[Met Performance] CID:101960
Tristan und Isolde {185} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 03/20/1929.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 20, 1929 Matinee


TRISTAN UND ISOLDE {185}

Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Gertrude Kappel
Kurwenal................Clarence Whitehill
Brangäne................Julia Claussen
King Marke..............Michael Bohnen
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Max Bloch
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

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

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune

A New Tristan at the Metropolitan: Lauritz Melchior Performance a Notable Event

Yesterday was the thirty-ninth birthday of Mr. Lauritz Melchior, the Metropolitan's Wagner tenor and Mr. Melchior, evidently an unselfish and altruistic person, celebrated the occasion by making a present to New York operagoers of a new Tristan, The party, to be sure, was arranged by the Metropolitan for its Wagner Cycle subscribers, but the major gift of the occasion was the generous donation of Mr. Melchior.

It was one worth having. We see no need for making any bones of the fact that Mr. Melchior disclosed himself not only the best Tristan in the Metropolitan's present company, but one of the best that has been heard here in a decade. In fact, we cannot recall a Tristan since the dim days before the war who has sung the music as well as Mr. Melchior did yesterday.

A good deal of it he sang more than well. There was often beauty of tone, beauty of phrasing, beauty and a delicate truth of sentiment, in Mr. Melchior's singing - especially in the quieter passages of the love due ("O sink hernieder" was sung almost wholly in tune by both of the enraptured lovers). In the Vision scene of the Third Act Mr. Melchior's "Siehst du sie? Siehst du sie moch nicht" was of a rare tonal loveliness - even more poetic in timbre and texture than the tone-color achieved by the horn quartet in the cantilena that sustains the wondrous song of the dream-haunted lover.

Mr. Melchior's medium register is especially responsive, and when the music's tessitura favors him, and he can sing mezza voce, the results are grateful to a degree that can be understood only by those who have suffered, as so many of us have, from the hideous, brazen bawling, the tonal mayhem committed by a majority of the Metropolitan's Helden tenors during the recent years.

Mr. Melchior did not yell, and most Tristans, sooner or later in that terrible Third Act, resort to yelling. He treated the great fortissimo outbursts of his part as Wagner expressly said that he wished them treated: that is to say, he sang the notes, he did not shout or declaim them, as certain of his Wagner colleagues at the Metropolitan indefensibly do. Even the desperate and terrible "Verflucht, we dich gebraut!" which few Tristans can resist the temptation to deliver parlando, was really sung; one heard, wonder of wonders, the F, the D flat, the C and the ocatve F.

This is scarcely to say that Mr. Melchior has nothing to learn as a Tristan singer. But the point, the important point, is that he delivered the music of the role - which is so essentially a prodigious adventure in impassioned song - with a sensitive perception of its shape, its hue, its symmetry; and he did this without depriving the music of its expressional significance. The song was packed with meaning - even exceptionally so; we do not recall that any recent Tristan has voiced the beautiful despair of his "Vorloren!" in the scene of the arriving ship as Mr. Melchior did yesterday.

No doubt Mr. Melchior will convey to us more of the complexity and subtlety of the part as he continues to live with it (he made his first appearance in the role only two months ago at Barcelona). In action he is still a bit immobile and he turned the necessary reserve of his first scene with Isolde almost into apathy. The sense of tension was insufficiently conveyed.

In aspect the new Tristan is surprisingly personable. His generous size is turned shrewdly to account. The face is bearded - acquires gravity and a hint of epic romance. The costuming is felicitous. Altogether a welcome Tristan. We salute him, and wish him many happy returns. Surely Mr. Gatti will introduce this Tristan to his regular subscribers now that he has met the fanatical Wagnerian band!

But there was more to commend this "Tristan" performance than its new hero. It was one of those occasions when those who chiefly count were in the vein - the greatness of the work they had in hand, its miracles of beauty and expressiveness, may perhaps have seized them rather more than ordinarily. At all events, there were influences at work that brought about a performance of singular concentration and unity of effect. Mme. Kappel has not often sung Isolde here with so detailed and pointed an expressiveness, with such melting beauty of voice and phrasing, with such plastic grace of movement.

But we do beseech her to practice her scarf-waving with a stern accompanist who will teach her to signal in time with the illustrative music. And it is a pity that Mme. Kappel nullifies one of most overwhelming moments in the lyric theater, that off-stage cry of Isolde hastening to her dying lover: "Tristan Gelieber!" by singing it either too far off or not loudly enough. There are few more breath-catching moments in Wagner than that thrilling hail - thrilling us as to the longing, delirious Tristan - as it is heard above the frenzied ecstasies of the orchestra; that first sound of a woman's voice in the whole course of the long act. But yesterday it was almost inaudible - and so was "Halie, Rasender! Bist du von Sinnen" of the approaching Marke.

We shall catalogue the virtues of the performance, which, in spite of defects that were obvious enough, was among the most moving in our recent experience. Mr. Bodanzky, conspicuously, was at his best - absorbed, devoted, a pillar of fire and a beacon of warning and control. He conducted with extraordinary fire, extraordinary poetic beauty, and it is especially to be noted that he played the Prelude as it should be played, as Wagner wished it played - without the cheaply "effective" hastening toward the climax that robs the music of all its somber and resistless passion.

For the rest, Mme. Claussen (a substitute for Karin Branzell, called away by ill-health) Mr. Bohnen (out of voice, but making much of what he had), Mr. Whitehill, a Kurvenal most deeply felt - these filled out harmoniously a fused and magnetized performance.

"My dear, I may as well tell you," said a cheerful voice behind us, "I don't know a thing about this opera. It is modern or it is a revival?" We did not hear the answer, and we wondered which after all "Tristan" is. Obviously, no doubt, it is both, since a major masterwork is always, and at every hearing certainly for those who most indissuadably love it, a revival in the deeper sense, and as modern as tomorrow's dawn. "In great art are not only the hopes men set their hearts upon," wrote a sensitive student of imaginative values, "but also their fulfillment. For posterity, the passion of an age lives principally as a preparation for its poetry. And where but in poetry is the consummation? Where is to be found Dante's Paradise? Where, in all reason, and sufficiency, but in Dante!" And where is to be found that paradise of the dreaming mind, and the desirous will toward which Wagner agonized through all his life - where, but in this insuperable song?

Like Blake, Wagner in his greatest score transfigured the living flesh, bending his fiery gaze upon it until it became translucent, and he saw through it immortal, incandescent shapes, immortal patterns - "holy garments for glory and for beauty"



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