[Met Performance] CID:112750
Tristan und Isolde {210} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/16/1933.

(Debuts: Frida Leider, Maria Olszewska
Reviews )

Metropolitan Opera House
January 16, 1933


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Frida Leider [Debut]
Kurwenal................Friedrich Schorr
Brangäne................Maria Olszewska [Debut]
King Marke..............Ludwig Hofmann
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Hans Clemens
Shepherd................Hans Clemens
Steersman...............James Wolfe

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

Review of Lawrence Gilman in New York Herald Tribune:

It has for years been the boast of the Metropolitan and the trustful belief of many opera-goers whose credulity outran their knowledge that the institution now presided over by Mr. Gatti-Casazza has offered New Yorkers the foremost opera-singers in the world. Yet those whose operatic experience has not been confined to New York would have found no difficulty at any time within the past decade or so in naming a dozen singing-actors of the first rank, particularly those who have achieved eminence abroad in the greater roles of Wagnerian repertoire, who had never set foot upon the boards of the Metropolitan. Within the last few years certain of these eminent and accomplished artists have come as near Broadway as the Chicago Civic Opera House-some have grazed the Metropolitan on their way to sing for the more fortunate Bostonians (who occasionally use their opera house for opera).

But now, after long last, two of the most distinguished of these singers, recently members of the Chicago troupe, have brought up at the doors of the bashful Metropolitan - largely by reason off the preoccupation of Mr. Insull in foreign parts-the celebrated Frida Leider, Wagnerian prima donna of the Berlin Staatsoper, and the no less celebrated Maria Olszewska, one of the illustrious contraltos of our time, and a familiar figure during recent years in performances at Covent Garden, London, at the Wagner Festivals in Munich and Vienna and Berlin. Both these ladies made their Metropolitan debuts last night, Mme. Leider as Isolde, Miss Olszewska as Brangäne, to the unmistakable satisfaction of the crowded and singularly attentive house; and the result-in large measure due to their participation-was one of the most eloquent performances of the incomparable music-drama that New York has witnessed since the fabulous days before the war.

Mme. Leider's Isolde has long been famous abroad. Her embodiment has been called, indeed, the greatest Isolde now on the stage. I am not sure that any living Isolde could seem "great" or "greatest" to those whose memories are not wholly within our time Yet it would be scarcely extravagant to say that Mme. Leider's Isolde is one of singular beauty and expressiveness. Her voice is a true Isolde voice. It is not so powerful nor so resonant nor so full and secure in its upper ranges, as it was some years ago. But in its middle register the voice is of rare loveliness and purity; and in the mezza voce or piano passages it is often enamoring. Her sense of the stage is sure and sensitive, her vocal presence gracious and evocative. This Isolde is not cylconic; but she has a sovereign dignity, an elect intensity, a passion that remains patrician, that does not bawl and shriek. Above all it has a deep and enlarging tenderness, a richness of feeling, and a poetry of the imagination that set it apart among the Isoldes of our time.

[A] mood of lyric expressiveness, of an impassioned tenderness, accompanied the performance as a whole-even though the vivid and superb Brangäne of Olszewska cut across it like a flame. Mme. Olszewska is one of the engrossing singing-actresses of her time-an artist of temperament, magnetism, brains endowed with an incomparable beauty with a voice that has lost something of what it had but is still opulent and glowing. Her Brangäne will bear more leisurely dissection than I have time for now. Engrossing though it is, I cannot but wish that it were, in the first act, a little less obtusive, and at the end of the second a little more so.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Sun

The second half of the season at the Metropolitan Opera House began last evening with a renovated "Tristan und Isolde." The freshening interest in the music drama was not caused by any new study, but by the local debuts of two singers of whom we have in recent years read much and heard nothing. These were Frida Leider, dramatic soprano, and Maria Olszewska, mezzo-soprano, both formerly members of the Chicago organization driven to silence by the depression. Of importance therefore is the announcement today that the Metropolitan Opera House has acquired two singers of dramatic parts who will doubtless be received by the public with pleasure deep and abiding.

Perhaps it is still more significant that the performance of "Tristan und Isolde" last evening was a more vital and moving presentation of Wagner's great tragedy of passion than any other disclosed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in some seasons. It was one of the truly eloquent expositions of the work which are rare in the later history of New York opera. It was potent in its spell, despite some serious defects, which were overcome by the emotional quality of the whole.

The principals united in a well-balanced achievement. To comment on them as individual singers and actors would not cloud the correct view of their admirable unity of purpose and artistic cooperation. The audience was one of the largest of the season. There were 400 persons in the standing room and at the end of the first act they broke into cheers. This kind of demon- stration is almost unknown on a Monday night and is not associated in the mind with the serious doings of the drama of the evening.

Frida Leider as an Isolde of power and conviction, although her victory was attained over obstacles. Her voice, a true dramatic soprano of moderate body and force, showed signs of service. Some of the tones in the upper range were opaque and unsteady. Indeed there were moments when the singer suffered from a tremolo. She delivered some of the more vigorous passages with evident labor and there were lapses from the pitch. Yet hers was a notable Isolde. It had passion, variety and elasticity in the treatment of the vocal line, a fine and penetrating intelligence and, above all, that indescribable magic of genuineness which gets to the heart of the hearer. There has not been such a good first act as hers in many moons.

Her second act suffered from uncertainties of intonation and difficulties with some of the long phrases of the duet. But it was well done nevertheless and evoked well earned applause. Doubtless it would have been still more effective had not Mr. Bodanzky, who conducted the performance with unwonted fire and feeling, permitted his orchestra frequently to be too loud. This fault marred some of the best singing of all the singers except that of Ludwig Hofmann, whose monologue of reproach in the second act does not give opportunity for vociferation in the orchestra. Let it be said at this perhaps inappropriate point that Mr. Hofmann's delivery of the monologue was masterly in beauty of tone, phrasing, style, and emotional eloquence. It stamped him a most worthy artist.

