[Met Performance] CID:130110
Tristan und Isolde {285} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/12/1940.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 12, 1940 Matinee


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Kirsten Flagstad
Kurwenal................Julius Huehn
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Alexander Kipnis
Melot...................Emery Darcy
Sailor's Voice..........Emery Darcy
Shepherd................Karl Laufkötter
Steersman...............John Gurney

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

Director................Leopold Sachse
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert

Tristan und Isolde received ten performances this season.

Review of Virgil Thomson in the Herald Tribune


It is a tradition at the Metropolitan Opera House to do well by Wagner. It has never been the privilege, however, of this reviewer to hear or to witness anywhere as sumptuous a performance of "Tristan und Isolde" as that of yesterday's matinee.

The cast was not only a list of faultless singers but a unit of harmonious voices as well. Madame Branzell's ringing alto was sister in weight and color to Madame Flagstad's soaring soprano. Mr. Huehn's singing bass a brother to Mr. Melchior's heroic tenor, Mr. Kipnis's deeper bass a father to them all. The resemblance among these in power and in style gave to the whole musical rendition a compositional quality of unity in variety, as if the composer himself had asked for just those persons and those persons were a single family, as uniformly trained and gifted as say the Barrymore's.

Everybody's acting (and "Tristan," which is for the most part just four hours of conversation about love, is no easy chore to act) was at all time dignified and adequate. Madame Flagstad's Isolde was the most complete and studied of the interpretations, I think. Mr. Kipnis as King Marke had the greatest authority and dignity, as well as the greatest musical distinction. Mr. Melchior's last act as Tristan was the most expressive singing in the whole opera.

Mr. Sache's stage direction was extremely satisfactory. Instead of letting the singers wander foolishly around the stage during the lengthy monologues and conversations, or, worse, letting them wiggle, he kept them all motionless excepting those he wanted the audience to watch. The soldiers stood with their backs to the house during the Love Death. Even principal singers remained immobile while being sung to. All this simply and without tension. The result, rather like a concert in costume, was as satisfactory a solution of the difficulties that arise from the Wagnerian augmentation of time and diminutions of space as I have ever seen.

Décor and costumes were traditional and serious. No spots of primary color to lighten the tone. The clothes were rich and somber in Victorian reds and greens and varied browns. Mme. Flagstad wore the traditional white (well cut) in the second act and a sort of lilac in the last that looked well with the autumnal foliage. The scenery itself was of the best Wagnerian tradition, sumptuous and solid. Its draperies were draped; its trees had plenty of leaves and branches; its walls and parapets could be leaned on. A starry sky was lighted with true constellations; another sky rolled with projected clouds and yet remained unobtrusive. Under an aspect of convention that the uninitiated frequently mistake for operatic indifference, the visual production was a harmonious composition in color, rich and varied and dignified and above all completely serious.

There is no surviving theatrical tradition anywhere in the Western world, save only that of elocution at the Théater Francais, so completely serious as that of the musical and visual interpretation of Richard Wagner's music-dramas. One of the responsibilities of our major operatic foundations is the conserving of such traditions as exist in the musical theater.

The Metropolitan has always occupied itself seriously with that conversation. It falls quite regularly whenever there is no tradition to follow or when the tradition has been temporarily broken through a lack of enough of personnel in the organization who know the tradition.

Mr. Leinsdorf, as Wagnerian conductor, has had to face the triple difficulty of pleasing a conservative public, collaborating with mature and traditionally formed artists and being at the same time a quite young man.

His "Tristan" yesterday was both flexible and authoritative. The first act seemed to me a little loud instrumentally. The last two were in every way lovely. The Metropolitan orchestra itself is in fine form anyway this year, a superbly satisfactory group. This reviewer wishes to add to the audience's ovation of yesterday verbal bouquets of his own for the work of the first oboe player and for that of the English horn.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).