OP0714. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Live Performance, 2 Jan., 1937, w.Bodanzky Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, Ludwig Hofmann, Kerstin Thorborg, Julius Huehn, Arnold Gabor, etc. (E.U.) 3-Walhall 22. Very Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! – 5019148605126
Bodanzky’s Prelude to Act I moves with real intensity towards its crushing climax; and that climax is expertly handled in transfer terms, avoiding overcrowding and maintaining its overwhelming effect. Bodanzky’s Wagner is brisk. There is certainly momentum here, a propulsive quality that honors the impulsive side of the action while admittedly underselling the spiritual. It works best by far in moments such as the approach of the ship in Act III. Flagstad and Melchior fully buy into Bodanzky’s approach, though, and somehow Flagstad always manages to place those clarion high notes so they receive their emphasis. The uncertainty and excitement of Act II’s setting suits the propulsive approach, and perhaps surprisingly, the love duet ‘O sink’ hernieder’ is taken at a properly relaxed rate, with plenty of space for the singers’ words to resonate.
Flagstad appears in all her cutting intensity right from her first outcry, holding her head high and her vocal line intact when Bodanzky urges inexorably forward. Yet with Flagstad, Isolde’s nobility remains intact always (‘Dein Werk?’, Act II), even in her most impassioned outbursts. Her voice is fresh yet focused in Act II ('Ich bin’s, ich bin’s') while her 'Mild und leise' begins with unutterable tenderness and builds to a great climax, with her upper register magisterially free throughout. You may hear a few string swoops (that seems a better word than ‘portamenti’ when you hear it) that are very much of the period in this particular Transfiguration. Melchior’s individual sound is captured excellently and intertwines ecstatically with Flagstad’s in Act II; his response to Marke’s speech (‘O König’) is indescribably sweet-toned. Act III holds particular challenges to the tenor, and Melchior’s portrayal of the mortally wounded lover is reflected in the pained transparency of Wagner’s scoring, performed here with true intensity by the Met orchestra. His timbral range moves from the almost spoken through to the highest cry.
As Brangäne, Thorborg moves from perfectly fine to excellent. She is ever a wonderful foil for Flagstad’s Isolde; her Act II Warning is her crowning moment. Thorborg delivers one of the most memorable moments of this entire performance. In some ways this is a perfect complement to the 1937 Beecham TRISTAN with Flagstad and Melchior, where Beecham gives a stunning, flexible account of the score. Vocally, there are so many imperatives here to seek out this performance, imperatives that transcend Bodanzky’s individual conducting.”
- Colin Clarke, FANFARE, Nov. /Dec., 2015
“Pride of place in this column belongs to the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the 20th century (and probably the 19th as well), Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962). Flagstad made her début at the age of 18 in her native Norway, but her voice developed slowly and she sang mostly light roles in operettas and musical comedies and only in Scandinavia until 1932. By then her voice had greatly deepened and her artistry matured, and her late entry onto the world's stages was spectacular. By the late 1930s, when I first heard her live at the Met, she was internationally famous, but her reputation suffered during WWII, when she was made suspect by her husband's association with the Norwegian Nazis, and it took some time before she was welcomed back to recital stages in the U.S. and elsewhere.
She was a shy, self-contained woman who looked and behaved like a simple hausfrau; she refused to be a prima donna and always insisted her greatest desire was to retire to Norway and spend her life with her husband and children. Watching her knitting placidly or playing solitaire in the wings before she went on stage, observers often wondered whether she really understood what she was doing out there as Brünnhilde or Isolde. The answer was in her performances and is on these discs, in which astounding vocal beauty is combined with great passion and musical insight in deeply felt and deeply moving performances. Hearing her powerful, pure, golden tones ring out effortlessly above the loudest orchestral sound is one of the most electrifying vocal experiences you will encounter. If her characterizations often seemed more stately and restrained than vivid, she made up for it by her musical intelligence, her impeccable intonation and diction, her perfect breath control (which enabled her to produce flawless legato lines), and the radiance, brilliance, ease, and intoxicating beauty of her singing.”
- Alexander J. Morin, Classical.Net
“The voice of Kirsten Flagstad was a full dramatic soprano with great warmth. Unlike the voice of Birgit Nilsson, which was like a laser beam, Flagstad's voice enveloped the listener in a cushion of sound. She brought her characters to life primarily through vocal means; the overt theatricality of the later twentieth century was not part of her dramatic arsenal nor was it seen in any of her colleagues. Her many appearances with Lauritz Melchior at the Metropolitan Opera and at other houses in the 1930s made the music dramas of Wagner the core of the repertoire at these houses.”
- Richard LeSueur, allmusic.com
“Lauritz Melchior trained with retired Danish tenor Vilhelm Herold. In 1918, now singing as a tenor, Melchior gave his first performance as Tannhäuser. 1924 saw his first performances at Bayreuth (Siegmund, Parsifal), and at Covent Garden (Siegmund), two of the most important theaters of his career. Another crucial debut came in 1926: the Metropolitan Opera, portraying Tannhäuser. The remainder of the 1920s passed by in a whirlwind of newness.
Although in the 1920s Melchior was planning to make Germany the center of his career, the unforeseen Nazification and Great Depression of the early 1930s in fact moved him away from that country's theaters, including ‘Hitler's Bayreuth’. After 1933, the majority of his opera season was spent at the Metropolitan. It was a Dionysiac time for Wagner performance. His only new operatic rôle in the 1930s was Florestan.
Melchior left the Met and the opera after a much publicized kafuffle with incoming General Manager Rudolf Bing, giving his last performance (Lohengrin) in February of 1950."
-Zillah D. Akron