[Met Performance] CID:85040
New production
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg {143} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/9/1923.

(Debuts: Rudolf Laubenthal, Arnold Gabor

Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 9, 1923
New production


DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG {143}
Wagner-Wagner

Hans Sachs..............Clarence Whitehill
Eva.....................Florence Easton
Walther von Stolzing....Rudolf Laubenthal [Debut]
Magdalene...............Kathleen Howard
David...................George Meader
Beckmesser..............Gustav Schützendorf
Pogner..................Paul Bender
Kothner.................Carl Schlegel
Vogelgesang.............Max Bloch
Nachtigall..............Louis D'Angelo
Ortel...................Paolo Ananian
Zorn....................Angelo Badà
Moser...................Pietro Audisio
Eisslinger..............Giordano Paltrinieri
Foltz...................James Wolfe
Schwarz.................William Gustafson
Night Watchman..........Arnold Gabor [Debut]

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

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Hans Kautsky

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg received seven performances this season.

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Tribune

Wagner's 'Meistersinger' in a Notable Revival at the Metropolitan

Shortly after 8 o'clock last night a thing happened at the Metropolitan Opera House which is not easy to describe, for it involved a mystery. Some one on the stage called out very loudly and raucously, "Now begin!" and a young man in knightly doublet and hose and plumed hat defiantly echoed the command, which was evidently directed at him. As he did so, strings, like a liberating wind, swept the orchestra out of the key of G, where it had been rather uneventfully playing, into the key of F. And then a miracle occurred; for there before us was no longer a company of hard working, rent-paying orchestral players and an anxious, bespectacled conductor coaxing reluctant music from implements of brass and wood and catgut, but an Old World countryside in Spring, with an irrepressible young poet singing in a nearby wood, and the green tides of May running over hedgerows and gardens and orchards under a gusty sky. Gone were the lust and villainies of Scarpia and his sinister Roman drawing-room; gone were the subversive garlands and scented pieties of the Alexandria of Thais and Nicias and Athaneal, the idols of Ethiopians and chanting priestesses of Aida's Egypt - gone as if they had never been; for Wagner's "Meistersinger:" had been restored to us, and the most transporting Spring Song in all music was being sung to us again.

It is more than six years since "Die Meistersinger" was performed at the Metropolitan. It was last heard there on April 7, 1917, with a cast that included Gadski as Eva, Sembach as Walther, Weil as Hans Sachs, Goritz as Beckmesser and Reiss as David. Mr. Bodanzky conducted. Then the war involved us, and German opera vanished from the boards of the Metropolitan for many a day. The revival of "Die Meistersinger" continues the progressive reinstatement of Wagner which has already accomplished the restoration of "Parsifal," "Tristan," "Lohengrin," 'Tannhäuser," and "Die Walküre" to the Metropolitan list.

Mr. Gatti-Casazza gave the marvelous work last night with a cast that included only two of the principals who were heard in it six years ago - Miss Kathleen Howard as Magdalena and Mr. Clarence Whitehill as Hans Sachs; though Mr. Bodanzky was again enthroned on the conductor's dais. All heard in their rôles for the first time in New York. These were Florence Easton as Eva, Rudolf Laubenthal (the new German tenor of the company) as Walther won Stoltzing, Gustav Schützendorf as Beckmesser, Paul Bender as Pogner and George Meader as David. Arnold Gabor, the new Hungarian baritone, made his debut in the small but essential part of the Night Watchman. The opera was newly mounted, with scenery by the industrious Professor Kautsky of Vienna.

It is a quarter of a century since that naïve and trusting soul, Mr. George Bernard Shaw (as he then signed himself), made the momentous discovery that the hero of "Die Meistersinger" was merely a "widower who cobbles shoes, writes verses and contents himself with looking on at the sweetheartings of his customers"; which causes you to wonder what Mr. Shaw thinks the Prelude to the third act of "Die Meistersinger" is all about - that matchless reverie which, as Wagner himself has told us, "impresses the anguish of a deeply stirred soul - the bitter cry of the resigned man who presents to the world a composed and cheerful countenance." The Sachs of Wagner's imagination is, in those intenser moments when he confronts his own heart, and of Hardy's terrible poem, "I Look Into My Glass" - the middle-aged lover with his wintering body shaken in the evening of its days "with throbbings of noontide." It is this element in "Die Meistersinger" which makes it so much more moving and profound a thing than Mr. Shaw supposed it to be. He called it a work full of health, fun and happiness" (which, to be sure, it is externally), containing not a single bar of love music that can be described as passionate." If Mr. Shaw meant merely that the love music of Walther and Eva and the poignant brooding of Sachs are in a different world from the love music of Tristan and Isolde, that is, of course, as true as it is obvious. Perhaps mere lyric ecstasy and "the anguish of a deeply stirred soul" (in Wagner's phrase) do not come within Mr. Shaw's definition of human passion. At all events, he seems to have been curiously unresponsive in his "Perfect Wagnerite" days, to the special quality of the music of "Die Meistersinger"' its captivating fusion of boisterousness and beauty, gayety and sweetness, processional pomp and romantic ardor, the warmth and depth of his humanity, the sweet mellowness of its spirit, its magical recapturing of the hue and fragrance of a vanished day. It is the snaring and conveying of this special quality of "Die Meistersinger" which makes an eloquent performance of it so difficult. Beyond any work in the standard list, it demands of its interpreters and almost impossibly sensitive comprehension of its essential spirit.

