[Met Performance] CID:92430
Tannhäuser {235} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/17/1926.

(Debut: Lauritz Melchior

Metropolitan Opera House
February 17, 1926 Matinee


Tannhäuser..............Lauritz Melchior [Debut]
Elisabeth...............Maria Jeritza
Wolfram.................Friedrich Schorr
Venus...................Karin Branzell
Hermann.................Michael Bohnen
Walther.................George Meader
Heinrich................Max Bloch
Biterolf................Arnold Gabor
Reinmar.................Louis D'Angelo
Shepherd................Elizabeth Kandt
Page....................Louise Hunter
Page....................Minnie Egener
Page....................Charlotte Ryan
Page....................Mary Bonetti
Dance...................Lilyan Ogden
Dance...................Jessie Rogge
Dance...................Florence Glover

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

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

The performance of "Tannhäuser" yesterday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera House was the beginning of the special Wagner cycle to be given there, and also served to introduce Lauritz Melchior, the new Danish tenor, to his first American audience. It was a day of debuts, returns, and, in the case of Mme. Jeritza, a temporary farewell. Mr. Melchior had wished to make his first appearance as Siegmund rather than Tannhäuser, which is one of the last Wagnerian roles that he has acquired. Exigencies of the Metropolitan repertory, and casts, however, do not always make it possible for a tenor to have his wishes. This writer remembers Mr. Melchior as Siegmund and as Parsifal at Bayreuth in the summer of 1924, performances which he repeated in the same place last summer.

The impressions of his Bayreuth performances were so different from the impression of his Tannhäuser yesterday afternoon that it seems well to wait until he has appeared here in other Wagnerian parts to ascertain the real extent of his powers. He was originally cast in opera as a baritone. There is no denying that the music of Tannhäuser seemed yesterday high for him. The tone was forced and rough in quality and the melodic line suffered. Probably there were momentary conditions that affected the voice. There was marked improvement as the opera went on, and the "narrative" of the last act was impressively delivered. Here its singing had a quality and freedom not apparent before.

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune

That the bulk of the opera seemed less dull and prolix and tedious yesterday than it often has in the past was doubtless due to its cast. First of all, there was the new Danish tenor, Lauritz Melchior, who has sung at Bayreuth during the past two summers, and whose fame as an improved variety of that disheartening species, the Wagner tenor, had preceded him.

Mr. Melchior is tall and portly-too portly for his best interests as an impersonator of romantic and heroic figures. His mask is not expressive; nor has he, apparently, a natural instinct for the stage. We felt this when we witnessed his Parsifal at Bayreuth last summer, and we felt it yesterday. His attitudes, his gestures, his way of entering a scene are awkward and inexpressive. He lacks the ease and grace and plasticity of the good histrion. For Mr. Melchior apparently does not court acting among his accomplishments. His indication, for instance, of Tannhäuser's growing excitement as that deplorable backslider remembers so inopportunely his affair with Venus, was technically incompetent. Yet as the afternoon wore on we could not help wondering if Mr. Melchior were giving a fair account of himself; for he delivered the great Narrative in the third act with genuine power and even a touch of dramatic inspiration. So let us suspend judgment on this point.

Mr. Melchior began life as a barytone; but, aspiring to higher things, he became a tenor. The transformation has not been wholly successful--you keep wishing that Mr. Melchior had stayed where heaven put him. His upper register is not always easy to listen to. But the voice has beauty-it is a better organ than either Mr. Taucher's or Mr. Laubenthal's. When Mr. Melchior does not imagine that he is a tenor tuba-when he sings mezza voce-he dispenses a tone that is often pleasurable. He can even sing piano on F sharp and produce a musical tone-as in his impressive utterance of "Elisabeth!" in the scene with the Landgraf and the Minstrels at the end of the First Act.

He has not-or at least he did not evince yesterday-that steadfast devotion to the pitch-which can do much to commend even Wagner tenors who are otherwise among God's lesser bounties. Mr. Taucher, for example, is exemplary in this respect. Mr. Melchior sang most of the earlier passages of his scene with Venus distressingly off key-to the evident agony of Mr. Bodanzky. And his feeling for rhythm seems insecure. Yet despite these obvious deficiencies we think Mr. Melchior is not unlikely to prove an asset to the Metropolitan. Certain of his defects are susceptible of modification. And he has excellencies that his colleagues in the Wagner tenor department do not possess.

The rest of the principals in yesterday's performance have often before succeeded in giving an interest to many moments in "Tannhãuser" which are almost intolerable in lesser hands. We shall not soon, if ever, be able to listen with patience to any Landgraf less engrossing than Mr. Bohnen, who so fills and holds the eye, so dominating the scenes in which he figures, that he makes bearable even that titanic bore, the Langraf Hermann. Mr. Schorr, with his beautiful voice and his suavely finished art, holds you in your seat even through "O du mein holder Abendstern."

As for Mme. Jeritza, who made her second farewell appearance yesterday (the first was at last Saturday's "Tosca" matinee), her Elisabeth is quite the finest thing she does, and one of the best Elisabeths in the Metropolitan history. The Venus of Karin Branzell had warmth and plasticity-but the part remains one for a singing actress of a special type. Elizabeth Kandt achieved a small triumph in the role of the Young Shepherd by singing it more completely out of tune than we have ever heard it sung before. She was ably assisted in this achievement by the Elder Pilgrims.

