[Met Performance] CID:19710
Tristan und Isolde {33} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/30/1898.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 30, 1898


Tristan.................Jean de Reszke
Isolde..................Lillian Nordica
Kurwenal................David Bispham
Brangäne................Louise Meisslinger
King Marke..............Edouard de Reszke
Melot...................Lempriere Pringle
Sailor's Voice..........unknown
Shepherd................Hans Meffert
Steersman...............Theodore Meux

Conductor...............Franz Schalk

Director................Pierre Baudu

Tristan und Isolde received seven performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times

Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde " was given at the Metropolitan Opera House last night, Jean de Reszke and Lillian Nordica appearing in the title rôles. M. Jean de Reszke on Monday night sang Romeo in Gounod's opera "Romeo et Juliette," a part with which his fame has been identified for years. Only a few nights ago Mme. Nordica sang Leonora in Verdi's "II Trovatore." M. Edouard de Reszke, who was the King Mark last night, has recently been conspicuous as Basilio in "II Barbiere di Seviglia" and Almaviva in "Le Nozze di Figaro." It used to be a favorite theory of Wagnerites that Romeos, Leoneras, and Basilios were utterly unfit for such works as "Tristan und Isolde." Nevertheless, last night the walls of the Metropolitan Opera House seemed almost to distend with the size of the audience and to shake with the vibration of the applause.

There was a time when the music of "Tristan und Isolde" was declared unsingable. The rehearsals for the first performance of the work extended over a period of two years, partly owing to the illness of the tenor, but still more to the inability of some of the performers to master their parts. The work was abandoned as impracticable, and was subsequently produced only after herculean labor by that genius among conductors, Hans Guido van Büllow. Yet in these days we find "Tristan und Isolde " practicable for a tenor who sings Des Grieux in "Manon," Faust, Romeo, Rhadames, and Raoul, and for a soprano who still keeps in her repertoire Violetta in "La Traviata," and Marguerite in "Faust.'' Why? Because the music which used to be called unsingable has been proved to be simply welling over with melody. Wagner's unusual melodic intervals, with their complex harmonic support, do not tax the voice at all; they tax the ear. One must be a musician to sing this music in tune. The tricks which Caffarelli, Farinelli, and Senesino played with their voices were far more difficult of execution than anything which Wagner asks of his singers, but they were easier for the sound perception. Unmusical people can whistle the old opera tunes by ear; but it is not easy to remember the recitative of Tristan in that way. M. de Reszke and Mme. Nordica sing this so-called "impracticable " music with correct intonation. And they sing it in a singing style. That is because they are both singers and musicians.

Of M. Jean de Reszke's impersonation of Tristan much has, indeed, been written in these columns, and yet the subject seems inexhaustible. Of all the representations of this most tragic hero of fatal love which have been made known to American opera-goers this one unites most successfully all essential elements. We have had impersonations which showed us more of the barbarism supposed, despite all historical records of chivalric grace and courtesy, to be a necessary ingredient of a medieval character. We have had more rude vigor, more emphasized dialect, more appearance of studious accentuation of effects. But those who prefer such impersonations have hardly given due consideration to the artistic plan of the drama.

In "Tristan und Isolde" dramatic movement is reduced to a minimum, and the whole genius of the composer is concentrated on the production of intense and complete mood-pictures in music. The embodiment of elementary emotion is achieved by the score of this drama as it is not achieved by any other work. The spirit of this music, which is absolutely surcharged with languorous grace, not with rude barbarism, M. Jean de Reszke has thoroughly absorbed. He has made his vocal style in this drama perfectly identical with that of the orchestral music, and he has fitted his action with masterly artistic sense into the general scheme. And he has put his heart into his Tristan. He is Tristan for four hours, and you may try as you please to escape that conviction. Unless you are capable of resisting the influence of this tremendous music, unless you have filled yourself with the foolish puzzles of the leit motif directories, unless you are trying to solve riddles which the German commentators have made for you, and cannot resign yourself without struggle to the influence of the music, you will be convinced that this man is the actual, living Tristan of Wagner's imagination.

Mme. Nordica's Isolde, too, has been described in this paper. If it falls short of complete conviction, it is only because of the purely physical limitations which no art can transcend. Mme. Nordica cannot wholly express either the volcanic passion of the first act, the ecstatic rapture of the second, nor the celestial grief of the last, simply because she lacks some measure of the temperament and still more of the sensuous quality of voice. But all that a high potent art, long and arduous study, reverent and affectionate devotion to Wagner, and lofty ideals can do have combined to make this Isolde one of extraordinary beauty and admirable intelligence.

Last night Mme. Nordica seemed to have made some changes in her treatment of first act. The reading showed a greater variety of detail and there could be no question that the singer made more points of repose than she used to, and gave in to the tender passages a more eloquent visual delivery. The results were excellent, Nordica's voice was in splendid condition and when necessary it pealed with trumpet tones. She and M. de Reszke sang the great duo of the second act superbly. There was much enthusiasm at the end of the act, and the principal artists were called out several times and hailed with cheers.

Mme. Meisslinger's Brangäine was correct, according to the traditions, but it was not an interpretation of striking individuality. Her voice was frequently strident and her delivery at all times forced so that she continually sang sharp. But she was very much in earnest and her acting showed an understanding of the work. David Bispham's Kurvenal is a familiar piece of work and it is always praiseworthy, though it would not be difficult to imagine a clearer presentation of the doglike fidelity of the character. Kurvenal is an inexplicably tender and touching character. Bispham's voice is hardly warm enough for the music.

It has often been said that Edouard de Reszke was the first singer to make Mark interesting to New Yorkers. His declamation of the music was last night not quite up to its usual standard of excellence because he had not recovered from his cold, but it was, nevertheless, the work of a great artist. The other members of the cast were Mr. Meffert as the Shepherd, Meux as the Sailor, and Mr. Pringle as Melot. A great deal might be written about Mr. Schalk's conducting, but it is hardly worthwhile. His reading of the work was excellent in respect of tempo, but the lyphony of the score was not brought out with any effect whatever, and the orchestral portion of the drama seemed tame. The orchestra played well.

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