[Met Performance] CID:119070
Tristan und Isolde {236} Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall, Hartford, Connecticut: 03/10/1936.


Hartford, Connecticut
March 10, 1936


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Kirsten Flagstad
Kurwenal................Julius Huehn
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Emanuel List
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Marek Windheim
Shepherd................Marek Windheim
Steersman...............James Wolfe

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

Review of Carl E. Lindstrom in the Hartford Times

Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde'


Melchior's Impersonation of Tristan is Vividly Wrought

When Artur Bodanzky's baton fell for the [first] bars of the Prelude there was an expectancy that was almost tangible. To many, perhaps, it was the [revealing] of an envelope, the tonal characters of whose superscription were long and fondly known. And even these first pages were not so familiar either, for it was not the Prelude of the concert stage with its hundred and more players. It was smaller and yet more portentous. It was the prelude to an opera and Bodanzky paced it just that way.

A Possessive Opera.

The fact that Tristan was here last night may be considered a gesture, by the Bushnell management, of respect for the city's musical taste and local devotees of what H. E. Krehbiel used to call the "elegant exotic" appeared to be ready for it. Not that the great monument which Wagner fashioned from the lore of an ancient love tale was strange in idom or difficult of assimilation. It was long, however, and it was intense; and more than that it was jealously possessive. Any who preferred display and esprit, melodramatic action and bel canto, could not even permit themselves the luxury of being bored, for "Tristan" itself and the artists who recreated it this time made that impossible.

Flagstad a Sensation.

Foremost, of course. was the transcendent performance of Kirsten Flagstad whose success in New York, particularly with Wagnerian roles, has been little short of a sensation. And be it said at the outset that her appearance last night may be described that way without reservations. Her voice in itself is a marvelous instrument whose tones may be listened to for sensuous beauty alone. In volume it created the impression of a limitless opulence. It was used moreover with a degree of that musical intelligence which sets apart the artist from the mere singer who happens to have a phenomenal voice.

It is impossible to separate Flagstad's voice from her impersonation of the role she sang, Her performance was an integration of her own and Wagner's resources toward the realization of an impassioned woman's tragedy. It was not intellectualized and yet it was of the mind; and of the heart too, but the heart spoke the more eloquently for the restraint which her extraordinary instincts placed upon it.

Exciting Voice.

The well-spring of her voice, rising from the coverts of a deep understanding, was released in a clear, cool tonal stream to water the luxuriating garden of this orchidaceous music. It inundated all the recesses of a potent drama, not merely with musical tone but with emotional nuances that let none of its roots go unnurtured. Although virtuosity was not to be looked for in Wagnerian opera, the manner in which she took the skip of a minor tenth to high C in the ecstatic rendezvous scene was highly exciting in its swiftness and brilliance.

In a symphonic opera where there is so little of stage action that the drama is largely psychological it becomes necessary to examine the manner in which values were arrived at in this conflict of souls and minds. Again, one is first confronted by the salient histrionism of Flagstad. A gesture of the hand, with the eloquent grace of emotional stress, was so timed that it came with the pulse of a sforzando in the orchestral web and had the effect etherealizing the moment. The more obvious waving of her scarf in rhythm to the impatient surge of the music, her start of resentment at the "du wilde, minnige Maid" of the sailor's song, the sultry scorn and irony when she first addressed herself to Tristan, and the vividness of her narrative to Brangäne were all a part of her triumphant realization of a proud-spirited and human Isolde.

There was the unforgettable moment when, having related the story of her first encounter with Tristan, her mind, clouded until then with a little of madness, was suddenly illuminated with tenderness at the words "Er sah' mir in die Augen" and it would be impossible to say whether it was the light of her own eyes at that instant, the music, the voice, or all of them together that made the passage above all others thrilling.

Melchior's Performance.

Those familiar with Lauritz Melchior's voice could not think that this was Melchior's best Tristan. Until half way through the second act it might have been suspected that he was sparing his voice if Melchior were the type of artist to spare himself in any direction. The stiffness and restraint in the first act were more or less implicit in the part. The love duet, which came near to being no duet at all - so far out of dynamic balance was the tenor with the keen vocal line of Flagstad - disclosed that Melchior's voice was genuinely taxed and weary. Pitch was uncertain if not actually a little faulty. As the scene progressed Isolde seemed disposed to make allowances with the result that some of the richest music of the opera lost a little of its fervor and ripeness. It was only in the last act that Melchior released the voice that is his, and then only at times. The fevered curses which he called down upon the brew of the ill-starred goblet rose to considerable vocal intensity and the march of illusions across a pain-wracked, death-haunted face were part of a human and convincing Tristan.

Branzell Expressive.

Karin Branzell contributed to her Brangäne a voice of expressive texture and a lively sympathy for the role. Her acting was sometimes heavily underlined, but not to the point of incongruity with the simple and affecting devotion of a menial for her mistress. Although the first act gave her some good moments, there was a moving beauty in the "Einsam wachend" which made it one of the best passages of the entire second act. The Kurvenal of Julius Huehn was a sympathetic presentation in which his pliant baritone was used with warmth and skill. Marek Windheim took the brief parts of the shepherd and of the sailor's voice at the [beginning] in keeping with his varied talents as the Metropolitan's general utility character man.

Emanuel List's King Marke was a solid and musicianly performance. It was a voice of great power and shrewdly used. This role is one which usually suffers most in abbreviated versions of the opera, for those pages which are often cut are the ones which give character to the betrayed king. His reproach of Tristan was a reminder that his marriage to Isolde was not of his own wish, but a yielding to the importunities of the trusted Tristan himself, whose sycophantic admirers involved him in ambition and court intrigue. These cuts are flattering to Tristan's character and greatly lessen the appeal of King Marke. It is a matter for congratulations for both the Bushnell and the Metropolitan that, since Tristan and Isolde was to be brought here, it was not mutilated by elisions on its first Hartford hearing. As a matter of record the opera was substantially intact.

The Orchestra.

The orchestral support was adequate and the tonal scene painting effected with colors that were nicely handled. It was a utilitarian background designed in recognition of the fact that, if singers are but instruments in Wagner's orchestra, they are nevertheless human ones. The credit for a clearly-patterned, close orchestral fabric goes to Bodanzky who must also assume responsibility for the tempos. It will probably not grieve him if this reviewer holds that certain parts were not paced to the music's advantage, for the Metropolitan has been doing "Tristan and Isolde" in this manner for some years with good response. Portions of the love duet, however, Brangäne's song from the turret and the Liebestod would have benefited by a less inert movement. It is perhaps the orchestral version of the Liebestod which has accustomed the ears to a quicker beat for this impassioned conclusion.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).