[Met Performance] CID:4290
Die Walküre {14} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/30/1885.

(Debuts: H. Eschenbach, Isabel Escott, Dora Henninges

Metropolitan Opera House
November 30, 1885


Brünnhilde..............Lilli Lehmann
Siegmund................Albert Stritt
Sieglinde...............Auguste Seidl-Kraus
Wotan...................Emil Fischer
Fricka..................Marianne Brandt
Hunding.................Philip Lehmler
Gerhilde................Marianne Brandt
Grimgerde...............Miss Kemlitz
Helmwige................Helena Brandl
Ortlinde................H. Eschenbach [Debut]
Rossweisse..............Isabel Escott [Debut]
Schwertleite............Carrie Goldsticker
Siegrune................Anna Slach
Waltraute...............Dora Henninges [Debut]

Conductor...............Walter Damrosch

Director................Mr. Van Hell
Set Designer............Josef Hoffmann
Set Designer............William Schaeffer
Set Designer............Gaspar Maeder
Costume Designer........Carl Doepler
Costume Designer........Henry Dazian
Lighting Designer.......James Jr. Stuart

Die Walküre received seven performances this season.

Review of Henry Krehbiel, New York Tribune:

"Die Walküre" was among the most popular of the productions at the Metropolitan Opera House during the season of 1884-1885, and it was looked upon as an act of wisdom that it was so promptly produced this year. The representation followed the lines of that which first presented the drama to an American audience on January 30, and was thoroughly admirable, the work of all the artists being marked by a whole-hearted devotion to the business of the evening which was in the highest degree commendable. Fraulein Lehmann was a statuesquely beautiful Brünnhilde, and her voice glorified the music in which many people, insensible to the poetic depth and power of the drama, hear only noisy declamation. In the first of her scenes she brought into beautiful relief the joyful nature of the Wishmaiden; her cries were brimming with eager, happy vitality. While proclaiming his fate to Siegmund, she was first inspired by a noble dignity, then transformed into a sympathetic woman by the hero's devotion to the helpless and hapless woman who lay exhausted on his knees. Herr Stritt was almost as admirable as an actor, and his fervid declamation challenged the heartiest enthusiasm, while Herr Fischer's noble art had full play in the character of Wotan.

The stage pictures in the representations of ''Die Walküre" were all worthy of the highest praise, and it would have been idle to have found fault with them when they filled so well their purpose of producing an illusion helpful in the appeal made to the emotions by the music and poetry. One of the deviations from the original designs deserves a word of comment. The substitution of draperies for a wooden door in Hunding' s hut enables the stage machinist to provide a reason for the sudden entrance of moonlight which is the inspiration for the impassioned love-scene which follows and is opened by Siegmund with the poetical allegory:

Keiner ging -
doch einer kam.
Siehe, der Lenz
lacht in den Saal !

Wagner's design was that the door should seem to open of itself, disclosing a patch of landscape without bathed in moonlight, and that the moon's rays falling through the open door, should reveal the features of Siegmund and Sieglinde to each other. In spite of its tender beauty I do not see how this conceit escapes the condemnation which Wagner pronounced on the sunrise scene in Meyerbeer's "Prophète." It is without motive unless this be found in the excellent use made of it afterward. Why should a door that remained shut through a severe storm open of its own accord afterward? Herr Hock, who put the drama on the stage, tried to make the occurrence seem natural. The draperies are rudely shaken by the wind for some time before the musical climax is reached; finally they are torn from their fastenings and, falling, admit the flood of moonlight which changes the tone of the picture completely and invests it with a new charm. The fact that the draperies are not torn down by the storm with which the drama opens need not disturb us; we are not obliged to imagine wind an accompanying element in the thunderstorm which Wagner's instrumental introduction delineates so graphically.

In the essentials the representations given last season and this met all the requirements of the author. Taken with those of "Die Meistersinger," given later in the season, they were an adequate exemplification of his artistic principles. This being so, how do these two dramas present themselves to the American people? I speak now with particular reference to "Die Walküre," though in some respect the comic opera, by reason of the fact that it is a comedy, and hence roots in a state of society peculiar to a people and a period, is even more foreign to the tastes, feelings, and appreciations than a tragedy, which well or ill deals with the common passions of humanity. I assume that, in a general way, at least, the story of the drama and the meaning of its incidents with relation to the Niblung tragedy are familiar, and that few people who are musically cultured have remained deaf after hearing to the beauty and impressiveness of the musical investment of the poem. Nevertheless I believe that the elements which attract are almost counterbalanced by those which repel. I do not mean this to be in criticism of the drama as a work of art, nor of the people, but of the drama in relation to the people. As an axiom of general validity it is admitted that art is not national, but universal; yet it cannot be denied that the strongest characteristic of "Die Walküre" is its Teutonism. In its language, its spirit, its characters, its symbolisms - in short, in its matter as well as its essence, it is German. It is the production of a man who, in his vices as well as his virtues, was a type of the race from which he sprung. The most striking elements of such a production are foreign to the American people.

