[Met Performance] CID:227600

New Production

Tristan und Isolde
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, November 18, 1971

Debut : August Everding

Tristan und Isolde (396)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Jess Thomas

Birgit Nilsson

Thomas Stewart

Mignon Dunn

King Marke
John Macurdy

Rod MacWherter

Sailor's Voice
Leo Goeke

Nico Castel

Louis Sgarro

Erich Leinsdorf

August Everding [Debut]

Günther Schneider-Siemssen

Tristan und Isolde received eight performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Review 1:

Review of Alan Blyth, Visiting Associate Editor Opera

August Everding's staging of "Tristan and Isolde" (November 18), conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, was acclaimed by both critics and public as one of the most successful productions at the Metropolitan since the new house was built and certainly the first to make full and intelligent use of the elaborate technical equipment. Everding's view of the work was not dissimilar from Peter Hall's in that he attempted to set apart night and day, love and betrayal: so just as at Covent Garden, the scenery disappeared after the taking of the love potion, during the love duet, and in the "Liebestod," and an exalted, timeless world took over from the realm of reality.

There the similarities ended for two very good reasons. Gunther Schneider-Siemssen is a very different designer front John Bury and the Metropolitan's transformation worked easily, imperceptibly where Covent Garden's, not unnaturally in an older house, had been all too obvious. Schneider-Siemssen's sets were both effective, evocative, and uncluttered. That for the first act was a "coüp de théâtre." Four giant sails bestride the huge stage. Behind the one on the right, the figures of Tristan and Kurwenal are enlarged by silhouette, while the lower part of the stage is a vast cut-out of the ship's decks. For the second act, garden and castle are merely suggested. When the love music begins, all disappears, Tristan and Isolde retire to the middle of the stage (which is gradually raised) as though they were walking into eternity. There is no light except on the upper part of the principals so that they appear suspended in endless night. Later, the duet's changing moods are reflected in imaginative back projections - Harold Schonberg suggested they might be "psychedelic swirls of libido" or "electrical charges of love." During Brangäne's warning, the lovers are suitably in darkness while a spotlight reveals Brangäne on her tower, extreme left. The final set was more conventional.

The costumes did not attempt Covent Garden's return to realism and were unremarkable. At least Jess Thomas had a more becoming wig than at Covent Garden. Everding's movement was spare and pointed. There were none of the daring strokes attempted by Hall but plenty of intelligent ideas. Brangäne was frightened by Kurwenal's gruffness. She reacted with real horror when Isolde demands the death potion. Tristan was visibly affected by Mark's monologue rather than remaining impassive in the modern manner. In Act 3 his delirium was not delivered from his couch but from a kneeling position at front of the stage. Later he leapt frenetically onto the wall and fell dramatically onto his bed; that was perhaps a little strenuous for a dying man but it worked. Some other interesting points: Mark does come onto the ship at the end of Act 1; Leinsdorf had the cor anglais player on stage at the beginning of Act 3; Tristan crawls dying towards Isolde.

Leinsdorf's musical direction - a triumphant return to the house after a long absence - is not as overtly emotional or dynamic as Solti's, but was more lyrical and cogent. His speeds were a good deal faster, particularly in Act I and in Mark's monologue, yet the splendour and warmth of the interpretation was never in doubt. Leinsdorf seems happier in the opera house than in the recording studio, and obviously prefers a large canvas such as Wagner offers him. Those who have found him a cerebral conductor would have been surprised and delighted by this glowing performance. He drew playing from the Metropolitan's orchestra of the utmost clarity and breadth, a far cry from the sounds heard from that pit on an ordinary night. He made a few, traditional cuts.

Birgit Nilsson's Isolde was as thrillingly sung as ever. If possible, it was still more subtly pointed than heretofore, particularly in the narration. In a production which she had rehearsed from the beginning (in contrast with her appearances at Covent Garden) she was more involved in the role than ever, and her appeal to the dead Tristan in Act 3 was moving beyond words. Thomas's Tristan was a little less remarkable than in London, if only because the house is too big for his vocal resources (that is more a criticism of the new house than of the singer). Again, he rose splendidly to the superhuman demands of the third act.

John Macurdy's Mark was beautifully and tenderly sung, without a trace of sentimentality. Mr. Macurdy has a firm, noble voice. perhaps a little small for this house; he might do well in Europe. Mignon Dunn's emotional Brangäne was indifferently sung; she was certainly not the equal of Veasey in the role, nor did Thomas Stewart's Kurwenal match Donald McIntyre's. He was inclined to stand and declaim, missing many points in Act 3; for instance, he hardly seemed surprised to find his master still alive after the latter's apparent collapse. All the roles, except Isolde , have been doubly or trebly cast in this production. In later performances Helge Brilioth (Tristan), William Dooley (Kurwenal), Giorgio Tozzi (Mark), Grace Hoffman and Irene Dalis (Brangäne) were all due to appear.

Photograph of Jess Thomas as Tristan in Tristan und Isolde by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

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