[Met Performance] CID:83050
New production
Tannhäuser {215} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/1/1923.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 1, 1923
New production


Tannhäuser..............Curt Taucher
Elisabeth...............Maria Jeritza
Wolfram.................Clarence Whitehill
Venus...................Margarete Matzenauer
Hermann.................Paul Bender
Walther.................George Meader
Heinrich................Max Bloch
Biterolf................Carl Schlegel
Reinmar.................William Gustafson
Shepherd................Raymonde Delaunois
Page....................Grace Anthony
Page....................Cecil Arden
Page....................Charlotte Ryan
Page....................Grace Bradley

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Hans Kautsky
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert
Choreographer...........August Berger

Tannhäuser received three performances this season.

[Company records suggest that Joseph Urban may have designed some costumes for this production.]

Review of Oscar Thompson in Musical America

'Tannhäuser' Makes Triumphant Re-Entry at Metropolitan

Early Wagner Work Is Eagerly Welcomed by Huge Throng at First Performance in Eight Years - Cast Includes Maria Jeritza, Mme. Matzenauer, Taucher, Whitehill and Bender

Mid-season at the Metropolitan received another enlivening access of interest Thursday evening, Feb. 1, when, for the first time in eight years, the opera house provided a frame for the earlier of Richard Wagner's two enthralling contests of song. If many patrons would have preferred the singing tournament of the Nuremburg master-singers, an audience which left scarcely elbow room anywhere in the opera house, made it altogether clear that the minstrels of .the Wartburg were heartily welcome. "Tannhäuser," restored with a strong cast and new investiture, clearly eclipsed in immediate appeal the four earlier revivals of the season.

The cast included Maria Jeritza, Margaret Matzenauer, Curt Taucher, Clarence Whitehill and Paul Bender, with Artur Bodanzky conducting. Of these, only Mme. Matzenauer, as Venus, had appeared in the last previous representation, given in the spring of 1915, her companions at that time having been Melanie Kurt, Jacques Urlus, Herman Weil and Herbert Witherspoon, with Alfred Hertz in the conductor's chair. In the interim, and only so recently as a year ago, the visiting Chicago Opera forces had given currency to the work, with performances in which Rosa Raisa, Cyrena van Gordon, Richard Schubert and Joseph Schwarz were the chief singers.

Little of novelty was inherent in the Metropolitan's reversion to a score so long a pillar of the repertoire, and amply familiar, to most of those who heard it after its period of retirement. New scenery, imported from Vienna, and the new singers assigned to the cast altered in no essential the Metropolitan's traditional "Tannhäuser." Like the "Walküre" restoration of a year ago, the early work resumed its old place at the round table of the lyric dramas as if it had never been absent from it, save for the apparent eagerness of the huge audience to applaud its re-entry.

The close of each act brought a promenade of the singers before the curtain in answer to applause that was not confined to the mob behind the rail, and Mme. Jeritza was accorded the honor of appearing alone, as well as with her colleagues, after the second act. Conductor Bodanzky, Stage Director Samuel Thewman and Chorus Master Giulio Setti also were brought out where the handclappers could see them.

An Excellent Performance

The performance, in its totality, and in many of its details, merited this enthusiasm. The revival had been painstakingly prepared. To begin with, the new settings by Hans Kautsky, though entirely conventional, were in general accordance with the stage directions - which some of the recent Wagnerian mountings have not been, to the embarrassment of the action and the ire of the perfect Wagnerites. The transformation from the Venusberg to the valley of the Wartburg was flawlessly achieved, though the lotus-land picture presented of the former was marred, rather than enhanced, by the traditional tableaux presented while Tannhäuser drowsed on his divinity's knee. The vale, as disclosed in the second scene, was attractively verdant, and the grand hall of the second act provided a satisfactory background for the pageantry of the Wartburg assemblage. The last scene, though not a duplicate of that of the second part of Act I (the stage directions indicate that the two are the same) was one "en rapport" with the more sombre turn taken by the drama.

