[Met Performance] CID:158330
Götterdämmerung {172} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/17/1951.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 17, 1951


GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG {172}

Brünnhilde..............Astrid Varnay
Siegfried...............Set Svanholm
Gunther.................Paul Schöffler
Gutrune.................Regina Resnik
Hagen...................Dezsö Ernster
Waltraute...............Margaret Harshaw
Alberich................Gerhard Pechner
First Norn..............Jean Madeira
Second Norn.............Margaret Roggero
Third Norn..............Margaret Harshaw
Woglinde................Paula Lenchner
Wellgunde...............Lucine Amara
Flosshilde..............Hertha Glaz
Vassal..................Emery Darcy
Vassal..................Osie Hawkins

Conductor...............Fritz Stiedry

Review and Account of Quaintance Eaton in the January 1, 1952 issue of Musical America

If Astrid Varnay had not amply proved that she can succeed magnificently in scheduled appearances, one could almost say that she had made a career of pinch-hitting, so many times has she been called on to step in at the last minute in a crisis.

She achieved her first Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde at the Metropolitan in this manner, just as she had previously sung three unscheduled performances of major Wagnerian roles-first, making her debut replacing Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde on Dec. 6, 1941; then appearing for Helen Traubel as the Walküre Brünnhilde six days later; then again as Isolde on Feb. 3, 1945. In each case she came through with great success, and the fourth time was no exception, although she had never sung this role at the Metropolitan and went on without a stage rehearsal. Her artistry, her self-possession, and the experience she gained in the role at Bayreuth last summer (when she sang it for the first time), together with the good will and helpful atmosphere created by her colleagues, supported her in circumstances which were, to say the least, dramatic.

When Miss Traubel notified the management at 11 a.m. on Sunday, the day before the performance, that she had had a temperature of 103 on Saturday and was under doctor's care, Max Rudolf, artistic administrator, immediately telephoned Miss Varnay in Waco, Tex. The soprano's husband, Herman Weigert, was in a hospital there, recovering from an illness, and she had just flown to Dallas, where she was to sing with the orchestra. She promised to fly home, leaving at 2 a.m., arriving at about 10 a.m. on Monday. Meanwhile, Miss Traubel had definitely cancelled her appearance. Mr. Rudolf alerted Margaret Harshaw, who has studied Brünnhilde but never sung it and, because she was scheduled for both Waltraute and the Third Norn, two additional singers had to be notified. Herta Glaz, who was already listed for a Rhine Maiden, could be pressed into service as Waltraute, and Thelma Votipka was prepared to take over the Norn's part. All of these elaborate safeguards seemed justified when Miss Varnay telegraphed from Memphis, where her plane was grounded. She waited for five hours, sleepless, in the early morning and took another plane, which eventually arrived in New York at 3 :40 p.m. Since Götterdämmerung begins at 7:30, and the soprano could not get to the opera house before 6:00, there was time only for a brief consultation with Fritz Stiedry, the conductor, who meanwhile had been rehearsing the role with Miss Harshaw.

The opera house was in a state of jitters all day, and some of it carried over into the performance. This was all to the good as far as vitality was concerned, for everyone was alert and on his toes and eager to see Miss Varnay through a trying experience.

That she was a superb Brünnhilde could be sensed from her first moments. Her conception - of woman rather than goddess - and the flaming intensity of her acting made her character flesh and blood, with all the emotions that the feminine nature is subjected to. She moved about the stage naturally, but with the inner tension of the actress, every movement designed to weave the pattern of a character. Occasionally in the stress of emotion, her gestures verged on the violence of the Elektra she had been studying; this should smooth out with time and experience in both roles. The effect of wildness was heightened by unflattering lighting and a far-away wig, but none of this detracted essentially from a characterization of the utmost communicativeness. Her rejection of Waltraute's proposal to give up the ring, recalling the rapture of its significance; her unbelieving horror at Siegfried's appearance in the Tarnhelm, and her subsequent submission, as if in a nightmare; the deadened sullenness of her appearance before the Gibichungs, and the confrontation of the faithless Siegfried, frenzied then stricken-these were moments rich with poignancy.

Vocally, Miss Varnay stood up to the ordeal with the stamina we have come to expect of her. In the first scene, her voice seemed slightly veiled, but soon it cleared and rang out warm and true. She never balked at a high note or a strenuous passage; only at the very last, in the immolation, did she seem to tire-and even then, there was a throbbing intensity underlying the vocal emission which made the scene absorbing. As the proper heroine of the evening, she received ovations, although the audience knew nothing more of the story than the notice board and paper slips told them-"Astrid Varnay will sing the part of Brünnhilde, replacing Helen Traubel."

Because the first performance had run two costly minutes overtime, this one was accelerated slightly by Mr. Stiedry, and some small additional cuts were made. One of these resulted in a scramble during the prelude to the second act, an orchestral contretemps which passed almost unnoticed so quickly was it covered up, but which resulted in the unusual spectacle of the conductor lingering in a pit after the act to discuss the matter with a group of the men. Technically the performance was subject to the kind of flaws "Götterdämmerung" seems to engender-trap doors that banged on Norns and refused to elevate Rhine Maidens in time and then pushed them too far up into the sight of the audience, capes getting caught on rocks and raising dust, and lighting that revealed or concealed at the wrong times.

The remainder of the cast, after it had been shaken down into certainty, was the same as at the first performance. Set Svanholm sang Siegfried radiantly. Paul Schoeffler was Gunther; Deszo Ernster, Hagen; Regina Resnik, Gutrune; Gerhard Pechner, Alberich; Miss Harshaw, Waltraute and the Third Norn; Miss Glaz, Paula Lenchner, and Lucine Amara, the Rhine Maidens; Jean Madeira and Margaret Roggero, the other two Norns.



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