[Met Performance] CID:141840
Tannhäuser {357} Municipal Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri: 05/13/1946.


St. Louis, Missouri
May 13, 1946


Tannhäuser..............Torsten Ralf
Elisabeth...............Helen Traubel
Wolfram.................Martial Singher
Venus...................Kerstin Thorborg
Hermann.................Norman Cordon
Walther.................John Garris
Heinrich................Richard Manning
Biterolf................Osie Hawkins
Reinmar.................Wellington Ezekiel [Last performance]
Shepherd................Maxine Stellman
Dance...................Marina Svetlova
Dance...................Peggy Smithers
Dance...................Elissa Minet
Dance...................Ilona Murai
Dance...................Natasha Tzvetcova
Dance...................Stephen Billings [Last performance]
Dance...................Josef Carmassi

Conductor...............Fritz Busch

Review of Thomas B. Sherman in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Rising Sweep of Emotional Power In the Singing of "Tannhäuser"

Helen Traubel Proves Herself Actress as Well as Singer - Swedish Tenor Takes Title Role in Heroic Style

In the 36 years that have elapsed since the Metropolitan Opera Company last played St. Louis two global wars and many revolutions have shaken the world and the Metropolitan, like most other human institutions, is no longer the same. In the golden days this Metropolitan garnered its talent almost entirely from the ranks of those who successfully survived the competition of the European proving ground. Now it is in the process of becoming an American institution; American in direction, in inspiration and personnel.

It is too early to estimate what final high level of achievement it may reach and whether America can supply the equivalent in early tutelage which was a natural byproduct of the Continental provincial theaters. But it was quite evident from last night's production of Wagner's "Tannhäuser, which opened the brief cycle of three performances in the Convention Hall of Kiel Auditorium, that the Metropolitan is on its way.

Expanding Emotional Power

All the handicaps that naturally beset a road production plus the untried acoustic properties of an unfamiliar auditorium had a minimum effect on a performance that was unified, clearly projected and that moved forward in a steady and expanding sweep of emotional power. In a performance so coherent and so cohesive incidental defects are no more than that. Fortunately the component parts also required little indulgence. The group of principals were all highly qualified artists, the orchestra under the direction of Fritz Busch had vitality and finish, and the staging , if not inspired, at least had precision and a degree of expertness.

For St. Louis the [start] of the second act had particular emotional connotations. This marked the first appearance of Helen Traubel on the stage and the beginning of her first operatic performance in the peculiarly trying atmosphere of a hall full of personal friends. So that when she advanced toward the footlights with outstretched arms proclaiming the words "Dich Teure Halle" it became a symbolic gesture not only in the context of the opera but in relationship to a personal bond that must have been felt on both side of the footlights.

In the circumstances it was not unnatural that the audience should forget the conventions and break into applause. If this was a demonstration of approval before the fact it was not, as events turned out, misplaced. For Miss Traubel's grasp of the role was musically complete. Though she omitted the highest note of her open*ing aria it was nevertheless a ringing invocation uttered with seeming spontaneity and charged with emotional excitement. The "Prayer" in the third act - though not calculated to produce as great a physical response - was more exacting and therefore a more complete demonstration of her control, her capacity to employ the telling accent and the subtle inflection, and the depth of her insight into the significance of the text.

Actress and Singer

It was particularly in this scene that Miss Traubel proved herself as a singing actress as well as a singer. The over-purified character of Elisabeth lost some of its aseptic quality, became humanized and stirred a sympathetic rather than an admiring response. Throughout her performance Miss Traubel wholly relied on the emotional coloring of her voice, and not too much upon a multiplicity of gestures to convey her meaning. Through this economy of physical movement she kept the whole characterization on a plane of plausible nobility.

Torsten Ralf, the Swedish tenor, who is a recent Metropolitan acquisition, played the name role. It was too much to expect that Mr. Ralf in his person should have seemed the perfect embodiment of a glamorous minstrel-knight. Vocally, however, he had the clang of the true heroic tenor. And unlike so many examples of that specialized breed he could also produce a smooth cantilena so that it is possible to say that he really sang the music and he did not conform to the pseudo-Wagnerian tradition by emitting it in a series of explosions. Mr. Ralf also had emotional plasticity, a feat that was more evident in the sometimes ungrateful recital of the third act when Tannhäuser tells Wolfram of his pilgrimage in Rome and its seemingly bitter outcome.

Work of French Baritone

Martial Singher, the French baritone, was a wholly satisfying Wolfram, made so by Mr. Singher's unremitting command of all his vocal resources and his extension of the character he was playing by means of a never-failing poise and a precision of bodily movement. His impersonation was something of a triumph of the perceptive and sensitive mind for the voice, in itself, does not have a sympathetic quality. It was his technique both as singer and actor that made his portrayal sympathetic.

Norman Cordon, the Landgraf, had a pleasing majesty and Kerstin Thorborg, who portrayed the Germanized Venus, was effective despite the intrusion of split tones and an excessive vibrato. The Venusberg scene, in fact, was the weakest part of the production. The hard light that played upon the person of Venus was not conducive to an atmosphere of fatal allure and the choreography lacked focus, rhythm, color and any discernible purpose. All the decorative elements, in fact, were distinctly disappointing. If the sets do not go back to the days of Maurice Grau they certainly looked it.

Mr. Busch's direction of the performance had the fine understanding and organization that puts integration above everything else. He is not inclined to sensuous inflection and this particular coloring, needless to say, is sometimes needed in a piece so concerned with profane as well as sacred love.

But it was a well-modeled performance, active and dynamic and bound together. The orchestra, and all the voices were well projected by the amplifying devices. An exception was the Shepherd's pipe in the first act which was inaudible.

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