Tristan und Isolde

Artur Bodanzky
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
2 January 1937
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanLauritz Melchior
IsoldeKirsten Flagstad
BrangäneKerstin Thorborg
KurwenalJulius Huehn
König MarkeLudwig Hofmann
MelotArnold Gábor
Ein junger SeemannKarl Laufkötter
Ein HirtHans Clemens
SteuermannJames Wolfe
New York Herald Tribune

Capacity Crowd Listens to Flagstad and Melchior

The season’s second performance of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” drew a capacity audience to the Metropolitan Opera House yesterday afternoon. The cast, excepting for Ludwig Hofmann, who replaced Emanuel List as King Marke, was that of the previous presentation, with Kirsten Flagstad as Isolde, Lauritz Melchior as Tristan, Kerstin Thorborg as Brangäne, Julius Huehn as Kurwenal and Messrs. Clemens, Wolfe and Laufkoetter in the remaining parts.

So much has already been said in praise of the incomparable Isolde of Mme. Flagstad that it must suffice to say that she was in excellent voice and that her portrayal has never seemed more poignant and her singing never more flawless from both tonal and interpretative aspects. Mr. Melchior was at his best in the third act, where both his voicing and acting of the dying Tristan were deeply affecting. His delivery of the more lyric music of the second act was rather huskier than is usually the case.

Mme. Thorborg’s Brangäne was again more impressive dramatically than vocally. She had moments in both the first and second acts of genuine expressive beauty. But the call from the tower was marred by a persistent vibrato, and elsewhere her tones frequently were either pinched or spread.

The King Marke of Mr. Hofmann is truly distinguished in gesture and conception; but unhappily his voice was for the most part throatily projected so that some of Wagner’s most moving passages went for little. As Tristan’s trusted servant, Mr. Huehn did some admirable singing in the third act, and he undoubtedly will gain in poise as he matures. But there was on the whole a decided improvement to be observed in his impersonation.

With a greatly bettered orchestra at his disposal, Mr. Bodanzky gave a telling, justly paced account of the score, often attaining climaxes of overwhelming intensity. The response of the auditors was markedly enthusiastic.

Jerome D. Bohm

Jonathan Brown

The quality of the 1937 recording from New York gets off to a shaky start, as if the music were descending from outer space. With Bodanzky, Melchior and Flagstad, we are guaranteed a success. Bodanzky sets a thrilling pace in Act One, but can hold back with great effect, as he transforms Isolde’s forlorn “Mir erkoren, mir verloren” into a threat. The whole of Isolde’s narrative is driven to a frightening curse – no aimless tale of woe here – and he brings everything to a halt after Brangane’s question “Kennst du der Mutter Kiinste nicht?”, as if shocked by its portent. Melchior, in characteristic form, betrays his deep preoccupation with Isolde in his opening words (“Was ist? Isolde?”), but recovers his honour immediately with a perfect control. Flagstad too charges the smallest phrase with new meaning, like the incredibly bitter-sweet offer to Tristan “Nun lass’ uns Siihne trinken”, which she serves up with a flick at trinken. Unlike the 1935 performance, Flagstad has a formidable accomplice in Kerstin Thorborg as Brangane who sings as if she were, as she must be, an indispensable instrument to Isolde’s fate. Julius Huehn as Kurwenal, on the other hand, is an ordinary lieutenant for Tristan.

At the beginning of Act Two, Bodanzky builds a sense of urgency to usher in Isolde’s desperate opening words “Horst du sie nochr . The orchestra and Brangane combine brilliantly to press home their warning of Melot. But out goes the light, and by the time Tristan arrives, Bodanzky has built the orchestra up to a tremendous jumping-for-joy climax. But he is not pace at all costs: Brangane’s warning is allowed to languish in the hot night, and Tristan and Isolde are restrained, not abandoned, in their wonderful night of love. After a cataclysmic climax as they are exposed, Bodanzky has King Marke’s men leap and bound, not drag themselves, onto stage. Ludwig Hofmann’s King Marke is a broken man at the end of his searing monologue. Melchior too snaps at the intensity of shame at his betrayal. The Act comes to a devastating conclusion.

The Prelude to Act Three is good and doleful, but the cor anglais struggles to maintain its lonely desolation amidst an orchestra of coughing. Melchior is miraculous in his stamina and versatility – like the adoring crescendo he brings to “Ach, Isolde, wie sch6n bist du!” – and even 1-luehn is moved by his agony to extend himself . After Tristan’s death, there is a new, cleaner sound from the original disc. Isolde’s ship approaches at great speed – with the same strong winds that blow through all the acts, making the whole much faster than his 1935 performance.

Jonathan Brown | Tristan und Isolde on Record

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Media Type/Label
EJS 157
Walhall, Walhall Eternity, The Forties, OOA, Bensar, HO, Line
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Technical Specifications
267 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 365 MByte (flac)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Joseph Urban (1920)
The Prelude is omitted from the LP recording. The performance was also abridged: omitted from Act 2 were “Dem Tage! Dem Tage!” (Tristan) to “dass nachtsichtig mein Auge wahres zu sehen tauge” (Tristan), “Tag und Tod” (Isolde) to “Tristan der Tod gegeben” (Isolde), and “Wozu die Dienste” to “Da liess er’s denn so sein” (King Marke), and from Act 3 “Isolde noch im Reich der Sonne!” to “die selbst Nachts von ihr mich scheuchte?” (Tristan), “Muss ich dich so versteh’n” to “Zu welchem Los?” (Tristan), “Die nie erstirbt to Der Trank! der furchtbare Trank!” (Tristan), and from “Gebrochen der Blick!” to “Nur einmal noch!” (Isolde). [Jonathan Brown]