As the spirit of the work roots in the German heart, so its form rests on the German tongue. It was designed that this should be so. One of Wagner's most persistent aims was to reanimate a national art spirit in Germany. All the rest of the world he omitted from his consideration. Those of his dramas in which he carried out his principles in their fullness are inconceivable in any other language than German, and complete appreciation of them is possible only to the German people as a people. Out of a recognition of this grew all the elements of his style. His system of dramatic declamation is based on the genius of the German language. He put aside the Italian "bel canto," not because he did not perceive its beauty, but because the German language is too harsh for florid music, and German throats are not flexible enough to execute the mellifluous melodies which are the natural and proper vehicle of Italian words. In this he did no more than to recognize a peculiarity that has always marked the Teutonic races. Strength before beauty, truthfulness before convention - these are the German ideals in everything, and Wagner has exemplified them. Hence he prefers alliteration to rhyme, thus getting back to an element of that primitive poetry which Macaulay tells us is the best. Hence, also, he has few purely lyrical moments in his dramas, and those only where they come as a natural expression of an ecstatic state into which his characters have been thrown (as in the case of Siegmund's love song, the succeeding duet, Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde, Walther's prize song, and so forth,); hence, also, his melodies have some of the ruggedness of the lines out of which they are supposed to grow. Again, to understand his dramatic music, we must become acquainted intimately with the characters of his dramas, for the old principle of formal beauty has given place to a new principle of characteristic beauty; and such acquaintance can only come through sympathetic knowledge of the language of the poems.

Here is the first great obstacle in the way of a perfect enjoyment of the Wagnerian music-dramas in the United States. The majority of the people do not understand German. They cannot listen to them as they do to the equally unintelligible Italian and French operas, for in these the musical pieces have a self-sufficient beauty, which the play sometimes heightens and never harms. In "Die Walküre" the play is the thing which compels the attention and determines the music. The music, in turn, demands that the closest attention shall be given to it as a whole. The orchestra is no longer the accompanying instrument of the voice - it has equal rights with it. In fact, most persons will say it has more than equal rights. It has become par excellence the expositor of the drama. In a higher degree than the words, the music of the instruments becomes the voice of the fate, the conscience and the will concerned in the drama. It unfolds unerringly the thoughts, the motives, the designs of the personages, and lays bare the hidden mysteries of the plot and counterplot. But if' it is to reach its aim the music must be understood, and for this no provision has been made on the part of the majority of opera-goers in this country. If "Die Walküre " is to receive such appreciation as was contemplated in its composition, those who hear it must know the meaning which Wagner has attached to a score of short but plastic melodic phrases, each of which is typical of a person, a sentiment, or an idea, of vast significance to the play; he must not only be able to recognize these phrases when he hears them, he must also understand the theory of their relationship, the wherefore of certain resemblances between them, and the purpose of their introduction at certain points, and their combination with each other. The characterization of people is the smallest part of their mission, yet some short-sighted folk think it is all. As a matter of fact, the system under which the so-called "leading motives" are employed, is among the most profound of Wagner's creations. A knowledge of the system, and a general standard of musical culture sufficient to enable the listeners to follow the music and dissect it as soon as it strikes the ear, is more than can fairly be expected of an American public at the present.

Again, the morality, or want of morality, in the drama is peculiarly repugnant to English-speaking people. The incestuous love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, celebrated by Wagner with the whole force and ardor of his genius, finds no palliation here as it might among people so accustomed to viewing the story in its deeply poetical and symbolical aspect as the Germans. It will not do simply to say that it is a relic of the mythical age, and must be taken in its allegorical meaning as the union of Spring and Love. This might do in an epic, but in a drama the vividness of the characters, in their purely human aspect, precludes such a view. Besides Wagner's presentation of the matter, which reaches an intensity that calls for a hurried fall of the curtain lest the senses as well as the feelings be shocked, banishes all thought of symbolism.

In spite of these things, the drama was witnessed nightly with unfaltering interest, and outbursts of honest enthusiasm followed every climax in the action and music. Why this should be so merits the same careful consideration as the reasons why it must fail of ideal appreciation. There is an irresistible power in the beauty of the drama as poetry, as a spectacle, and as a musical composition, and the intelligence and fidelity of the performers filled the piece with a charm which was absent from even the finest of their other representations. The stage pictures were all works of art. The costumes, armor and weapons of the personages were faithful representations of what archaeology has preserved for us from the prehistoric times of the Scandinavian race. The music sounds the depths and scales the heights of human feeling, and contributes a marvelously efficient factor to the scenic effects. In the presence of this drama even the musically illiterate must feel that the composer was filled with such a conception of the dignity and beauty of his mission as a creative artist as is met with only in the rare geniuses who work for all time.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).