It is therefore high praise to say of last night's revival of the work at the Metropolitan that at many moments this essential spirit had been apprehended and was conveyed. It was evident, as it has so often been before, in the gentle, poised and beautifully tender Sachs of Mr. Whitehill; though we could not help wondering if Mr. Whitehill had seen eye to eye with Wagner in studying that phase of the character which we have discussed; it fundamental gravity, its deep sadness that is controlled and sweetened by serenity and strength. It was evident, too, in Mr. Bender's mellow Pogner, and in the delightful Eva of Miss Easton - a fresh disclosure to New York of her versatility, her flexibility of imagination, her sympathetic comprehension of widely differing styles.. Eva is not, to tell the truth, one of the most engrossing females in Wagner's lyrico-dramatic collection, which includes such adorable and perturbing creatures as Isolde, Brünnhilde, Sieglinde and Kundry. Eva is of the lesser breed - though she is much more lovable, to be sure, than Elsa or Senta or Gutrune. She can be made to seem at the hands of a mediocre interpreter, merely an insipid, flaxen-haired, Teutonic ingénue, odorous of bread and butter. But there is more in her than that: there is the fragrant breath of sincere and naïve romance and last night Miss Easton made her authentically alive and vivid and high-spirited, full of salt and savor.

The new Walter, Mr. Laubenthal, who hails from Berlin, possess that gift of gifts, a girth under strict control, and thus he is a refreshing contrast to the German tenors of long tradition, whose waistlines had vanished in the mist of an indulgent past. Mr. Laubenthal is personable, he is young and he had charm. His acting was rather tentative and unresourceful last evening, and he seemed a gentle and timorous knight, wistfully indecisive. His voice is not luscious, but it is much better than one has been accustomed to expect from singers of his school.

Mr. Schützendorf's Beckmesser is an excellent characterization, and greatly entertained the embattled Wagnerites who filled the house. Mr. Schützendorf does not follow the pointless tradition which insists upon denying that Beckmesser is essentially a comic character. To play him seriously is to make unhumorous nonsense of the part, and Mr. Schützendorf did not commit this error. He steered a judiciously true course between extravagant clowning and grim sobriety; and he succeeded in being extremely amusing in the gloriously comic scene of the serenading of the supposititious Eva.

Mr. Meader was an admirable David, and Miss Howard disclosed a much improved and attractive Magdalena. Mr. Gabor will doubtless make more of the Night Watchman's great scene at the close of the second act, when he has learned his way about the Metropolitan Bigger and Better Nuremberg - a handsome, prosperous and substantial city as painted by Professor Kautsky. Who cares whether the interior of the Katherinekirche in the first act is or is not an accurate historical reproduction or whether the linden tree in front of Pogner's house seems capable of fragrance? For Wagner has made his orchestra as fragrant as June twilight, and last night much of that fragrance escaped from the orchestra pit and ravished the senses of the devoted Wagnerites in the audience, so that they committed the impiety of applauding Mr. Bodanzky before he had played the Watchman off the stage and Professor Kautsky's new full moon above the gables of the sleeping town. But Mr. Bodanzky has surely forgiven them by this time for their pleasure in his musicianly conducting was obvious and warm.

"It has become clear to me that this work will be my most consummate masterpiece" wrote Wagner to his Mathilde. It was not the first time he had thought about a work upon which he was engaged; but perhaps, in this case, he was right. It is hard to differ with him as you listen to the wondrous score with its Shakespearean abundance, its Shakespearean blend of humor and loveliness, its perfect veracity and transcendent art.



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