The revels in the Venusberg night club were as wild as usual at the Metropolitan-which is to say that they equaled in frenetic abandonment any meeting of the Dorcas Society of which history preserves a record. Nor did the orchestra help much. We have seldom heard a more slipshod performance of the gorgeous Bacchanale. But Mr. Bodanzky labored heroically throughout the afternoon and kept the tempi vital and the dramatic flames alive.

An enormous audience listened intently and applauded with every evidence of unmodified delight.

Review of Samuel Chotzinoff in the Evening Post

A New German Tenor

No special trains bearing the musical citizens of Kansas City, or, more appropriately, St. Louis, arrived in town yesterday to witness the American debut of Lauritz Melchior in "Tannhäuser." For lovers of German Opera, however, Mr. Melchior's debut was infinitely more important than the debut of Miss Talley in "Rigoletto." Good coloratura singers are a luxury, but a good German tenor has become an absolute necessity.

Yesterday's "Tannhäuser" was the [first] opera in Gatti-Casazza's afternoon Wagner cycle. The cast was really the best that the Metropolitan could offer, and the result was as good a performance of Wagner's early opera as one could witness anywhere. It is getting to be the fashion to look down on "Tannhäuser," not only because the music is not nearly so good as that in "Tristan" or the "Ring" or the "Meistersingers," but also because the once popular story of a man's struggle between sacred and profane love has little appeal to the present "wise" generation. People are no longer shocked and thrilled by Tannhäuser's little visit to the Venusburg, and the ideal good woman who Goethe insisted, "Zieht uns hinauf," is by now a little tarnished. The fashion in heroines has switched rather to the Venuses. There is an inclination to think Tannhäuser a dumbbell for ever having left the pleasant abode of that sprightly woman.

But given an excellent cast like that of yesterday afternoon the old work can be absorbing. The part of the Landgraf Hermann is usually a bore, but in the hands of Michael Bohnen it took on a semblance of reality. When he announced that he would give away his saintly daughter Elizabeth for what amounts to a song, it did not seem at all incredible. Friedrich Schorr, who did Wolfram, acted the poetic rival of the hero not like the pious Y.M.C.A. secretary he is usually made to appear, but as a healthy, full-blooded poet, and he sang sonorously and authoritatively in addition. Miss Branzell was a ravishing Venus, vocally and histrionically. Maria Jeritza, whose last appearance of the season it was, repeated a familiar impersonation.

Now for Mr. Melchior. Reports of this gentleman's vocal prowess have been reaching opera houses and musical agencies for two years. Connoisseurs had heard him do Parsifal at Bayreuth, and the aged Cosima Wagner had said nice things about him. But two years is a long time in the life of a voice subjected to the German tenorial method of singing. It is quite likely that Mr. Melchior sang beautifully two years ago, but yesterday's performance revealed the familiar qualities of the usual German tenor voice. Mr. Melchior's , it is true, has not the unpleasant "bleat" which we are accustomed to hear from the throats of other Tannhäusers and Tristans at the Metropolitan, but the same old method is there - the same throaty emission, the straining on high notes, the sudden explosions.
The new tenor is generously proportioned. As an actor he is earnest and sincere, but his gestures and postures are naïve, to say the least. It may be that Mr. Melchior is a better ornament to the German contingent at the Metropolitan than either Mr. Laubenthal or Mr. Taucher. That is not very high praise, however. Again we must wait and hope.

Observations of pianist Olga Samaroff in her column in the Post

A new Wagnerian tenor and a publicity-laden coloratura debutante, in one day at the Metropolitan created a considerable task for the reviewer of music. Wagner and Verdi, as well as all the well-known singers and conductors of the two performances, have to be temporarily retired so far as this column is concerned in order to fulfill at least the reporter's duties connected with such a day's occurrences.

Mr. Melchior, who sang the title role in "Tannhäuser" at the matinee performance, is a Dane by birth. Vocally he belongs in the growing line of "baritones turned tenor," sanctioned by the precedent of Jean de Reszke.
Dramatically he belongs distinctly in the school possessed of all the Bayreuth and Munich traditions.

Physically he is of gigantic stature and musically he seems very sure of what he is doing. His singing in the Venusberg scene, probably as a result of nervousness, was not impressive, but he warmed up as the opera progressed and he was at his best both vocally and dramatically in the last act. Mr. Melchior has enjoyed great success abroad and he would be a valuable addition to any opera company. I would like to wait before writing more at length about him, for I feel he is not an artist one can even attempt to sum up at a single hearing Yesterday his vocal production seemed at times to suffer from a tightness of the throat and it remains to be seen whether this quality is a permanent thing or nerves.

In general his Tannhäuser was warmly received by his new audience.. Mme. Jeritza, in her moving interpretation of Elisabeth, bade farewell to her Metropolitan audience for the rest of this season. She was in excellent voice.

Lauritz Melchior as Tannhäuser. Photograph by Herman Mishkin.

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