Tristan und Isolde

Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
26 January 1974
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanJon Vickers
IsoldeKlara Barlow
BrangäneMignon Dunn
KurwenalWilliam Dooley
König MarkeJohn Macurdy
MelotWilliam Lewis
Ein junger SeemannDouglas Ahlstedt
Ein HirtNico Castel
SteuermannLouis Sgarro

The METROPOLITAN OPERA has a noble and hauntingly beautiful production of Tristan und Isolde staged two years ago by August Everding with designs by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. Tristan was skipped last season, so the January revival was eagerly awaited, not only for another chance to see the production but also for the first New York appearances of Jon Vickers and Helga Dernesch in the leading roles. Dernesch withdrew around Christmas. Birgit Nilsson (who was down to sing later performances) could not be liberated for the first night and a major hassle started backstage. Vickers, deprived of an experienced partner in this hideously demanding role, said he would not be available either and went off to Bermuda where he now lives. Mercifully, Jess Thomas was covering and stepped in. Meanwhile the staff searched for one of the four or five sopranos alive thought to be capable of singing Isolde in a 4000-seat house (and were advised by Rafael Kubelik in a phone-call from Munich to give up the struggle and put on Tosca instead). Finally Chapin decided to choose the covering singer, Klara Barlow, a Brooklyn girl who has sung Leonore at the Met and some big Wagner roles in German houses. She and Erich Leinsdorf had some differences in rehearsal, and the curtain went up on January 11 in an atmosphere of high tension. It sometimes happens that tension is a valuable contributor to excellence, and so it proved on this occasion. Miss Barlow was out to show her mettle to all the world and to Leinsdorf too; Leinsdorf was out to demonstrate what sort of talent was expected to play second fiddle to an absentee music director. The result was an intense, high-pressure, razor-sharp Tristan, with everyone on his toes and everyone (save the singers) holding their breath. Miss Barlow looked like an Isolde from the story-books, her slim, feminine figure and blonde tresses utterly convincing. She moved with tigerish vigour and purpose; she sang to the utter limits of her substantial (but not overwhelmingly powerful) vocal resources. It is a firm, clear, youthful voice, well-managed and schooled, capable of projecting appealing femininity and occasionally of great power— as in the Act I curse which came across with commendable venom. This night, goaded by the circumstances already described, she sang the performance of her lifetime and found her name in headlines the next day (‘Soprano from Brooklyn triumphs at the Met’). She capped the evening with a memorably firm and lyrically even Liebestod. (It is sad to have to report that Miss Barlow did not reach similar standards in some of her later performances, and the broadcast matinee of January 19 found her well below the opening-night form. Perhaps the requisite element of conflict was not present on that occasion.)

Thomas repeated his successful and estimable Tristan, not always alluring in tone but consistently dramatic and apt, greatly moving in the delirium scenes of Act 3. Mignon Dunn (Brangaene), floated her aubade from the tower with haunting beauty (in this production she is seen high above the lovers during her Watch) and in the no less demanding duets with Isolde in Act 1 she was a firm support. William Dooley was a little more rough than necessary with the music of Kurwenal ; John Macurdy made a smooth and rich King Mark.

Leinsdorf gave a fast, relatively light-textured, essentially dramatic reading of a score that can take many kinds of honest treatment, if a good man applies it. If the conducting spectrum for this opera has the Goodall/Furtwangler/Knappertsbusch sort of approach at one end, then Leinsdorf’s is all the way across from it. The textures are lighter, the pace more fluid, the entries firm and precise.

ROGER C. DETTMER | June 1974

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
160 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 241 MByte (MP3)
There are some distortions and a short dropout.
Matinee broadcast
A production by August Everding (1971)
There are cuts in this performance: in Act 2, Scene 2, from “Dem Tage! Dem Tage!” (Tristan) to “dass nachtsichtig mein Auge wahres zu sehen tauge” (Tristan); in Act 3, Scene 1, from”Isolde noch im Reich der Sonne!” (Tristan) to “die selbst Nachts von ihr mich scheuchte?” (Tristan), and from “Der Trank! Der Trank! Der furchtbarer Trank!” (Tristan) to “den Wonne schlürfend je ich genossen” (Tristan). [Jonathan Brown]