[Met Performance] CID:128720
Tristan und Isolde {284} Public Hall, Cleveland, Ohio: 04/12/1940.


Cleveland, Ohio
April 12, 1940


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

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

Review of Herbert Elwell in the Cleveland Plain Dealer


Flagstad and Melchior Give Superlative Performances

In accordance with expectations, Public Hall was filled to capacity last night for the Metropolitan's presentation of "Tristan und Isolde," and little wonder that this performance should attract so large a crowd when two of the most celebrated Wagnerian singers before the public today, Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, were to be heard in the principal roles.

Here is an incomparable pair, qualified as few singers have ever been to undertake the gigantic task of carrying out Wagner's vocal conceptions to the full degree of their effectiveness. So far as some of us are concerned, it has been only through the singing of these two that Wagner's intentions have been fully revealed, for lesser artists, through sheer physical inability to scale the precipice of almost superhuman difficulties in his music, have failed to give us a complete panorama of the vast terrain his imagination encompasses.

With these two, particularly with Mme. Flagstad, the long declamatory passages, the resume of foregoing events, as, for instance, the death of Morold and the nursing of the wounded Tristan, lose their literary flavor and take wings. In the web of orchestral sonority that accompanies these long recitations she discovers the vital melodic substance and gives it urgent direction. There is never an unmusical utterance, as there might be were she less miraculously equipped to leap the vocal hurdles without effort.

Every phrase and gesture is so impregnated with meaning, so remarkably integrated into the cumulative proportions of the music that its ordinarily fatiguing duration is transformed into something compact and continuously arresting.

All that can be thought of in praise of her voice has probably been said. Yet it is a subject one returns to with joy and something like reverence, for its wellsprings of power suggest the supernatural and its purity mirrors something deeply and generously human. What most draws one to her Isolde with mounting admiration on repeated hearings is the underlying simplicity of her approach, and this in turn defines Wagner's purposes more clearly.

Viewed with proper perspective, this mature creation of Wagner's genius becomes basically simple and subtle psychology. The interpretation of unconscious and unspoken thoughts in which the music abounds, with its succession of inter-related leitmotifs, is no small task to unravel under ordinary circumstances. Yet with Flagstad on the stage, and given the other remarkable artists who support her, not to mention the comprehensive hold which the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, has upon all the essential elements, one's attention is focused and held upon the main issues in the way Wagner evidently intended it should be.

Faithfully reduced to fundamentals and thus happily devoid of distracting details, the whole colossal tragedy of love resolving itself only in death yields up its secrets one by one. In every phase of the production, even to the settings, which are among the best the Metropolitan has to offer, everything is contributory and evocative in a high degree of the central theme. And this grand passion, this great love, promoted in a thousand ways by the other human relationships of loyalty, filial devotion and even the inverted form of passion in Melot's treachery, finds such concentrated expression in the overwhelming intensity of the final "Liebestod" that the whole thing takes complete possession of the mind and senses as no other opera has the power to do.

Melchior Superlative

Gratitude in no small measure is due those responsible for so unique and thrilling an experience. Whatever limitations may be found in Melchior's singing - and there are some - it must be conceded that his Tristan is superlative. His power to soar with Isolde in the love duet, his ability to build, step by step, the great monument of vocalism in the last act and carry it to its conclusion without the slightest hint of fatigue is an achievement that commands only the highest respect. In Kerstin Thorborg's Brangäne one finds as strong a supporting voice and as convincing an actress as could be desired. In the same category is the vital, robust Kurvenal of Julius Huehn. Alexander Kipnis distinguished himself with a notable eloquent, mellow and sympathetic portrayal of King Marke. And minor parts were ably upheld by Arnold Gabor, John Gurney, and Anthony Marlowe.

As far as Leinsdorf's conducting, it was brilliant in the extreme. He is at once both inside and outside the rich fabric of the Wagnerian melos, driving it with furious intensity from within and holding it on an even keel from without, with a resulting fusion of rhythmic and coloristic elements that constituted a primary factor in the notable unity and cohesiveness of the entire performance.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).