[Met Performance] CID:101330
Tristan und Isolde {182} Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, Brooklyn: 02/5/1929.


New York, Brooklyn
February 5, 1929


Tristan.................Walter Kirchhoff
Isolde..................Gertrude Kappel
Kurwenal................Clarence Whitehill
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Michael Bohnen
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Max Bloch
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Review of Edward Cushing in the Brooklyn Eagle

Mme. Gertrude Kappel, as Isolde, Appears for the First Time, in Brooklyn

Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" was given at the Academy of Music last evening by the Metropolitan Opera Company as the eighth in its annual Brooklyn series of twelve performances. Associated in the cast with Mme. Branzell, Messrs. Kirchhoff, Whitehill, Bohnen, Meader, Bloch, Gabor, and D'Angelo. Mme. Gertrude Kappel made her debut in this boro and was heard for the first time, doubtless, by many members of the large audience.

Mme. Kappel, in whose honor so notable a demonstration was staged at the Metropolitan in January 1928, came to us last season from the theaters of central Europe - from Vienna and Munich, where for several years her Wagnerian incarnations have been the occasion and the theme for enthusiasm. She was known to Americans who had visited in late summer the music festivals of southern Germany, and the admiration with which she inspired them, was the signal, if not the cause, for her engagement by the Metropolitan.

She disclosed to us last evening an Isolde with whom we are now familiar. The role is one which exacts and inspires Mme. Kappel's best; in none other, save possibly that of Kundry, are her vocal gifts and her dramatic talents exerted to greater advantage. Her essentially tragic temperament carries the first act along with magnificent sweep of passion, though Mme. Kappel is sensitive enough never to emphasize the heroic at the expense of the human. Limiting herself with the traditions of the role, she ennobles them and deepens their implications with the warmth and subtlety of her vocal and dramatic diction. Mme. Kappel not only understands the music and the text, but is able to project their significance by means which, though neither original nor elaborate, have caused her name to be coupled with the memory of the most famous interpreters of the role. Those whose knowledge and appreciation of "Tristan" have been fostered by sympathy and devotion recognize these qualities in Mme. Kappel's performance and justly consider her a great artist.

But she is also an uneven artist, an artist who does not always sustain throughout a performance a level of accomplishment. Dramatically, her second-act Isolde sometimes disappoints one, lacking in its earlier scenes the impetuosity of emotion that it should indicate. We have never been satisfied by Mme. Kappel's treatment of the scene wherein Isolde, dismissing Brangäne to her tower, awaits Tristan in King Marke's garden. There is neither ardor nor impatience in her waving of the scarf. Nor does she always do justice to Isolde's transfiguration at the conclusion of the tragedy. Last evening Mme. Kappel sang both the duet of the second act and the "Liebestod" more successfully than on the occasion of the season's first "Tristan" in Manhattan - the former with the rectitude of pitch, the latter with the volume and steadiness of tone. But one missed in the "Liebestod" the mood of ecstasy that Mme. Kappel has often achieved in this scene. Very possibly she was the victim of a production and performance which cast the entire weight of the event upon the singers of the cast.

Miss Branzell, Mr. Whitehill and Mr. Bohnen also deserved the tributes of the audience. Apart from the performances of these artists and Mme. Kappel, the evening afforded little that it is agreeable to recall. With the exception of the new setting for the second act (partially composed of drops from "Pélleas et Mélisande"?), the production was that with whose discouraging defects of staging we are well acquainted. There remains to mention Mr. Kirchhoff's Tristan and Mr. Bodanzky's cuts in the score.

Mr. Kirchhoff may be briefly dismissed. Vocally, his Tristan bears comparison to others that we know, especially in the second act - though, regardless of the fact that Mr. Kirchhoff pays some attention to pitch, his singing is hardly distinguished by musical beauty. However, his embodiment of the dying Tristan contrives the ruin of the last act. It is impossible to look at Mr. Kirchhoff, to follow his fatuous pantomime and yet retain any sense of the pathos and tragedy of the scene. Under this circumstance it was almost possible for one to sympathize with the additional cuts made in the score this Brooklyn performance.

These cuts were extensive and included the Curse on Love. They deprived the last act of "Tristan" of an essential episode and constituted an unpardonable and indefensible violation of one of the supreme works human genius has bequeathed us. It is in the last act of "Tristan" that we find the greatest music in the score, and it was from the last act of "Tristan" that the Metropolitan, presenting the opera in Brooklyn, loped away an additional 15 or 20 minutes in order to confine the performance within the three and-one-half hours contracted for with the labor unions. To extend it beyond 11:30 would have entailed, we are told, a relatively slight additional expense. If this is actually the explanation of the circumstance, it would appear that the Metropolitan prefers economy to artistic honor and integrity.

Perhaps for the same reason Mr. Bodanzky indulged throughout the evening in tempi of conscienceless rapidity. His orchestra was of reduced numbers and played badly.

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