[Met Performance] CID:6000
Tristan und Isolde {9} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/2/1887.

(Opening Night {5}
Edmund C. Stanton, General Manager

Metropolitan Opera House
November 2, 1887
Opening Night {5}

Edmund C. Stanton, Director of the Opera


Tristan.................Albert Niemann
Isolde..................Lilli Lehmann
Kurwenal................Adolf Robinson
Brangäne................Marianne Brandt
King Marke..............Emil Fischer
Melot...................Rudolph Von Milde
Sailor's Voice..........Max Alvary
Shepherd................Otto Kemlitz
Steersman...............Emil Sänger

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

Director................Theodore Habelmann

Tristan und Isolde received three performances this season.

Review in The New York Times (W. J. Henderson?):


The season of the German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House began last evening with a performance of Wagner's music drama "Tristan und Isolde." This work was the chief success of last season, and its triumph was hailed by the most enthusiastic of Wagner's partisans as the death knoll of older forms of opera. On the other hand, the most ardent admirers of the partly sensuous school held that "Tristan und Isolde" did not find favor with the public at large but only with that portion of the community with whom reverence for Wagner is an inviolable creed. The disinterested observer may have been and probably was surprised at the vast amount of feeling shown in the controversy, and may have given utterance in the unassailable solitude of his chamber to the not inappropriate lines:

"Strange all this difference should be "Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee."

Whether the partisan warfare is to be revived this season or not, the presentation of the Wagner music drama last evening called forth an audience of great size and brilliancy and was greeted with earnest and general demonstrations of hearty approval. The spacious auditorium was crowded, and the applause at the end of each set was warm and prolonged.

It does seem as if a great deal of bitter feeling was wasted in this Wagner war. Criticism, to be wise and just, should be, above all things, dispassionate, and nothing is to be gained by the advocates of German music through angry and vituperative condemnation of everything that was born in Italy. In art the survival of the fittest is inevitable, and the ultra-Wagnerites may rest assured that all that is good in music will live in spite of them. If the world demands sensuous melody, the world will get what it wants, as it usually does in the long run. If, on the other hand, man admits the irrefutable truth of the Wagnerian teachings in regard to the dramatic significance of opera, no amount of outcry will save from oblivion certain operas of the old school which were built on false ideals and are devoid of both sense and true sentiment.

It is not necessary at this time to enter into an extended review of the music drama performed lust evening. "Tristan and Isolde" may be considered the Wagnerian test case. In it the master broke forever from the forms of the old schools. Here, at last he gave free reign to the convictions which had been growing in his soul. He said himself: "This work I am willing to submit to the severest tests that result from my theoretic assertions; not because I formed it in accordance with my system -for all theory was completely forgotten by me - but because here, at last, I moved about with the utmost freedom and the most absolute disregard for every theoretic consideration, in such manner that in the course of execution I was aware that I went far beyond my system." Here, indeed, Wagner parted once and for all with the composition of melody for melody's sake only, and strove with all the power of his marvelous genius to attain adequate dramatic expression through music. Is it any wonder that at times he is harsh and disagreeable to the ear? There are passages in "Tristan and Isolde" that will always try the patience of the most earnest lover of all that is great in music, unless he be so prejudiced as to feel it his duty to argue that Wagner could do no wrong. We must, if we view this work dispassionately, admit that parts of it are not agreeable to hear; that we cannot avoid recognizing the fact that a noble purpose to clearly shown throughout. Such faults as exist are not the necessary outcomes of Wagner's theories; they are the faults of Wagner himself, who confesses that his system ran away with him. He has attained the highest possible dramatic significance in his music as tinted, and has produced an art work which, as a whole, is admirable; but we can conceive the possibility of so mighty a mind achieving the same and with less frequent employment of soul-harrowing cacophony. He does not in repetition of words nor in distinct lyric forms and choruses, as in his earlier works, and we know that these things are by no means necessary to the existence of the loftiest music. On the contrary, musical thought now holds that they hamper dramatic truth, and Wagner has been our teacher in this. The magnificent orchestral accompaniment of this opera, built by the highest modern master of instrumentation, woven with melody intertwined with melody til the senses reel with the wealth of it all, would alone give the opera perennial life; but there are, moreover, vocal passages in it which outdo in the richness of their beauty and the intensity of their passion most things in any opera produced before "Tristan mad Isolde." Yet we cannot avoid the belief that the future will yield the world music dramas built distinctly on the linear laid down in this master work, which will surpass it in the partly sensuous beauty of their music. Such works will, perhaps, have less weight with a few, but they will more surely reach the overwhelming majority which believes that music must appeal to the ear before it can wash the intellect. Wagner is the first man of his school. It does not follow that the school will not allow development. It would be an exceptional case in the history of music if it did not. If it does, it will, after all, simply accomplish what old Jacopo Peri, Vincenzo Gallilei and Giulio Caccini vainly sought to attain nearly 300 years ago.

The performance last night was worthy of high praise. The admirers of Wagner in New York are fortunate in having his works presented to them by such an organization as that brought together at the Metropolitan Opera House under Mr. Stanton's management. Throughout there is apparent a deep-seated rapport for the master whose works are the chief feature of the repertoire and however we may differ in our estimate of the value of those works all of us must admire the artistic spirit in which their interpretation is approached. In Fräulein Lilli Lehmann the company has a dramatic soprano of the very highest powers. It is unnecessary to add now anything to the chorus of praise which greeted her impersonation of Isolde last season. It has lost nothing by the passage of the intervening months, but has rather gained in smoothness in consistency, and in depth of feeling. She sang and acted last night with magnificent passion, and fairly earned the first place in the esteem or the audience. Herr Niemann was once more the Tristan. Perhaps no greater commendation can be given to him than to say that he resists the strong temptation to overact the role. He knows the value of repose, and invests the part with a simple dignity and unaffected pathos that stamps him at ease as an actor of no common order. His voice shows the effects of long and severe labor in the arduous field of Wagnerian declamation, but he manages it with great skill and imparts fine significance to his measures.

With two such people as the central figures of the musical tragedy the audience lost none of its strength. The first act was observed with deep interest, which grew to breathlessness during the beautiful love duet of the second act. The excellent work of these two artists even made tolerable the absurd sermonizing of King Mark, which has been ridiculed perhaps more than anything else in Wagner's works. Herr Robinson was suffering from hoarseness so severe that he consented to sing only to avoid the necessity of a change of opera; but he acquitted himself surprisingly well. Fräulein Marianne Brandt sang and acted Brangäne with admirable effect though she was not in good voice, and Herr Fischer made King Mark a bearable personage, in spite of his tendency to use words where deeds would have been more manlike. Herr Alvary's voice added effectiveness to the sailor's song to the first act the chorus discharged its slight duties effectively.

Nothing but praise can be awarded to Herr Seidl for his superb conducting, and the orchestra interpreted the complex beauty of the score with masterly fidelity. On the whole, it was a notable performance of a notable work, and fittingly opened a season whose promise is brilliant.

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