rioton. I learned afterwards that André
Messager, who was directing the orchestra, had strongly advised against
taking this step; he thought the experiment was too dangerous, and urged
that the people in the house should be given their money back. The
audience, you may be sure, was none too pleased at the prospect of
having to listen to a Mlle. Garden of whom they had never heard. Will
you believe me when I tell you that I was never less nervous?... I must
have succeeded, for I sang Louise over two hundred times at the
Opéra-Comique after that. The year was 1900, and I had made my début on
Friday, April 13!"

I have no contemporary criticisms of this event at hand, but one of my
most valued souvenirs is a photograph of the charming interpreter as she
appeared in the rôle of Louise at the beginning of her career. However,
in one of Gauthier-Villars's compilations of his musical criticisms,
which he signed "L'Ouvreuse" ("La Ronde des Blanches"), I discovered the
following, dated February 21, 1901, a detail of a review of Gabriel
Pierné's opera, _La Fille de Tabarin_: "Mlle. Garden a une aimable
figure, une voix aimable, et un petit reste d'accent exotique, aimable

Of the composer of _Louise_ Miss Garden had many interesting things to
say in after years: "The opera is an expression of Charpentier's own
life," she told me one day. "It is the opera of Montmartre, and he was
the King of Montmartre, a real bohemian, to whom money and fame meant
nothing. He was satisfied if he had enough to pay _consommations_ for
himself and his friends at the Rat Mort. He had won the _Prix de Rome_
before _Louise_ was produced, but he remained poor. He lived in a dirty
little garret up on the _butte_, and while he was writing this realistic
picture of his own life he was slowly starving to death. André Messager
knew him and tried to give him money, but he wouldn't accept it. He was
very proud. Messager was obliged to carry up milk in bottles, with a
loaf of bread, and say that he wanted to lunch with him, in order to get
Charpentier to take nourishment.

"Meanwhile, little by little, _Louise_ was being slowly written.... Part
of it he wrote in the Rat Mort, part in his own little room, and part of
it in the Moulin de la Galette, one of the gayest of the Montmartre
dance halls. High up on the _butte_ the gaunt windmill sign waves its
arms; from the garden you can see all Paris. It is the view that you get
in the third act of _Louise_.... The production of his opera brought
Charpentier nearly half a million francs, but he spent it all on the
working-girls of Montmartre. He even established a conservatory, so that
those with talent might study without paying. And his mother, whom he
adored, had everything she wanted until she died.... He always wore the
artist costume, corduroy trousers, blouse, and flowing tie, even when he
came to the Opéra-Comique in the evening. Money did not change his
habits. His kingdom extended over all Paris after the production of
_Louise_, but he still preferred his old friends in Montmartre to the
new ones his success had made for him, and he dissipated his strength
and talent. He was an adorable man; he would give his last sou to any
one who asked for it!

"To celebrate the fiftieth performance of _Louise_, M. Carré gave a
dinner in July, 1900. Most appropriately he did not choose the Café
Anglais or the Café de Paris for this occasion, but Charpentier's own
beloved Moulin de la Galette. It was at this dinner that the composer
gave the first sign of his physical decline. He had scarcely seated
himself at the table, surrounded by the great men and women of Paris,
before he fainted...."

The subsequent history of this composer of the lower world we all know
too well; how he journeyed south and lived in obscurity for years,
years which were embellished with sundry rumours relating to future
works, rumours which were finally crowned by the production of _Julien_
at the Opéra-Comique--and subsequently at the Metropolitan Opera House
in New York. The failure of this opera was abysmal.

Louise is a rôle which Miss Garden has sung very frequently in America,
and, as she may be said to have contributed to Charpentier's fame and
popularity in Paris, she did as much for him here. This was the second
part in which she appeared in New York. The dynamics of the rôle are
finely wrought out, deeply felt; the characterization is extraordinarily
keen, although after the first act it never touches the heart. The
singing-actress conceives the character of the sewing-girl as hard and
brittle, and she does not play it for sympathy. She acts the final scene
with the father with the brilliant polish of a diamond cut in Amsterdam,
and with heartless brutality. Stroke after stroke she devotes to a
ruthless exposure of what she evidently considers to be the nature of
this futile drab. It is the scene in the play which evidently interests
her most, and it is the scene to which she has given her most careful
attention. In the first act, to be sure, she is _gamine_ and adorable
in her scenes with her father, and touchingly poignant in the despairing
cry which closes the act, _Paris_! In the next two acts she wisely
submerges herself in the general effect. She allows the sewing-girls to
make the most of their scene, and, after she has sung _Depuis le Jour_,
she gives the third act wholly into the keeping of the ballet, and the
interpreters of Julien and the mother.

There are other ways of singing and acting this rôle. Others have sung
and acted it, others will sing and act it, effectively. The abandoned
(almost aggressive) perversity of Miss Garden's performance has perhaps
not been equalled, but this rôle does not belong to her as completely as
do Thais and Mélisande; no other interpreters will satisfy any one who
has seen her in these two parts.

Miss Garden made her American début in Massenet's opera, _Thais_,
written, by the way, for Sybil Sanderson. The date was November 25,
1907. Previous to this time Miss Garden had never sung this opera in
Paris, but she had appeared in it during a summer season at one of the
French watering places. Since that night, nearly ten years ago, however,
it has become the most stable feature of her répertoire. She has sung it
frequently in Paris, and during the long tours undertaken by the
Chicago Opera Company this sentimental tale of the Alexandrian courtesan
and the hermit of the desert has startled the inhabitants of hamlets in
Iowa and California. It is a very brilliant scenic show, and is utterly
successful as a vehicle for the exploitation of the charms of a fragrant
personality. Miss Garden has found the part grateful; her very lovely
figure is particularly well suited to the allurements of Grecian
drapery, and the unwinding of her charms at the close of the first act
is an event calculated to stir the sluggish blood of a hardened
theatre-goer, let alone that of a Nebraska farmer. The play becomes the
more vivid as it is obvious that the retiary meshes with which she
ensnares Athanaël are strong enough to entangle any of us.
Thais-become-nun--Evelyn Innes should have sung this character before
she became Sister Teresa--is in violent contrast to these opening
scenes, but the acts in the desert, as the Alexandrian strumpet wilts
before the aroused passion of the monk, are carried through with equal
skill by this artist who is an adept in her means of expression and

The opera is sentimental, theatrical, and over its falsely constructed
drama--a perversion of Anatole France's psychological tale--Massenet
has overlaid as banal a coverlet of music as could well be devised by
an eminent composer. "The bad fairies have given him [Massenet] only one
gift," writes Pierre Lalo, "...the desire to please." It cannot be said
that Miss Garden allows the music to affect her interpretation. She
sings some of it, particularly her part in the duet in the desert, with
considerable charm and warmth of tone. I have never cared very much for
her singing of the mirror air, although she is dramatically admirable at
this point; on the other hand, I have found her rendering of the
farewell to Eros most pathetic in its tenderness. At times she has
attacked the high notes, which fall in unison with the exposure of her
attractions, with brilliancy; at other times she has avoided them
altogether (it must be remembered that Miss Sanderson, for whom this
opera was written, had a voice like the Tour Eiffel; she sang to G above
the staff). But the general tone of her interpretation has not been
weakened by the weakness of the music or by her inability to sing a good
deal of it. Quite the contrary. I am sure she sings the part with more
steadiness of tone than Milka Ternina ever commanded for Tosca, and her
performance is equally unforgettable.

After the production of _Louise_, Miss Garden's name became almost
legendary in Paris, and many are the histories of her subsequent career
there. Parisians and foreign visitors alike flocked to the Opéra-Comique
to see her in the series of delightful rôles which she assumed--Orlanda,
Manon, Chrysis, Violetta ... and Mélisande. It was during the summer of
1907 that I first heard her there in two of the parts most closely
identified with her name, Chrysis and Mélisande.

Camille Erlanger's _Aphrodite_, considered as a work of art, is fairly
meretricious. As a theatrical entertainment it offers many elements of
enjoyment. Based on the very popular novel of Pierre Louÿs--at one time
forbidden circulation in America by Anthony Comstock--it winds its
pernicious way through a tale of prostitution, murder, theft, sexual
inversion, drunkenness, sacrilege, and crucifixion, and concludes, quite
simply, in a cemetery. The music is appallingly banal, and has never
succeeded in doing anything else but annoy me when I have thought of it
at all. It never assists in creating an atmosphere; it bears no relation
to stage picture, characters, or situation. Both gesture and colour are
more important factors in the consideration of the pleasurable elements
of this piece than the weak trickle of its sickly melodic flow.

[Illustration: MARY GARDEN AS CHRYSIS (1906)]

For the most part, at a performance, one does not listen to the music.
Nevertheless, _Aphrodite_ calls one again and again. Its success in
Paris was simply phenomenal, and the opera is still in the répertoire of
the Opéra-Comique. This success was due in a measure to the undoubted
"punch" of the story, in a measure to the orgy which M. Carré had
contrived to embellish the third act, culminating in the really
imaginative dancing of the beautiful Regina Badet and the horrible scene
of the crucifixion of the negro slave; but, more than anything else, it
was due to the rarely compelling performance of Mary Garden as the
courtesan who consented to exchange her body for the privilege of seeing
her lover commit theft, sacrilege, and murder. In her bold entrance,
flaunting her long lemon scarf, wound round her body like a Nautch
girl's säri, which illy concealed her fine movements, she at once gave
the picture, not alone of the _cocotte_ of the period but of a whole
life, a whole atmosphere, and this she maintained throughout the
disclosure of the tableaux. In the prison scene she attained heights of
tragic acting which I do not think even she has surpassed elsewhere. The
pathos of her farewell to her two little Lesbian friends, and the
gesture with which she drained the poison cup, linger in the memory,
refusing to give up their places to less potent details.

I first heard Debussy's lyric drama, _Pelléas et Mélisande_, at the
Opéra-Comique, with Miss Garden as the principal interpreter. It is
generally considered the greatest achievement of her mimic art. Somehow
by those means at the command of a fine artist, she subdued her very
definite personality and moulded it into the vague and subtle personage
created by Maurice Maeterlinck. Even great artists grasp at straws for
assistance, and it is interesting to know that to Miss Garden a wig is
the all important thing. "Once I have donned the wig of a character, I
am that character," she told me once. "It would be difficult for me to
go on the stage in my own hair." Nevertheless, I believe she has
occasionally inconsistently done so as Louise.

In Miss Garden's score of _Pelléas_ Debussy has written, "In the future,
others may sing Mélisande, but you alone will remain the woman and the
artist I had hardly dared hope for." It must be remembered, however,
that composers are notoriously fickle; that they prefer having their
operas given in any form rather than not at all; that ink is cheap and
musicians prolific in sentiments. In how many _Manon_ scores did
Massenet write his tender eternal finalities? Perhaps little Maggie
Teyte, who imitated Mary Garden's Mélisande as Elsie Janis imitates
Sarah Bernhardt, cherishes a dedicated score now. Memory tells me I have
seen such a score, but memory is sometimes a false jade.

In her faded mediæval gowns, with her long plaits of golden hair,--in
the first scene she wore it loose,--Mary Garden became at once in the
spectator's mind the princess of enchanted castles, the cymophanous
heroine of a _féerie_, the dream of a poet's tale. In gesture and in
musical speech, in tone-colour, she was faithful to the first wonderful
impression of the eye. There has been in our day no more perfect example
of characterization offered on the lyric stage than Mary Garden's lovely
Mélisande.... _Ne me touchez pas!_ became the cry of a terrified child,
a real protestation of innocence. _Je ne suis pas heureuse ici_, was
uttered with a pathos of expression which drove its helplessness into
our hearts. The scene at the fountain with Pelléas, in which Mélisande
loses her ring, was played with such delicate shading, such poetic
imagination, that one could almost crown the interpreter as the creator,
and the death scene was permeated with a fragile, simple beauty as
compelling as that which Carpaccio put into his picture of _Santa
Ursula_, a picture indeed which Miss Garden's performance brought to
mind more than once. If she sought inspiration from the art of the
painter for her delineation, it was not to Rossetti and Burne-Jones that
she went. Rather did she gather some of the soft bloom from the
paintings of Bellini, Carpaccio, Giotto, Cimabue ... especially
Botticelli; had not the spirit and the mood of the two frescos from the
Villa Lemmi in the Louvre come to life in this gentle representation?

Before she appeared as Mélisande in New York, Miss Garden was a little
doubtful of the probable reception of the play here. She was surprised
and delighted with the result, for the drama was presented in the late
season of 1907-08 at the Manhattan Opera House no less than seven times
to very large audiences. The singer talked to me before the event: "It
took us four years to establish _Pelléas et Mélisande_ in the répertoire
of the Opéra-Comique. At first the public listened with disfavour or
indecision, and performances could only be given once in two weeks. As a
contrast I might mention the immediate success of _Aphrodite_, which I
sang three or four times a week until fifty representations had been
achieved, without appearing in another rôle. _Pelléas_ was a different
matter. The mystic beauty of the poet's mood and the revolutionary
procedures of the musician were not calculated to touch the great public
at once. Indeed, we had to teach our audiences to enjoy it. Americans
who, I am told, are fond of Maeterlinck, may appreciate its very
manifest beauty at first hearing, but they didn't in Paris. At the early
representations, individuals whistled and made cat-calls. One night
three young men in the first row of the orchestra whistled through an
entire scene. I don't believe those young men will ever forget the way I
looked at them.... But after each performance it was the same: the
applause drowned out the hisses. The balconies and galleries were the
first to catch the spirit of the piece, and gradually it grew in public
favour, and became a success, that is, comparatively speaking. _Pelléas
et Mélisande_, like many another work of true beauty, appeals to a
special public and, consequently, the number of performances has always
been limited, and perhaps always will be. I do not anticipate that it
will crowd from popular favour such operas as _Werther_, _La Vie de
Bohème_ and _Carmen_, each of which is included in practically every
week's répertoire at the Opéra-Comique.


_from a photograph by Davis and Eickemeyer (1908)_]

"We interpreters of Debussy's lyric drama were naturally very proud,
because we felt that we were assisting in the making of musical
history. Maeterlinck, by the way, has never seen the opera. He wished
his wife, Georgette Leblanc, to 'create' the rôle of Mélisande, but
Debussy and Carré had chosen me, and the poet did not have his way. He
wrote an open letter to the newspapers of Paris in which he frankly
expressed his hope that the work would fail. Later, when composers
approached him in regard to setting his dramas to music, he made it a
condition that his wife should sing them. She did appear as Ariane, you
will remember, but Lucienne Bréval first sang Monna Vanna, and
Maeterlinck's wrath again vented itself in pronunciamentos."

Miss Garden spoke of the settings. "The _décor_ should be dark and
sombre. Mrs. Campbell set the play in the Renaissance period, an epoch
flooded with light and charm. I think she was wrong. Absolute latitude
is permitted the stage director, as Maeterlinck has made no restrictions
in the book. The director of the Opéra at Brussels followed Mrs.
Campbell's example, and when I appeared in the work there I felt that I
was singing a different drama."

One afternoon in the autumn of 1908, when I was Paris correspondent of
the "New York Times," I received the following telegram from Miss
Garden: "Venez ce soir à 5-1/2 chez Mlle. Chasles 112 Boulevard
Malesherbes me voir en Salome." It was late in the day when the message
came to me, and I had made other plans, but you may be sure I put them
all aside. A _petit-bleu_ or two disposed of my engagements, and I took
a fiacre in the blue twilight of the Paris afternoon for the _salle de
danse_ of Mlle. Chasles. On my way I recollected how some time
previously Miss Garden had informed me of her intention of interpreting
the Dance of the Seven Veils herself, and how she had attempted to gain
the co-operation of Maraquita, the ballet mistress of the Opéra-Comique,
a plan which she was forced to abandon, owing to some rapidly revolving
wheels of operatic intrigue. So the new Salome went to Mlle. Chasles,
who sixteen years ago was delighting the patrons of the Opéra-Comique
with her charming dancing. She it was who, materially assisted by Miss
Garden herself, arranged the dance, dramatically significant in gesture
and step, which the singer performed at the climax of Richard Strauss's
music drama.

Mlle. Chasles's _salle de danse_ I discovered to be a large square room;
the floor had a rake like that of the Opéra stage in Paris. There were
footlights, and seats in front of them for spectators. The walls were
hung with curious old prints and engravings of famous dancers, Mlle.
Sallé, La Camargo, Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, and Cerito.

