[Met Performance] CID:146170
Tristan und Isolde {325} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/26/1947.

(Debut: Erna Schlüter

Metropolitan Opera House
November 26, 1947


Tristan.................Max Lorenz
Isolde..................Erna Schlüter [Debut]
Kurwenal................Osie Hawkins
Brangäne................Blanche Thebom
King Marke..............Dezsö Ernster
Melot...................Emery Darcy
Sailor's Voice..........John Garris
Shepherd................Leslie Chabay
Steersman...............Philip Kinsman

Conductor...............Wolfgang Martin

Director................Dino Yannopoulos
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert

Tristan und Isolde received six performances this season.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Makes Bow at Metropolitan in Wagner Opera - Lorenz and Thebom in Cast

The Metropolitan Opera Association, notwithstanding its long and glorious history and its roster of the greatest names that music-drama of the last sixty-odd years has known, attained a new distinction last night when it presented the first "Tristan and Isolde" of the season. For it gave one of the dullest performances of "Tristan" that we recall, with a new Isolde who is certainly, beyond doubt or peradventure, the worst impersonator of the title part in our considerable experience of the opera.

She is Erna Schlüter , who on this occasion made her American debut, She sings very badly, explosively, off pitch, with tones that are customarily shrill and unsteady. Very occasionally, in isolated phrases, sung softly and without forcing, was there evidence that originally, before a vicious vocal method shot it to pieces, a good voice was there. Prevailing justice was done neither to tone nor text.

Indeed very little of the cast represented felicitous appointment. Max Lorenz, who sang at the Metropolitan a decade and a half ago, was elected to return as Tristan, He has matured as a singer in the interval, though he never had exceptional equipment. Now most of the voice is gone, and that is not good for Tristan. There were, it is true, some interesting dramatic details, with which one could or could not agree.

The one voice that was fresh, young and dramatic was that of Blanche Thebom, who treated her music to considerably better purpose than she did her delineation of the character. For Miss Thebom was fussing about most of the time, taking curious poses, thrusting herself too much in the foreground in ways that we are inclined to attribute to some officious ideas of stage direction rather than personally to her. But the character is certainly less nervous, nobler, with more of sorrowful wisdom than Miss Thebom gave it. James Huneker thought Brangaene, with her potions, a witch. She is a figure of doom, almost Greek in its majesty: the passionately devoted companion of Isolde, the sybil who must act as she would not and who, invoking fate, sees as from a tower the end of it all.

Osie Hawkins was a swaggering, unconvincing Kurwenal; Dezso Ernster one of the better features of the evening as King Marke. One marveled at some of the gratuitous ingenuities of Dino Yannopoulos, stage director of this performance; at the way he had his actors make revolutions, circles, poses palpably artificial, on a system which, for example, when Tristan made his entrance to some of the most tragical music ever written, caused Isolde to march about the stage, in time to the heavy chords of the strings which punctuate the great phrase of the horns.

Thus the stage was cluttered, as often as possible, with as many figures as the plot allowed, Superfluous details of action distracted attention from the principal figures upon whom attention should be centered, Wolfgang Martin, who had given an unusually lyrical reading of "Meistersinger" shortly before, conducted a pedestrian orchestral performance, in which there were some ragged details.

Review of Jerome D. Bohm in the New York Herald Tribune



This listener went to the season's first unfolding of "Tristan and Isolde" at the Metropolitan Opera House Wednesday night with high expectations, for it is not often that new protagonists of both title roles appear here simultaneously in Wagner's music-drama. Unhappily these expectations were soon dashed by the utter vocal inadequacy of both Erna Schlüter , the German soprano, as Isolde, and of Max Lorenz, the German tenor, as Tristan. It was Miss Schlüter 's American debut, but Mr. Lorenz had last been heard here during the season of '33-'34, although never before as Tristan.

Miss Schlüter 's voice was perhaps in its prime a fine one; but in its present estate it falls shatteringly on the ear, for it is so diffusely projected that it was often difficult to be sure of the note the soprano was aiming for; hardly ever was her intonation pure; the general tendency was toward sharpness. In addition to the resultant unavoidable stridency a persistent wobble was present in all but the softest-sung tones, From her [first] line, "Wer wagt mich zu hoehnen," through the final F sharp of the "Liebestod," her vocalism was almost consistently distressing. Her portrayal along dramatic lines was competently conventional.

As Tristan, Mr. Lorenz was handsome to gaze upon, distinguished in bearing and action. But what can these admirable attributes avail a singer whose voice is frayed to the verge of nonexistence as an expressive medium? It was apparent from his difficulties with the relatively easy first act that he would not be able to cope with the inexorable exactions of the third act. By this time his vocal resources were completely exhausted and he resorted to speech which sought to approximate the pitches of Wagner's declamation-a kind of dry-textured "Sprech-Gesang."

The one redeeming feature of this largely inept presentation was the impressive embodiment of the role of Brangaene by Miss Thebom, who poured forth her fine mezzo-soprano voice not only with telling plenitude and solidity when necessary, but who sang softly with equal effectiveness. Her delivery of the "Warning Call from the Tower" in the second act was alluring in its sensuousness arid transparency. Dramatically viewed, her delineation brought with it many subtly brought details and the plasticity of her movement was always a pleasure to observe, especially in contrast to the often stolidly static behavior of the remaining principals.

Kurwenal's music overtaxed Mr. Hawkins's vocal capacities and his fall down the stairs after being stabbed in the final scene was mirth-provoking rather than realistically apposite. Mr. Ernster voiced some of King Marke's music affectingly, but his adherence to the true pitch was not unswerving. More touching impersonations of the Shepherd have been known here than Mr. Chabay's; but the remaining less weighty roles were in good hands.

Mr. Martin's discourse of the orchestral score was, aside from a few moments of sensibility in some of its more intimately poetic pages, a rather tepid one; the incandescent intensity demanded for a really convincing revelation of Wagner's message was not at his command, nor was the playing of the orchestra free from blemishes of various kinds ranging from false notes in the horn parts to imperfections of balance and slovenly attacks.

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