[Met Performance] CID:83930
Tristan und Isolde {160} Metropolitan Opera House: 04/4/1923.


Metropolitan Opera House
April 4, 1923


Tristan.................Curt Taucher
Isolde..................Barbara Kemp
Kurwenal................Clarence Whitehill
Brangäne................Jeanne Gordon
King Marke..............Michael Bohnen
Melot...................Carl Schlegel
Sailor's Voice..........Max Bloch
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

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

Review of Pitts Sanborn in the Globe

Barbara Kemp and Michael Bohnen in "Tristan und Isolde"

For the first time since Olive Fremstad left the Metropolitan Opera House in the spring of 1914 it is possible to speak of the role of Isolde as being interpreted there. Meanwhile, more or less of commendable singing has been heard from more than one Metropolitan Isolde, and the Irish princess of Mrs. Easton was a regal figure. But Barbara Kemp, who appeared as the heroine of "Tristan und Isolde" at the Metropolitan last evening, has the genuine dramatic soprano voice that the music demands and is an interpreter of subtlety and power.

Nevertheless, Miss Kemp began disappointingly last evening, though from the first parting of the curtains she was marvelous to look at, a bride for the Cornish monarch, all aglow with sovereign gold. But in action and in song she was curiously unlike that Barbara Kemp, the focused, restrained dynamics of whose art have been so overwhelmingly impressive rôles as diverse as Mona Lisa and Elsa. Mrs. Kemp's Isolde started off in an unbridled fury. She worked unheard of violences on a dead, unsteady voice; her singing seemed to consist of nothing but the dreadful vertical mouthing that so often is its bane, and the frenzy of her acting suggested that at any moment Isolde might up and take a bite out of one of Mr. Urban's tigers ā la Newburgh that ramp so appetizingly across the screens and hangings of Isolde's floating encampment. Where was the Barbara Kemp we had known in other operas, doing nothing and making it mean mountains?

Yet once in a while she delivered ecstasy as only a great artist can. These moments came oftener as the act progresses. Mrs. Kemp was evidently growing out of an extreme initial nervousness into her habitual control. Her bearing took on dignity, even queenliness; her tones gained in brilliance and color. The second act in its turn she began with a new access of violence, but this was eventually worn through, and the trance-like simplicity of her bearing in the presence of King Mark, as she sat motionless in filmy white against the gray of the terrace, was a picture never to be forgotten. As it happens, this was Mrs. Kemp's first Isolde on any stage, and inevitably a nervous one. With repetition we may expect an Isolde completely worthy of her extraordinary abilities.

We are by now familiar with the conscientious unheroic Tristan of Mr. Taucher. The earnestness and sincerity of this gentleman always command respect, and there were times in the second act yesterday when he did some real singing. The Kurvenal of Mr. Whitehill is cast in a generous mould. Mrs. Gordon strives hard to accomplish something as Brangäne. Mr. Schlegel makes an imposing Melot. Max Bloch was so placed yesterday that the voice of the invisible sailor seldom got far beyond the rigging. But the King Mark of Mr. Bohnen (new to New York) walked right into the hearts of the audience. King Mark proverbially occupies the place of honor in the well-stocked gallery of operatic bores. Not so when Mr. Bohnen sings and acts him. Never before has King Mark so insistently and absolutely got into the game, and the result was that the hunting parson of the Cornish caliphate became positively thrilling.

Mr. Bodanzky conducted the orchestral part of this performance with care and energy; the instrumental flood moved broadly and with due speed at moments, with a little undue speed, but it rarely waxed hotter than a potentially tepid warmth. The elaborately inept scenery to which we are now used was again on view. The trysting of the lovers, so far as anything like privacy is concerned, might as well take place on the steps of the New York Public Library at high noon of a summer's day. The audience was less large than many that the Metropolitan has held, nor was it moved to any demonstration of an overwhelming enthusiasm.

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