This final rehearsal--before the rehearsals in New York which preceded
her first appearance in the part anywhere at the Manhattan Opera
House--was witnessed by André Messager, who intended to mount _Salome_
at the Paris Opéra the following season, Mlle. Chasles, an accompanist,
a maid, a hair-dresser, and myself. I noted that Miss Garden's costume
differed in a marked degree from those her predecessors had worn. For
the entrance of Salome she had provided a mantle of bright orange
shimmering stuff, embroidered with startling azure and emerald flowers
and sparkling with spangles. Under this she wore a close-fitting garment
of netted gold, with designs in rubies and rhinestones, which fell from
somewhere above the waistline to her ankles. This garment was also
removed for the dance, and Miss Garden emerged in a narrow strip of
flesh-coloured tulle. Her arms, shoulders, and legs were bare. She wore
a red wig, the hair falling nearly to her waist (later she changed this
detail and wore the cropped wig which became identified with her
impersonation of the part). Two jewels, an emerald on one little finger,
a ruby on the other, completed her decoration. The seven veils were of
soft, clinging tulle.

Swathed in these veils, she began the dance at the back of the small
stage. Only her eyes were visible. Terrible, slow ... she undulated
forward, swaying gracefully, and dropped the first veil. What followed
was supposed to be the undoing of the jaded Herod. I was moved by this
spectacle at the time, and subsequently this pantomimic dance was
generally referred to as the culminating moment in her impersonation of
Salome. On this occasion, I remember, she proved to us that the exertion
had not fatigued her, by singing the final scene of the music drama,
while André Messager played the accompaniment on the piano.

I did not see Mary Garden's impetuous and highly curious interpretation
of the strange eastern princess until a full year later, as I remained
in Paris during the extent of the New York opera season. The following
autumn, however, I heard _Salome_ in its second season at the Manhattan
Opera House--and I was disappointed. Nervous curiosity seemed to be the
consistent note of this hectic interpretation. The singer was never
still; her use of gesture was untiring. To any one who had not seen her
in other parts, the actress must have seemed utterly lacking in repose.
This was simply her means, however, of suggesting the intense nervous
perversity of Salome. Mary Garden could not have seen Nijinsky in
_Scheherazade_ at this period, and yet the performances were
astonishingly similar in intention. But the Strauss music and the Wilde
drama demand a more voluptuous and sensual treatment, it would seem to
me, than the suggestion of monkey-love which absolutely suited
Nijinsky's part. However, the general opinion (as often happens) ran
counter to mine, and, aside from the reservation that Miss Garden's
voice was unable to cope with the music, the critics, on the whole, gave
her credit for an interesting performance. Indeed, in this music drama
she made one of the great popular successes of her career, a career
which has been singularly full of appreciated achievements.

Chicago saw Mary Garden in _Salome_ a year later, and Chicago gasped, as
New York had gasped when the drama was performed at the Metropolitan
Opera House. The police--no less an authority--put a ban on future
performances at the Auditorium. Miss Garden was not pleased, and she
expressed her displeasure in the frankest terms. I received at that time
a series of characteristic telegrams. One of them read: "My art is
going through the torture of slow death. Oh Paris, splendeur de mes

It was with the (then) Philadelphia-Chicago Opera Company that Miss
Garden made her first experiment with opera in English, earning thereby
the everlasting gratitude and admiration--which she already possessed in
no small measure--of Charles Henry Meltzer. She was not sanguine before
the event. In January, 1911, she said to me: "No, malgré Tito Ricordi,
NO! I don't believe in opera in English, I never have believed in it,
and I don't think I ever shall believe in it. Of course I'm willing to
be convinced. You see, in the first place, I think all music dramas
should be sung in the languages in which they are written; well, that
makes it impossible to sing anything in the current répertoire in
English, doesn't it? The only hope for opera in English, so far as I can
see it, lies in America or England producing a race of composers, and
they haven't it in them. It isn't in the blood. Composition needs Latin
blood, or something akin to it; the Anglo-Saxon or the American can't
write music, great music, at least not yet.... I doubt if any of us
alive to-day will live to hear a great work written to a libretto in our
own language.

"Now I am going to sing Victor Herbert's _Natoma_, in spite of what I
have just told you, because I don't want to have it said that I have
done anything to hinder what is now generally known as 'the cause.' For
the first time a work by a composer who may be regarded as American is
to be given a chance with the best singers, with a great orchestra, and
a great conductor, in the leading opera house in America--perhaps the
leading opera house anywhere. It seems to me that every one who can
should put his shoulder to this kind of wheel and set it moving. I shall
be better pleased than anybody else if _Natoma_ proves a success and
paves the way for the successful production of other American lyric
dramas. Of course _Natoma_ cannot be regarded as 'grand opera.' It is
not music, like _Tristan_, for instance. It is more in the style of the
lighter operas which are given in Paris, but it possesses much melodic
charm and it may please the public. I shall sing it and I shall try to
do it just as well as I have tried to do Salome and Thais and

She kept her word, and out of the hodge-podge of an opera book which
stands unrivalled for its stiltedness of speech, she succeeded in
creating one of her most notable characters. She threw vanity aside in
making up for the rôle, painting her face and body a dark brown; she
wore two long straight braids of hair, depending on either side from the
part in the middle of her forehead. Her garment was of buckskin, and
moccasins covered her feet. She crept rather than walked. The story, as
might be imagined, was one of love and self-sacrifice, touching here and
there on the preserves of _L'Africaine_ and _Lakmé_, the whole
concluding with the voluntary immersion of Natoma in a convent.
Fortunately, the writer of the book remembered that Miss Garden had
danced in _Salome_ and he introduced a similar pantomimic episode in
_Natoma_, a dagger dance, which was one of the interesting points in the
action. The music suited her voice; she delivered a good deal of it
almost _parlando_, and the vapid speeches of Mr. Redding tripped so
audibly off her tongue that their banality became painfully apparent.

The story has often been related how Massenet, piqued by the frequently
repeated assertion that his muse was only at his command when he
depicted female frailty, determined to write an opera in which only one
woman was to appear, and she was to be both mute and a virgin! _Le
Jongleur de Notre Dame_, perhaps the most poetically conceived of
Massenet's lyric dramas, was the result of this decision. Until Mr.
Hammerstein made up his mind to produce the opera, the rôle of Jean had
invariably been sung by a man. Mr. Hammerstein thought that Americans
would prefer a woman in the part. He easily enlisted the interest of
Miss Garden in this scheme, and Massenet, it is said, consented to make
certain changes in the score. The taste of the experiment was doubtful,
but it was one for which there had been much precedent. Nor is it
necessary to linger on Sarah Bernhardt's assumption of the rôles of
Hamlet, Shylock, and the Duc de Reichstadt. In the "golden period of
song," Orfeo was not the only man's part sung by a woman. Mme. Pasta
frequently appeared as Romeo in Zingarelli's opera and as Tancredi, and
she also sang Otello on one occasion when Henrietta Sontag was the
Desdemona. The rôle of Orfeo, I believe, was written originally for a
_castrato_, and later, when the work was refurbished for production at
what was then the Paris Opéra, Gluck allotted the rôle to a tenor. Now
it is sung by a woman as invariably as are Stephano in _Roméo et
Juliette_ and Siebel in _Faust_. There is really more excuse for the
masquerade of sex in Massenet's opera. The timid, pathetic little
juggler, ridiculous in his inefficiency, is a part for which tenors, as
they exist to-day, seem manifestly unsuited. And certainly no tenor
could hope to make the appeal in the part that Mary Garden did. In the
second act she found it difficult to entirely conceal the suggestion of
her sex under the monk's robe, but the sad little figure of the first
act and the adorable juggler of the last, performing his imbecile tricks
before Our Lady's altar, were triumphant details of an artistic
impersonation; on the whole, one of Miss Garden's most moving

Miss Garden has sung _Faust_ many times. Are there many sopranos who
have not, whatever the general nature of their répertoires? She is very
lovely in the rôle of Marguerite. I have indicated elsewhere her skill
in endowing the part with poetry and imaginative force without making
ducks and drakes of the traditions. In the garden scene she gave an
exhibition of her power to paint a fanciful fresco on a wall already
surcharged with colour, a charming, wistful picture. I have never seen
any one else so effective in the church and prison scenes; no one else,
it seems to me, has so tenderly conceived the plight of the simple
German girl. The opera of _Roméo et Juliette_ does not admit of such
serious dramatic treatment, and Thomas's _Hamlet_, as a play, is
absolutely ridiculous. After the mad scene, for example, the stage
directions read that the ballet "waltzes sadly away." I saw Mary Garden
play Ophélie once at the Paris Opéra, and I must admit that I was
amused; I think she was amused too! I was equally amused some years
later when I heard Titta Ruffo sing the opera. I am afraid I cannot take
_Hamlet_ as a lyric drama seriously.

In Paris, Violetta is one of Miss Garden's popular rôles. When she came
to America she fancied she might sing the part here. "Did you ever see a
thin Violetta?" she asked the reporters. But so far she has not appeared
in _La Traviata_ on this side of the Atlantic, although Robert Hichens
wrote me that he had recently heard her in this opera at the Paris
Opéra-Comique. He added that her impersonation was most interesting.

To me one of the most truly fascinating of Miss Garden's
characterizations was her Fanny Legrand in Daudet's play, made into an
opera by Massenet. _Sapho_, as a lyric drama, did not have a success in
New York. I think only three performances were given at the Manhattan
Opera House. The professional writers, with one exception, found nothing
to praise in Miss Garden's remarkable impersonation of Fanny. And yet,
as I have said, it seemed to me one of the most moving of her
interpretations. In the opening scenes she was the trollop, no less,
that Fanny was. The pregnant line of the first act: _Artiste?....
Non.... Tant mieux. J'ai contre tout artiste une haine implacable!_ was
spoken in a manner which bared the woman's heart to the sophisticated.
The scene in which she sang the song of the _Magali_ (the Provençal
melody which Mistral immortalized in a poem, which Gounod introduced
into _Mireille_, and which found its way, inexplicably, into the ballet
of Berlioz's _Les Troyens à Carthage_), playing her own accompaniment,
to Jean, was really too wonderful a caricature of the harlot. Abel
Faivre and Paul Guillaume have done no better. The scene in which Fanny
reviles her former associates for telling Jean the truth about her past
life was revolting in its realism.

If Miss Garden spared no details in making us acquainted with Fanny's
vulgarity, she was equally fair to her in other respects. She seemed to
be continually guiding the spectator with comment something like this:
"See how this woman can suffer, and she is a woman, like any other
woman." How small the means, the effect considered, by which she
produced the pathos of the last scene. At the one performance I saw half
the people in the audience were in tears. There was a dismaying display
of handkerchiefs. Sapho sat in the window, smoking a cigarette,
surveying the room in which she had been happy with Jean, and preparing
to say good-by. In the earlier scenes her cigarette had aided her in
making vulgar gestures. Now she relied on it to tell the pitiful tale of
the woman's loneliness. How she clung to that cigarette, how she sipped
comfort from it, and how tiny it was! Mary Garden's Sapho, which may
never be seen on the stage again (Massenet's music is perhaps his
weakest effort), was an extraordinary piece of stage art. That alone
would have proclaimed her an interpreter of genius.


_from a photograph by Mishkin (1909)_]

George Moore, somewhere, evolves a fantastic theory that a writer's name
may have determined his talent: "Dickens--a mean name, a name without
atmosphere, a black out-of-elbows, back-stairs name, a name good enough
for loud comedy and louder pathos. John Milton--a splendid name for a
Puritan poet. Algernon Charles Swinburne--only a name for a reed through
which every wind blows music.... Now it is a fact that we find no fine
names among novelists. We find only colourless names, dry-as-dust names,
or vulgar names, round names like pot-hats, those names like
mackintoshes, names that are squashy as goloshes. We have charged Scott
with a lack of personal passion, but could personal passion dwell in
such a jog-trot name--a round-faced name, a snub-nosed, spectacled,
pot-bellied name, a placid, beneficent, worthy old bachelor name, a name
that evokes all conventional ideas and formulas, a Grub Street name, a
nerveless name, an arm-chair name, an old oak and Abbotsford name? And
Thackeray's name is a poor one--the syllables clatter like plates. 'We
shall want the carriage at half-past two, Thackeray.' Dickens is surely
a name for a page boy. George Eliot's real name, Marian Evans, is a
chaw-bacon, thick-loined name." So far as I know Mr. Moore has not
expanded his theory to include a discussion of acrobats, revivalists,
necromancers, free versifiers, camel drivers, paying tellers, painters,
pugilists, architects, and opera singers. Many of the latter have taken
no chances with their own names. Both Pauline and Maria Garcia adopted
the names of their husbands. Garcia possibly suggests a warrior, but do
Malibran and Viardot make us think of music? Nellie Melba's name evokes
an image of a cold marble slab but if she had retained her original name
of Mitchell it would have been no better ... Marcella Sembrich, a name
made famous by the genius and indefatigable labour of its bearer, surely
not a good name for an operatic soprano. Her own name, Kochanska,
sounds Polish and patriotic ... Luisa Tetrazzini, a silly, fussy name
... Emma Calvé.... Since _Madame Bovary_ the name Emma suggests a solid
_bourgeois_ foundation, a country family.... Emma Eames, a chilly name
... a wind from the East! Was it Philip Hale who remarked that she sang
_Who is Sylvia?_ as if the woman were not on her calling list?...
Lillian Nordica, an evasion. Lillian Norton is a sturdy work-a-day name,
suggesting a premonition of a thousand piano rehearsals for Isolde ...
Johanna Gadski, a coughing raucous name ... Geraldine Farrar, tomboyish
and impertinent, Melrose with a French sauce ... Edyth Walker, a
militant suffragette name.... Surely Lucrezia Bori and Maria Barrientos
are ill-made names for singers ... Adelina Patti--a patty-cake,
patty-cake, baker's man, sort of a name ... Alboni, strong-hearted ...
Scalchi ... ugh! Further evidence could be brought forward to prove that
singers succeed in spite of their names rather than because of them ...
until we reach the name of Mary Garden.... The subtle fragrance of this
name has found its way into many hearts. Since Nell Gwyn no such scented
cognomen, redolent of cuckoo's boots, London pride, blood-red poppies,
purple fox-gloves, lemon stocks, and vermillion zinnias, has blown its
delicate odour across our scene.... Delightful and adorable Mary Garden,
the fragile Thais, pathetic Jean ... unforgettable Mélisande....

_October 10, 1916._

Feodor Chaliapine

    "_Do I contradict myself?_
     _Very well, then, I contradict myself;_"

                    Walt Whitman.

Feodor Chaliapine, the Russian bass singer, appeared in New York at the
Metropolitan Opera House, then under the direction of Heinrich Conried,
during the season of 1907-08. He made his American début on Wednesday
evening, November 20, 1907, when he impersonated the title part of
Boito's opera, _Mefistofele_. He was heard here altogether seven times
in this rôle; six times as Basilio in _Il Barbiere di Siviglia_; three
times as Méphistophélès in Gounod's _Faust_; three times as Leporello in
_Don Giovanni_; and at several Sunday night concerts. He also appeared
with the Metropolitan Opera Company in Philadelphia, and possibly

I first met this remarkable artist in the dining-room of the Hotel Savoy
on a rainy Sunday afternoon, soon after his arrival in America. His
personality made a profound impression on me, as may be gathered from
some lines from an article I wrote which appeared the next morning in
the "New York Times": "The newest operatic acquisition to arrive in New
York is neither a prima donna soprano, nor an Italian tenor with a high
C, but a big, broad-shouldered boy, with a kindly smile and a deep bass
voice, ... thirty-four years old.... 'I spik English,' were his first
words. 'How do you do? et puis good-by, et puis I drrrink, you drrink,
he drrrrinks, et puis I love you!' ... Mr. Chaliapine looked like a
great big boy, a sophomore in college, who played football." (Pitts
Sanborn soon afterwards felicitously referred to him as _ce doux géant_,
a name often applied to Turgeniev.)

