[Met Performance] CID:138010
Tristan und Isolde {307} American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 11/28/1944.

(Debut: Blanche Thebom

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 28, 1944


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Helen Traubel
Kurwenal................Herbert Janssen
Brangäne................Blanche Thebom [Debut]
King Marke..............Alexander Kipnis
Melot...................Emery Darcy
Sailor's Voice..........John Garris
Shepherd................John Garris
Steersman...............Gerhard Pechner

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

Director................Lothar Wallerstein
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert

Tristan und Isolde received eight performances this season.

[Traubel's costumes were designed by Adrian.]

Review of Linton Martin in The Philadelphia Inquirer

'Tristan' Opens Season of Metropolitan Here

The annual inaugural of the Metropolitan Opera season in this city, traditionally a gala occasion socially, was also marked by musical significance when Richard Wagner's 'Tristan und Isosde" was hailed by an audience of capacity size in the Academy of Music last night.

While sartorial display was still more subdued than in the peak years before the war, and military and naval uniforms provided contrast to the civilian clothes of men in the audience, the Academy presented a brighter scene than at the two previous Metropolitan [first night]s here in war years.


It was an operatically discriminating audience, too, that hailed Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior in the title roles in Wagner's incomparable love canticle, which they sang when the work was previously presented here two years ago. The cast on this occasion brought a debut of importance, for Blanche Thebom, contralto of commanding voice and imposing stage presence, who has previously appeared here as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was a Metropolitan newcomer in the role of Brangäne, while Herbert Janssen was the Kurvenal, and that magnificent basso, Alexander Kipnis, was King Marke.


There was a special round of applause for Erich Leinsdorf, returning to the conductor's stand, for the first time after being honorably discharged from the Army. And the youthful maestro showed new evidence of his increasing stature as a Wagnerian conductor.

The early start of the opera, at 7:30 o'clock, was perhaps responsible to a degree for the number of late arrivals in the audience. But the customary features inseparable from a Metropolitan [first] night were all again in evidence - the popping of flashlight bulbs of news photographer, the excitement and animation of the audience in greetings before the performance and again in the intermission.


But the traffic congestion at Broad and Locust Sts., requiring special police reserves in the old days, was markedly missing, though crowds of the curious, as of old, lined the sidewalk to gaze at the throng arriving for the performance, with its sprinkling of ermine and chinchilla, and a few toppers among the men.

General Manager Edward Johnson, who seemed radiant about the prospects of the season in this city, following the New York [inaugural] night the previous night, complimented the musical taste and intelligence of Metropolitan subscribers here by selecting "Tristan und Isolde" for the [first] opera at the Academy. That compliment was abundantly justified in the offering and the audience.


Miss Traubel only sang the role of Isolde here once before, on Dec. 8, 1943, but Mr. Melchior has been a familiar figure as Tristan for years, and last night marked his 199th performance in the part, far surpassing the record of any other tenor in the role.

The Junoesque soprano from St. Louis has gained in flexibility and intensity of interpretation of this exacting and exalted role since her previous appearance. She was in magnificent voice as usual, her commanding and powerful voice carrying easily above the torrent of tone in the great orchestral climaxes, and her characterization was individual and consistent throughout. She brought poise and restraint to her singing of the love duet of the second act, which was admirable in emotional eloquence.


Special interest naturally was claimed by the debut of Miss Thebom as the Brangäne on this occasion. Much depends on this vitally important role, and Miss Thebom not only revealed the rich and colorful voice which has given distinction to her concert appearance, but also disclosed remarkable gifts of dramatic ability as newcomer in opera and especially Wagnerian roles. She was vivid and mobile in the [first] act in preparing the potent love philter, vocally opulent in the warning of the second act, and affecting in her sympathetic grief in the tragic finale of the music drama.


In appearance and presence Miss Thebom is ideally equipped for the mezzo and contralto Wagnerian roles. And she manifestly has the requisite feeling, as she unmistakably showed in her performance last night.

Herbert Janssen, familiar here in other roles in recent season, sang the devoted but hot-tempered Kurvenal for the first time in Philadelphia last night. It proved to be one of his most congenial roles, and was ably sung.


Little remains to be said of Mr. Melchior's Tristan at this point. The somber quality of his voice, and the poignancy of his acting, especially in the last act, makes his performance deeply affecting. He has made the role distinctively his own for this generation. One of the outstanding features, vocally, was the magnificent singing of Alexander Kipnis in King Marke's monologue of the second act.

Mr. Leinsdorf presided over the incandescent score with sensitive understanding and feeling for its emotional powers. The orchestra however, played with a ragged edge of tone in some important passages.

Minor roles were taken by Emery Darcy as Melot, John Garris as the unseen sailor of the first act, and he also doubled as the shepherd of the last act.

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