[Met Performance] CID:98030
Tristan und Isolde {175} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/16/1928.

(Debut: Gertrude Kappel

Metropolitan Opera House
January 16, 1928
Revised production


Tristan.................Rudolf Laubenthal
Isolde..................Gertrude Kappel [Debut]
Kurwenal................Friedrich Schorr
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Michael Bohnen
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Angelo Badà
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 six performances this season.

[Joseph Urban designed a different set for Act II.]

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune

A New Isolde: Gertrude Kappel Makes Her American Debut at the Opera

A new Isolde was disclosed to us last night at the Metropolitan. And if Gertrude Kappel, of Munich and Vienna, is not a great Isolde, as well as a new one, at least she tempts one, time and. again, to unfurl that adjectival pennon and set it flying in the jubilant winds of praise. Mme. Kappel is "new," of course, only to New York. In Europe her sweeping: exalted, and fiery embodiments of mature Wagner heroines - Isolde, Brünnhilde, Kundry - have been familiar and acclaimed for several years at the Festival performances in Munich, at Covent Garden, London, and in Vienna.She had not been, singing more than five minutes last night before she had demonstrated that this was an Isolde of the rarest metal - an lsolde such as we have not had at the Metropolitan in many a year, an Isolde of sensitive musicianship, of temperament, shepherded and made poignant and deeply moving by restraint and balance and scrupulous taste; an Isolde with the divining instinct and the kindling touch.

Mme. Kappel is plenteously endowed with voice. It is a true Wagner organ that she brings to us, rich, warm, enduring. She employs it with a subtlety and finesse that no Isolde within our memory has brought to the singing of this role since Ternina's day. She phrases with the delicacy and the sensibility of an accomplished Lieder singer, with a continual play of varied color and nuance, with an exquisite use of mezza voce. Not once was she shrill or over-vehement though she never let us forget that she was being borne on the current of tremendous music: in sweep and range and accent her Isolde kept pace with the surge and movement of the untraversible work, itself - the score was mirrored in her voice, and in her face and gestures.

A fine performance of "Tristan," as of any comparable work, reminds us of the infinite capaciousness of great art. As Mr. Strachey once remarked of tragedy in general, such works are not only immortal, they are forever new, and there are many implications in them which, are revealed by a mysterious law to each succeeding generation. The "Phedre" of Bernhardt differed as much from that of Rachel as Rachel's differed from Clarion's. But each was "Phedre." So there are many aspects in which "Tristan" may present itself to the discerning, yet each is "Tristan." It is possible to see this protean and inexhaustible score as chiefly a blaze of sensuous ecstasy, a lyric conflagration. Under this aspect of it, Isolde becomes essentially an incarnate passion - she becomes Our Lady of Sighs - the embodiment of all human "desideria, "and you fancy that Tristan, dreaming over her, might have uttered the words of the elegist of "Modern Love:" "This woman, O this agony of flesh!" But on another day, in another place, you may read or hear or brood upon the work again and see in it quite different forms and hues and implications.

For some of us the sensuous splendors of the music of "Tristan," its loveliness that intoxicates and seduces, become progressively less significant an element of the work than its more classic attributes - its tragic and sorrowful grandeur, its immensity and sweep of utterance, its exaltation, its nobility. The greatest of all Wagner conductors once wrote to us of his conception of "Tristan und Isolde"; "Ever since I first conducted "Tristan" - forty years has seemed to me that this music is pervaded from the start by a presentiment of tragic fatefulness, and I have sought always in conducting it to emphasize the immensity of its sweep and grandeur, that quality in it which relates it to the greatness of antique tragedy."

We fancy that Gertrude Kappel may possibly share this view. Her Isolde, from the start, is subtly touched with suggestion of exalted consecration. Even in the abandonment of the second act, with the ripeness of summer delusively at her lips, she manages to preserve that suggestion of transfiguring immensities. Mme. Kappel does not startle by her comeliness; yet there are times when she is more than beautiful to look upon, times when she seems to borrow something from the soar and glow and amplitude of the music. When we heard her sing Isolde in Munich In 1925, and again in 1926, it seemed to us that she had a peculiar power of suggesting the greatness of great characters. It would be difficult to say just how she achieved this, for she is almost as uncommanding in physique as Ternina was, but she did. And last night she renewed this impression.