I have given the extent of the Russian's English vocabulary at this
time, and I soon discovered that it was not accident which had caused
him first to learn to conjugate the verb "to drink"; another English
verb he learned very quickly was "to eat." Some time later, after his
New York début, I sought him out again to urge him to give a synopsis of
his original conception for a performance of Gounod's _Faust_. The
interview which ensued was the longest I have ever had with any one. It
began at eleven o'clock in the morning and lasted until a like hour in
the evening,--it might have lasted much longer,--and during this whole
time we sat at table in Mr. Chaliapine's own chamber at the Brevoort,
whither he had repaired to escape steam heat, while he consumed vast
quantities of food and drink. I remember a detail of six plates of onion
soup. I have never seen any one else eat so much or so continuously, or
with so little lethargic effect. Indeed, intemperance seemed only to
make him more light-hearted, ebullient, and Brobdingnagian. Late in the
afternoon he placed his own record of the _Marseillaise_ in the
victrola, and then amused himself (and me) by singing the song in unison
with the record, in an attempt to drown out the mechanical sound. He
succeeded. The effect in this moderately small hotel room can only be
faintly conceived.

Exuberant is the word which best describes Chaliapine off the stage. I
remember another occasion a year later when I met him, just returned
from South America, on the Boulevard in Paris. He grasped my hand warmly
and begged me to come to see his zoo. He had, in fact, transformed the
_salle de bain_ in his suite at the Grand Hotel into a menagerie. There
were two monkeys, a cockatoo, and many other birds of brilliant plumage,
while two large alligators dozed in the tub.

My second interview with this singer took place a day or so before he
returned to Europe. He had been roughly handled by the New York critics,
treatment, it is said, which met with the approval of Heinrich Conried,
who had no desire to retain in his company a bass who demanded sixteen
hundred dollars a night, a high salary for a soprano or a tenor. Stung
by this defeat--entirely imaginary, by the way, as his audiences here
were as large and enthusiastic as they are anywhere--the only one, in
fact, which he has suffered in his career up to date, Chaliapine was
extremely frank in his attitude. My interview, published on the first
page of the "New York Times," created a small sensation in operatic
circles. The meat of it follows. Chaliapine is speaking:

"Criticism in New York is not profound. It is the most difficult thing
in the world to be a good critical writer. I am a singer, but the critic
has no right to regard me merely as a singer. He must observe my acting,
my make-up, everything. And he must understand and know about these

"Opera is not a fixed art. It is not like music, poetry, sculpture,
painting, or architecture, but a combination of all of these. And the
critic who goes to the opera should have studied all these arts. While a
study of these arts is essential, there is something else that the
critic cannot get by study, and that is the soul to understand. That he
must be born with.

"I am not a professional critic, but I could be. I have associated with
musicians, painters, and writers, and I know something of all these
arts. As a consequence when I read a criticism, I see immediately what
is true and what is false. Very often I think a man's tongue is his
worst enemy. However, sometimes a man keeps quiet to conceal his mental
weakness. We have a Russian proverb which says, 'Keep quiet; don't tease
the geese.' You can't judge of a man's intelligence until he begins to
talk or write.

"I have been sometimes adversely criticized during the course of my
artistic life. The most profound of these criticisms have taught me to
correct my faults. But I have learned nothing from the criticisms I have
received in New York. After searching my inner consciousness, I find
they are not based on a true understanding of my artistic purposes. For
instance, the critics found my Don Basilio a dirty, repulsive creature.
One man even said that I was offensive to another singer on the stage!
Don Basilio is a Spanish priest; it is a type I know well. He is not
like the modern American priest, clean and well-groomed; he is dirty and
unkempt; he is a beast, and that is what I make him, a comic beast, but
the critics would prefer a softer version.... It is unfair, indeed, to
judge me at all on the parts I have sung here, outside of Mefistofele,
for most of my best rôles are in Russian operas, which are not in the
répertoire of the Metropolitan Opera House.

"The contemporary direction of this theatre believes in tradition. It is
afraid of anything new. There is no movement. It has not the courage to
produce novelties, and the artists are prevented from giving original
conceptions of old rôles.

"New York is a vast seething inferno of business. Nothing but business!
The men are so tired when they get through work that they want
recreation and sleep. They don't want to study. They don't want to be
thrilled or aroused. They are content to listen forever to _Faust_ and

"In Europe it is different. There you will find the desire for novelty
in the theatre. There is a keen interest in the production of a new
work. It is all right to enjoy the old things, but one should see life.
The audience at the Metropolitan Opera House reminds me of a family that
lives in the country and won't travel. It is satisfied with the same
view of the same garden forever...."

Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapine was born February 13 (February 1, old
style), 1873, in Kazan; he is of peasant descent. It is said that he is
almost entirely self-educated, both musically and intellectually. He
worked for a time in a shoemaker's shop, sang in the archbishop's choir
and, at the age of seventeen, joined a local operetta company. He seems
to have had difficulty in collecting a salary from this latter
organization, and often worked as a railway porter in order to keep
alive. Later he joined a travelling theatrical troupe, which visited the
Caucasus. In 1892, Oussatov, a singer, heard Chaliapine in Tiflis, gave
him some lessons, and got him an engagement.

He made his début in opera in Glinka's _A Life for the Czar_ (according
to Mrs. Newmarch; my notes tell me that it was Gounod's _Faust_). He
sang at the Summer and Panaevsky theatres in Petrograd in 1894; and the
following year he was engaged at the Maryinsky Theatre, but the
directors did not seem to realize that they had captured one of the
great figures of the contemporary lyric stage, and he was not permitted
to sing very often. In 1896, Mamantov, lawyer and millionaire, paid the
fine which released the bass from the Imperial Opera House, and invited
him to join the Private Opera Company in Moscow, where Chaliapine
immediately proved his worth. He became the idol of the public, and it
was not unusual for those who admired striking impersonations on the
stage to journey from Petrograd to see and hear him. In 1899 he was
engaged to sing at the Imperial Opera in Moscow at sixty thousand
roubles a year. Since then he has appeared in various European capitals,
and in North and South America. He has sung in Milan, Paris, London,
Monte Carlo, and Buenos Aires. During a visit to Milan he married, and
at the time of his New York engagement his family included five
children. The number may have increased.

Chaliapine's répertoire is extensive but, on the whole, it is a strange
répertoire to western Europe and America, consisting, as it does, almost
entirely of Russian operas. In Milan, New York, and Monte Carlo, where
he has appeared with Italian and French companies, his most famous rôle
is Mefistofele. Leporello he sang for the first time in New York.
Basilio and Méphistophélès in _Faust_ he has probably enacted as often
in Russia as elsewhere. He "created" the title part of Massenet's _Don
Quichotte_ at Monte Carlo (Vanni Marcoux sang the rôle later in Paris).
With the Russian Opera Company, organized in connection with the Russian
Ballet by Serge de Diaghilew, Chaliapine has sung in London, Paris, and
other European capitals in Moussorgsky's _Boris Godunow_ and
_Khovanchina_, Rimsky-Korsakow's _Ivan the Terrible_ (originally called
_The Maid of Pskov_), and Borodine's _Prince Igor_, in which he appeared
both as Prince Galitzky and as the Tartar Chieftain. His répertoire
further includes Rubinstein's _Demon_, Rimsky-Korsakow's _Mozart and
Salieri_ (the rôle of Salieri), Glinka's _A Life for the Czar_,
Dargomijsky's _The Roussalka_, Rachmaninow's _Aleko_, and Gretchaninow's
_Dobrynia Nikitich_. This list is by no means complete.

I first saw Chaliapine on the stage in New York, where his original
ideas and tremendously vital personality ran counter to every tradition
of the Metropolitan Opera House. The professional writers about the
opera, as a whole, would have none of him. Even his magnificently
pictorial Mefistofele was condemned, and I think Pitts Sanborn was the
only man in a critic's chair--I was a reporter at this period and had no
opportunity for expressing my opinions in print--who appreciated his
Basilio at its true value, and _Il Barbiere_ is Sanborn's favourite
opera. His account of the proceedings makes good reading at this date. I
quote from the "New York Globe," December 13, 1907:

"The performance that was in open defiance of traditions, that was
glaringly and recklessly unorthodox, that set at naught the accepted
canons of good taste, but which justified itself by its overwhelming and
all-conquering good humour, was the Basilio of Mr. Chaliapine. With his
great natural stature increased by art to Brobdingnagian proportions, a
face that had gazed on the vodka at its blackest, and a cassock that may
be seen but not described, he presented a figure that might have been
imagined by the English Swift or the French Rabelais. It was no voice or
singing that made the audience re-demand the 'Calumny Song.' It was the
compelling drollery of those comedy hands. You may be assured,
persuaded, convinced that you want your Rossini straight or not at all.
But when you see the Chaliapine Basilio you'll do as the rest do--roar.
It is as sensational in its way as the Chaliapine Mephisto."

It was hard to reconcile Chaliapine's conception of Méphistophélès with
the Gounod music, and I do not think the Russian himself had any
illusions about his performance of _Leporello_. It was not his type of
part, and he was as good in it, probably, as Olive Fremstad would be as
Nedda. Even great artists have their limitations, perhaps more of them
than the lesser people. But his Mefistofele, to my way of
thinking,--and the anxious reader who has not seen this impersonation
may be assured that I am far from being alone in it,--was and is a
masterpiece of stage-craft. However, opinions differ. Under the alluring
title, "Devils Polite and Rude," W. J. Henderson, in the "New York Sun,"
Sunday, November 24, 1907, after Chaliapine's first appearance here in
Boito's opera, took his fling at the Russian bass (was it Mr. Henderson
or another who later referred to Chaliapine as "a cossack with a
cold"?): "He makes of the fiend a demoniac personage, a seething
cauldron of rabid passions. He is continually snarling and barking. He
poses in writhing attitudes of agonized impotence. He strides and
gestures, grimaces and roars. All this appears to superficial observers
to be tremendously dramatic. And it is, as noted, not without its
significance. Perhaps it may be only a personal fancy, yet the present
writer much prefers a devil who is a gentleman.... But one thing more
remains to be said about the first display of Mr. Chaliapine's powers.
How long did he study the art of singing? Surely not many years. Such an
uneven and uncertain emission of tone is seldom heard even on the
Metropolitan Opera House stage, where there is a wondrous quantity of
poorly grounded singing. The splendid song, _Son lo Spirito Che Nega_,
was not sung at all in the strict interpretation of the word. It was
delivered, to be sure, but in a rough and barbaric style. Some of the
tones disappeared somewhere in the rear spaces of the basso's capacious
throat, while others were projected into the auditorium like stones from
a catapult. There was much strenuosity and little art in the
performance. And it was much the same with the rest of the singing of
the rôle."

Chaliapine calls himself "the enemy of tradition." When he was singing
at the Opera in Petrograd in 1896 he found that every detail of every
characterization was prescribed. He was directed to make his entrances
in a certain way; he was ordered to stand in a certain place on the
stage. Whenever he attempted an innovation the stage director said,
"Don't do that." Young singer though he was, he rebelled and asked, "Why
not?" And the reply always came, "You must follow the tradition of the
part. Monsieur Chose and Signor Cosi have always done thus and so, and
you must do likewise." "But I feel differently about the rôle,"
protested the bass. However, it was not until he went to Moscow that he
was permitted to break with tradition. From that time on he began to
elaborate his characterizations, assisted, he admits, by Russian
painters who gave him his first ideas about costumes and make-up. He
once told me that his interpretation of a part was never twice the same.
He does not study his rôles in solitude, poring over a score, as many
artists do. Rather, ideas come to him when he eats or drinks, or even
when he is on the stage. He depends to an unsafe degree--unsafe for
other singers who may be misled by his success--on inspiration to carry
him through, once he begins to sing. "When I sing a character I am that
character; I am no longer Chaliapine. So whatever I do must be in
keeping with what the character would do." This is true to so great an
extent that you may take it for granted, when you see Chaliapine in a
new rôle, that he will envelop the character with atmosphere from his
first entrance, perhaps even without the aid of a single gesture. His
entrance on horseback in _Ivan the Terrible_ is a case in point. Before
he has sung a note he has projected the personality of the cruel czar
into the auditorium.

"As an actor," writes Mrs. Newmarch in "The Russian Opera," "his
greatest quality appears to me to be his extraordinary gift of
identification with the character he is representing. Shaliapin (so
does Mrs. Newmarch phonetically transpose his name into Roman letters)
does not merely throw himself into the part, to use a phrase commonly
applied to the histrionic art. He seems to disappear, to empty himself
of all personality, that Boris Godunov or Ivan the Terrible may be
reincarnated for us. While working out his own conception of a part,
unmoved by convention or opinion, Shaliapin neglects no accessory study
that can heighten the realism of his interpretation. It is impossible to
see him as Ivan the Terrible, or Boris, without realizing that he is
steeped in the history of those periods, which live again at his will.
In the same way he has studied the masterpieces of Russian art to good
purpose, as all must agree who have compared the scene of Ivan's
frenzied grief over the corpse of Olga, in the last scene of
Rimsky-Korsakow's opera, with Repin's terrible picture of the Tsar,
clasping in his arms the body of the son whom he has just killed in a
fit of insane anger. The agonizing remorse and piteous senile grief have
been transformed from Repin's canvas to Shaliapin's living picture,
without the revolting suggestion of the shambles which mars the
painter's work. Sometimes, too, Shaliapin will take a hint from the
living model. His dignified make-up as the Old Believer Dositheus, in
Moussorgsky's _Khovanstchina_, owes not a little to the personality of
Vladimir Stassov."

Chaliapine, it seems to me, has realized more completely than any other
contemporary singer the opportunities afforded for the presentation of
character on the lyric stage. In costume, make-up, gesture, the
simulation of emotion, he is a consummate and painstaking artist. As I
have suggested, he has limitations. Who, indeed, has not? Grandeur,
nobility, impressiveness, and, by inversion, sordidness, bestiality, and
awkward ugliness fall easily within his ken. The murder-haunted Boris
Godunow is perhaps his most overpowering creation. From first to last it
is a masterpiece of scenic art; those who have seen him in this part
will not be satisfied with substitutes. His Ivan is almost equally
great. His Dositheus, head of the Old Believers in _Khovanchina_, is a
sincere and effective characterization along entirely different lines.
Although this character, in a sense, dominates Moussorgsky's great
opera, there is little opportunity for the display of histrionism which
Boris presents to the singing actor. By almost insignificant details of
make-up and gesture the bass creates before your eyes a living,
breathing man, a man of fire and faith. No one would recognize in this
kind old creature, terrible, to be sure, in his stern piety, the nude
Mefistofele surveying the pranks of the motley rabble in the Brocken
scene of Boito's opera, a flamboyant exposure of personality to be
compared with Mary Garden's Thais, Act I.

As the Tartar chieftain in _Prince Igor_, he has but few lines to sing,
but his gestures during the performance of the ballet, which he has
arranged for his guest, in fact his actions throughout the single act in
which this character appears, are stamped on the memory as definitely as
a figure in a Persian miniature. And the noble scorn with which, as
Prince Galitzky, he bows to the stirrup of Prince Igor at the close of
the prologue to this opera, still remains a fixed picture in my mind.
There is also the pathetic Don Quichotte of Massenet's poorest opera.
All great portraits these, to which I must add the funny, dirty,
expectorating Spanish priest of _Il Barbiere_.


Chaliapine is the possessor of a noble voice which sometimes he uses by
main strength. He has never learned to sing, in the conventional meaning
of the phrase. He must have been singing for some time before he studied
at all, and at Tiflis he does not seem to have spent many months on his
voice. In the circumstances it is an extremely tractable organ, at
least always capable of doing his bidding, dramatically speaking.
Indeed, there are many who consider him a great artist in his
manipulation of it. Mrs. Newmarch quotes Herbert Heyner on this point:

"His diction floats on a beautiful cantilena, particularly in his
_mezzo-voce_ singing, which--though one would hardly expect it from a
singer endowed with such a noble bass voice--is one of the most telling
features of his performance. There is never any striving after vocal
effects, and his voice is always subservient to the words.... The
atmosphere and tone-colour which Shaliapin imparts to his singing are of
such remarkable quality that one feels his interpretation of Schubert's
_Doppelgänger_ must of necessity be a thing of genius, unapproachable by
other contemporary singers ... his method is based upon a thoroughly
sound breath control, which produces such splendid _cantabile_ results.
Every student should listen to this great singer, and profit by his

My intention in placing before the eyes of my readers such contradictory
accounts as may be found in this article has not been altogether
ingenuous. The fact of the matter is that opinions differ on every
matter of art, and on no point are they so various as on that which
refers to interpretation. It may further be urged that the personality
of Chaliapine is so marked and his method so direct that the variations
of opinion are naturally expressed in somewhat violent language.

