Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
16 December 1939
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
HermannEmanuel List
TannhäuserEyvind Laholm
Wolfram von EschenbachHerbert Janssen
Walther von der VogelweideJohn Carter
BiterolfMack Harrell
Heinrich der SchreiberGiordano Paltrinieri
Reinmar von ZweterJohn Gurney
ElisabethKirsten Flagstad
VenusRose Pauly
Ein junger HirtMaxine Stellman
Herald Tribune

New Impersonations

Only four of the solo singers who inhabited Wagner’s thirteenth century Wartburg and mythical Venusberg at the Metropolitan fifteen days before returned to this part of the Metropolitan’s Thuringia for the season’s second performance of “Tannhäuser” yesterday afternoon. An American Tannhäuser, Eyvind Laholm, resisted the appeals of a Venus, Rose Pauly, who also had not appeared before in this work on a New York stage. Mack Harrell, one of last season’s winners in the radio auditions for aspiring opera singers, donned his first Metropolitan costume as Biterolf, and John Carter was heard for the second in a regular subscription performance as Walther.

For her first impersonation here of a role other than Elektra, Mme. Pauly was called upon to sing more music that that which has been usually assigned to Venus in local performances of “Tannhäuser” in recent years, since Mr. Leinsdorf presented the [first] scene in full, including the dialogue between Venus and Tannhäuser in which, as Lawrence Gilman observed in his last published book, “Wagner’s Operas,” the chief treasures of the revised score in the work are to be found. This includes some of the most striking examples of the re-creative work accomplished by Wagner for the Paris production of his fifth opera in 1861; here we are in a musical world represented by “Tristan und Isolde,” “Parsifal,” and the “Ring.”

Mme. Pauly’s Venus did not call for an effort on the part of the spectator to imagine a goddess whom Tannhäuser would desert with reluctance, and her portrayal of the role, if characterized at times by somewhat posed gestures, was dramatically sympathetic. Her singing, however, exhibited previously noted drawbacks, and seldom was marked by the expressive warmth of which her recent recital showed her to be capable. Another appearance may show more of this and less of the difficulty in finding tonal fullness or focus which was noticeable for most of the time yesterday in this emotionally and vocally exacting music.

Somewhat similar vocal liabilities could be noted in Mr. Laholm’s singing in this scene, but, after Tannhäuser had emerged into the vernal valley near the Wartburg, the Wisconsin tenor’s notes showed a higher average of vocal merit that that which had characterized his Siegmund in his debut early this month. Vocal unevenness was still in evidence, but the potentialities of his voice at its best were frequently revealed, with tones of generous volume and well produced quality. His Tannhäuser, like his Siegmund, was very credible to the eye and, while one was not always conscious of the character’s wide gamut of emotions, there were measures, as in the prayer in the second scene of the first act, the finale of the second act and in parts of the narrative of the pilgrimage, which were sung and portrayed with communicative expressive conviction.

Mr. Harrell, in his debut as Biterolf, displayed a good quality of tone, but under the circumstances of a Metropolitan first appearance, did not have the vocal freedom of his recent singing on the concert stage. The net impression, however, was one of promise. Mr. Carter’s gave relatively little evidence for vocal comment, although there seemed to somewhat more vocal volume than when he had represented the Italian singer in “Der Rosenkavalier.”

When Mme. Flagstad is in the cast, however, a listener’s memories are likely to dwell most fondly upon the interpretation of the leading soprano role. What with the verbal demands of a performance including a debut and three other new impersonations, an extensive rhapsody upon the glories of her voice and the sensitive communication of her portrayal of Elizabeth, considered as a whole, must be foregone. At times in softer passages, one was aware that the admirable Norwegian singer has had an exacting schedule thus far, but the fullness and power of her top notes were impressively present. Her singing made its hearers fully conscious of the exultation of “Dich, theure Halle,” the devout resignation in Elizabeth’s prayer.

The major vocal honors of the afternoon were shared by Mr. Janssen in his eloquent and well phrased singing of Wolfram’s lines, and also by Miss Stellman in her few measures as the Shepherd. Mr. List, reappearing as the Landgrave, was in creditable, if not unexceptionable, voice. Mr. Leinsdorf, whose orchestra was in good form, missed some of the momentum of the Bacchanal and the emotional concentration of the ensuing colloquy, but the general spirit of the performance and coordination of its elements revealed increasing understanding of the score on the part of the talented young conductor.

Francis D. Perkins

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Media Type/Label
Symposium, Bensar
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Technical Specifications
398 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 470 MByte (flac)
Incomplete, about 1/4 of the opera is missing.
Matinee broadcast
A production by Samuel Thewman (1923)