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William A. Seiter
"Metropolitan" is a real find for opera lovers, with its absolutely glorious music and the heroic singing of opera star Lawrence Tibbett, one of opera's very brightest lights in the 1930s. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, "Metropolitan" showcases Tibbett in an absolutely ridiculous plot that features actors Alice Brady, Cesar Romero, Virginia Bruce, Walter Brennan and others. Brady, who later won an Oscar as Mrs. O'Leary in "In Old Chicago" is the stereotypical temperamental diva who forms her own opera company and keeps changing the premier opera every five minutes. First, it's Barber of Seville so we can hear Tibbett do "Largo al Factotum" - and Tibbett's is the version I was raised on; then after an angry fit, she decides to do Carmen - thus, we hear Tibbett do "The Toreador Song." Finally, after hearing Virginia Bruce sing "Micaela's Aria," she decides to banish the company. The group gets back on its feet before opening and decide to do "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" instead! Those poor ticket holders! No idea what they were going to see, but we got to see Tibbett rehearse those glorious numbers plus perform "Si puo" at the end. One wonders what the vicious diva considered herself. In the beginning, she's angry that the Metropolitan Opera did not cast her in "La Sonambula" - a patently coloratura role, then she assigns herself "Barber," a coloratura role, and finally a mezzo role, Carmen! Hello.
Singing styles have changed over the last 70 years - no more fast vibrato, no more white high notes from sopranos, and the declamatory type of singing in opera, done a little bit by Tibbett in "Si puo" is reserved for very old, dried out singers close to retirement. But nothing diminishes the magnificence of Tibbett's gift. It's so wonderful to have him on film to appreciate.
Tibbett was an excellent actor as well as singer, and on stage he must have appeared quite attractive. But though his career overlapped that of Nelson Eddy and they were separated only by four years in age, Tibbett could not have achieved what Eddy did in films. While not anywhere near as good an actor, Eddy was considerably handsomer, younger in appearance, and his beautiful voice was more accessible to audiences. But if you have any interest in opera at all, try to catch this on Fox Movie Channel and listen to Tibbett sing "De Glory Road." You won't hear anything like that again.
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