For those, accustomed to the occidental operatic répertoire, who find it
hard to understand how a bass could acquire such prominence, it may be
explained that deep voices are both common and very popular in Russia.
They may be heard in any Greek church, sustaining organ points a full
octave below the notes to which our basses descend with trepidation. As
a consequence, many of the Russian operas contain bass rôles of the
first importance. In both of Moussorgsky's familiar operas, for example,
the leading part is destined for a bass voice.

_July 18, 1916._

Mariette Mazarin

Sometimes the cause of an intense impression in the theatre apparently
disappears, leaving "not a rack behind," beyond the trenchant memory of
a few precious moments, inclining one to the belief that the whole
adventure has been a dream, a particularly vivid dream, and that the
characters therein have returned to such places in space as are assigned
to dream personages by the makers of men. This reflection comes to me
as, sitting before my typewriter, I attempt to recapture the spirit of
the performances of Richard Strauss's music drama _Elektra_ at Oscar
Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera House in New York. The work remains, if
not in the répertoire of any opera house in my vicinity, at least deeply
imbedded in my eardrum and, if need be, at any time I can pore again
over the score, which is always near at hand. But of the whereabouts of
Mariette Mazarin, the remarkable artist who contributed her genius to
the interpretation of the crazed Greek princess, I know nothing. As she
came to us unheralded, so she went away, after we who had seen her had
enshrined her, tardily to be sure, in that small, slow-growing circle of
those who have achieved eminence on the lyric stage.

Before the beginning of the opera season of 1909-10, Marietta Mazarin
was not even a name in New York. Even during a good part of that season
she was recognized only as an able routine singer. She made her début
here in _Aida_ and she sang Carmen and Louise without creating a furore,
almost, indeed, without arousing attention of any kind, good or bad
criticism. Had there been no production of _Elektra_ she would have
passed into that long list of forgotten singers who appear here in
leading rôles for a few months or a few years and who, when their time
is up, vanish, never to be regretted, extolled, or recalled in the
memory again. For the disclosure of Mme. Mazarin's true powers an
unusual vehicle was required. _Elektra_ gave her her opportunity, and
proved her one of the exceptional artists of the stage.

I do not know many of the facts of Mariette Mazarin's career. She
studied at the Paris Conservatoire; Leloir, of the Comédie Française,
was her professor of acting. She made her début at the Paris Opéra as
Aida; later she sang Louise and Carmen at the Opéra-Comique. After that
she seems to have been a leading figure at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in
Brussels, where she appeared in _Alceste_, _Armide_, _Iphigénie en
Tauride_ and _Iphigénie en Aulide_, even _Orphée_, the great Gluck
répertoire. She has also sung Salome, the three Brünnhildes, Elsa in
_Lohengrin_, Elisabeth in _Tannhäuser_, in Berlioz's _Prise de Troie_,
_La Damnation de Faust_, _Les Huguenots_, _Grisélidis_, _Thais_, _Il
Trovatore_, _Tosca_, _Manon Lescaut_, _Cavalleria Rusticana_,
_Hérodiade_, _Le Cid_, and _Salammbô_. She has been heard at Nice, and
probably on many another provincial French stage. At one time she was
the wife of Léon Rothier, the French bass, who has been a member of the
Metropolitan Opera Company for several seasons.

Away from the theatre I remember her as a tall woman, rather awkward,
but quick in gesture. Her hair was dark, and her eyes were dark and
piercing. Her face was all angles; her features were sharp, and when
conversing with her one could not but be struck with a certain eerie
quality which seemed to give mystic colour to her expression. She was
badly dressed, both from an æsthetic and a fashionable point of view. In
a group of women you would pick her out to be a doctor, a lawyer, an
_intellectuelle_. When I talked with her, impression followed
impression--always I felt her intelligence, the play of her intellect
upon the surfaces of her art, but always, too, I felt how narrow a
chance had cast her lot upon the stage, how she easily might have been
something else than a singing actress, how magnificently accidental her
career was!

She was, it would seem, an unusually gifted musician--at least for a
singer,--with a physique and a nervous energy which enabled her to
perform miracles. For instance, on one occasion she astonished even
Oscar Hammerstein by replacing Lina Cavalieri as Salomé in _Hérodiade_,
a rôle she had not previously sung for five years, at an hour's notice
on the evening of an afternoon on which she had appeared as Elektra. On
another occasion, when Mary Garden was ill she sang Louise with only a
short forewarning. She told me that she had learned the music of Elektra
between January 1, 1910, and the night of the first performance, January
31. She also told me that without any special effort on her part she had
assimilated the music of the other two important feminine rôles in the
opera, Chrysothemis and Klytæmnestra, and was quite prepared to sing
them. Mme. Mazarin's vocal organ, it must be admitted, was not of a very
pleasant quality at all times, although she employed it with variety and
usually with taste. There was a good deal of subtle charm in her middle
voice, but her upper voice was shrill and sometimes, when emitted
forcefully, became in effect a shriek. Faulty intonation often played
havoc with her musical interpretation, but do we not read that the great
Mme. Pasta seldom sang an opera through without many similar slips from
the pitch? _Aida_, of course, displayed the worst side of her talents.
Her Carmen, it seemed to me, was in some ways a very remarkable
performance; she appeared, in this rôle, to be possessed by a certain
_diablerie_, a power of evil, which distinguished her from other
Carmens, but this characterization created little comment or interest in
New York. In _Louise_, especially in the third act, she betrayed an
enmity for the pitch, but in the last act she was magnificent as an
actress. In Santuzza she exploited her capacity for unreined intensity
of expression. I have never seen her as Salome (in Richard Strauss's
opera; her Massenetic Salomé was disclosed to us in New York), but I
have a photograph of her in the rôle which might serve as an
illustration for the "Méphistophéla" of Catulle Mendès. I can imagine no
more sinister and depraved an expression, combined with such potent
sexual attraction. It is a remarkable photograph, evoking as it does a
succession of lustful ladies, and it is quite unpublishable. If she
carried these qualities into her performance of the work, and there is
every reason to believe that she did, the evenings on which she sang
Salome must have been very terrible for her auditors, hours in which the
Aristotle theory of Katharsis must have been amply proven.

_Elektra_ was well advertised in New York. Oscar Hammerstein is as able
a showman as the late P. T. Barnum, and he has devoted his talents to
higher aims. Without his co-operation, I think it is likely that America
would now be a trifle above Australia in its operatic experience. It is
from Oscar Hammerstein that New York learned that all the great singers
of the world were not singing at the Metropolitan Opera House, a matter
which had been considered axiomatic before the redoubtable Oscar
introduced us to Alessandro Bonci, Maurice Renaud, Charles Dalmores,
Mary Garden, Luisa Tetrazzini, and others. With his productions of
_Pelléas et Mélisande_, _Louise_, _Thais_, and other works new to us, he
spurred the rival house to an activity which has been maintained ever
since to a greater or less degree. New operas are now the order of the
day--even with the Chicago and the Boston companies--rather than the
exception. And without this impresario's courage and determination I do
not think New York would have heard _Elektra_, at least not before its
uncorked essence had quite disappeared. Lover of opera that he
indubitably is, Oscar Hammerstein is by nature a showman, and he
understands the psychology of the mob. Looking about for a sensation to
stir the slow pulse of the New York opera-goer, he saw nothing on the
horizon more likely to effect his purpose than _Elektra_. _Salome_,
spurned by the Metropolitan Opera Company, had been taken to his heart
the year before and, with Mary Garden's valuable assistance, he had
found the biblical jade extremely efficacious in drawing shekels to his
doors. He hoped to accomplish similar results with _Elektra_....

One of the penalties an inventor of harmonies pays is that his
inventions become shopworn. A certain terrible atmosphere, a suggestion
of vague dread, of horror, of rank incest, of vile murder, of sordid
shame, was conveyed in _Elektra_ by Richard Strauss through the adroit
use of what we call discords, for want of a better name. Discord at one
time was defined as a combination of sounds that would eternally affront
the musical ear. We know better now. Discord is simply the word to
describe a never-before or seldom-used chord. Such a juxtaposition of
notes naturally startles when it is first heard, but it is a mistake to
presume that the effect is unpleasant, even in the beginning.

Now it was by the use of sounds cunningly contrived to displease the ear
that Strauss built up his atmosphere of ugliness in _Elektra_. When it
was first performed, the scenes in which the half-mad Greek girl stalked
the palace courtyard, and the queen with the blood-stained hands related
her dreams, literally reeked with musical frightfulness. I have never
seen or heard another music drama which so completely bowled over its
first audiences, whether they were street-car conductors or musical
pedants. These scenes even inspired a famous passage in
"Jean-Christophe" (I quote from the translation of Gilbert Cannon):
"Agamemnon was neurasthenic and Achilles impotent; they lamented their
condition at length and, naturally, their outcries produced no change.
The energy of the drama was concentrated in the rôle of Iphigenia--a
nervous, hysterical, and pedantic Iphigenia, who lectured the hero,
declaimed furiously, laid bare for the audience her Nietzschian
pessimism and, glutted with death, cut her throat, shrieking with

But will _Elektra_ have the same effect on future audiences? I do not
think so. Its terror has, in a measure, been dissipated. Schoenberg,
Strawinsky, and Ornstein have employed its discords--and many newer
ones--for pleasanter purposes, and our ears are becoming accustomed to
these assaults on the casual harmony of our forefathers. _Elektra_ will
retain its place as a forerunner, and inevitably it will eventually be
considered the most important of Strauss's operatic works, but it can
never be listened to again in that same spirit of horror and repentance,
with that feeling of utter repugnance, which it found easy to awaken in
1910. Perhaps all of us were a little better for the experience.

An attendant at the opening ceremonies in New York can scarcely forget
them. Cast under the spell by the early entrance of Elektra, wild-eyed
and menacing, across the terrace of the courtyard of Agamemnon's palace,
he must have remained with staring eyes and wide-flung ears, straining
for the remainder of the evening to catch the message of this tale of
triumphant and utterly holy revenge. The key of von Hofmannsthal's fine
play was lost to some reviewers, as it was to Romain Rolland in the
passage quoted above, who only saw in the drama a perversion of the
Greek idea of Nemesis. That there was something very much finer in the
theme, it was left for Bernard Shaw to discover. To him _Elektra_
expressed the regeneration of a race, the destruction of vice,
ignorance, and poverty. The play was replete in his mind with
sociological and political implications, and, as his views in the matter
exactly coincide with my own, I cannot do better than to quote a few
lines from them, including, as they do, his interesting prophecies
regarding the possibility of war between England and Germany,
unfortunately unfulfilled. Strauss could not quite prevent the war with
his _Elektra_. Here is the passage:

"What Hofmannsthal and Strauss have done is to take Klytæmnestra and
Ægisthus, and by identifying them with everything evil and cruel, with
all that needs must hate the highest when it sees it, with hideous
domination and coercion of the higher by the baser, with the murderous
rage in which the lust for a lifetime of orgiastic pleasure turns on its
slaves in the torture of its disappointment, and the sleepless horror
and misery of its neurasthenia, to so rouse in us an overwhelming flood
of wrath against it and a ruthless resolution to destroy it that
Elektra's vengeance becomes holy to us, and we come to understand how
even the gentlest of us could wield the ax of Orestes or twist our firm
fingers in the black hair of Klytæmnestra to drag back her head and
leave her throat open to the stroke.

"This was a task hardly possible to an ancient Greek, and not easy even
for us, who are face to face with the America of the Thaw case and the
European plutocracy of which that case was only a trifling symptom, and
that is the task that Hofmannsthal and Strauss have achieved. Not even
in the third scene of _Das Rheingold_ or in the Klingsor scene in
_Parsifal_ is there such an atmosphere of malignant, cancerous evil as
we get here and that the power with which it is done is not the power of
the evil itself, but of the passion that detests and must and finally
can destroy that evil is what makes the work great and makes us rejoice
in its horror.

"Whoever understands this, however vaguely, will understand Strauss's
music. I have often said, when asked to state the case against the fools
and the money changers who are trying to drive us into a war with
Germany, that the case consists of the single word 'Beethoven.' To-day I
should say with equal confidence 'Strauss.' In this music drama Strauss
has done for us with utterly satisfying force what all the noblest
powers of life within us are clamouring to have said in protest against
and defiance of the omnipresent villainies of our civilization, and this
is the highest achievement of the highest art."

Mme. Mazarin was the torch-bearer in New York of this magnificent
creation. She is, indeed, the only singer who has ever appeared in the
rôle in America, and I have never heard _Elektra_ in Europe. However,
those who have seen other interpreters of the rôle assure me that Mme.
Mazarin so far outdistanced them as to make comparison impossible. This,
in spite of the fact that _Elektra_ in French necessarily lost something
of its crude force, and through its mild-mannered conductor at the
Manhattan Opera House, who seemed afraid to make a noise, a great deal
more. I did not make any notes about this performance at the time, but
now, seven years later, it is very vivid to me, an unforgettable
impression. Of how many nights in the theatre can I say as much?

Diabolical ecstasy was the keynote of Mme. Mazarin's interpretation,
gradually developing into utter frenzy. She afterwards assured me that a
visit to a madhouse had given her the inspiration for the gestures and
steps of Elektra in the terrible dance in which she celebrates Orestes's
bloody but righteous deed. The plane of hysteria upon which this singer
carried her heroine by her pure nervous force, indeed reduced many of us
in the audience to a similar state. The conventional operatic mode was
abandoned; even the grand manner of the theatre was flung aside; with a
wide sweep of the imagination, the singer cast the memory of all such
baggage from her, and proceeded along vividly direct lines to make her


_From a photograph by Mishkin (1910)_]

The first glimpse of the half-mad princess, creeping dirty and ragged,
to the accompaniment of cracking whips, across the terraced courtyard of
the palace, was indeed not calculated to stir tears in the eyes. The
picture was vile and repugnant; so perhaps was the appeal to the sister
whose only wish was to bear a child, but Mme. Mazarin had her design;
her measurements were well taken. In the wild cry to Agamemnon, the
dignity and pathos of the character were established, and these
qualities were later emphasized in the scene of her meeting with
Orestes, beautiful pages in von Hofmannsthal's play and Strauss's score.
And in the dance of the poor demented creature at the close the full
beauty and power and meaning of the drama were disclosed in a few
incisive strokes. Elektra's mind had indeed given way under the strain
of her sufferings, brought about by her long waiting for vengeance, but
it had given way under the light of holy triumph. Such indeed were the
fundamentals of this tremendously moving characterization, a
characterization which one must place, perforce, in that great memory
gallery where hang the Mélisande of Mary Garden, the Isolde of Olive
Fremstad, and the Boris Godunow of Feodor Chaliapine.

It was not alone in her acting that Mme. Mazarin walked on the heights.
I know of no other singer with the force or vocal equipment for this
difficult rôle. At the time this music drama was produced its intervals
were considered in the guise of unrelated notes. It was the cry that the
voice parts were written without reference to the orchestral score, and
that these wandered up and down without regard for the limitations of a
singer. Since _Elektra_ was first performed we have travelled far, and
now that we have heard _The Nightingale_ of Strawinsky, for instance,
perusal of Strauss's score shows us a perfectly ordered and
understandable series of notes. Even now, however, there are few of our
singers who could cope with the music of _Elektra_ without devoting a
good many months to its study, and more time to the physical exercise
needful to equip one with the force necessary to carry through the
undertaking. Mme. Mazarin never faltered. She sang the notes with
astonishing accuracy; nay, more, with potent vocal colour. Never did the
orchestral flood o'er-top her flow of sound. With consummate skill she
realized the composer's intentions as completely as she had those of the

Those who were present at the first American performance of this work
will long bear the occasion in mind. The outburst of applause which
followed the close of the play was almost hysterical in quality, and
after a number of recalls Mme. Mazarin fainted before the curtain. Many
in the audience remained long enough to receive the reassuring news that
she had recovered. As a reporter of musical doings on the "New York
Times," I sought information as to her condition at the dressing-room of
the artist. Somewhere between the auditorium and the stage, in a
passageway, I encountered Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who, a short time
before, had appeared at the Garden Theatre in Arthur Symons's
translation of von Hofmannsthal's drama. Although we had never met
before, in the excitement of the moment we became engaged in
conversation, and I volunteered to escort her to Mme. Mazarin's room,
where she attempted to express her enthusiasm. Then I asked her if she
would like to meet Mr. Hammerstein, and she replied that it was her
great desire at this moment to meet the impresario and to thank him for
the indelible impression this evening in the theatre had given her. I
led her to the corner of the stage where he sat, in his high hat,
smoking his cigar, and I presented her to him. "But Mrs. Campbell was
introduced to me only three minutes ago," he said. She stammered her
acknowledgment of the fact. "It's true," she said. "I have been so
completely carried out of myself that I had forgotten!"

