[Met Performance] CID:104320
Tristan und Isolde {188} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/3/1930.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 3, 1930


Tristan.................Walter Kirchhoff
Isolde..................Elisabeth Ohms
Kurwenal................Friedrich Schorr
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Michael Bohnen
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Max Bloch
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

Conductor...............Karl Riedel

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune

The continued illness of Mme. Kappel and the regrettable indisposition of Mr. Bodanzky, brought about performance of "Tristan und Isolde" last night that offered some new, and unexpected features. Mme. Kappel's inability to appear as Isolde precipitated the debut here in that role of the Metropolitan's lately acquired Dutch soprano, Mme. Elisabeth Ohms, to whose Brünnhilde and Venus we now have to add the local revelation of her ideas concerning the heroine of Wagner's supreme tragedy. And into the mercurial pumps of Mr. Bodanzky stepped the Metropolitan's assistant conductor, Mr. Karl Riedel, some of whose characteristics as an interpreter of Wagner had already been disclosed here in performances of "Lohengrin," "Die Walküre" and "Tannhaüser."

Those who may have thought that this was an extraordinary opportunity for the Metropolitan to let us hear the gifted Mr. Serafin's conception of "Tristan" without hurting any one's feelings were scarcely consoled by Mr. Riedel's treatment of the score.
This young man brings to the interpretation of Wagner's tremendous parable of destiny and death the qualifications of an efficient bond salesman. He is brisk, confident, imperturbable, aggressive, unembarrassed by the sensibility, admirably contemptuous of poetry. "Sehrr sart und auedruckavoll" says one of Wagner's directions for the incomparable orchestral nocturne that underlies Brangãne's watchsong from the tower; but that may be dismissed as merely some of Wagner's fanciful nonsense; and so Mr. Riedel treated it-with sound commonsense and no wasting of time. He viewed the whole episode, and the G-flat passage for the strings that follows it (marked "Immersehr ruhig" by the composer), as a sort of cheery Allegretto, which was probably just what "Tristan" needs to pep it up. So far as we are aware, no one before Mr. Riedel had ever thought of applying precisely this method to the score. It is a pleasure to encounter an artistic innovation so novel and fresh and bright; and Mr. Riedel is to be felicitated.

For Mme. Ohms an apology was made by the management in a slip enclosed with the program. "Although indisposed," it was announced, Mme Ohms had "consented to sing in order not to disappoint the public." It was a laudably generous act; but under the circumstances Mme. Ohms's Isolde can scarcely be gauged with assurance. She had little voice at her disposal last evening, and that little was of poor and inexpressive quality. Mme. Ohms has a sense of the stage end an instinct for pictorial effect. She was often a beautiful and impressive figure, sovereign and gracious in aspect and pose and gesture; and her costumes were superb. Her scene of bitterly ironic mockery with Tristan just before the drinking of the potion was subtly conceived and indicated-though this artist has not the tornadic sweep and power for the earlier stages of the first act; and in the second act, where so great a part of the comprehensive range of mood has to be projected by the voice, Mme. Ohms wan relatively ineffectual. Here, too, and in the "Liebestod," she came to grief -- in a sense, not intended by Wagner.

Mr. Kirchhoff, the Tristan of the cast, has a simple way of solving such vocal problems as Wagner sets the impersonator of the hero in the more crucial passages of this score. Even in the terrible frenzies of the third act, it was Wagner's wish that the singer should be supreme. We were to hear the notes allotted to Tristan delivered as impassioned song. To these instructions Mr. Kirchoff paid slight attention. His utterance of the music in the climacteric passages often took the form of a sequence of horrisonous yells before which Wagner's great phrases, with their nobly tragic contour and their lofty, poetic eloquence crumpled into ruin.

"For the whole performance," wrote Wagner ten years after he had competed "Tristan" "I have had only one thing in mind; the score must be performed correctly. Scenery, dramatic talent - all that I waive; but the music must be flawless, for then the chief thing is safe." That utterance may seem strange, even amazing, to many. But it goes to the very heart of Wagner's essentially Apollonian art.

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