Tristan und Isolde

Fritz Busch
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
11 December 1948
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanLauritz Melchior
IsoldeHelen Traubel
BrangäneBlanche Thebom
KurwenalHerbert Janssen
König MarkeDezsö Ernster
MelotEmery Darcy
Ein junger SeemannJohn Garris
Ein HirtLeslie Chabay
SteuermannPhilip Kinsman
New York Herald Tribune

Traubel, Thebom, Melchior Heard at Metropolitan

The music dramas of Wagner continue to be the works upon which the Metropolitan Opera Association is concentrating its most impressive performances this season. Yesterday afternoon’s “Tristan and Isolde” was, in its essentials, quite as satisfying as last Thursday night’s “Goetterdaemmerung.” It is indeed fortunate for the German master’s devotees that the exceptional singers and conductors demanded for compelling realization of his creations are at hand, whereas those required for equally convincing presentations of Italian and French operas are not.

As Isolde, Miss Traubel revealed, as she had last week in her assumption of the “Götterdämmerung” Brünnhilde, remarkable control of her gleaming soprano voice, investing the music of her arduous role with singing which was not only magnificent as sheer sound, but of the utmost expressivity. Not often does one hear it delivered with such a wealth of nuance and color, with such enchanting lyricism, as well as with such stirring dramatic impact. In her acting Miss Traubel wisely adhered to movements and gestures of the utmost simplicity, depending largely on her voice to convey the manifold aspects of Isolde’s nature.

Miss Thebom’s Brangäne has grown immeasurably as a dramatic conception. The young mezzo-soprano in other years showed a tendency to overact the role of Isolde’s companion. Yesterday her portrayal was a completely matured one, every detail of which was dramatically cogent and visually arresting. Vocally, too, she was at her best; the high tessitura of the role easily encompassed, phrases in the first act which most singers of the role project laboriously, and were freely and sumptuously voiced. To this listener it seemed, however, that Miss Thebom was placed too far offstage to permit Brangäne’s warning call from the tower in the second act to exert its magic. An effect of being heard from the distance is, of course, required here by the action, but even a singer with so powerful a voice as Miss Thebom’s cannot accomplish the impossible. Only her highest tones were sufficiently audible.

Tristan remains Mr. Melchior’s most telling role. His knightly demeanor in the first and second acts, his poignant characterization of the delirious, dying hero make their effect even when his vocalism falls short of his intentions. There was much that was affecting in his delivery of his music, especially in those portions of the last act in which he utilized the full strength of his tenor voice, but his half-voice singing, which was always the weakest facet of his vocal equipment, was even foggier than usual yesterday.

Some of the afternoon’s finest, most touching singing and acting was Mr. Janssen’s as Kurwenal. Mr. Ernster’s King Marke, while none too steady tonally, had its moments of vocal plenitude and apposite pathos. Uncommonly sympathetic was the shepherd of Mr. Chabay.

Much of the deeply moving quality of the performance must be ascribed to Mr. Busch’s discourse of the orchestral score, in which unfailing musical discernment was matched by the ability to elicit from his musicians the constantly shifting sound textures essential to a vital conveyance of the seethingly passionate, poetic and tragic attributes of this still unaccompanied product of Wagner’s genius.

Jerome D. Bohm

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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 431 MiB (MP3)
The first bars from the act III prelude are missing.
Matinee broadcast
A production by Joseph Urban (1920)