[Met Performance] CID:3500
Die Walküre {5} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/7/1885.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 7, 1885 Matinee


DIE WALKÜRE {5}

Brünnhilde..............Amalie Materna
Siegmund................Anton Schott
Sieglinde...............Auguste Seidl-Kraus
Wotan...................Josef Staudigl
Fricka..................Marianne Brandt
Hunding.................Joseph Kögel
Gerhilde................Marianne Brandt
Grimgerde...............Miss Kemlitz
Helmwige................Anna Robinson
Ortlinde................Anna Stern
Rossweisse..............Helena Brandl
Schwertleite............Carrie Morse
Siegrune................Anna Slach
Waltraute...............Anna Gutjar

Conductor...............Leopold Damrosch

Unsigned review in The Evening Post

Fifth Performance of "Die Walküre."

Three things are worthy of notice in the present condition of affairs at the Metropolitan Opera House. First, that every performance attracts an audience which completely fills the immense house; secondly, that the repertory is becoming more and more Wagnerian; thirdly, that a new opera has been produced and given five times in nine days - an event probably unprecedented in the history of grand opera in New York. And the opera in question is a work regarding which the public had for many years been led to believe, by ignorant and dishonest critics, that it is unsingable, unplayable, tiresome to listen to, and sure to ruin any manager bold and foolish enough to produce it.

To those who take pleasure in seeing the standard of musical taste elevated, the most gratifying thing about the remarkable success of German Opera in New York is that now, for the first time, the composer and his works assume greater importance in the view of the public than the particular vocalists who happen to be engaged to sing them. In the times of the greatest degradation of the opera the vocalist was the sole attraction and the composer merely his slave, who had to follow his or her every whim and caprice. Through the efforts of Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Wagner, Auber, Gounod, Verdi, and others, this topsy-turvy state of affairs was gradually altered. But in America, up to the present winter, the opera continued to be regarded chiefly as a circus wherein some famous singer might display her vocal tricks. The popularity of that most dreary and insipid of all operas, "Semiramide," bears witness to this fact. But there was at the same time a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with our operatic affairs, and how wide this current was has been shown in an unmistakable manner by the favor which has greeted Dr. Damrosch's undertaking of producing modern opera in a modern spirit - that is, with a good ensemble and becoming scenic outfit.

In "Die Walküre" there are no arias for soprano or tenor, no dainty staccati, no runs and trills, or somersaults of any kind, and yet the public shows an eagerness to hear it never before witnessed in the case of any other opera. It is of course of the utmost importance that in so difficult a work every part should be in the hands of a competent artist; and Dr. Damrosch has put all his best singers into the cast. But the public has realized the fact that in Wagner's operas the singer is subordinate to the rôle; and fortunately this fact is recognized by the singers themselves, none of whom attempt to assert themselves unduly even for a moment. Frau Materna's Brünnhilde is so marvelous an achievement, and at the same time so natural, that it is difficult to realize how marvelous that achievement is. No one thinks of noting how she sings or acts, but simply enjoys the consciousness of seeing and hearing a "real live" Walküre. This rôle, which but two or three singers besides her have attempted with any success, owing to its enormous difficulty, Frau Materna executes with an ease and natural abandon that might make any spectator imagine she could go on the stage and do it just as easily. Twenty years hence, what sums would not opera-goers be willing to pay for the privilege, which we now enjoy, of hearing a singer who learned every dramatic accent and every gesture from Wagner himself?

Of the other singers none quite equals Frau Materna for she is "sui generis;" but they all execute their tasks so well, and are so ably supported by the orchestra, that one can often imagine himself transferred to Munich or Vienna. The chorus of the nine Valkyries, which many feared would be a weak spot in the performance, is now actually one of its most successful features. Wagner is a master of contrasts; and by not having a chorus proper in the whole opera, the short episode of the Valkyrie ensemble gains much in effectiveness. It is certainly a startling innovation to have no chorus in an opera. Other operatic composers would have dragged fifty men and women on the stage for the sake of a grand finale in f at the end of each act, so as to bring down the house. How much more poetic are the endings of the acts in " Die Walküre," especially the third, where the flames gradually swell into a wall that surrounds the sleeping Valkyrie, and protects her against all but the hero Siegfried, who in the next drama of the Tetralogy comes to wake her and claim her as his spouse. Herr Flock must be congratulated on this scenic effect, and on the duel on the mountain ridge amid the clouds. But the omission of the ride of the Valkyries is a blemish which is the more felt as it detracts from the graphic definiteness of the music.

An impression seems to prevail that the second act of "Die Walküre" is inferior in interest to the first and the last acts. This impression may have been due to the fact that at the first performances the first act was given with more passion and finish than the others; but on Saturday it must have been clear to any observer that the second act was as quite as much appreciated as the first and third. As has been already stated in these columns, we do not in the least disapprove of the extensive cuts made in this act by Dr. Damrosch as long as "Die Walküre" is new to our audiences and requires their closest attention, four hours of music is as much as ordinary nerves can endure. The present version apparently does not fatigue the audience, as no one leaves the house until the very end; whereas, half an hour more of music would doubtless prove tiresome to many from sheer physical exhaustion. But in a few years, when the "Walküre" has become more familiar to opera goers, it will be advisable to restore every note now omitted. Wagner doubtless made some of his operas too long; but it is impossible to tamper with them without destroying their unity and continuity. The best proof that in the long run it is best to give Wagner's operas exactly as he wrote them lies in this, that Munich is the headquarters of Wagnerism because there, by order of the King, no cuts are allowed.

When the passages now omitted are restored, it will be found that they are among the very best in the opera. This we know as a fact, but it can be demonstrated, too, on general principles. Admirably constructed as Wagner's dramatic poetry is, and wonderfully picturesque as are his scenic backgrounds, the greatest charm of his music-dramas nevertheless lies in the emotional and dramatic realism of his vocal parts, and still more in the eloquence of his orchestra. Now, in the long Wotan episodes the orchestra is at its best, and becomes as definite in its meaning as the poetry itself. What, for instance, could be more effective than the long passage commencing "Was Keinem in Worten," which is a complete synopsis of "Rheingold," introducing some of the principal musical motives of that opera in a way that makes the orchestral score exceedingly fascinating. History repeats itself. For a long time the second act of "Lohengrin" was considered inferior to the other two; whereas now few musicians will deny that it at least equals them in interest. We predict confidently that before the end of this decade it will be generally admitted that the second act of "Die Walküre," with the parts now omitted, will be considered the best of the three.



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