[Met Performance] CID:85190
Tannhäuser {218} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/21/1923.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 21, 1923


TANNHÄUSER {218}
Wagner-Wagner

Tannhäuser..............Rudolf Laubenthal
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....................Minnie Egener
Page....................Laura Robertson
Page....................Louise Hunter

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

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

Tannhäuser received six performances this season.

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Tribune

'Tannhäuser' Performed at the Metropolitan for the First Times This Season

Once upon a time that fanatically virtuous Puritan, Mr. George Moore, cheered himself almost hoarse over the extraordinary merits of truth-telling as a career for an artist. Sooner or later, he remarked, "the sublimest imaginations pale before the simple telling of a personal truth is likewise the most universal." Mr. Moore's worship of veracity led him straight to the door of that particular temple of art inhabited by Richard Wagner, and especially to that portion of it where Tannhäuser, the gentle Elisabeth, Venus the wanton, and Wolfram, that noblest of operatic bores, enact their everlasting tragedy of spirit versus flesh. Mr. Moore was drawn to 'Tannhäuser," he confided to us, "because in this first flower of Wagner's dramatic and musical genius he had perhaps told the story of his own soul more truly, more sincerely, than elsewhere. To do that is the highest art. Only where Wagner is confiding a soul's secret is he interesting. "Tannhäuser" is the story of humanity, for what is the human story if it is not the pursuit of an ideal?"

Last night at the Metropolitan Mr. Gatti-Casazza unlocked the "Tannhäuser" compartment in the Wagnerian temple and let loose its thrice-familiar occupants for the first time this season: Elisabeth and her too excitable fiancé; Wolfram and his celebrated star; the chatelaine of the Venusburg that ill-used lady to whom Wagner has immorally given the most beautiful music in his opera; the Landgrave and his tender-minded cour; and the assorted boarders in Venus's subterranean roadhouse - Leda and Europa, the Swan and the Bull, the Sirens and Graces, Satyrs and Nymphs and Bacchantes.

There was a new Tannhäuser - Mr. Laubenthal, whose Walther in "Die Meistersinger" had already been make known to us. The rest of the principals were those of last winter's cast: Mme. Jeritza as Elizabeth; Mme. Matzenauer as Venus; Mr. Whitehill as Wolfram; Mr. Bender as the Landgrave. Mr. Bodanzky conducted.

Mr. Laubenthal's Tannhäuser, like his Walther von Stoltzing, fills the eye very pleasantly - a merit well worthy of celebration, for the average German Tannhäuser is productive of wonderment at the eagerness of Venus to retain him at court. Mr. Laubenthal's conception of the role is intelligently planned, and in such difficult scenes as that of his sudden emergence from the overheated depths of the Venusburg to the sunny peace of the Thuringian Valley, and his meeting with Elizabeth in the Hall of Song, he is simple and unaffected and expressive. His store of imagination seems rather scant; he is not a deeply tragic Tannhäuser; nor in his dealing with the music of his part did he seem so happy as in "Die Meistersinger." But we have heard many less satisfactory Tannhäusers at the Metropolitan; and only those of us who have suffered in the contemplation of certain of them whom it is hard to forget can know what praise we have spoken of Mr. Laubenthal in this sentence.

The chief distinction of this performance belongs to Mme. Jeritza's transcendently lovely Elisabeth. She was reproached last year for her excessive saintliness in the part, but we could see no justice in that complaint last night. On the contrary, this Elisabeth seemed to us the most touchingly human that we had ever seen. Nothing could have been more movingly tender than her scene with Tannhäuser at the beginning of the second act - the virginal sweetness and shyness of her stammered words at her first meeting with him were exquisitely felt and conveyed, and her intercession after Tannhäuser's outrageous behavior in the Tournament of Song was electrifying.

Mr. Whitehill delivered the insufferably tedious music of his part with a care and devotion worthy of a better cause. Was Wagner ever duller than in most of the second act of "Tannhäuser"? And, on the other hand, was he ever more gorgeously exciting than in the magnificent Venusberg music of the first scene of the first act, in the Paris version which (praise heaven!) the Metropolitan is wise enough to retain?

Mr. Bodanzky, by the way, should be placed upon a punitive regimen of bread and water for his ruthless excision of some of the most beautiful passages in Venus's dialogue with Tannhäuser in the first scene - passages that are among the greatest that Wagner has give us in that vein; for they were written in the period of ripe mastery and blazing inspiration that followed the completion of "Tristan," and represent him at his most impassioned and felicitous. Mr. Bodanzky might better have omitted some of the wearisome music that he retained in the second act - for that is Wagner at almost his lowest level of pedestrian conventionality; the Wagner of 1845. We await the opportunity to applaud a conductor who will be courageous enough to cut the second act of "Tannhäuser" to the bone, while he preserves every note and every fermata of the wonderful Venusberg scene. Why should the great, the mature, the incomparable Wagner suffer for the sins of the Wagner whose companionship is burdensome and afflictive and penitential?

Mr. Bender, as the Landgrave, was an imposing figure, but his vocal instability appears to be growing on him and his voice last night was a reed shaken in the wind. So, also, was that of Mme. Delauneis as the Shepherd in the first act. The difficult scene of the Bacchanale in Vernus's sinful cave was not without the suggestion of carefree depravity, but the revels of the inmates might have been less constrained without inciting the police to restrictive action. Probably it would be contrary to the public interest to carry out too literally the very definite prescription of Wagner for the treatment of this scene. "A wild and yet seductive chaos of movements and groupings of soft delight, of yearning and burning, carried to the most delicious pitch of frenzied riot," was his requirement. That, of course, is asking a good deal. And, after all, the music tells the tale with so little equivocation that one can only be thankful that most policemen are anti-Wagnerites.



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