The bacchanalian aspects of the Venusberg episode were visualized with the decorum taken for granted in ballets at the Metropolitan. Satyrs eventually carried off the handmaidens of Venus, but the proprieties kept a watchful eye on everything that savored of the orgiastic in this revel. The sirens followed the beckonings of the classic dance while the music swirled into its domain of things ineffable. Nothing in the pretty posturings and graceful intertwinings of the dancers, however, gave the proceedings quite the same measure of enlivenment as a quadrupedestrian participant in the finale of the succeeding scene, when Tannhäuser was summoned back to the land of the realities and to Elizabeth by his fellow bards. One long-eared member of a pack of hunting hounds, tugging at the leash, insisted on adding his bark to the ensemble and for the last few seconds of the act he had the ear of every person in the opera house.

Musically, the performance attained and maintained a level of excellence well above that of others that can be called to mind, without assuming anything of a superlative or very unusual merit. Mr. Bodanzky conducted with much vigor and incisiveness, if with the proclivity for hurrying one moment and dragging at the next, now only too familiar in his Wagnerian expositions. The chorus justified Mr. Setti's pride in it in the Wartburg ensemble, but the men sang rather raucously and tunelessly in the first entrance of the Pilgrims.

Mme. Jeritza as Elizabeth

Because the characterization unquestionably was the center of popular interest, first mention among the principal singers must be accorded the Elizabeth of Mme. Jeritza. Save for some violent propulsion of her highest tones she sang the part as she acted it, with more of repression and restraint than has attended several of her most successful impersonations. Her Elizabeth was much like her Elsa, agreeable if not flawless as to voice, and well-routined as to action, but dependent for its appeal more on personality and a flair for the pictorial than either song or character delineation. Those who admire her most in her less strenuous moods are likely to regard this embodiment as one of her best achievements.

The Venus of Margaret Matzenauer was of imposing stature and seductive in moments of gentler song. Quieter passages of her music were invested with beauty of voice and distinction of style. When the music mounted higher and became more tempestuous the results were less felicitous. The one other feminine member of the cast, Raymonde Delaunois, sang the archaic music of the Shepherd prettily, with an individual tug in the tone.

Curt Taucher's depiction of Tannhäuser had an impressive earnestness which many times carried him to the point of really convincing acting. After the taxing close of the second act - in which Tannhäuser's prayer, not infrequently cut, was restored - he had the appearance of one whose vitality had been drained to the utmost, but he encompassed the equally trying narrative of the last act with no want of vigor. His singing, though much of it was of a hard and driven character, had more good moments than in any of his other rôles, and he gained commendation from persons who had not been quick to praise him before.

Whitehill a Noble Wolfram

Clarence Whitehill's Wolfram possessed its wonted nobility of bearing, its romantic, bardic suggestion. His singing, though uneven, was very fine at its best, as in the [first] air of the last act, which he sang rather better than the "Evening Star." His was, withal, a characterization of much sympathy. Paul Bender gave distinction to the rôle of the Landgrave, without singing it as smoothly as he has sung other parts, notably Gurnemanz. George Meader as Walther made a minor rôle one of much importance vocally. His clear tenor, though it has never seemed a large one, cut through as the dominating one in the ensembles. The other parts, as enumerated elsewhere, were creditably presented.

At this late date, comment on the opera , for Tannhäuser foreshadows rather than establishes the "music drama" reformation - would only seem superfluous. Those who are enamored of such retracings can find recollections of Weber as well as prelibations of the later and greater Wagner in this music. The work remains notable as one which marked the ending of older concepts and forms, as well as the beginning of newer ones, in Wagner's growth. The Overture, which the concert patron has with him always, was the last (save only that of "Meistersinger") in that form. Thereafter, the Preludes sounded a new note in the opera houses of the world, and another of the traditional sacks of ballast was thrown overboard, alone with the set airs and ensembles which the later Wagner found incompatible with the dramatic canons of his art syntheses.

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