[Met Performance] CID:128590
Tristan und Isolde {283} Boston Opera House, Boston, Massachusetts: 04/1/1940.

(Debut: Edwin McArthur

Boston, Massachusetts
April 1, 1940


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Kirsten Flagstad
Kurwenal................Herbert Janssen
Brangäne................Kerstin Thorborg
King Marke..............Alexander Kipnis
Melot...................George Cehanovsky
Sailor's Voice..........Anthony Marlowe
Shepherd................Anthony Marlowe
Steersman...............John Gurney

Conductor...............Edwin McArthur [Debut]

Review of Edward Downes in the Boston Evening Transcript

Isolde's Farewell?

Young American Conductor's Debut; Flagstad's Art Continues to Grow

If rumor is true and the performance of "Tristan und Isolde," which the Metropolitan Opera Company gave at the Boston Opera House last night, is the last one in which Bostonians will have the privilege of seeing and hearing Kirsten Flagstad's impersonation of the Irish Princess, it will have been a worthy performance to remember her by and one which will go down in musical annals as an historical event. It was the greatest interpretation of Isolde we had seen Flagstad give, and the most miraculous thing about it was the way in which her conception of the part has increased in depth and subtlety.

Two years ago Flagstad's Isolde, though the finest then to be seen on the operatic stage, was still lacking in the passionate bitterness, the biting irony and sovereign contempt which are part of Isolde's emotions in the first act. At that time Flagstad still appeared too fundamentally sweet and amiable a character ever to be able to muster and express the wild storms of destructive rage or the intense inward suffering which Wagner makes his heroine hide behind a mask of icy scorn.

One thing, however, always remained true of Flagstad: her art continued to grow. To see her do the same role two years in succession invariably has meant being witness of a fascinating development of dramatic instinct and musical intuition. And today she has accomplished what to many spectators seemed impossible a few years ago. Always, since she has been at the Metropolitan, Flagstad has had the greatest Wagnerian soprano to be heard since the World War, but now her acting, too, equals the greatest acting of Isolde that has been seen there in the same period.

She Should Not Stop

It is this quality of constant growth, which makes it most difficult to accept the idea that Mme. Flagstad will retire at the end of this season. If one felt that she had gone past her prime, or if even one might feel that she had reached the greatest heights that were possible to her as an artist, it would be easier to resign oneself to the idea of not seeing her again. As it is, one feels that she should go on for many many years to come, all her roles growing with her - and possibly adding new ones to her roster.

What is to prevent, for example, and Isolde of the majesty and passion and vocal opulence of last night, from becoming one of the great Normas of all time? Norma is a role the great Lilli Lehmann did not disdain and which she declared to be more difficult to sing that all three Brünnhildes one after the other. And the Druid priestess would be a task worthy of the artistic powers of Mme. Flagstad.

There is little to be said in detail about her performance last night. The most sensational thing about it perhaps was the power, depth and versatility of emotion of her first act. She was in glorious voice. One minor matter comes to mind: why does Flagstad now constantly avoid the second high C in her love duet with Tristan? The note has been sung by many a lesser singer than Flagstad and if there is anyone living who can sing it, she can. She does sing it, for instance, on her recording of the love duet. So why not in performance?

One reason there may be: the tradition established in this country, followed by the late Artur Bodanzky, followed by Mr. Leinsdorf and followed last night by Mr. McArthur, of taking this particular passage (as well as the end of the love duet) too fast. At this tempo it undeniably is a major acrobatic feat to catch that high C. It is a situation, however, that could easily be remedied.

American Debut

Edwin McArthur, young American conductor and accompanist to Mme. Flagstad, conducted his first performance with the Metropolitan Opera Company last night. It was a successful debut for Mr. McArthur showed himself a well-routined musician, and if, as is more than likely, he had little or no rehearsal for the performance, his accomplishment is one to command profound respect. As to the interpretation, that is a more difficult matter to gauge unless one can be sure that there has been extensive rehearsal preparation. It was not lacking in intensity or musical line, though it followed a pattern of "Tristans" which is familiar here.

The Cast

Lauritz Melchior in the other of the two title roles also continues to grow. His costuming here is more flattering than in his other roles, his acting is distinguished, his voice has it familiar power and brilliance.

Alexander Kipnis is one of the finest King Marks the Metropolitan has had, in voice as in intelligent action. Kerstin Thorborg is apparently excellent in whatever she undertakes for, while Brangäne does not give her quite the opportunity of characterization that Fricka did last Saturday, still, as Isolde's confidante she added more to the fateful drama than have most of the Irish handmaids of the past.

Herbert Janssen has grown considerably in vocal power and authority in the role of Kurwenal and even the part of Melot had more significance in the hands of Georege Cehanovsky than has often been the custom in the Metropolitan's past. Anthony Marlowe sang the Sailor's voice and the Shepherd. John Gurney was the Steersman.

Edwin McArthur was cordially applauded before the beginning of the third act and there were unending ovations for all the singers at the close of the performance.

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