[Met Performance] CID:131430
Tannhäuser {324} Metropolitan Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts: 03/28/1941.


Boston, Massachusetts
March 28, 1941


Tannhäuser..............Lauritz Melchior
Elisabeth...............Lotte Lehmann
Wolfram.................Julius Huehn
Venus...................Kerstin Thorborg
Hermann.................Emanuel List
Walther.................John Dudley
Heinrich................Emery Darcy
Biterolf................Mack Harrell
Reinmar.................John Gurney
Shepherd................Maxine Stellman
Dance...................Ruthanna Boris
Dance...................Lillian Moore
Dance...................Helen Longacre [Last performance]
Dance...................Elissa Minet
Dance...................Mary Smith
Dance...................Grant Mouradoff
Dance...................Josef Levinoff

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

Review of Edward Downs in the Boston Transcript

Wagner at the 'Met'

Lotte Lehmann in Transcendent Performance of Elisabeth - Melchior Sings the Title Role

An astonishingly uneven performance of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" last night at the Metropolitan Theater was the second offering in Boston's current ten-day season of Metropolitan Opera. It was quickly evident that new life had been infused into this early Wagner work by the Metropolitan's young Wagnerian conductor, Erich Leinsdorf. But this is not yet a production worthy of the great traditions of Metropolitan Opera.

The redeeming feature was Lotte Lehmann's inspired recreation of Elisabeth. When she appeared on the stage at the beginning of the second act, the performance suddenly acquired a conviction and vitality which till then had been sadly lacking. Here was no music puppet, waving its arms according to a stage manager's directions. This was not even a great opera star impersonating Elisabeth. Mme. Lehmann was Elisabeth. With that peculiarly human simplicity, the directness and honesty of emotion, which are hers alone, she seized the imagination of the audience and never relinquished it from the first glad notes of "Dich teure Halle" to the last tragic whisper of her prayer for Tannhäuser and the unforgettable pantomime which followed.

And what a mistress of pantomime she is! Her silent farewell to Wolfram in the last act was as eloquent as anything she had sung. Her pantomime became exactly what Wagner wished it to be; not lame, operatic convention, but the speech of one whose heart is too full for words. Mme. Lehmann is one of these rare artists who have learned to read not only Wagner's written stage directions, but the unwritten ones which sound from his orchestras. In the last act she rises from the shrine of the Virgin, takes her wordless leave of Wolfram and turns to the path that winds upward out of the dark valley, there is not a motive, not a phrase of orchestra that is not translated into the emotion of her few simple gestures.

Each slow step is heavy with the burden of Tannhäuser's guilt which is for her to redeem. During the long sixty measures of the orchestral interlude, those first steps toward the castle on the hill crest above become symbolic, as Wagner wished them to be, of her coming journey past the Evening Star to accomplish Tannhäuser's salvation. All this is implied with a dignity and poignance given only to the greatest of artists.

The temptation is strong to mention other details of Lehmann's performance, such as her agonized silence during the tempestuous ensemble of the second act, but there is not space. I have not spoken of Mme. Lehmann's singing, for though she was in excellent voice last night, her singing is always but a part of the larger whole. Her tones were colored by the same sensitive perception which rules her pantomime, the spontaneity and communicative fervor which lifted her head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. It is one of the Metropolitan's most serious sins of omission that it does not more frequently use the unique genius of Mme. Lehmann.

Melchior's Tannhäuser

Next to this Elisabeth, the greatest asset of the cast was Lauritz Melchior's shining indestructible tenor voice in the part of erring Tannhäuser. A brilliant voice is an inestimable asset in any opera, and when it is as fine as Mr. Melchior's it will cover a multitude of sins. In the first scene his acting was wooden and unimaginative; in the second act it showed intelligence and in the third, Mr. Melchior's narrative of the pilgrimage to Rome was notably tragic and moving.

Herbert Janssen, listed in the program as Wolfram, was indisposed, and his place was taken at the last moment by Julius Huehn. Mr. Huehn's voice is a good competent baritone, but with the intelligence and sincerity of his action he gave Wolfram back the pivotal importance in the plot which Wagner intended him to have.

Kerstin Thorborg is a great Fricka and an extraordinary Brangäne, but Venus is not for her. She has what most Wagnerian goddesses do not: the slim and alluring figure. But her acting list night was as angular as her singing and there was an edge to her usually fine voice.

Emanuel List gave a musicianly performance of stodgy old Landgrave Hermann, surely one of the prime bores of operatic literature.

Erich Leinsdorf had the ensembles on the stage and in the orchestra firmly in hand. If his unfolding of the "Tannhäuser" score is not yet of overpowering imagination, it has more depth and vitality than in many a year before he took up his baton at the Metropolitan.

On the Debit Side

The ballet, on which devolves the responsibility of interpretation of the dazzling Paris version of the Bacchanale in Act I, showed a triumphant incomprehension of what Wagner had in mind, not to speak of a technical incompetence to meet and problems as they had set themselves. The latter may have been due to the uncomfortable shallow stage of the Metropolitan Theater, but not everything can be blamed on that.

And what can be said of the scenery? Of those tattered, fading, wilted drops in the style of 1900? Of course, Mr. Johnson cannot be held responsible for them. He inherited them from a previous regime, and it is a slow task to refurbish an entire repertory. But adequate lighting could have made them look twice as good as they did. The Venusburg scene resembled not so much the rosy grottos of the Goddess of Love, as a coal mine, full of sulpherous and threatening vapors, The vision of the Rape of Europa might have been Ferdinand the Bull floating past with a sack of potatoes on his back.

Scenery and stage management are extremely important elements of opera, particularly Wagnerian opera. Let us hope the Metropolitan will soon be able rescue "Tannhäuser" from the foolish neglect of past years.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).