[Met Performance] CID:7120
United States Premiere (Paris Version)
Tannhäuser {38} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/30/1889.
 ([This was the U.S. premiere of the Paris version, which was performed until the new production of December 26, 1953.])
(Debut: Paul Kalisch

Metropolitan Opera House
January 30, 1889


Tannhäuser..............Paul Kalisch [Debut]
Elisabeth...............Katherine Senger-Bettaque
Wolfram.................Alois Grienauer
Venus...................Lilli Lehmann
Hermann.................Emil Fischer
Walther.................Albert Mittelhauser
Heinrich................Martin Paché
Biterolf................Karl Mühe
Reinmar.................Jean Doré
Shepherd................Félicie Kaschowska

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

Director................Theodore Habelmann
Set Designer............Charles Fox, Jr.
Set Designer............William Schaeffer

[This was the United States premiere of the Paris version.]

Tannhäuser received ten performances this season.

Unsigned review in The New York Times


"Tannhäuser" is a work whose ability to stand alone and without the bolstering of explanatory lectures and handbooks will always insure it a wider popularity than can possibly be attained by Wagner's later works. While it is true that it is not as great a creation as "Tristan," "Die Walküre," or "Die Götterdämmerung," lacking, as it does, the tragic power and marvelous musical complexity at all three, it must nevertheless rank as one of the most notable results of human thought in the domain of music; and it shares with "Lohengrin" and the "Flying Dutchman" the distinction of appealing directly and powerfully to the intelligence of all refined and cultivated persons, whether acquainted with the true dramatic theory of opera or still hungering after the fleshpots of Rossini. Therefore, any variation of this beautiful opera, made by the master himself, under stress of unhappy circumstances, requires special consideration.

The circumstances surrounding the production at the Grand Opera of the Paris version of "Tannhäuser" are recounted with delightful calmness and perspicuity by Wagner himself, and they have a special significance just now showing that certain disaffected members of New York's 400, who prefer the light of gas upon their persons to the light of art upon their intellects resemble in attitude, though not in action, the controlling spirits of the home of opera in France in 1861.

Wagner's "Tannhäuser" owing to the intercession of a friendly German Princess, was produced on March 13 on order of the Emperor. But the composer was told that a ballet was indispensable. His dramatic mind at once seized upon the [first] scene, in the home of Venus, as an opportunity for "a choreographic scene of some real meaning." "I was even delighted," he says, "with the task of thus remedying a weakness of my earlier score, and I drew up an elaborate scheme, according to which the scene on the hill of Venus should be raised to a position of great importance."

But the director insisted on having the ballet in the second act, where Wagner saw no excuse for it, because the boxholders arrived late, and the ballet was for their especial edification. However, in spite of obstacles, Wagner proceeded to work out his own ideas. He, as he says, "went through the score again with the greatest care, wrote the Venue scene entirely new, as well as the ballet that preceded it, and especially endeavored to bring the music of the whole into the most exact accord with the translated text."

Wagner's troubles began at the rehearsals, which, though begun with great promise, resulted in discouragement among the singers because the critics continually warned them of failure. The composer's first hopes of an ideal presentation were destroyed, and he saw that the production was going to be only an ordinary operatic performance after all. The press of Paris labored to prejudice the public against this man with German ideas, and an audience distinctly opposed to him gathered in the opera house on the first night.

Yet the majority of those present were well pleased, and Wagner says that the applause was more unanimous than any he had ever known in Germany. Toward the end of the second act, however, the opposition, foreseeing success began to make demonstrations and desperately strove to defeat the effectiveness of the third act with loud laughter.

The members of the Paris Jockey Club, realizing that the work was successful, attended the second performance armed with whistles and other instruments, with which they created such a disturbance upon every burst of applause that the audience shouted "A la porte les jockeys." But it was impossible for the manager to stand against his lordly patrons; and after the third performance, at which the gentlemen behaved in quite as gentlemanlike manner as before, Wagner withdrew his work, although the manager declared that it was a financial success The "choice and master spirits of the age" had condemned the composer, but such men as Gautier and Baudelaire were among his staunchest supporters.

Authorities on recent musical history corroborate Wagner's account, which is written dispassionately and with convincing frankness. The opportunity afforded this public to acquaint itself with the form in which "Tannhäuser" was presented for the consideration of the Paris public 28 years ago was suggestive and valuable. It can be said with perfect safety that, if this is the kind of opera which the social authorities of Paris refused to tolerate, Verdi's "Otello" would probably have received precisely the same treatment at that time; for in his method of construction the Italian composer has joined hands with the German of 1861.

Aside from these historical facts there is not very much to note in the Paris version of "Tannhäuser," The overture is changed into an introduction, and, the familiar noble climax being absent, the curtain rises during the bacchanal. The ballet is danced to the music made familiar by frequent concert performance, and is of a pantomimic rather than a terpsichorean nature. Toward the end of the scene there are some alterations in the duet between Tannhäuser and Venus; but only students or the score would be likely to discern these and the subsequent changes.

The performance at the Metropolitan last evening was one of the most interesting and meritorious of the season. Owing to the sudden illness of Herr Alvary, who was to have sung the title rôle for the first time, Herr Paul Kalisch, the husband of Lilli Lehmann, appeared as Tannhäuser. It was his debut in opera in America, and he achieved a success. His voice is, perhaps, not quite so full and sonorous as we might desire, but it carries well and its agreeable quality is not lost in a large auditorium. He sang the part with excellent judgment and with an abundance or well-expressed feeling, His stage presence was good and his acting was manly and dignified and at times almost impressive. Taken as a whole his performance was worthy of warm praise, and it will be a pity if he is not heard again.

Frau Lilli Lehmann sang and acted Venus in her customary effective manner. Fräulein Katti Senger-Bettaque was the Elizabeth, and she gave one of the best performances she has given since she has been here. She sang the fine song at the beginning of the second act creditably. Herr Grinauer's Wolfram was one or the best things he has done since his arrival in this city. Herr Fischer's Landgrave needs no new praise; it was as good as ever.The remainder of the cast was acceptable, and the stage display was the same as it has been heretofore. The chorus was in good form and the orchestra was admirable. Herr Seidl deserves a large share of the praise for the general results of the evening.

From the review of Henry Krehbiel in the New York Tribune

The changes in the opera from the familiar version are not many, and appealed to the music student rather than to the general public...For those who sympathize with Wagner's theories as to the province of the ballet in such a situation (it is not a dance, but an allegory in pantomime with a few attributes which might be spared - the illustration of Jupiter's adventures, brought in near the close, for instance) there can be do doubt that the new version marks and improvement over the old; but the second scene, it seem to us last night, has lost some of its freshness and lovely simplicity from the changes made...A pleasure which the assemblage had not been privileged to anticipate came from the appearance of Herr Paul Kalisch as Tannhäuser in place of Herr Alvary, who had expected to assume the role, but was prevented by illness. Herr Kalisch's manly voice and excellent method have challenged and received our praise heretofore. In the trying part which he essayed (without rehearsal, said the house bill last night) he succeeded in a degree for which few, perhaps, in the assemblage were prepared. Especially did he gratify all purely musical instincts, for his voice was unswervingly true in pitch all evening. Besides this he acted and sang with fine taste, intelligence and profound earnestness.

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