Mme. Olszewska was a Brangaene of the first rank. Her voice is one of beauty and power, produced with freedom and evenness throughout its ample scale. She proved to be a singer of fine dramatic instincts and understanding. Her "Einsam wachend" was sung with nobly sustained tone and phrasing, and would have made a far greater effect if the horns had been more considerate. The advent of two such women as Mmes. Olszewska and Leider should be hailed with gratitude. The Metropolitan needed them; the public sought for them; they are here and they will doubtless grow in favor.

Lauritz Melchior returned for the seasons and his Tristan was one of the most gratifying features of the evening. He has improved in the role, in which he was always commendable. Or it may be that his companions urged him to loftier heights than he had reached before. At any rate, there were vocal finish and depth of feeling in his Tristan which he had not displayed in any previous performance. Added to his strong and tender Tristan was the bluff and affectionate Kurvenal of Mr. Schorr, which has always been one of the trustworthy props of local "Tristan" representations since it was first made known to us. When the drama is done as well as it was last night, its matchless nobility, its profound search of human hearts, and its supremely triumphant musical fitness in every instant become luminous and inspiring. It was one of those nights which will be recorded in large letters in Metropolitan history.

Review of Oscar Thompson in The New York Post

The miracle of opera, a performance of "Tristan und Isolde" which could be said to be well sung throughout, resulted in something of a furor at the Metropolitan last night. In the cast were no Jean de Reszke, no Lilli Lehmann or Olive Fremstad, no Ernestine Schumann-Heink. But two Wagnerian artists new to the company, the German soprano, Frida Leider, and the Polish contralto, Maria Olszewska as Brangaene as to lift the entire representation to a new level of interest and vitality. They were fortunate in their companions on the stage. The Tristan of the evening was Lauritz Melchior, who returned in good voice for his first appearance of the season. Ludwig Hofmann, whose New York debut was made a few weeks ago in the role of King Marke, repeated his pictorial and otherwise exceptional portrayal of that tormented soul. Friedrich Schorr was in his accustomed place as Kurvenal. No "Tristan" of recent years at the Metropolitan has possessed so strong a cast. Yet it had been duplicated at Covent Garden and elsewhere, and Chicago has had the two women at its beck during a period of distinctly inferior "Tristans" in New York.

The ill wind that caused the suspension of operatic activity in the city on Lake Michigan blew Mme. Leider and Mme. Olszewska to Manhattan. If it is argued that they might well have been brought here long ago, the circumstance should be made known that the Metropolitan did make an earnest effort to engage Mme. Leider some time before she went to Chicago, but she was bound by contracts that prevented her coming at that time, with the result that the Metropolitan felt compelled to turn elsewhere. Meanwhile, London, Paris, Berlin, Bayreuth, Munich, and South America have rejoiced in her voice and art. She is the foremost Wagnerian soprano of the day.

Last night in the huge auditorium of the Metropolitan, the voice had no such power and volume as it has seemed to possess in the European opera houses where the reviewer has heard her many times. It was adequate in its dramatic weight but did not impress those back of the middle of the house as a large organ. Wisely, it was quite generally unforced, the artist being content through most of the performance-though there were exceptions in the second act-to carry out her own scheme of dynamics, even when these did not agree with the conductor's. Mr. Bodanzky had an evening of full-blooded sonorities and not only Mme. Leider, but Mr. Melchior, was sometimes obscured. With the tenor, however, some of this obscuration was to be charged to his manner of producing soft tones of insufficient body to carry in so large a theatre.

The new Isolde though of no unusual height, exerted from the first parting of the curtains a commanding presence. She was expressive in gesture, expressive in merely standing still. Her hands were a study in themselves. She moved easily and gracefully, but with a regal heroic poise. She sang not merely as a good Wagnerian, but as a good vocalist. Her intervals were as sure as her tone was consistently musical. There was a wealth of significant inflection, a clear grasp and an equally clear projection of the dramatic values of text and music. Low notes were less full than those of some Isoldes. The several top Cs suggested that the singer had reached the feasible upper limits. The "Liebestod," tonally, was better than any recent performance, though dragged as to tempo-apparently the conductor's will, rather than the singer's. If this singer had a lack, other than possibly weight of tone, it was in flame of utterance. Mme. Leider is an intelligent artist, not a volcanic one.

Those who have had experience with Mme. Olszewska's portrayals abroad know she can be tempestuous enough, in all conscience, on occasion. Last night she approached Mme. Leider's standards in restraint and detail. She was vivid and decorative, but she knew when to efface the serving woman, that the others might possess the stage. Her postures were often striking, often beautiful. A tendency to sing directly to the audience was masked by the skill with which she posed. The mixing of the potions was exceptionally well presented. The voice was voluminous and rich-if less so than in smaller houses. Also, it was smoothly, tellingly used. The "Warning" music however, sounded a little too remote.

The Tristan of Melchior remains the most satisfying of the day. It is sung, not barked. Phrases have their rightful lyric contour. The voice was sometimes hard last night, sometimes inaudible. But for the most part it cut through with a bright resonance that conveyed something of stir. Doubtless all the principals would have been happier if the orchestra at times very eloquent in its own right, had been less consistently aggressive in its sonorities. There were many curtain calls with several that were individual for the new artists.

Photograph of Frida Leider as Isolde by Carlo Edwards.

Photograph of Maria Olszewska as Brangäne by Setzer, Vienna.

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