[Met Performance] CID:96130
Tristan und Isolde {174} Metropolitan Opera House: 04/4/1927.


Metropolitan Opera House
April 4, 1927


Tristan.................Walter Kirchhoff
Isolde..................Florence Easton
Kurwenal................Clarence Whitehill
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Pavel Ludikar
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Angelo Badà
Shepherd................George Meader
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

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

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Tribune

A New Tristan at the Metropolitan; Kirchhoff as Isolde's Lover

Inasmuch as "Tristan und Isolde" is paramount among the lyric dramas of the world, it follows that the debut of a new impersonator of Isolde's lover presents the aspect of a major operatic event. In the matter of impersonations, indeed, there could scarcely be a more important one, unless it were the first performance of a new Isolde. Mr. Walter Kirchhoff, therefore, the Metropolitan's new German tenor, has the floor, so far as this chronicler is concerned; for Mr. Kirchhoff disclosed to us last night for the first time in America, his conception of Wagner's tragic hero.

Mr. Kirchhoff had already been heard here this season in five other Wagner roles - Loge, Siegmund, the young Siegfried, the elder Siegfried, and Walther. In none of the last four did he make so favorable an impression as in the first, his Loge in "Das Rheingold." Thereafter Mr. Kirchhoff went from very good to pretty bad, and at certain moments in his portrayal of Siegmund and of Walther his best friends and severest critics very nearly parted company.

Last night, as Tristan, Mr. Kirchhoff went far toward re-establishing himself in our critical regard. He is evidently an undisciplined and somewhat irresponsible artist; for only an artist exemplifying what Plato called "the unexamined life" could be as bad as Mr. Kirchhoff at his worst and as good as Mr. Kirchhoff at his best. Last night he had a few bad moments - as in the third act, where his besetting sin of extravagance in song and action made us, for a while, forget how excellent he had been during most of the evening. But it is a pleasure to be able to say that there were fewer instances of these last night than in anything we have seen him do here.

For the greater part of the evening Mr. Kirchhoff showed us a Tristan intelligently and warmly imagined, and projected with exception vividness and power. His entrance into Isolde's tent in the first act was unusually impressive - as impressive as any merely human apparition could be in the face of the tremendous orchestral passages that announces and accompanies it. His management of the incident of the proffered sword was admirable; and he contrived to charge his utterances of "dass du nicht dir's enfalies läest!" with a tragic bitterness of irony that we do not remember any Tristan's achieving in our thirty years experience of this music-drama at the Metropolitan and elsewhere.

In such strokes of swift imaginative insight that draw one back to Mr. Kirchhoff in the conviction that he has in him the stuff of an uncommonly fine impersonator - if only he were able to curb his exuberance, and remember that any one can italicize a word, but that only a master of structure and restraint and delicate heedfulness can so build a dramatic or musical sentence that it will smite through the cumulative effect of its strength or its loveliness, unaided by the easy emphasis of a stressed word or a raised voice.

Mr. Kirchhoff's singing, too, ranked with the best that he has given us. His voice is never extraordinary for beauty, and his use of it is often illegitimate. But last night he sang (when he did not think it necessary to force his tone, and when he kept on the pitch) with fine expressiveness, with varied and significant color. In the greatest of all tragic roles it is possible to say of Mr. Kirchhoff that at his best last evening he moved and persuaded us. Dealing with musical and histrionic stuff of dismaying subtlety and intractability, he was often its master, adding point and eloquence to transcendent things.

Florence Easton, his partner as Isolde, had not recently been heard here in this rôle. She has grown surprisingly in the part, and last night, from her very first phrase, "Wer wagt mich zu höhen!," she filled the music and the action of the role with a puissance and an intensity that she had not before attained in it. And what a pleasure it was to hear the matchless music sung with beauty and steadiness of tone; with obedience to the command which Mottl wrote in his edition of the score over one of Tristan's most frenzied phrases "Niemals dem Gesangaten verlassen!" - a warning which Mr. Kirchhoff, by the way, might well ponder in company with certain of his colleagues here and abroad. Mme. Easton does not need to. She learned that lesson long ago.

All in all, a notable "Tristan." The performance was heard by an astonishingly large house, and the standing room was packed. Can any one have thought that this was a new opera - by Mr. Taylor and Miss Millay? The Metropolitan has turned so cold a shoulder to "Tristan und Isolde" this season (last night's was the first, last and only regular subscription performance) that the public might well be excused for receiving it as a novelty. Since they seemed to like it, perhaps the Metropolitan will see fit to restore the work to its good graces next season.

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