[Met Performance] CID:88970
Tristan und Isolde {164} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/15/1925.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 15, 1925


TRISTAN UND ISOLDE {164}
Wagner-Wagner

Tristan.................Curt Taucher
Isolde..................Florence Easton
Kurwenal................Friedrich Schorr
Brangäne................Marion Telva
King Marke..............Paul Bender
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Max Bloch
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

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

Director................Samuel Thewman
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Mathilde Castel-Bert

Tristan und Isolde received three performances this season.

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune

'Tristan und Isolde' at the Opera for the First Time This Season

For the Perfect Wagnerites, "Tristan und Isolde" is the pure milk of the Word. That fact explains the evident restiveness of those historically interesting fauna during the last two months of the current opera season; for "Tristan" has been withheld from them for what seemed an unconscionable time, pending the arrival of a new dramatic soprano from the north of Europe who was to make her début here, according to the Metropolitan's plans, as the love-sick "Irische Maid."

Mme. Larsen-Todsen (a truly "Tristanesque" name!) arrived duly from overseas, only to become the victim at a "Götterdämmerung" rehearsal of a singularly ill-timed jest played upon her by that worst of all the nuisances in the Wagnerian zoo, 'Grane," the Nieblung horse; and so, although we had our belated "Tristan" last night, the promised new Isolde was not on exhibition. Instead, we were privileged again to see and to hear and to enjoy the familiar Isolde of Florence Easton, which is not only one of that admirable artist's most finely conceived and finely elaborated parts, but one of the most eminent achievements now to be observed at the Metropolitan.

Once again, as so often in the past, Mme. Easton impressed us by the plasticity, the poise, the imaginative justice of her acting, by the beauty and distinction of her singing. Distinction, indeed, is the special characteristic of this Isolde. It is sovereign in its phases of difficult and agonized restraint, as well as in the crises of passionate abandonment. Last night it seemed to us that Mme. Easton had raised the emotional pitch of her performance; we do not remember that she has ever before, in our experience of her, in this role, been so vivid, so flexible, so finely steeled; and at the same time so incandescent when, at last, the fires burst forth in the wonderful music, and Isolde's world and Trtistan's become a "singing and a soaring flame."

There was an American Brangäne last night, the excellent contralto, Marion Telva, who had put more than one worthy impersonation to her credit at the Metropolitan. Mme. Telva took the place of Karin Branzell, who was ill; and she acquitted herself in a manner to reassure her old friends and to add new ones to her roster. Brangäne is not an easy part, yet Mme. Telva comported herself in it with skill and with intelligence. She is a good listener - her acting during the scene in which she has to absorb Isolde's anguished narration of her troubled past was delicately wrought and sensitively expressive. She had not yet, obviously, lived herself completely into the character and some of her acting was ill-judged. She should not, for example, turn her back so pointedly on Tristan, when she is delivering to him Isolde's imperious message, and her facial expression at the moment when Isolde announced her horrifying choice of drinks was curiously inexpressive. But this Brangäne is credible and moving, and we shall watch with expectation the depth and variety and flexibility which it will, we are confident, acquire.

The drag on the performance, as always these days at the Metropolitan, was the all too familiar Tristan of Curt Taucher. Mr. Taucher is everything that is earnest, indefatigable, well-intentioned; he is also everything that is pedestrian, unimaginative, heavy-handed. We heartily disliked his Tristan last year for its histrionic crudity, its commonness of tone, its vocal roughness. But last night Mr. Taucher surpassed himself. In the third act, especially, he achieved an imposing demonstration of the worst possible way of singing Tristan. Beginning with "Das kannst du nicht leiden," Mr. Taucher virtually gave up all pretense of singing Wagner's music and devoted himself to shouting, barking, yelling and, at the last, declaiming it.

Mr. Bodanzky preserved, we are happy to report, the essential portions of the indispensable scene in which the delirious Tristan curses the potion that induced his woe and his anguish, and every lover of the incomparable masterpiece will thank him for having done so. But what we got from the tremendous music of this scene was wholly due to the burning intensity of Mr. Bodanzky's reading of the orchestral commentary. Mr. Taucher did what he could to nullify its marvelous and piecing eloquence by his shocking brutalization of the voice part.

There is neither need nor excuse for it. In former days at the Metropolitan we heard this passage - indeed, the whole of Tristan's part in the score - sung again and again with a beauty of phrasing and tone and a perfection of musicianship which was allied with the most poignant utterance of the emotional burden of the text and music. It has been done; it can be done; indeed, it must be done before we can hear the music of "Tristan und Isolde" as Wagner conceived it. It is a thousand pities that a performance in many respects so distinguished and communicative as that which the Metropolitan gives of "Tristan und Isolde" should be marred by the intrusion of this deplorable impersonation. It would almost be better not to give the work at all than to give it under the handicap with which it seems at present to be unavoidably burdened.

Mr. Taucher in "Tristan und Isolde" does not lack for examples of heedful singing consorted with dramatic expressiveness. He had one at his sides last night in the third act Kurvenal of Mr. Schorr; beautifully sung, tenderly felt (if a bit unresourceful in its technique of its histrionism), as well as in the affecting final passages of Mme. Easton's Isolde - although, to be sure, Tristan was dead by that time; which would, in itself, have been a lesson to him.

Mr. Bender's King Marke was, as before, noble, but quavering. Mr. Urban's disturbingly unimaginative and unillusive third act scenery does not improve with age. Cannot something be done at least to dissemble the bald spots that have begun to appear on the surface of the Irish Sea? There was an audience of reasonable size, grateful for that which was rendered unto Wagner, uncomplaining about that which was not.



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