_August 22, 1916._

Yvette Guilbert

    "_She sings of life, and mirth and all that moves_
    _Man's fancy in the carnival of loves;_
    _And a chill shiver takes me as she sings_
    _The pity of unpitied human things._"

                    Arthur Symons.

The natural evolution of Gordon Craig's theory of the stage finally
brought him to the point where he would dispense altogether with the
play and the actor. The artist-producer would stand alone. Yvette
Guilbert has accomplished this very feat, and accomplished it without
the aid of super-marionettes. She still uses songs as her medium, but
she has very largely discarded the authors and composers of these songs,
recreating them with her own charm and wit and personality and brain. A
song as Yvette Guilbert sings it exists only for a brief moment. It does
not exist on paper, as you will discover if you seek out the printed
version, and it certainly does not exist in the performance of any one
else. Not that most of her songs are not worthy material, chosen as they
are from the store-houses of a nation's treasures, but that her
interpretations are so individual, so charged with deep personal
feeling, so emended, so added to, so embellished with grunts, shrieks,
squeaks, trills, spoken words, extra bars, or even added lines to the
text; so performed that their performance itself constitutes a veritable
(and, unfortunately, an extremely perishable) work of art. Sometimes,
indeed, it has seemed to me that the genius of this remarkable
Frenchwoman could express itself directly, without depending upon songs.

She could have given no more complete demonstration of the inimitability
of this genius than by her recent determination to lecture on the art of
interpreting songs. Never has Yvette been more fascinating, never more
authoritative than during those three afternoons at Maxine Elliott's
Theatre, devoted ostensibly to the dissection of her method, but before
she had unpacked a single instrument it must have been perfectly obvious
to every auditor in the hall that she was taking great pains to explain
just how impossible it would be for any one to follow in her footsteps,
for any one to imitate her astonishing career. With evident candour and
a multiplicity of detail she told the story of how she had built up her
art. She told how she studied the words of her songs, how she planned
them, what a large part the plasticity of her body played in their
interpretation, and when she was done all she had said only went to
prove that there is but one Yvette Guilbert.

She stripped all pretence from her vocal method, explained how she sang
now in her throat, now falsetto. "When I wish to make a certain sound
for a certain effect I practise by myself until I succeed in making it.
That is my vocal method. I never had a teacher. I would not trust my
voice to a teacher!" Her method of learning to breathe was a practical
one. She took the refrain of a little French song to work upon. She made
herself learn to sing the separate phrases of this song without
breathing; then two phrases together, etc., until she could sing the
refrain straight through without taking a breath. Ratan Devi has told me
that Indian singers, who never study vocalization in the sense that we
do, are adepts in the art of breathing. "They breathe naturally and with
no difficulty because it never occurs to them to distort a phrase by
interrupting it for breath. They have respect for the phrase and sing it
through. When you study with an occidental music teacher you will find
that he will mark little Vs on the page indicating where the pupil may
take breath until he can capture the length of the phrase. This method
would be incomprehensible to a Hindu or to any other oriental." The
wonderful breath control of Hebrew cantors who sing long and florid
phrases without interruption is another case of the same kind.

Mme. Guilbert finds her effects everywhere, in nature, in art, in
literature. When she was composing her interpretation of _La Soularde_
she searched in vain for the cry of the thoughtless children as they
stone the poor drunken hag, until she discovered it, quite by accident
one evening at the Comédie Française, in the shriek of Mounet-Sully in
_Oedipe-Roi_. In studying the _Voyage à Bethléem_, one of the most
popular songs of her répertoire, she felt the need of breaking the
monotony of the stanzas. It was her own idea to interpolate the
watchman's cry of the hours, and to add the jubilant coda, _Il est né,
le divin enfant_, extracted from another song of the same period. With
Guilbert nothing is left to chance. Do you remember one of her most
celebrated chansons, _Notre Petite Compagne_ of Jules Laforgue, which
she sings so strikingly to a Waldteufel waltz,

    _Je suis la femme,_
    _On me connaît._

Her interpretation belies the lines. She has contrived to put all the
mystery of the sphinx into her rendering of them. How has she done this?
By means of the cigarette which she smokes throughout the song. She has
confessed as much. Always on the lookout for material which will assist
her in perfecting her art she has observed that when a woman smokes a
cigarette her expression becomes inscrutable. Her effects are
cumulative, built up out of an inexhaustible fund of detail. In those
songs in which she professes to do the least she is really doing the
most. Have you heard her sing _Le Lien Serré_ and witnessed the
impression she produces by sewing, a piece of action not indicated in
the text of the song? Have you heard her sing _L'Hotel Numero 3_, one of
the répertoire of the _gants noirs_ and the old days of the Divan
Japonais? In this song she does not move her body; she scarcely makes a
gesture, and yet her crisp manner of utterance, her subtle emphasis, her
angular pose, are all that are needed to expose the humour of the ditty.
Much the same comment could be made in regard to her interpretation of
_Le Jeune Homme Triste_. The _apache_ songs, on the contrary, are
replete with gesture. Do you remember the splendid _apache_ saluting his
head before he goes to the guillotine? Again Yvette has given away her
secret: "Naturally I have deep feelings. To be an artist one must feel
intensely, but I find that it is sometimes well to give these feelings a
spur. In this instance I have sewn weights into the lining of the cap of
the _apache_. When I drop the cap it falls with a thud and I am reminded
instinctively of the fall of the knife of the guillotine. This trick
always furnishes me with the thrill I need and I can never sing the
last lines without tears in my eyes and voice."

It seems ungracious to speak of Yvette Guilbert as a great artist. She
is so much less than that and so much more. She has dedicated her
autobiography to God and it is certain that she believes her genius to
be a holy thing. No one else on the stage to-day has worked so
faithfully, or so long, no one else has so completely fulfilled her
obligations to her art, and certainly no one else is so nearly human.
She compasses the chasm between the artist and the public with ease. She
is even able to do this in America, speaking a foreign tongue, for it
has only been recently that she has learned to speak English freely and
she rarely sings in our language. Her versatility, it seems to me, is
limitless; she expresses the whole world in terms of her own
personality. She never lacks for a method of expression for the effect
she desires to give, and she gives all, heart and brains alike. Now she
is raucous, now tender; have you ever seen so sweet a smile; have you
ever observed so coarse a mien? She can run the gamut from a sleek
priest to a child (as in _C'est le Mai_), from a jealous husband to a
guilty wife (_Le Jaloux et la Menteuse_), from an apache (_Ma Tête_) to
a charming old lady (_Lisette_).

[Illustration: YVETTE GUILBERT

_from a photograph by Alice Boughton_]

It is easy to liken the art of this marvellous woman to something
concrete, to the drawings of Toulouse-Lautrec or Steinlen, the posters
of Chéret ... and there is indeed a suggestion of these men in the work
of Yvette Guilbert. The same broad lines are there, the same ample
style, the same complete effect, but there is more. In certain phases of
her talent, the _gamine_, the _apache_, the _gavroche_, she reflects the
spirit of the inspiration which kindled these painters into creation,
but in other phases, of which _Lisette_, _Les Cloches de Nantes_, _La
Passion_, or _Le Cycle du Vin_ are the expression, you may more readily
compare her style with that of Watteau, Eugene Carrière, Félicien Rops,
or Boucher.... She takes us by the hand through the centuries, offering
us the results of a vast amount of study, a vast amount of erudition,
and a vast amount of work. In so many fine strokes she evokes an epoch.
She has studied the distinction between a curtsey which precedes the
recital of a fable of La Fontaine and a poem of Francis Jammes. She has
closely scrutinized pictures in neglected corridors of the Louvre to
learn the manner in which a cavalier lifts his hat in various periods.
There are those who complain that she emphasizes the dramatic side of
the old French songs, which possibly survive more clearly under more
naïve treatment. Her justification in this instance is the complete
success of her method. The songs serve her purpose, even supposing she
does not serve theirs. But a more valid cause for grievance can be urged
against her. Unfortunately and ill-advisedly she has occasionally
carried something of the scientific into an otherwise delightful
matinée, importing a lecturer, like Jean Beck of Bryn Mawr, to analyze
and describe the music of the middle ages, or even becoming pedantic and
professorial herself; sometimes Yvette preaches or, still worse, permits
some one else, dancer, violinist, or singer to usurp her place on the
platform. These interruptions are sorry moments indeed but such lapses
are forgiven with an almost divine graciousness when Yvette interprets
another song. Then the dull or scholarly interpolations are forgotten.

I cannot, indeed, know where to begin to praise her or where to stop. My
feelings for her performances (which I have seen and heard whenever I
have been able during the past twelve years in Chicago, New York,
London, and Paris) are unequivocal. There are moments when I am certain
that her rendering of _La Passion_ is her supreme achievement and there
are moments when I prefer to see her as the unrestrained purveyor of the
art of the _chansonniers_ of Montmartre--unrestrained, I say, and yet
it is evident to me that she has refined her interpretations of these
songs, revived twenty-five years after she first sang them, bestowed on
them a spirit which originally she could not give them. From the
beginning _Ma Tête_, _La Soularde_, _La Glu_, _La Pierreuse_, and the
others were drawn as graphically as the pictures of Steinlen, but age
has softened her interpretation of them. What formerly was striking has
now become beautiful, what was always astonishing has become a
masterpiece of artistic expression. Once, indeed, these pictures were
sharply etched, but latterly they have been lithographed, drawn softly
on stone.... I have said that I do not know in what song, in what mood,
I prefer Yvette Guilbert. I can never be certain but if I were asked to
choose a programme I think I should include in it _C'est le Mai_, _La
Légende de St. Nicolas_, _Le Roi a Fait Battre Tambour_, _Les Cloches de
Nantes_, _Le Cycle du Vin_, _Le Lien Serré_, _La Glu_, _Lisette_, _La
Femme_, _Que l'Amour Cause de Peine_, and Oh, how many others!

All art must be beautiful, says Mme. Guilbert, and she has realized the
meaning of what might have been merely a phrase; no matter how sordid or
trivial her subject she has contrived to make of it something beautiful.
She is not, therefore, a realist in any literal signification of the
word (although I doubt if any actress on the stage can evoke more sense
of character than she) because she always smiles and laughs and weeps
with the women she represents; she sympathizes with them, she humanizes
them, where another interpreter would coldly present them for an
audience to take or to leave, exposing them to cruel inspection. Even in
her interpretation of heartless women it is always to our sense of
humour that she appeals, while in her rendering of _Ma Tête_ and _La
Pierreuse_ she strikes directly at our hearts. Zola once told Mme.
Guilbert that the _apaches_ were the logical descendants of the old
chevaliers of France. "They are the only men we have now who will fight
over a woman!" he said. When you hear Mme. Guilbert call "_Pi-ouit!_"
you will readily perceive that she understands what Zola meant.

Wonderful Yvette, who has embodied so many pleasant images in the
theatre, who has expressed to the world so much of the soul of France,
so much of the soul of art itself, but, above all, so much of the soul
of humanity. It is not alone General Booth who has made friends of
"drabs from the alley-ways and drug fiends pale--Minds still
passion-ridden, soul-powers frail! Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy
breath, unwashed legions with the ways of death": these are all friends
of Yvette Guilbert too. And when Balzac wrote the concluding paragraph
of "Massimila Doni" he may have foreseen the later application of the
lines.... Surely "the peris, nymphs, fairies, sylphs of the olden time,
the muses of Greece, the marble Virgins of the Certosa of Pavia, the Day
and Night of Michael Angelo, the little angels that Bellini first drew
at the foot of church paintings, and to whom Raphael gave such divine
form at the foot of the Vierge au donataire, and of the Madonna freezing
at Dresden; Orcagna's captivating maidens in the Church of Or San
Michele at Florence, the heavenly choirs on the tombs of St. Sebald at
Nuremberg, several Virgins in the Duomo at Milan, the hordes of a
hundred Gothic cathedrals, the whole nation of figures who break their
forms to come to you, O all-embracing artists--" surely, surely, all
these hover over Yvette Guilbert.

_April 16, 1917._

Waslav Nijinsky

"_A thing of beauty is a boy forever._"

Allen Norton.

Serge de Diaghilew brought the dregs of the Russian Ballet to New York
and, after a first greedy gulp, inspired by curiosity to get a taste of
this highly advertised beverage, the public drank none too greedily. The
scenery and the costumes, designed by Bakst, Roerich, Benois, and
Larionow, and the music of Rimsky-Korsakow, Tcherepnine, Schumann,
Borodine, Balakirew, and Strawinsky--especially Strawinsky--arrived. It
was to be deplored, however, that Bakst had seen fit to replace the
original _décor_ of _Scheherazade_ by a new setting in rawer colours, in
which the flaming orange fairly burned into the ultramarine and green
(readers of "A Rebours" will remember that des Esseintes designed a room
something like this). A few of the dancers came, but of the best not a
single one. Nor was Fokine, the dancer-producer, who devised the
choregraphy for _The Firebird_, _Cléopâtre_, and _Petrouchka_, among the
number, although his presence had been announced and expected. To those
enthusiasts, and they included practically every one who had seen the
Ballet in its greater glory, who had prepared their friends for an
overwhelmingly brilliant spectacle, over-using the phrase, "a perfect
union of the arts," the early performances in January, 1916, at the
Century Theatre were a great disappointment. Often had we urged that the
individual played but a small part in this new and gorgeous
entertainment, but now we were forced to admit that the ultimate glamour
was lacking in the ensemble, which was obviously no longer the glad, gay
entity it once had been.

The picture was still there, the music (not always too well played) but
the interpretation was mediocre. The agile Miassine could scarcely be
called either a great dancer or a great mime. He had been chosen by
Diaghilew for the rôle of Joseph in Richard Strauss's version of the
Potiphar legend but, during the course of a London season carried
through without the co-operation of Nijinsky, this was the only part
allotted to him. In New York he interpreted, not without humour and with
some technical skill, the incidental divertissement from
Rimsky-Korsakow's opera, _The Snow-Maiden_, against a vivid background
by Larionow. The uninspired choregraphy of this ballet was also ascribed
to Miassine by the programme, although probably in no comminatory
spirit. In the small rôle of Eusebius in _Carneval_ and in the
negligible part of the Prince in _The Firebird_ he was entirely
satisfactory, but it was impertinent of the direction to assume that he
would prove an adequate substitute for Nijinsky in rôles to which that
dancer had formerly applied his extremely finished art.

Adolf Bolm contributed his portraits of the Moor in _Petrouchka_, of
Pierrot in _Carneval_, and of the Chief Warrior in the dances from
_Prince Igor_. These three rôles completely express the possibilities of
Bolm as a dancer or an actor, and sharply define his limitations. His
other parts, Dakon in _Daphnis et Chloë_--Sadko, the Prince in _Thamar_,
Amoun in _Cléopâtre_, the Slave in _Scheherazade_, and Pierrot in
_Papillons_, are only variations on the three afore-mentioned themes.
His friends often confuse his vitality and abundant energy with a sense
of characterization and a skill as a dancer which he does not possess.
For the most part he is content to express himself by stamping his heels
and gnashing his teeth, and when, as in _Cléopâtre_, he attempts to
convey a more subtle meaning to his general gesture, he is not very
successful. Bolm is an interesting and useful member of the
organization, but he could not make or unmake a season; nor could
Gavrilow, who is really a fine dancer in his limited way, although he
is unfortunately lacking in magnetism and any power of characterization.

But it was on the distaff side of the cast that the Ballet seemed
pitifully undistinguished, even to those who did not remember the early
Paris seasons when the roster included the names of Anna Pavlowa, Tamara
Karsavina, Caterina Gheltzer, and Ida Rubinstein. The leading feminine
dancer of the troupe when it gave its first exhibitions in New York was
Xenia Maclezova, who had not, so far as my memory serves, danced in any
London or Paris season of the Ballet (except for one gala performance at
the Paris Opéra which preceded the American tour), unless in some very
menial capacity. This dancer, like so many others, had the technique of
her art at her toes' ends. Sarah Bernhardt once told a reporter that the
acquirement of technique never did any harm to an artist, and if one
were not an artist it was not a bad thing to have. I have forgotten how
many times Mlle. Maclezova could pirouette without touching the toe in
the air to the floor, but it was some prodigious number. She was
past-mistress of the _entrechat_ and other mysteries of the ballet
academy. Here, however, her knowledge of her art seemed to end, in the
subjugation of its very mechanism. She was very nearly lacking in those
qualities of grace, poetry, and imagination with which great artists are
freely endowed, and although she could not actually have been a woman of
more than average weight, she often conveyed to the spectator an
impression of heaviness. In such a work as _The Firebird_ she really
offended the eye. Far from interpreting the ballet, she gave you an idea
of how it should not be done.

