[Met Performance] CID:274820

Tristan und Isolde
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, December 15, 1983

Tristan und Isolde (423)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Richard Cassilly

Hildegard Behrens

Richard J. Clark

Tatiana Troyanos

KIng Marke
Aage Haugland

Timothy Jenkins

Sailor's Voice
Jeffrey Stamm

Paul Franke

James Courtney

James Levine

Review 1:

Review of Patrick J. Smith in Opera

New York. The chief interest in the revival of "Tristan and Isolde" at the METROPOLITAN OPERA (which I heard on December 15) lay in the first Isolde hereabouts of Hildegard Behrens, but in the event her prowess in the role was placed in proper perspective by the overall merits of the evening. Any performance of "Tristan" should be a special undertaking, although few, for lack of adequate singers, ever are. Yet this one, because of the strength of casting, the hand of the producer August Everding (who returned to refurbish his original 1971 production) and the cohesive conducting of James Levine, was one of the better "Tristan"s heard at the Met since Nilsson gave up the role.

Behrens is a commanding Isolde, smaller of voice than the Nilsson/Flagstad school-though her brilliant top cuts right through the orchestra-who has as signal assets shapely good looks and a dramatic (at times verging on overdramatic) deportment. I found her first act best, in that her acting ability with the voice projected the conflicting emotions of Isolde with both fierceness and suavity. The beginning of Act 2, with its feverish waiting, I found least effective: if Behrens exhibits a youthful ardour, her voice cannot take charge of the music, though after the arrival of Tristan her innate musicality and shaping of phrases controlled the love duet. The Liebestod was triumphant in its gradual build-up of emotion.

She was excellently partnered by Levine. His 1981 reading was, put gently, problematic, but in the interval he has (as is usual with him) learned how the opera works, and his caressing and warmly evocative reading gained strength from first to last, aided by the exemplary playing of the orchestra. This is very much an involved, dynamic view of Tristan, yet one alive with contrast and tenderness. It is not (as with some recent recordings) an attempt to state the work for the ages, but as a repertory opera-house performance it is one of Levine's strongest, and was integral to the success of the evening.

Richard Cassilly was the Tristan. His voice is a known quantity, with its peculiar whistling sound, its constant wobble and a general inability to sing softly (in the love duet he caught a basket of frogs). Yet I came away being more impressed with his Tristan than with any other I have heard in the past decade (I have never heard Vickers live), simply because there was a continual authority and presence on stage which was that of a hero. Cassilly accepted the hiccups in the voice as natural, and resolutely sang through them (I particularly admired his damping down of the voice in the love duet, knowing what this would cost him, in order to partner Behrens). By the third act he controlled the situation, giving a sustained and often quite beautifully sung traversal of Tristan's anguish that made a usually barren stretch not a minute too long, and thus gave the third act that weight vital to balance its close. Cassilly's vocal artistry (he is not an actor) has never been appreciated, owing to the obtrusive qualities of his voice, yet here (as, I think, with Windgassen) was a man among boys.

Tatiana Troyanos made a dramatic Brangaene, though her voice affords too little contrast to that of Behrens, Aage Haugland a moving King Mark, and Richard J. Clark a surprisingly appealing Kurwenal, especially in the third

act. Everding's famous production (in tandem with Schneider-Siemssen), with its use of stage elevators, pin-spots illuminating only the faces, and projections to suggest the otherworldliness of ecstasy has a diminishing effect for me (though others disagree), but it is at least consistent. I continue to dislike his decision to have Mark 'knie vor Tristan' at the end of his monologue.

Finally, I must mention Richard Nass's magisterial playing of the cor anglais solo-that masterstroke of Wagner's which distills so perfectly the music of Tristan, and which expands the star turns of singers or conductor into a universal, musical, experience. It is here, and in the clarinet solo in "Les Troyens," that Wagner and Berlioz become one.

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