Tristan und Isolde

Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
8 February 1941
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanLauritz Melchior
IsoldeKirsten Flagstad
BrangäneKerstin Thorborg
KurwenalJulius Huehn
König MarkeAlexander Kipnis
MelotEmery Darcy
Ein junger SeemannEmery Darcy
Ein HirtKarl Laufkötter
SteuermannJohn Gurney
Jonathan Brown

There is a marked improvement in the sound quality of this recording from the following season. It is alone among the “authorised” recordings from the Metropolitan Opera House. The better sound is particularly valued when we hear two gaps filled with excerpts from the scratch-infested 1940 recording. The casts are the same, with two exceptions, both of which are outstanding. Emery Darcy joins the crew as a lusty sailor in the opening of Act One, and doubles as Melot, whose sudden, almost spontaneous, outburst of vengeful rage at the sight of King Marke’s disgrace at the end of Act Two is a brilliant cameo performance. Julius Huehn is heavy and joyless as Kurwenal again. Flagstad maintains her perfect tone throughout. She dispenses her famous, perishing curse in Act One, and with devastating, persistent single-mindedness induces Melchior to drink. He is rightly troubled and overcome by her onslaught: his words “Wo simi wir?” are infused with fear.

Act Two sees a very agitated Brangane in Kerstin Thorborg – what has she done? – and the most superb love scene between Melchior and Flagstad. They are perfectly matched, and for all their energy and exuberance, are intensely restrained, like a taut spring, never quite released. The new King Marke of Alexander Kipnis is the pre-eminent reason for preferring this set above all of the Metropolitan Opera recordings of the 1940s. His magnificent dark voice is laced with suffering, and is perfectly suited to express the pain of Tristan:s betrayal, and his own disgrace.

There is some shaky sound quality in Act Three, and some odd sounds. Someone clad in leather shoes is heard walking purposefully during the car anglais solo (an irritated usher showing latecomers to their seats?). Melchior thrashes around in his delirium, verbally at least, reaching the heavens one moment and ending breathless the next, despite the three cuts to his role. An evenness of projection would have added to his impact. Kipnis rises to the heights of magnanimity (“Dem holden Mann dich zu vermahlen”) as he arrives, too late, on the scene of carnage. The performance ends with a tremendous, expansive Liebestod which overshadows all that has gone before. This is a recording to treasure.

Jonathan Brown | Tristan und Isolde on Record

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Metropolitan Opera Guild, Melodram
Melodram, Gehardt, Walhall Eternity, Pristine, OOA, TOL
Technical Specifications
571 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 826 MByte (flac)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Joseph Urban (1920)
The Metropolitan Opera Guild set lacks the first chord of the Act 3 Prelude. Because of signal loss from the station broadcasting the 8 February 1941 performance, two fill-ins from the broadcast of 23 March 1940 have been used: in Act 2, from “Bist du mein?” to “O [Wonne er Seele]” and in Brangäne’s watch from “[die den Schläfern Schlimmes] Ahnt” to the bar before Isolde’s “Lausch’, Geliebter!” The cuts in the performance are the same as those in the 23 March 1940 performance. [Jonathan Brown]