Her season with the Russians was terminated in very short order, and
Lydia Lopoukova, who happened to be in America, and who, indeed, had
already been engaged for certain rôles, was rushed into her vacant
slippers. Now Mme. Lopoukova had charm as a dancer, whatever her
deficiencies in technique. In certain parts, notably as Colombine in
_Carneval,_ she assumed a roguish demeanor which was very fetching. As
La Ballerine in _Petrouchka,_ too, she met all the requirements of the
action. But in _Le Spectre de la Rose_, _Les Sylphides_, _The Firebird_,
and _La Princesse Enchantée_, she floundered hopelessly out of her

Tchernicheva, one of the lesser but more steadfast luminaries of the
Ballet, in the rôles for which she was cast, the principal Nymph in
_L'Après-midi d'un Faune_, Echo in _Narcisse_, and the Princess in _The
Firebird_, more than fulfilled her obligations to the ensemble, but her
opportunities in these mimic plays were not of sufficient importance to
enable her to carry the brunt of the performances on her lovely
shoulders. Flore Revalles was drafted, I understand, from a French opera
company. I have been told that she sings--Tosca is one of her rôles--as
well as she dances. That may very well be. To impressionable spectators
she seemed a real _femme fatale_. Her Cléopâtre suggested to me a
Parisian _cocotte_ much more than an Egyptian queen. It would be
blasphemy to compare her with Ida Rubinstein in this rôle--Ida
Rubinstein, who was true Aubrey Beardsley! In Thamar and Zobeide, both
to a great extent dancing rôles, Mlle. Revalles, both as dancer and
actress, was but a frail substitute for Karsavina.

The remainder of the company was adequate, but not large, and the
ensemble was by no means as brilliant as those who had seen the Ballet
in London or Paris might have expected. Nor in the absence of Fokine,
that master of detail, were performances sufficiently rehearsed. There
was, of course, explanation in plenty for this disintegration.
Gradually, indeed, the Ballet as it had existed in Europe had suffered a
change. Only a miracle and a fortune combined would have sufficed to
hold the original company intact. It was not held intact, and the war
made further inroads on its integrity. Then, for the trip to America
many of the dancers probably were inclined to demand double pay.
Undoubtedly, Serge de Diaghilew had many more troubles than those which
were celebrated in the public prints, and it must be admitted that, even
with his weaker company, he gave us finer exhibitions of stage art than
had previously been even the exception here.

In the circumstances, however, certain pieces, which were originally
produced when the company was in the flush of its first glory, should
never have been presented here at all. It was not the part of reason,
for example, to pitchfork on the Century stage an indifferent
performance of _Le Pavilion d'Armide_, in which Nijinsky once disported
himself as the favourite slave, and which, as a matter of fact, requires
a company of _virtuosi_ to make it a passable diversion. _Cléopâtre_, in
its original form with Nijinsky, Fokine, Pavlowa, Ida Rubinstein, and
others, hit all who saw it square between the eyes. The absurdly
expurgated edition, with its inadequate cast, offered to New York, was
but the palest shadow of the sensuous entertainment that had aroused all
Paris, from the Batignolles to the Bastille. The music, the setting, the
costumes--what else was left to celebrate? The altered choregraphy, the
deplorable interpretation, drew tears of rage from at least one pair of
eyes. It was quite incomprehensible also why _The Firebird_, which
depends on the grace and poetical imagination of the filmiest and most
fairy-like actress-dancer, should have found a place in the répertoire.
It is the dancing equivalent of a coloratura soprano rôle in opera.
Thankful, however, for the great joy of having re-heard Strawinsky's
wonderful score, I am willing to overlook this tactical error.

All things considered, it is small wonder that a large slice of the
paying population of New York tired of the Ballet in short order. One
reason for this cessation of interest was the constant repetition of
ballets. In London and Paris the seasons as a rule have been shorter,
and on certain evenings of the week opera has taken the place of the
dance. It has been rare indeed that a single work has been repeated more
than three or four times during an engagement. I have not found it
stupid to listen to and look at perhaps fifteen performances of varying
degrees of merit of _Petrouchka_, _Scheherazade_, _Carneval_, and the
dances from _Prince Igor_; I would rather see the Russian Ballet
repeatedly, even as it existed in America, than four thousand five
hundred and six Broadway plays or seventy-three operas at the
Metropolitan once, but I dare say I may look upon myself as an

At any rate, when the company entered upon a four weeks' engagement at
the Metropolitan Opera House, included in the regular subscription
season of opera, the subscribers groaned; many of them groaned aloud,
and wrote letters to the management and to the newspapers. To be sure,
during the tour which had followed the engagement at the Century the
répertoire had been increased, but the company remained the same--until
the coming of Waslav Nijinsky.

When America was first notified of the impending visit of the Russian
Ballet it was also promised that Waslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina
would head the organization. It was no fault of the American direction
or of Serge de Diaghilew that they did not do so. Various excuses were
advanced for the failure of Karsavina to forsake her family in Russia
and to undertake the journey to the United States but, whatever the
cause, there seems to remain no doubt that she refused to come. As for
Nijinsky, he, with his wife, had been a prisoner in an Austrian
detention camp since the beginning of the war. Wheels were set grinding
but wheels grind slowly in an epoch of international bloodshed, and it
was not until March, 1916, that the Austrian ambassador at Washington
was able to announce that Nijinsky had been set free.

I do not believe the coming to this country of any other celebrated
person had been more widely advertised, although P. T. Barnum may have
gone further in describing the charitable and vocal qualities of Jenny
Lind. Nijinsky had been extravagantly praised, not only by the official
press representatives but also by eminent critics and private persons,
in adjectives which seemed to preclude any possibility of his living up
to them. I myself had been among the pæan singers. I had thrust
"half-man, half-god" into print. "A flame!" cried some one. Another, "A
jet of water from a fountain!" Such men in the street as had taken the
trouble to consider the subject at all very likely expected the arrival
of some stupendous and immortal monstrosity, a gravity-defying being
with sixteen feet (at least), who bounded like a rubber ball, never
touching the solid stage except at the beginning and end of the
evening's performance.

Nijinsky arrived in April. Almost immediately he gave vent to one of
those expressions of temperament often associated with interpretative
genius, the kind of thing I have described at some length in "Music and
Bad Manners." He was not at all pleased with the Ballet as he found it.
Interviewed, he expressed his displeasure in the newspapers. The
managers of the organization wisely remained silent, and a controversy
was avoided, but the public had received a suggestion of petulance which
could not contribute to the popularity of the new dancer.

Nijinsky danced for the first time in New York on the afternoon of April
12, at the Metropolitan Opera House. The pieces in which he appeared on
that day were _Le Spectre de la Rose_ and _Petrouchka_. Some of us
feared that eighteen months in a detention camp would have stamped their
mark on the dancer. As a matter of fact his connection with the Russian
Ballet had been severed in 1913, a year before the war began. I can say
for myself that I was probably a good deal more nervous than Nijinsky on
the occasion of his first appearance in America. It would have been a
cruel disappointment to me to have discovered that his art had perished
during the intervening three years since I had last seen him. My fears
were soon dissipated. A few seconds after he as the Rose Ghost had
bounded through the window, it was evident that he was in possession of
all his powers; nay, more, that he had added to the refinement and
polish of his style. I had called Nijinsky's dancing perfection in years
gone by, because it so far surpassed that of his nearest rival; now he
had surpassed himself. True artists, indeed, have a habit of
accomplishing this feat. I may call to your attention the careers of
Olive Fremstad, Yvette Guilbert, and Marie Tempest. Later I learned that
this first impression might be relied on. Nijinsky, in sooth, has now no
rivals upon the stage. One can only compare him with himself!

The Weber-Gautier dance-poem, from the very beginning until the end,
when he leaps out of the window of the girl's chamber into the night,
affords this great actor-dancer one of his most grateful opportunities.
It is in this very part, perhaps, which requires almost unceasing
exertion for nearly twelve minutes, that Nijinsky's powers of
co-ordination, mental, imaginative, muscular, are best displayed. His
dancing is accomplished in that flowing line, without a break between
poses and gestures, which is the despair of all novices and almost all
other _virtuosi_. After a particularly difficult leap or toss of the
legs or arms, it is a marvel to observe how, without an instant's pause
to regain his poise, he rhythmically glides into the succeeding
gesture. His dancing has the unbroken quality of music, the balance of
great painting, the meaning of fine literature, and the emotion inherent
in all these arts. There is something of transmutation in his
performances; he becomes an alembic, transforming movement into a finely
wrought and beautiful work of art. The dancing of Nijinsky is first an
imaginative triumph, and the spectator, perhaps, should not be
interested in further dissection of it, but a more intimate observer
must realize that behind this the effect produced depends on his supreme
command of his muscles. It is not alone the final informing and
magnetized imaginative quality that most other dancers lack; it is also
just this muscular co-ordination. Observe Gavrilow in the piece under
discussion, in which he gives a good imitation of Nijinsky's general
style, and you will see that he is unable to maintain this rhythmic

Nijinsky's achievements become all the more remarkable when one
remembers that he is working with an imperfect physical medium. Away
from the scene he is an insignificant figure, short and ineffective in
appearance. Aside from the pert expression of his eyes, he is like a
dozen other young Russians. Put him unintroduced into a drawing-room
with Jacques Copeau, Orchidée, Doris Keane, Bill Haywood, Edna Kenton,
the Baroness de Meyer, Paulet Thevenaz, the Marchesa Casati, Marcel
Duchamp, Cathleen Nesbitt, H. G. Wells, Anna Pavlowa, Rudyard
Chennevière, Vladimir Rebikow, Henrie Waste, and Isadora Duncan, and he
probably would pass entirely unnoticed. On the stage it may be observed
that the muscles of his legs are overdeveloped and his ankles are too
large; that is, if you are in the mood for picking flaws, which most of
us are not in the presence of Nijinsky in action. Here, however,
stricture halts confounded; his head is set on his shoulders in a manner
to give satisfaction to a great sculptor, and his torso, with its
slender waist line, is quite beautiful. On the stage, Nijinsky makes of
himself what he will. He can look tall or short, magnificent or ugly,
fascinating or repulsive. Like so many interpretative artists, he
remoulds himself for his public appearances. It is under the electric
light in front of the painted canvas that he becomes a personality, and
that personality is governed only by the scenario of the ballet he is

From the day of Nijinsky's arrival, the ensemble of the Ballet improved;
somewhat of the spontaneity of the European performances was regained;
a good deal of the glamour was recaptured; the loose lines were gathered
taut, and the choregraphy of Fokine (Nijinsky is a director as well as a
dancer) was restored to some of its former power. He has appeared in
nine rôles in New York during the two short seasons in which he has been
seen with the Russian Ballet here: the Slave in _Scheherazade_,
Petrouchka, the Rose Ghost, the Faun, the Harlequin in _Carneval_,
Narcisse, Till Eulenspiegel, and the principal male rôles of _La
Princesse Enchantée_ and _Les Sylphides_. To enjoy the art of Nijinsky
completely, to fully appreciate his genius, it is necessary not only to
see him in a variety of parts, but also to see him in the same rôle many

Study the detail of his performance in _Scheherazade_, for example. Its
precision alone is noteworthy. Indeed, precision is a quality we see
exposed so seldom in the theatre that when we find it we are almost
inclined to hail it as genius. The rôle of the Slave in this ballet is
perhaps Nijinsky's scenic masterpiece--exotic eroticism expressed in so
high a key that its very existence seems incredible on our puritanic
stage, and yet with such great art (the artist always expresses himself
with beauty) that the intention is softened by the execution. Before
the arrival of this dancer, _Scheherazade_ had become a police court
scandal. There had been talk of a "Jim Crow" performance in which the
blacks were to be separated from the whites in the harem, and I am told
that our provincial police magistrates even wanted to replace the
"mattresses"--so were the divans of the sultanas described in court--by
rocking chairs! But to the considerably more vivid _Scheherazade_ of
Nijinsky no exception was taken. This strange, curious, head-wagging,
simian creature, scarce human, wriggled through the play, leaving a long
streak of lust and terror in his wake. Never did Nijinsky as the Negro
Slave touch the Sultana, but his subtle and sensuous fingers fluttered
close to her flesh, clinging once or twice questioningly to a depending
tassel. Pierced by the javelins of the Sultan's men, the Slave's death
struggle might have been revolting and gruesome. Instead, Nijinsky
carried the eye rapidly upward with his tapering feet as they balanced
for the briefest part of a second straight high in the air, only to fall
inert with so brilliantly quick a movement that the æsthetic effect
grappled successfully with the feeling of disgust which might have been
aroused. This was acting, this was characterization, so completely
merged in rhythm that the result became a perfect whole, and not a
combination of several intentions, as so often results from the work of
an actor-dancer.

The heart-breaking Petrouchka, the roguish Harlequin, the Chopiniac of
_Les Sylphides_,--all were offered to our view; and _Narcisse_, in which
Nijinsky not only did some very beautiful dancing, but posed (as the
Greek youth admired himself in the mirror of the pool) with such utter
and arresting grace that even here he awakened a definite thrill. In _La
Princesse Enchantée_ he merely danced, but how he danced! Do you who saw
him still remember those flickering fingers and toes? "He winketh with
his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers," is
written in the Book of Proverbs, and the writer might have had in mind
Nijinsky in _La Princesse Enchantée_. All these parts were
differentiated, all completely realized, in the threefold intricacy of
this baffling art, which perhaps is not an art at all until it is so
realized, when its plastic, rhythmic, and histrionic elements become an

After a summer in Spain and Switzerland, without Nijinsky, the Russian
Ballet returned to America for a second season, opening at the Manhattan
Opera House October 16, 1916. It is always a delight to hear and see
performances in this theatre, and it was found that the brilliance of
the Ballet was much enhanced by its new frame. The season, however,
opened with a disappointment. It had been announced that Nijinsky would
dance on the first night his choregraphic version of Richard Strauss's
tone-poem, _Till Eulenspiegel_. It is not the first time that a press
agent has made a false prophecy. While rehearsing the new work, Nijinsky
twisted his ankle, and during the first week of the engagement he did
not appear at all. This was doubly unfortunate, because the company was
weaker than it had been the previous season, lacking both Miassine and
Tchernicheva. The only novelty (for America) produced during the first
week was an arrangement of the divertissement from Rimsky-Korsakow's
opera, _Sadko_, which had already been given a few times in Paris and
London by the Ballet, never with conspicuous success. The second week of
the season, Nijinsky returned to appear in three rôles, the Faun, Till
Eulenspiegel, and the Slave in _Scheherazade_. Of his performance to
Debussy's lovely music I have written elsewhere; nor did this new vision
cause me to revise my opinions.

