[Met Performance] CID:5260
Die Walküre {21} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/10/1886.

(Debut: Albert Niemann, Georg Sieglitz, Leonore Better, Wilhelmine Mayer, Sylvia Franconi
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 10, 1886


DIE WALKÜRE {21}
Wagner-Wagner

Brünnhilde..............Lilli Lehmann
Siegmund................Albert Niemann [Debut]
Sieglinde...............Auguste Seidl-Kraus
Wotan...................Emil Fischer
Fricka..................Marianne Brandt
Hunding.................Georg Sieglitz [Debut]
Gerhilde................Marianne Brandt
Grimgerde...............Miss Kemlitz
Helmwige................Leonore Better [Debut]
Ortlinde................Georgine von Januschowsky
Rossweisse..............Isabel Escott
Schwertleite............Wilhelmine Mayer [Debut]
Siegrune................Ida Klein
Waltraute...............Sylvia Franconi [Debut]

Conductor...............Anton Seidl

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

Die Walküre received three performances this season.

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

The first appearance of Herr Niemann was awaited, of course, with no little interest. It is gratifying to sasy that the newcomer at once revealed himself as an artist of rare intelligence and experience and that the uneasiness felt in some quarters as to the impaired condiditon of his vocal organs was promply dispelled, partly throught the evidence afforded that the German tenor is still in possission of a pretty robust voice, partly through the remarkable cleverness with which he contrived to rëparer des ans l'irrëparable outrage. For upward of a quarter of a century Herr Niemann has towered in the foremost rank of Germany's heroic tenors. He was chosen by Wagner to come forth in "Tannhaüser" when that opera was produced in Paris in 1861, and he was heard as Siegmund when "the temple" at Bayreuth was "consecrated" in 1876, and he has been greeted in the interim as a prominent personage in most of the operatic events in his native land. Herr Niemann is a man of tall and commanding appearance, His manner is stately and impressive, and his looks and bearing suggest that he is continuously alive to the action of the drama. His Siegmund last night was pitched in a rather low key. It was carried out, however, with extreme simplicity, directness, and consistency. Vocally the new tenor gave abundant satisfaction. His love song, half sung, half declaimed, was rendered with the most delicate expression; his delivery of the Wagner text was a delight throughout the opera. He was applauded to the echo, and his debut in America will surely be remembered with pleasure by the singer and his hearers.


Review of Henry E. Krehbiel in the Tribune

The entrance on the American stage of the greatest of living representatives of Wagner's dramatic characters justifies a deviation from the rule making compositions and not performers the subjects of the critical portions of this Review. A great deal of the enjoyment that was to be got from Herr Niemann's impersonation of Siegmund, and a great deal of the admiration to which the impersonation was entitled, depended on the adoption of the correct point of view on the part of the observer. Not that there is any want of directness or force in Herr Niemann's appeals to public appreciation, but that the highest of those appeals is of a nature to which the ordinary patron of the lyric drama is not accustomed. According to operatic definitions Herr Niemann is a tenor singer, or, since it is common to affect foreign languages in talking about music, a "tenore robusto." It was once the fashion, and to a great extent is yet, to attend operatic representations for the simple sake of hearing a voice. This fashion, when it flourished most luxuri-antly, was wholly indifferent to anything except voice and beautiful singing. It applauded female Romeos and sexless Agamemnons and Cesars. A trace of it is still left, but happily only a trace. The taste which demanded that dramatic life should flow through a stage play, notwithstanding that it utilized music as a vehicle of expression, has gradually grown more and more indifferent to the qualities upon which appreciation once wholly depended. That appreciation in its primitive state was analogous to a savage's love for bright colors. A color is none the less beautiful because it is combined with forms in a picture, but so soon as it is thus combined it surrenders a portion of its primitive claims and acquires others. For the same reason that correct and vigorous drawing is a higher quality in a painting than simple color, a singing actor, to make no unnecessary waste of words, is a greater artist in the lyric drama than a mere singer. It is a question of interpretation. So long as the opera was not a drama but only a concert sung in costumes the delight in beautiful voices and beautiful singing was entirely in place; so soon as the opera became a drama something more was essential. It is this "something more" which Herr Niemann gives us.

The creation of a Wagnerian musical drama created also the need of Wagnerian singers. Those who go to see and hear Herr Niemann must go to see and hear him as the representative of the dramatic character that he enacts. It is only thus that they can do justice to themselves, to him and to the art-work in which he appears. A drama can only be vitalized through representation, and the first claim to admiration which Herr Niemann puts forth is based on the intensely vivid and harmonious picture of the Volsung which he brings on the stage. There is scarcely one of the theatrical conventions which the public have been accustomed to accept as vehicles of expression which he employs. He takes possession of the stage like an elemental force. Wagner's dramas have excited the fancy of painters more than any dramatic works of this century because Wagner was in a lofty sense a scenic artist. Niemann's genius, for less it can scarcely be called, utilizes this picturesque element to the full. His attitudes and gestures all seem parts of Wagner's creation. They are not only instinct with life, but instinct with the sublimated life of the hero of the drama. When he staggers into Hunding's hut and falls upon the bearskin beside the hearth a thrill passes through the observer. Part of his story is already told, and it is repeated with electrifying eloquence in the few words that he utters when his limbs refuse their office. The voice is as weary as the exhausted body. In the picturesque side of his impersonation he is aided by the physical gifts with which nature has generously endowed him. The figure is colossal: the head like "the front of Jove himself"; the eyes large and full of luminous light that seems to dart through the tangled and matted hair that conceals the greater portion of the face. The fate for which he has been marked out has set its seal in the heroic melancholy which is never absent even in his finest frenzies, but in the glare of those eyes there is something that speaks unfalteringly of the godlike element within him. This element asserts itself with magnificent power in the scene where Siegmund draws the sword from its gigantic sheath, and again when he calmly listens to the proclamation of his coming death and declines the services of the messenger of Wotan who is sent to conduct him to Valhalla.

There are aspects in which, even from a literary ,point of view, Wagner's "Ring of the Niblung" seems to be the most Teutonic of the several German versions of the old legend which is its basis. It is a primitive Teutonism, however, without historical alloy; such a Teutonism as we can construct by letting the imagination work back from the most forceful qualities of the historical German to those which representatives of the same race may have had in a prehistoric age. The period of Wagner's tetralogy, it must be re-membered, is purely mythical. The ruggedness of a type which we obtain by such a process is the strong characteristic of Herr Niemann's treatment of Wagner's musical and literary text. It is, like the drama itself, an exposition of the German aesthetic ideal: strength before beauty. It puts truthful declamation before beautiful tone-production in his singing and lifts dramatic color above what is generally considered essential musical color. That from this a new beauty results all those can testify who hear Herr Niemann sing the love song in the first act of "Die Walküre," which
had previously in America been presented only as a lyrical effusion and given with more or less sweetness and sentimentality. Herr Niemann was the first representative of the character who made this passage an eager, vital, and personal expression of a mood so ecstatic that it resorts to symbolism as if there was no other language for it. The charm with which he invests the poetry of this song (for this is poetry) can only be appreciated by one who is on intimate terms with the German language, but the dramatic effect attained by his use of tone-color, and his marvelous distinctness of enunciation all can feel.

The defects in Herr Niemann's singing, the result of the long and hard wear to which his voice has been subjected in a career of thirty-five years' duration, are so obvious that I need not discuss them. To do so would be as idle as to attempt to deny their presence. He must be heard as a singing actor, as a dramatic interpreter, not as a mere singer.



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