[Met Performance] CID:183640

Tristan und Isolde
Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, December 28, 1959

Tristan und Isolde (370)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Ramon Vinay [Act I]

Karl Liebl [Act II]

Albert Da Costa [Act III]

Birgit Nilsson

Walter Cassel

Irene Dalis

King Marke
Jerome Hines

Calvin Marsh

Sailor's Voice
Charles Anthony

Paul Franke

Louis Sgarro

Karl Böhm

Karl Liebl, originally scheduled to sing Tristan, was ill, as were his two covers, Ramon Vinay and Albert Da Costa. Rudolf Bing persuaded each of them to sing an act.

Review 1:

Review by John Briggs for the New York Times


Ailing Vinay, Liebl, and Da Costa All appear at Met

An impresario's nightmare came true for Rudolf Bing yesterday. The Metropolitan Opera has only three tenors who can sing Tristan in "Tristan und Isolde." With that opera scheduled for 7:45 PM., each of the three tenors announced one after another that he was too ill to sing.

To complicate matters further, the Isolde was Birgit Nilsson, the Metropolitan's bright new Scandinavian star, and the house was sold out to the last seat and last square foot of standing room. If "Tristan" were canceled, nearly $22,000 worth of operagoers were going to be unhappy.

After a series of frenetic phone calls a compromise arrangement was worked out. Each tenor thought he would be strong enough to last for one act. Accordingly, the Tristan for Act I was Ramon Vinay, for Act II, Karl Liebl, and for Act III, Albert Da Costa.

Mr. Bing's troubles began at noon when Mr, Vinay reported that he was hoarse and wanted to cancel. It was Mr. Vinay who was originally scheduled for the performance. His health, however, has been poor for several weeks. He had missed the dress rehearsal and then the premiere of the new production on Dec. 18, and Mr. Liebl had stepped in to replace him. Yesterday he was asked to repeat his stand-by role.

At 2 o'clock Mr. Liebl called back to report that he was in bad voice and did not believe he could finish a whole performance. The Metropolitan turned to Mr. Da Costa, who has been recovering from an illness.

At 4 o'clock Mr. Da Costa phoned from his teacher's studio. He had been trying out his voice, with unpromising results He did not feel equal to the occasion.

It was then that the Metropolitan worked out the compromise of having each tenor sing one-third of the part.

Punctually at 7:45 Mr. Bing, looking a bit more harassed than usual, stepped before the Metropolitan's gold curtain.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, 'Miss Nilsson is very well. However, we are not as fortunate with our Tristans. All three are indisposed."

He then explained the unusual problem and the unusual solution. His speech was received with laughter and applause by the audience, which already had surmised from the three names on the call boards on which the Metropolitan announces last minute cast changes, that something out of the ordinary was going on.

The performance began on schedule, amid cracking of jokes by the smooth-running backstage crew, which took it as part of the day's work. One wag came backstage with a report that Karl Boehm refused to conduct with only one Isolde. Another suggested that the opera should be renamed "Der Saengerkrieg im Cornwall." ("The Song Contest in Cornwall" is also a switch on the subtitle of "Tannhaeuser," or "Der Saengerkrieg in der Wartburg.")

A stagehand's voice was heard from the flies asking: "You got somebody covering for me up here? I don't feel so hot."

"This is a catastrophe," muttered a more serious onlooker, "and it's being treated as a joke."

During the performance Dr. Leo P. Reckford, who looks after the throats of a number of Metropolitan artists, was backstage, He nodded approvingly when Mr. Vinay took one high note in half-voice, transposed another an octave lower.

At the end of the first act, as a special token of the Metropolitan's gratitude, there was a. solo curtain call for Mr. Vinay. The house gave him an ovation, later paying the same tribute to Mr. Liebl and Mr. Da Costa, who also took solo bows.

Sweating profusely, Mr. Vinay came offstage and announced himself as a candidate for "President of the Bug-of-the-Month Club."

Photographers were waiting to get a picture of Miss Nilsson with her three Tristans. Mr. Liebl was photographed wearing a gray tweed overcoat and tights. He could not don the rest of the costume for Act II, until Mr. Vinay had taken it off from Act I.

Mr. Da Costa, wearing the Act III costume, which differs from that used in the first two hurried up to the roof stage with Dr. Herbert Graf, the "Tristan" stage director, as soon as the picture-taking was finished.

Mr. Da Costa sang the last act of "Tristan" on Feb. 1, l958, when Mr. Vinay faltered.

But he had never sung the complete role at the Metropolitan, and had not yet appeared in this season's newly staged version. He had, however, attended all the rehearsals and, with Dr. Graf's last minute coaching performed quite convincingly in the last act.

Bystanders at the opera last night could not recall a precedent for three artists singing the same role in a single performance, although on numerous occasions a part has been begun by one singer and finished by another.

Although Walter Cassel, last night's Kurwenal, showed no signs of fatigue. Ralph Herbert, the Metropolitan baritone who doubles as stage director, offered to fill in for him in Act II if needed (Kurwenal in Act II has only a single line: "Rette dich, Tristan").

Miss Nilsson was to all appearances still fresh as the performance drew to its conclusion. Heard in other roles were Jerome Hines, Irene Dalis, Calvin Marsh, Louis Sgarro, Paul Franke and Charles Anthony.

Backstage photograph by Louis Mélançon of Birgit Nilsson, Ramon Vinay, Karl Liebl, and Albert Da Costa.

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