_Till Eulenspiegel_ is the only new ballet the Russians have produced in
America. (_Soleil de Nuit_ was prepared in Europe, and performed once at
the Paris Opéra before it was seen in New York. Besides, it was an
arrangement of dances from an opera which is frequently given in Russia
and which has been presented at the Opéra-Comique in Paris.) The _chef
d'orchestre_, Pierre Monteux, refused to direct performances of this
work, on the ground that the composer was not only a German, but a very
much alive and active German patriot. On the occasions, therefore, that
_Till_ was performed in New York, the orchestra struggled along under
the baton of Dr. Anselm Goetzl. In selecting this work and in his
arrangement of the action Nijinsky was moved, no doubt, by consideration
for the limitations of the company as it existed,--from which he was
able to secure the effects he desired. The scenery and costumes by
Robert E. Jones, of New York, were decidedly diverting--the best work
this talented young man has done, I think. Over a deep, spreading
background of ultramarine, the crazy turrets of mediæval castles leaned
dizzily to and fro. The costumes were exaggerations of the exaggerated
fashions of the Middle Ages. Mr. Jones added feet of stature to the
already elongated peaked headdresses of the period. The trains of the
velvet robes, which might have extended three yards, were allowed to
trail the full depth of the Manhattan Opera House stage. The colours
were oranges, reds, greens, and blues, those indeed of Bakst's
_Scheherazade_, but so differently disposed that they made an entirely
dissimilar impression. The effect reminded one spectator of a Spanish

In arranging the scenario, Nijinsky followed in almost every detail
Wilhelm Klatte's description of the meaning of the music, which is
printed in programme books whenever the tone-poem is performed, without
Strauss's authority, but sometimes with his sanction. Nijinsky was quite
justified in altering the end of the work, which hangs the rogue-hero,
into another practical joke. His version of this episode fits the music
and, in the original _Till Eulenspiegel_ stories, Till is not hanged,
but dies in bed. The keynote of Nijinsky's interpretation was gaiety. He
was as utterly picaresque as the work itself; he reincarnated the spirit
of Gil Blas; indeed, a new quality crept into stage expression through
this characterization. Margaret Wycherly, one of the most active
admirers of the dancer, told me after the first performance that she
felt that he had for the first time leaped into the hearts of the great
American public, whose appreciation of his subtler art as expressed in
_Narcisse_, _Petrouchka_, and even _Scheherazade_, had been more
moderate. There were those who protested that this was not the Till of
the German legends, but any actor who attempts to give form to a folk
or historical character, or even a character derived from fiction, is
forced to run counter to many an observer's preconceived ideas.

[Illustration: WASLAV NIJINSKY IN DEBUSSY'S _JEUX_ (1913)]

"It is an error to believe that pantomime is merely a way of doing
without words," writes Arthur Symons," that it is merely the equivalent
of words. Pantomime is thinking overheard. It begins and ends before
words have formed themselves, in a deeper consciousness than that of
speech. And it addresses itself, by the artful limitations of its craft,
to universal human experience, knowing that the moment it departs from
those broad lines it will become unintelligible. It risks existence on
its own perfection, as the rope-dancer does, to whom a false step means
a down-fall. And it appeals democratically to people of all nations....
And pantomime has that mystery which is one of the requirements of true
art. To watch it is like dreaming. How silently, in dreams, one gathers
the unheard sounds of words from the lips that do but make pretence of
saying them! And does not every one know that terrifying impossibility
of speaking which fastens one to the ground for the eternity of a
second, in what is the new, perhaps truer, computation of time in
dreams? Something like that sense of suspense seems to hang over the
silent actors in pantomime, giving them a nervous exaltation, which has
its subtle, immediate effect upon us, in tragic and comic situation. The
silence becomes an atmosphere, and with a very curious power of giving
distinction to form and motion. I do not see why people should ever
break silence on the stage except to speak poetry. Here, in pantomime,
you have a gracious, expressive silence, beauty of gesture, a perfectly
discreet appeal to the emotions, a transposition of the world into an
elegant accepted convention."

Arthur Symons wrote these words before he had seen the Russian Ballet,
before the Russian Ballet, as we know it, existed, indeed, before
Nijinsky had begun to dance in public, and he felt that the addition of
poetry and music to pantomime--the Wagner music-drama in other
words--brought about a perfect combination of the arts. Nevertheless,
there is an obvious application of his remarks to the present instance.
There is, indeed, the quality of a dream about the characters Nijinsky
presents to us. I remember once, at a performance of the Russian Ballet,
I sat in a box next to a most intelligent man, a writer himself; I was
meeting him for the first time, and he was seeing the Ballet for the
first time. Before the curtain rose he had told me that dancing and
pantomime were very pretty to look at, but that he found no stimulation
in watching them, no mental and spiritual exaltation, such as might
follow a performance of _Hamlet_. Having seen Nijinsky, I could not
agree with him--and this indifferent observer became that evening
himself a fervent disciple of the Ballet. For Nijinsky gave him, he
found, just what his ideal performance of Shakespeare's play might have
given him, a basis for dreams, for thinking, for poetry. The ennobling
effect of all great and perfect art, after the primary emotion, seems to
be to set our minds wandering in a thousand channels, to suggest new
outlets. Pater's experience before the _Monna Lisa_ is only unique in
its intense and direct expression.

No writer, no musician, no painter, can feel deep emotion before a work
of art without expressing it in some way, although the expression may be
a thousand leagues removed from the inspiration. And how few of us can
view the art of Nijinsky without emotion! To the painter he gives a new
sense of proportion, to the musician a new sense of rhythm, while to the
writer he must perforce immediately suggest new words; better still, new
meanings for old words. Dance, pantomime, acting, harmony, all these
divest themselves of their worn-out accoutrements and appear, as if
clothed by magic, in garments of unheard-of novelty; hue, texture, cut,
and workmanship are all a surprise to us. We look enraptured, we go away
enthralled, and perhaps even unconsciously a new quality creeps into our
own work. It is the same glamour cast over us by contemplation of the
Campo Santo at Pisa, or the Roman Theatre at Orange, or the Cathedral at
Chartres,--the inspiration for one of the most word-jewelled books in
any language--or the New York sky line at twilight as one sails away
into the harbour, or a great iron crane which lifts tons of alien matter
in its gaping jaw. Great music can give us this feeling, the symphonies
of Beethoven, Mozart's _Don Giovanni_, Schubert's _C Major Symphony_, or
César Franck's _D Minor_, _The Sacrifice to the Spring_ of Strawinsky,
_L'Après-midi d'un Faune_ of Debussy, Chabrier's Rhapsody, _España_;
great interpretative musicians can give it to us, Ysaye at his best,
Paderewski, Marcella Sembrich in song recital; but how few artists on
the stage suggest even as much as the often paltry lines of the author,
the often banal music of the composer! There is an _au delà_ to all
great interpretative art, something that remains after story, words,
picture, and gesture have faded vaguely into that storeroom in our
memories where are concealed these lovely ghosts of ephemeral beauty,
and the artist who is able to give us this is blessed even beyond his
knowledge, for to him has been vouchsafed the sacred kiss of the gods.
This quality cannot be acquired, it cannot even be described, but it can
be felt. With its beneficent aid the interpreter not only contributes to
our pleasure, he broadens our horizon, adds to our knowledge and
capacity for feeling.

As I read over these notes I realize that I have not been able to
discover flaws in the art of this young man. It seems to me that in his
chosen medium he approaches perfection. What he attempts to do, he
always does perfectly. Can one say as much for any other interpreter?
But it is a difficult matter to give the spirit of Nijinsky, to describe
his art on paper, to capture the abundant grace, the measureless poetry,
the infinite illusion of his captivating motion in ink. Who can hope to
do it? Future generations must take our word for his greatness. We can
do little more than call it that. I shall have served my purpose if I
have succeeded in this humble article in bringing back to those who have
seen him a flashing glimpse of the imaginative actuality.

_January 16, 1917._


_as a substitute for a preface to the new edition_.


It was formerly the custom, in England at any rate, to publish one book
in two or three volumes. Judge, therefore, of my dismay and delight on
discovering, shortly after the first appearance of "Interpreters and
Interpretations," in 1917, that I, abetted by my always delightfully
agreeable publisher, had issued two books in one volume! Even the title
itself fell apart. This practical detail has made it a comparatively
simple matter to exhibit these twins separately in the future, and such
is my intention. This volume, then, contains the first half of the
longer book.

I have been asked occasionally why I devote so much attention in my
writing to interpreters. The answer is, of course, that I devote very
little attention to them, not enough, I sometimes think. This book,
indeed, says nearly all that I have said up to date on the subject. But
I am not at all in sympathy with those critics of music and the drama
who lay stress on the relative unimportance of interpreters. Sometimes I
am inclined to believe that interpreters, who mould their own
personalities rather than clay or words, are greater than creators. I
think we might have a more ideal theatre if interpreters could be their
own creators, like the mediæval troubadours or the gipsies of Spain. For
there are many disadvantages about creative art. One of them is its
persistence. Beethoven and Dante wrote notes and letters down on paper
and there they remain, apparently forever. It is very annoying. Legends
hover round the names of these artists, and for centuries after their
deaths all the stupid creators in the world try to do something similar
to the work these men have done, and all the really inspired artists
have to pass a period of probation during which they strive to forget
the work these men have done. "You will find," remarks sagaciously one
Henry C. Lunn, "that people will often praise a bad fugue because Bach
has produced so many good ones." It would be much better for everybody
if a law were passed consigning all creative work to the flames ten
years after it saw the light. Then we would have novelty. If Beethoven
recurred again, at least nobody would know it. Any knowledge about books
or pictures or music of the past would have to be carried in the memory
and in a few decades all memory of anything that was not essential would
have disappeared. It must have been a thrilling experience to have
lived in Alexandria at the time the library was burned. Just think,
twenty years after that event, philosophers and professors probably
could be found in Alexandria who did not go round with long faces
telling you what had been done and what should be done. No references to
the early Assyrians and the Greeks until the papyruses were replaced.
The Renaissance and the Revival of Learning, on the other hand,
doubtless pleasant enough at the time, smeared a terrible blot on the
future of art.

Now interpretative art is different. It depends upon the contemporary
individual, and some of its most thrilling effects may be entirely
accidental. Any traditions which persist in interpretative art must be
carried in the memory. In exceptional cases, of course, a singer, a
dancer, or an actor is able to so stamp his or her personal achievement
into the flowing rhythm of artistic space that a _style_ does persist.
We have a very good example before us in the case of Isadora Duncan, who
has been followed by a long train of animated Grecian urns. The
deleterious effect of this persistence of an interpretative tradition
must be apparent to any one. For the imitator of an interpreter is a
thousand times more futile than the imitator of a creator. Fortunately,
on the whole, styles in acting, in singing, and in dancing frequently
change. The Catalani-Jenny Lind-Patti tradition, which God knows has
hung on long enough, is nearly exhausted. We live in the age of the Mary
Garden tradition.

There is another and even better reason why I find it pleasant to write
about interpreters. In looking over the books on music written in the
past I find that the books about singers are infinitely more fascinating
than the books about composers. I am enthralled by what H. F. Chorley
has to say about Pauline Viardot and Henrietta Sontag; I am delighted
with the Goncourt's books about Guimard, Clairon, and Sophie Arnould.
Auguste Ehrhard's "Fanny Elssler" is an extraordinary document and one
cannot afford to miss P. T. Barnum on Jenny Lind and Mapleson on Patti.
But I find that the old scribes on Mozart and Mendelssohn, Beethoven and
Schubert, quite bore me, and it is impossible to say anything new about
these men. Books about Beethoven are still appearing but I advise nobody
to read them. The authors have arrived at that fine point where they can
only compare authorities and quibble about details. Was Beethoven in a
cold sweat when he composed the _Ninth Symphony_ or was he merely angry?
The ink on the manuscript of such and such a work being blotted on a
certain page, interest naturally arises as to whether the fifth note in
the sixteenth bar is F sharp or G flat. Did Haydn or Prince H---- conduct
the first performance of the _Symphony in X major_? Did Weber arrive in
England on Thursday or Friday? And so on. It is all very tiresome.

Sometimes I believe that it is the whole duty of a critic to write about
interpreters, about the interpretative arts. Less is understood about
acting, singing, and dancing than about anything else in the field of
æsthetic discussion, the more that is written about them, therefore, the
better. Besides creative artists speak for themselves. Anybody can read
a book; anybody can see a picture, or a reproduction of it. As for
posterity it rejects all contemporary criticism of creative work; it has
no use for it. It goes back to the work itself. So the critic of
creative work entirely disappears in the course of a few years. After
his short day nobody will read him any more.

Now an actor, a singer, or a dancer, can appear in comparatively few
places for a comparatively short time. The number of people who can see
or hear these interpreters is relatively small; consequently they like
to read about them. As for posterity it is absolutely dependent upon
books for its knowledge of the interpreters of a bygone day. That is the
only way it can see the actors of the past. For that reason I am
perfectly sure in my own mind that of such of my books as are devoted to
criticism this is the one most likely to please posterity.

All criticism may not be creative writing, but certainly all good
criticism is. For all good writing should be self-expression and the
subject treated and the form into which it is cast are mere matters of
convenience. There is no essential difference between poetry, fiction,
drama, and essay. An essay may be as creative as a work of fiction,
often it is more so. You will find criticism elsewhere than in the work
of acknowledged critics. Dostoevsky's "The House of the Dead" is
certainly a critical work, but the author chooses to criticize the
conditions under which human beings are compelled to live rather than
the works of Pushkin. Turgeniev once wrote to Flaubert, "There is no
longer any artist of the present time who is not also a critic." He
might have added that while all artists are assuredly critics, all
critics are not artists. On the other hand Walter Pater's famous passage
about the _Monna Lisa_ is certainly creative; it might almost be held
responsible for the vogue of the picture. Before the war, nearly any day
you might find frail American ladies from the Middle West standing in
front of Leonardo's canvas and repeating the lines like so much
doggerel. All artists express themselves as they may but they are not
artists unless they express _themselves_. Only thus may they establish a
current between themselves and their readers; only thus may they arouse
emotion. And if they succeed in arousing emotion we may disregard the
form in which their work is cast and bathe in the essence of spirit and

Whether you agree with this theory or not you must be compelled to admit
that criticism of interpreters, if it is anything at all, is bound to be
creative. For the art of the interpreter exists in time and space only
for the moment in an arbitrary place. Therefore he who writes about an
interpreter is using him to express certain ideas as a painter uses his

It is a well-established fact that singers and actors in general only
approve of the critics who praise them, but it will readily be apparent
that there is a good instinctive reason back of this peculiarity. Their
work only lives as it exists in criticism and people who dwell in places
where these actors are not to be seen or in times after they are dead
must perforce depend upon the critic for their impressions of these
interpreters. The case of creative work is entirely different. The
creator of genius should never be disturbed by a bad criticism. If his
work is good it will far outlast the criticism. Indeed a bad notice
helps a fine book to find its public sooner than a good notice, because
it attracts attention and stimulates discussion. I think it is likely,
for instance, that the striking collection of bad notices of his
previous books, which James Branch Cabell inserted in the end pages of
"The Cream of the Jest," did as much to advertise that author as the
subsequent publication of "Jurgen."


Somewhere in Agnes G. Murphy's vivid but somewhat hysterical account of
the life and adventures of Madame Melba, the diva's Boswell declares
that the singer never permitted herself the pleasure of meeting
newspaper critics lest, it is to be assumed, they should be prejudiced
in her favour through the acquaintanceship. I can assure Madame Melba
that this decision, if strictly adhered to, has cost her many pleasant
hours, for I number certain music critics among my most diverting
friends. I can further assure these colleagues of mine that they have
missed knowing a very amusing woman, for once, not being considered at
the time anything so formidable as a critic, I was permitted to sit next
to the Australian canary while she toyed with her grapefruit and tasted
her _oeuf bénédictine_.

Madame Melba's point of view is not held exclusively by her. There are
many singers who believe that a series of dinner invitations will buy a
critic's pen; a few do not hesitate to offer emerald stick-pins and even
substantial cheques. These methods are often entirely successful. On the
other hand there are critics who will rush across the street, though the
mud be ankle deep, to avoid an introduction to an artist. I have been
frequently asked where I stood in the matter, as if it were necessary to
take a stand and defend it.

I may say that if my profession kept me from knowing anybody I really
wanted to know I should relinquish that profession without hesitation.
It is absurd to feel that you cannot dine with a singer without praising
her performances. Many days in each month I dine with authors whose
works I abhor. I find their companionship delightful. Should I be
deprived of their society because I happen to be a critic? I suppose I
have a price--almost everybody has--but I should like to state right
here and now that it is not a dinner, or a series of dinners, or even an
emerald scarf-pin. I should be inclined, however, I admit frankly, to
say at least gentle things about a lady who made me a present of a
blooded silver cat.

But the crux of the matter lies deeper than this. No mere music critic
can hope to write about singing, violin playing, or piano playing
without knowing singers, violinists, and pianists. He can learn much
from books, from the reviews of other critics, from hearing
performances, but the great critics are those who study from the lips of
the interpreters themselves. The valuable hints, suggestions, and
inspiration that a critic with an open mind can gather from an
interpreter are priceless, and not to be found elsewhere. Not that an
interpreter will always tell the truth, not that he always knows what
the truth is in his particular case. Nevertheless any _virtuoso_ will
always have something of interest to say. It stands to reason that any
man or woman who has devoted his life to his profession will know more
about its difficulties, limitations, and tricks, than a mere critic can
hope to learn in any way except through social intercourse with the
interpreter. A young critic may learn much through reading Chorley,
Burney, Schumann, Ernest Newman, and James Huneker. He can further
prepare himself for his trade by listening with open ears to concerts
and operas (although, in passing, it may be stated categorically that no
critic learns immediately the value of opening his ears, so steeped is
he in the false tradition of his craft), by burying his nose in the
scores of the masters, and by reading all that the composers themselves
may have said about the performances of their works. But he can learn
more in a five-minute conversation with a great orchestral conductor, a
great singer, or a great instrumentalist than he can in all the other
ways combined.

