[Met Performance] CID:149580
Tristan und Isolde {334} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/22/1949.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 22, 1949


Tristan.................Set Svanholm
Isolde..................Astrid Varnay
Kurwenal................Joel Berglund
Brangäne................Blanche Thebom
King Marke..............Luben Vichey
Melot...................Emery Darcy
Sailor's Voice..........John Garris
Shepherd................Leslie Chabay
Steersman...............Philip Kinsman

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

Review of Herbert F. Peyser in Musical America

The greatly gifted soprano, Astrid Varnay, is not precisely a newcomer to the part of Isolde, and it has been this writer's privilege to commend it in past seasons. But in her first appearance this season, he obtained the impression that up to now she had not reached the heights she did this time.

Perhaps this statement ought to be qualified at the outset. Miss Varnay's Isolde on this occasion was magnificent rather from the intellectual, imaginative and dramatic viewpoint than from that of strictly vocal achievement. Much of the time, to be sure, she sang exceedingly well, even if during the first half of the first act her tones were rather less than firmly anchored or unassailable as to pitch. However, it is the excelling merit of this American artist's performances that they are at every moment so rewardingly communicative that vocal fluctuations, one way or another, become only a secondary detail in the general picture.

Since she last enacted the role at the Metropolitan, Miss Varnay's Isolde has matured and deepened, with numerous additional subtleties and nuances that betray the searching expended on elaborating the picture. The soprano has at her command a beauty of movement and a plastique which remind this spectator of Olive Fremstad more, almost, than of any other singing actress he can call to mind.

There is, unfortunately, no space here for particulars, though the reviewer feels compelled, at least, to allude to the delirious reunion of lovers in the garden scene (in which Set Svanholm, the Tristan of the night, played up to Miss Varnay in stunning fashion); and to Isolde's transfigured passing, where by the most sensitive and exquisite play of gesture she created a momentary effect worthy of a most expert master of choreography. About the only instance - through no fault of hers - her action went momentarily awry, was when she caught the expiring Tristan in her arms and was nearly tripped up by the sizeable cover which, according to Metropolitan usage, is always disturbingly in the way at this supreme point of the action.

If Miss Varnay's attitudes and expressions were carried out with a beauty and an instinctive logic of an altogether uncommon order, the same held true of Mr. Svanholm. Like the soprano's Isolde, his Tristan is a major accomplishment. If he did not seem to be in his best vocal form at all moments, (in the last act, especially, where he occasionally was swamped by Fritz Busch's somewhat over-exuberant orchestra) his impersonation was developed with an illuminating intelligence. Possibly some may have wondered at the unusual length of time the tenor found it necessary to stand holding his unsheathed sword in the first act, though Mr. Svanholm must assuredly have his reasons for what may have struck some as a rather exaggerated nuance. Otherwise, it would be hard to think of a Tristan more ideally suited to such an Isolde.

Of the remaining singers only Lubomir Vichegonov, as King Marke, requires more than casual mention. The bass sang smoothly and well, but conveyed little of the heartbreak and pity of the role. Blanche Thebom was again the Brangäne, and sang the tower song well. Joel Berglund was an acceptable Kurvenal.

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