[Met Performance] CID:19820
Lohengrin {125} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/9/1899.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 9, 1899


Lohengrin...............Jean de Reszke
Elsa....................Lillian Nordica
Ortrud..................Ernestine Schumann-Heink
Telramund...............David Bispham
King Heinrich...........Edouard de Reszke
Herald..................Adolph Mühlmann

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

From unsigned review [probably W. J. Henderson] in The New York Times

It was a most poetic interpretation of "Lohengrin" that the artists gave. There are nights and nights at the opera. Sometimes the public is cold and unsympathetic, and it is impossible for the artists to place themselves "en rapport" with it or with each other. On other occasions there is an eager, tender mood in the auditorium, and there can be no doubt that the sea of faces projects an expression of the public heart toward the artists. Last night was one of the happy nights. The house was one with sympathetic listeners, and the people on the stage found themselves in the proper mood at the very rise of the curtain. Of course, the chorus must be excepted. No influence except that of salary day can touch a chorus and the phlegmatic Italian gentlemen who cling to their own tongue through all the linguistic transformations of the Metropolitan stage showed their customary disregard for the key. The orchestra, on the other hand, played with smoothness and good tone, and Mr. Schalk again showed that in the score of "Lohengrin" he does his most felicitous reading.

But to the important personages of the evening. Mme. Schumann-Heink as a débutante claims the place of honor. Her voice is none too easy to describe. It is easy to believe that there is more in the voice than was heard last night. It has the contralto quality, especially in its rich and full lower register. The upper notes last night seemed strained and shrill, but this may have been due to temporary causes. It is a voice of sufficient power and of fine dramatic character if not always of sympathetic quality. Mme. Schumann-Heink's style of delivery is essentially German. Her attack is often forced and uncertain in its grasp on the pitch. She often slides to her tones with vicious portamento effect, which is one of the commonest faults of German singers. She declaims superbly and with most eloquent revelation of the meaning of the text, which she enunciates admirably. Her cantilena was not exhibited last night, for she read every measure of Ortrud, even in the duet with Elsa, in what has come to known as the ultra-Wagnerian style. Her conception of the part proved to be perfect, and her action was notably good. Her byplay in the first act has not been excelled here. She made a strong impression on the audience, and her first appearance may be set down as successful. She will undoubtedly prove, as the season goes on, to be a valuable acquisition to the dramatic forces of the company.

Mme. Nordica's Elsa is so well known here that it seems to be unnecessary to enter into extended comment upon it, though the temptation to do so is always strong. Whatever this intelligent artist does suggests discussion, and that is perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to her work. In the first act last night her voice seemed to be a little refractory, but in the rest of the opera it was obedient. She sang the soliloquy on the balcony with especial beauty. M. Jean de Reszke's Lohengrin is in the same class as Mme. Nordica's Elsa as regards familiarity. Last night it was up to its customary lofty standard of poetic eloquence, and it made its usual impression upon a pretty well-educated operatic public. Mr. Bispham repeated his vigorous and dramatic impersonation of Telramund, and Mr. Mühlmann was again a respectable Herald. M. Edouard de Reszke was the King.

From the review of Henry Krehbiel in the New York Tribune

The particular interest in the occasion centered in Mme. Schumann-Heink's impersonation of Ortrud, the character which Wagner said he had designed as a type of loveless woman. In that feature of Orturd's nature has its strongest exemplification in its paganism, then Mme. Schumann-Heink realized it as it has seldom been realized in her invocation of the old Teutonic deities in the second act. Candidates who ask for the admiration the New York in the character of Ortrud do not walk upon a path of roses. To confine the record to the performances of the Metropolitan Opera House, memories are still alive of Mme. Fursch-Madi, Fräulein Brandt and Mme. Lilli Lehmann in the part, and they are memories which are not easily elbowed out of the way. The excellencies of these impersonations need not be either deprecated or ignored in paying tribute to Mme. Schumann-Heink. A reputation calculated to set high the pegs of expectation had preceded her from Germany, and more especially from London, and that expectation was not disappointed; yet we can easily believe that she was not either at her best or in her best role last night. Ortrud is as cruelly difficult a part to sing as it is to act, Wagner gave no heed to the natural limitations of the human voice when he wrote it; it was an extraordinary character in his dramatic scheme, and he demanded that she be also an extraordinary one in his musical. Voices capable of reaching its depths and its heights and remaining true and beautiful as well as dramatically expressive, are rare. Mme. Schumann-Heink's may be said to belong to that category, but its high register is by no means as beautiful as her low (which is exquisite in its union of volume and quality) and when she wins admiration for the passages in which Wagner thought neither of contralto nor soprano, but only of his Frisian creation, half woman, half witch and all wickedness personified, she compels it by virtue of her thrilling use of tonal color, her giving out of Wagner's ideal, which she has absorbed completely. Her work last night kept the corridors buzzing with enthusiastic ejaculations between the acts.

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