[Met Performance] CID:137560
Tristan und Isolde {306} Civic Opera House, Chicago, Illinois: 04/17/1944.


Chicago, Illinois
April 17, 1944


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Marjorie Lawrence
Kurwenal................Herbert Janssen
Brangäne................Kerstin Thorborg
King Marke..............Emanuel List
Melot...................Emery Darcy
Sailor's Voice..........John Garris
Shepherd................John Garris
Steersman...............John Gurney

Conductor...............Thomas Beecham

Review of Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune

'Tristan' Is Given Interesting Tho Not Great Performance

The Metropolitan Opera opened its engagement at the Civic Opera house last night with a performance of "Tristan und Isolde" that was more interesting than completely successful, more vividly experimental than overwhelmingly successful. It marked Marjorie Lawrence's first Chicago Isolde, and Sir Thomas Beecham's local bow from the Wagnerian pit. The combination worked some tonal wonders, but even with the matchless aid of Lauritz Melchior's mighty Tristan, it did not add up to the crescendo of musical excitement that is the towering triumph of a great "Tristan."

Yet there was drama beyond Wagner on that stage. The beautiful woman who sat there like a queen enthroned was the very singer who short months ago struggled from an invalid's bed and was strapped to a chair at the piano that she might know once and for all whether infantile paralysis had ruined her voice. The first thing she wanted to sing was Isolde, and she could sing it. She can, superbly. Her voice, always Brünnhilde's dramatic soprano riding the operatic skies, took on the softer contours of Isolde as she made that courageous comeback from what so easily could have been despair.

For all its mounting radiance, I doubt that last night's was Miss Lawrence's best Isolde. A touch of hoarseness nagged at her lower voice and made it sounded tired, but the higher she went the more shining it became, and when she hit a high C it gleamed like a golden trumpet. Hers is no legendary Irish princess, cold and proud in the aloof tradition, but a vivacious woman, angrily imperious. Her hands have not yet followed that fascinating lead, and they cling to stilted gestures which obviously displease her. The best way in opera is to follow Mary Garden's path - when in doubt, do nothing. Let the music work.

Not much change had to be made in the staging to accommodate Miss Lawrence. She simply remains seated in the first and second act, with Brangäne to run the errands, and it carried on by Kurvenal in the third act. She looks beautiful, but the other actors have their troubles. Mr. Melchior improvised acting the best he could, and continued to sing the only Tristan I have heard who sounds and looks like the knight of legend.

Miss Thorborg was a better Brangäne than on last year's visit, richer in both voice and style, despite the sometimes uncomfortable tessitura that must tempt a contralto to try screaming. Mr. List was again the King Marke, and Herbert Janssen was a new Kurvenal, a doughty fellow who looked like a dependable bodyguard.

Beecham's way with the score was both superb and disappointing. Superb because he made it so lyrically lovely, like a great river of melody that now and then paused in the sun just to preen itself. Disappointing because out of that beauty you expected the mounting crescendo of stupendous climax, which somehow did not come. But when he turned his rare talent for lyricism and lambent tone to the Liebeslied, you had something besides two superior singers. You had an orchestra and a man who knew what to do with it.

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