Arturo Toscanini, Mary Garden, Ysaye, Marcella Sembrich, Yvette
Guilbert, Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler, Waslav Nijinsky, Marguerite
d'Alvarez, or Leo Ornstein can give any reviewer, young or old,
invaluable lessons. Such as these are their own severest critics and
they teach the writer-critic to be severe--and just. One piece of
advice, however, I would give to prospective critics. Become acquainted
with artist-interpreters by all means, but other things being equal, it
is perhaps better to meet good artists than bad ones!


Chaliapine, Nijinsky, Mazarin, and Fremstad[A] have not appeared on the
New York stage since I painted their portraits; nor have I seen them
elsewhere. Consequently any revision I might make in these pictures
would be revision of what I felt then in terms of what I feel now.
Nothing could be more ridiculous. So I let them stand as they are.

With Yvette Guilbert the case is somewhat different. She has been before
the American public almost consistently since the original publication
of this book. Her work at her own recitals is still the fine thing it
was and probably will remain so for a great many years to come. Madame
Guilbert, however, has seen fit to appear in a play at the Neighbourhood
Playhouse in New York, a fourteenth century French miracle play called

It is often said of an actress that she is too great to fail even when a
part does not suit her. But this is an utterly fallacious theory. Only
_great_ actresses _can_ fail. A really bad actress always fails and
consequently cannot be considered at all. A mediocre or conventional
actress is neither very good nor very bad in any rôle, but a great
actress, when she fails, fails magnificently, because she plays with
such precision and authority that she is worse than a lesser person
possibly could be.

Certainly Yvette Guilbert failed magnificently in _Guibour_. I have been
told that her infrequent performances in comedy in Paris have been
equally unsuccessful. When Guilbert sings a song she is forced by the
very nature of her method to make much of little; without setting,
frequently without costume, without the aid of other actors, she is
obliged in a period of three or four minutes to give her public an
atmosphere, several characters, and a miniature drama. Now, taking into
consideration the average low rate of intelligence and the almost entire
lack of imagination of the ordinary theatre audience, she is compelled
to chuck in as much detail as the thing will hold. The result is
generally admirable. In a play, however, this method becomes monotonous,
tiresome, picayune, fussy, overelaborate. One does not want the lift of
an eyelash, a gesture with every line; one does not want emphasis on
every word. The great actors employ broader methods. It was here that
Madame Guilbert failed, by applying the extremely efficacious technique
of her own perfect craft to another craft which calls for another


_from a photograph by Geisler and Andrews (1920)_]

Geraldine Farrar has been seen and heard in a number of impersonations
at the Metropolitan Opera House (she has also enlarged her cinema
répertoire), since I wrote my paper about her, Orlanda in _La Reine
Fiamette_, Lodoletta, Thais, Suor Angelica, and Zaza, but I can add very
little to what I have said. Orlanda, Lodoletta, and, naturally enough,
Thais, she has permanently dropped, I think, after a short period of
experimentation. In Zaza, however, it seems possible, although it is too
early to predict with certainty, as I am writing these lines a month
after her assumption of the part, that she has found a rôle in which she
will meet popular satisfaction for some years to come. On the whole,
however, I must leave the case as I pleaded it originally, withal it is
probably a trifle rosier than I would plead it now. Nevertheless I must
state in fairness that Madame Farrar has probably never sung so well
before as she is singing this winter (1919-20) and that she retains the
admiration of opera-goers in general. It seems apparent to me now that
in exploiting herself as a "character" actress she has perhaps made a
mistake. Her best work has not been done in operas like _Thais_,
_Carmen_, and _Zaza_, but as Elisabeth in _Tannhäuser_, as the Goosegirl
in _Königskinder_, and as Rosaura in _Le Donne Curiose_. Usually,
indeed, she is charming in what are called "ingenue" rôles. It may
therefore be considered unfortunate that these are the rôles in her
repertoire to which she is most indifferent. However it must be admitted
that it seems impertinent and even stupid to storm and fret about a
career which has been so evenly successful. The public must admire
Madame Farrar or it would not go to see her, and at the Metropolitan
Opera House it is a recognized fact that she is one of two singers in
the company who is always sure of drawing a full house.


We come to Mary Garden. I never can resist the temptation to write about
Mary Garden. I never even try to. Other subjects intrigue me for a time,
but I usually pass them by in the end and go on to something new, new to
me, at least. But I always feel that I have left something unsaid about
this singing actress. It is probable that I always will feel this way
for Miss Garden in her performances constantly suggests some new idea or
awakens some dormant emotion. As a result, although I may write about
coleoptera, the influence of cobalt on the human mind, or a history of
Persian miniatures, I shall probably always find occasion to insert a
few remarks about this incomparable artist.

The paper devoted to her in this book seems to me at present pitifully
weak, absurdly inadequate. I have gone farther in "The New Art of the
Singer," which you will find in "The Merry-Go-Round" (1918), and in my
study of _Carmen_ in "The Music of Spain" (1918). This seems a good
place to state, however, that Miss Garden's Carmen was only seen to its
best advantage when she appeared with Muratore. The nature of her
interpretation of this rôle is such that it depends to a great extent on
satisfactory assistance from her fellow singers. Her Carmen is a study
of a cold, brutal, mysterious gipsy, who does not seek lovers, they come
to her. When, as at some recent performances, the tenors and baritones
do not come (it is obvious that some of them might take lessons to
advantage in crossing the stage) her interpretation loses a good deal of
its intention. I offer this explanation to any one who feels that my
enthusiasm for her in this rôle is exaggerated. To fully understand the
greatness of Miss Garden's Carmen one must have observed it in fitting
surroundings. I hope this environment may soon be provided again.

On the whole I feel that the most enthusiastic of Miss Garden's admirers
have so far done the woman scant justice. Most of us are beginning to
realize that she is the greatest of living lyric artists, that she has
done more to revive the original intention of the Florentines in
inventing the opera to recapture the theatre of the Greeks, than any
one else. She has made opera, indeed, sublimated speech. And she is
certainly the contemporary queen of lyric sigaldry.

It is said by some who do not stop to think, or who do not know what
singing is, that Mary Garden is a great actress but that she cannot
sing.[B] These misguided bigots, who try to make it their business to
misunderstand anything that approaches perfection, remind me of the
incident of Lady Astor and the American sailor. She met the youth just
outside the Houses of Parliament and asked him if he would like to go
in. "I _would_ not," were the words he flung into her astonished face.
"My mother told me to avoid women like you." Some day a few of the most
intelligent of these sacculi may realize that Mary Garden is probably
the greatest living singer. It is, indeed, with her voice, and with her
_singing_ voice that she does her most consummate acting. Indeed her
capacity for colouring her voice to suit the emergencies not only of a
phrase but of an entire rôle, might give a hint to future interpreters,
were there any capable of taking advantage of such a valuable hint.
But, good God, in such matters as phrasing, _portamento_, _messa di
voce_, and other paraphernalia of the singing teacher's laboratory, she
is past-mistress, and if any one has any complaints to make about the
quality and quantity of tone she used in the second act of _l'Amore dei
Tre Re_ I feel that he did not listen with unprejudiced ears.

There is, perhaps, nothing that need be added at present to what I have
already said of her Sapho, Marguerite, Mélisande,[C] Chrysis, Jean,
Louise, and Thais, except that such of these impersonations as still
remain in her répertoire are as clean-cut, as finely chiselled as ever;
probably each is a little improved on each subsequent occasion on which
it is performed. Some day I shall have more to say about her marvellous
Monna Vanna. I am sure I would understand her Salome better now. When I
first saw her in Richard Strauss's music drama I was still under the
spell of Olive Fremstad's impersonation, and was astonished, and perhaps
a little indignant at Miss Garden's divagations. But now I know what I
did not know so well then, that an interpreter must mould a part to suit
his own personality. It is probable that if Mary Garden should vouchsafe
us another view of her nervous, unleashed tiger-woman I would be
completely bowled over.

It seems necessary to speak of the portraits she has added to her
gallery since the fall of 1917. Since then she has been seen in
Février's _Gismonda_, Massenet's _Cléopâtre_, and Montemezzi's _l'Amore
dei Tre Re_. The first of these is a very bad opera; it is not even one
of Sardou's best plays. The part afforded Miss Garden an opportunity for
the display of pride, dignity, and authority. Her gowns were very
beautiful--I remember particularly the lovely Grecian drapery of the
convent scene, which she has since developed into a first-act costume
for Fiora; she made a handsome figure of the woman, but the thing itself
was pasteboard and will soon be forgotten. The posthumous _Cléopâtre_
was nearly as bad, but in the scene in which the queen, disguised as a
boy, visits an Egyptian brothel and makes love to another boy, Mary was
very startling, and the death scene, in which, after burying the asp in
her bosom, she tosses it away with a shudder, sinks to the ground,
then crawls to Antony's side and expires below his couch, one arm waving
futilely in the air in an attempt to touch her lover, was one of her
most touching and finest bits of acting. Her pale face, her green
eyelids combined to create a sinister make-up. But, on the whole, a dull
opera, and not likely to be heard again.


_from a photograph by Moffett (1919)_]

But Fiora! What a triumph! What a volcano! I have never been able to
find any pleasure in listening to the music of Montemezzi's _l'Amore dei
Tre Re_, although it has a certain pulse, a rhythmic beat, especially in
the second act, which gives it a factitious air of being better than it
really is. The play, however, is interesting, and subtle enough to
furnish material for quibble and discussion not only among critics, but
among interpreters themselves. Miss Bori, who originally sang Fiora in
New York, was a pathetic flower, torn and twisted by the winds of fate,
blown hither and thither without effort or resistance on her part. It
was probably a possible interpretation, and it found admirers. Miss
Muzio, the next local incumbent of the rôle, fortified with a letter
from Sem Benelli, or at least his spoken wishes, found it convenient to
alter this impersonation in most particulars, but she was not, is not,
very convincing. Her intentions are undoubtedly good but she is no
instrument for the mystic gods to play upon.

But Miss Garden's Fiora burned through the play like a flame. She
visualized a strong-minded mediæval woman, torn by the conflicting
emotions of pity and love, but once she had abandoned herself to her
passion she became a living altar consecrated to the worship of
Aphrodite and Eros. Such a hurricane of fiery, tempestuous love has
seldom if ever before swept the stage. Miss Garden herself has never
equalled this performance, save in Mélisande and Monna Vanna, which
would lead one to the conclusion that she is at her best in parts of the
middle ages, until one reflects that in early Greek courtesans, in
French cocottes of several periods, in American Indians, and Spanish
gipsies she is equally atmospheric. Other Fioras have been content to
allow the hand of death to smite them without a struggle. Not this one.
When Archibaldo attempts to strangle her she tries to escape; her
efforts are horrible and pathetic because they are fruitless. And the
final clutch of the fingers behind his back leave the most horrible
blood-stains of tragic beauty in the memory.


What is to become of Mary Garden? What can she do now? What is there
left for her to do? Those who complain of some of the dross in her
répertoire can scarcely have considered the material available to her.
In _Pelléas et Mélisande_, _Louise_, and _Salome_ she has given much to
the best the contemporary lyric stage has to offer. On other occasions
she has succeeded in transfiguring indifferent material with her genius.
_Monna Vanna_ is not a great opera, but she makes it seem so. But where
is there anything better? Can she turn to Puccini, whose later operas
seem bereft of merit, to Mascagni, to Strauss, to any other of the
living opera composers?

Ravel's one opera is not particularly suited to her, but why, I might
ask, does not Ravel write something for her? Why not Strawinsky? Why not
Leo Ornstein? Why not John Carpenter? The talented composer of _The
Birthday of the Infanta_ might very well write an opera, in which her
genius for vocal experimentation might have still further play.

In the meantime I can make one or two suggestions. I have already begged
for Isolde and Isolde I think we shall get in time. But has it occurred
to any one that the Queen in _The Golden Cockerel_ is a part absolutely
suited to the Garden genius? Not, of course, _The Golden Cockerel_ as at
present performed, with a double cast of singers and pantomimists but as
an opera, in the form in which Rimsky-Korsakow conceived it. And I hope
some day that she will attempt Gluck's _Armide_, perhaps one of the
Iphigénies, and Donna Anna. Why not? Of all living singers Miss Garden
is the only one who could give us the complete fulfilment of Mozart's
tragic heroine. Oscar Hammerstein, whose vision was acute, once
considered a performance of _Don Giovanni_ with Maurice Renaud in the
title part, Luisa Tetrazzini as Zerlina, Lina Cavalieri as Elvira, and
Mary Garden as Anna. It was never given. But I hope at the next revival
of the work at the Opéra-Comique Miss Garden will undertake the part,
and I see no reason why the opera should not be added to the already
extensive répertoire of the Chicago Opera Company.

Her stride, her lithe carriage, her plastic use of her arms and her
body, give Mary Garden a considerable advantage over a sculptor, who can
in the course of a lifetime only capture perhaps ten perfect examples
of arrested motion, while in any one performance she makes her body a
hundred different works of art. Of course, some of us, fascinated by the
mere beauty of the Garden line, more slender now than it was even in her
most youthful past, delighted with her irreproachable taste in dress,
would rest content to watch her walk across the scene or form exquisite
pictures in any part, in any opera. But unless one of the best of the
moderns writes a great rôle for her, it would be a great satisfaction to
see her in one of the noble classic parts of the past, and that
satisfaction, I hope, will be vouchsafed us.

_March 18, 1920._

_New York._

On the following pages you will find descriptions of two other
interesting books by Mr. Van Vechten.


(12mo., 343 pages, $2.00 _net._)

CONTENTS: In defence of bad taste; Music and supermusic; Edgar Saltus;
The new art of the singer; Au bal musette; Music and cooking; An
interrupted conversation; The authoritative work on American music; Old
days and new; Two young American playwrights; De senectute cantorum; The
Land of Joy; The new Isadora; Margaret Anglin produces As You Like It;
The modern composers at a glance.

"Carl Van Vechten has the jauntiest pen that ever graced the ear of a
literary gentleman. He uses it as D'Artagnan used his sword, with sheer
joy in the wielding of it, a sharp accuracy of aim, and a fine
musketeering courage back of it. His pen is a pen of the world, a
cosmopolitan pen which is at home in the marts of Irving Berlin, as well
as in the rarefied heights of Igor Strawinsky. It knows how to turn a
phrase or a reputation. In The Merry-Go-Round his pen has the time of
its life. So will you when you flip a ride on the whirligig."--Fanny
Butcher in _The Chicago Tribune_.



(12mo., 347 pages, $2.00 _net._)

CONTENTS: Variations on a theme by Havelock Ellis; A note on Philip
Thicknesse; The folk-songs of Iowa; Isaac Albeniz; The holy jumpers; On
the relative difficulties of depicting heaven and hell in music; Sir
Arthur Sullivan; On the rewriting of masterpieces; Oscar Hammerstein; La
Tigresse; Mimi Aguglia as Salome; Farfariello; The Negro Theatre; The
Yiddish Theatre; The Spanish Theatre.

"When he surveys the American scene we go all the way with Mr. Van
Vechten. He celebrates his attachment to New York as ecstatically as
Charles Lamb's his to London, in a chapter called La Tigresse. This is
the best thing in the book. And Mr. Thomas Burke, in England, alone has
caught this peculiar gusto."--_The London Times._



[A] Madame Fremstad has appeared in concert in New York but not in

[B] The fault is really typical of that school of criticism which is
always comparing, instead of searching out an artist's intention and
judging whether or not he has realized it.

[C] Maurice Maeterlinck broke a promise to Georgette Leblanc of
seventeen years' standing to witness a performance of Debussy's lyric
drama on January 27, 1920, when, with the new Madame Maeterlinck, he sat
in a box, remaining till the final curtain, at the Lexington Theatre in
New York. After the fourth act, responding to Miss Garden's urge and the
applause of the audience, he rose to bow.

Typographical error note of transcriber of this etext:

choregraphy has not been corrected


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