[Met Performance] CID:127440
Tristan und Isolde {277} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/1/1940.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 1, 1940


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Kirsten Flagstad
Kurwenal................Julius Huehn
Brangäne................Kerstin Thorborg
King Marke..............Emanuel List
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Anthony Marlowe
Shepherd................Karl Laufkötter
Steersman...............John Gurney

Conductor...............Erich Leinsdorf

Review of Miles Kastendieck in the Brooklyn Eagle

Opera Predominates Holiday Performances

"Tristan und Isolde" is Heard

While it is recognized as the Metropolitan's "show piece" in recent years - Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" with Flagstad and Melchior - was heard for the first time this season by a subscription audience last night. It was a good performance though the brunt of it was carried by Flagstad and Kirsten Thorborg as Brangäne. Emanuel List made a major contribution also with his delineation of King Marke. Melchior sang unevenly. As for the music which is so vital a part of every performance of this particular work, it was played on the creditable side and though Mr. Leinsdorf conducted with great earnestness and apparent sincerity the net result was a more earnest than a spirited interpretation of a monumental score.

To say that Flagstad was magnificent would appear to be vain repetition. But this performance was no repetition. If it is possible to believe that she has grown in the role, then she is the more magnificent. And that is the case. At first people regarded her Isolde as cool partly because they did not perceive the drama in the voice; then they hailed her as great because in her growth as an actress she excelled all others within the memory of the oldest opera-goers. But she transcended that greatness in her delineation of the role last night. There was more abandon in her acting than even before; her first act was something of a revelation. Perhaps it was the more evident because the music lacked the necessary definitiveness to underline the situation. But the same impression remained throughout the second act. There was less change in the third. So the news is that Flagstad's Isolde is more glorious than ever. That is news.

If Melchior has of late been singing less satisfactorily than usual, he showed it during the second act when his pianissimos were hardly audible. With such a powerful voice as his, a pianissimo is not too easily attained, but it is attainable. Last night in the Love Duet there were noticeable gaps. When it came to heroic singing, however, he was in good form. The third act was good, but not equal to some that he has created in the past.

Kerstin Thorborg's Brangäne was finely sung and finely acted. She was handicapped in her night watch of the second act by having to compete with a loud orchestra, but even then she was able to communicate the special beauty of those measures assigned to her. List's King Marke has become so much of a personage that the long stretch always so noticeable when the king comes upon the lovers and sings of his perplexity at the situation, has vanished from the performance and now the king's role is synchronized with the whole story. The change is a personal triumph for List. Julius Huehn's Kurneval is increasing in stature as he becomes more at home in the role. It has yet to become communicative.

Mr. Leinsdorf may have grasped this score readily, but he has yet only scratched the surface of the music. There is no other opera in all musical literature in which feeling must be wrung out of the players almost to the breaking point. Only the temperament of the conductor can bring that condition about. Intense emotional disturbance is the key to the whole opera; it is written in the story, developed in the characters and poured into the music. He must have it to give it to his musicians. How otherwise will they express the loving tenderness and passionate intensity which surges forth from page after page of this marvelous score. It is to the young conductor's credit that the performance grew more engrossing as the evening passed. But that fact did not wipe out the memory of a prelude that was flabby, of a love duet that dragged; or a Liebestod that wanted color. Will time bring these things to pass?

Anthony Marlowe made an inauspicious debut as a sailor's voice; Arnold Gabor sang Melot, and Karl Laufkötter was the shepherd.

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