It is wholly an inward light, an inward fire and conviction, that project themselves in her embodiment of the rôle. She knows the secret of the grand manner of the early, goddesses of Wagnerian interpretation, yet she never falls into the error of imagining, in Mr. George Moore's words, that it is any part of her duty to suggest the statuary in German beer gardens. In action she is plastic, flexible, expressive and she has the unrewardable gift of eloquent repose. She was at her height in the Liebestod: Here, in the matchless finale of the work, with its sad sincerity and its rich, dissolving loveliness, her exaltation and her rapt intensity reflected the dying fires of the music. Its mood is of luminous reconciliation, and she seemed to be singing a half-wondering paraphrase of Wagner's words:

 "Death shall I shrink from loving thee? Into the breast that gives the rose. Shall I with shuddering fall?"

This is the story, so far as we have time to tell it, ("Tristan" is not an early opera), of Gertrude Kappel. Of her companions in the performance we can say no more, at present, than that they contributed in their familiar ways to the sum of an uncommonly moving presentation of the lonely masterpiece.

The settings in the first and second acts had been advantageously altered, with especially happy results in the later case. Mr. Bodanzky wreaked himself upon the intensities of the score and achieved a performance of memorable power. It should be added that Mme. Kappel's personal triumph was extraordinary. We can think of no Wagner singer in recent years who has received so fervent and spontaneous an ovation from a Metropolitan audience - and not a Wagner Cycle audience at that!

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun:

Last evening's performance was one of those rare ones in which the right key is caught with the [first] measures. When this happens there is seldom a modulation of unfortunate style. The prelude was played with unusual meaning and when the curtain had risen it was quickly made known that Mme. Kappel was still to be heard at her best as Isolde. The many shades of feeling and thought in the lines of the Irish princess seem to appeal strongly to her and she finds for them the accents which carry their message. There were moments last night when her voice declined to respond to the exacting demands of the music, but on the whole her Isolde was one of fine dramatic proportions and commanded the interest of the audience.

Mine. Branzell is always, a competent Brangaene and she sang with a wealth of rich tone and with appreciation of the content of her music. One would like to see in Mr. Laubenthal a satisfactory representative of Tristan, but aside from his excellent appearance and the naturally good quality his voice he has not much to offer. He sings with too hard a tone to be able to probe the heart of such music as Wagner wrote for his Knight. Mr. Bohnen had deserted the fantastic realm of Krenek's so-called jazz opera for the land of Cornwall and the sorrows of a misguided King. He was commendable in his impersonation.

Review of Eugene Bonner in February issue of The Outlook:

We are glad to be able to report quite a different state of affairs in regard to the debut of Gertrude Kappel the following Monday evening in the season's first performance of "Tristan and Isolde." One of the finest Isoldes of many moons, Mme. Kappel made her first appearance here practically unheralded, though many of us who had had the good fortune of hearing this great artist in many of her rôles on the other side of the ocean knew what to expect and we were not disappointed in our expectations.

From the moment she sang her first phrases it was evident that here was the voice of Isolde; by the time the first act was over we knew she was Isolde. Not since a certain memorable performance with Olive Fremstad as the Irish princess and Toscanini conducting have we heard such a thrilling representation of this opera as was given to us Monday night. Handsome, commanding and with an almost wild beauty at times, Mme. Kappel held the audience as it has not been held in many years. Her voice is powerful, but never forced or strident even when surmounting the fortissimo of the orchestra, while her pianissimo is an achievement of rare beauty. That last soaring utterance of Isolde over the dead Tristan was as near perfection, vocally and histrionically, as was humanly possible.

The others in the cast, notably Rudolf Laubenthal as Tristan and Karin Branzell as Brangaene, sang under the spell of this Isolde, as we have never heard them sing before, a little divergence from the pitch on the part of all concerned during part of the second act being of no importance under such conditions. Laubenthal gave, in all probability, what is the best account he has ever given of himself here in the last act, while Mr. Bodansky conducted a really inspired performance of this stupendous opera.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).