LP0409. TANNHÄUSER, Live Performance, 4 Jan., 1941, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lauritz Melchior, Kirsten Flagstad, Kerstin Thorborg, Herbert Janssen, Emanuel List, Mack Harrell, etc. 4-Metropolitan Opera Historic Broadcast Recordings MET 12. Producer: Dorle Soria (Mrs. Dario Soria) & David Hamilton. Audio Engineer: Tom Owen, R & H Archives. The packaging is in the style of the deluxe RCA Victor Soria Series releases - velvet-covered slipcase edition with an inner box that holds, in addition to the records, an elaborate beautifully-illustrated booklet with background on the opera's Met history by Paul Jaretzki, Conrad L. Osborne & David Hamilton, photos and biographies of the artists, plus a second booklet containing a libretto with translation. Produced by RCA in 1985. Factory-Sealed.
"What almost goes without saying is that Lauritz Melchior’s Tannhäuser is sui generis and irreplaceable. There is simply no other performance of that voice-killing role which can compare. In his review Miller said that Melchior ‘delivers the most intense, chilling Rome Narrative I ever expect to hear. His stamina and power are awesome throughout the whole performance’. What I added in my earlier review was this: ‘The combination of beauty and richness of timbre, dramatic involvement, vocal imagination, and raw power makes Melchior’s Tannhäuser one of the classic assumptions of any role by any singer of the 20th century’. Hearing it again, with even greater focus on his sound, reaffirms that feeling. There are certainly modern stereo and digital recordings that any Wagnerian should own, but to omit Melchior’s from your collection because it is a 1941 radio broadcast would be to deprive yourself of a thrilling experience.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March/ April, 2018
"There have been many wonderful Wagnerian singers who have followed these [Wagnerian] legends. But it may not be hyperbole to suggest that opera will never again witness such luxury Wagnerian casting and singing. The role of Tannhäuser is fiendishly difficult. Although Tannhäuser is an operatic setting of a legend, Wagner masterfully creates a title character who is a three-dimensional, flesh and blood individual. During the course of the opera, Tannhäuser experiences both lust and a more pure form of love, anger, remorse, contrition, rejection, and ultimately salvation. In order to depict Tannhäuser’s mercurial changes of situation and emotion, Wagner crafted a role that demands a tenor of nearly superhuman stamina, and one who has a mastery of vocal writing both low and high, and lyrical and powerful, all the while delivering this punishing music in an entirely convincing fashion from a dramatic perspective….You could easily spend a lifetime frequenting opera performances without ever hearing Tannhäuser sung with this kind of mastery. And yet, that mastery is what Met audiences of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s could rely upon with Lauritz Melchior, who performed this role 70 times during his great career at New York’s leading opera house. The fact that Melchior surmounts Wagner’s challenges in this fashion, in the context of a live performance, borders on the miraculous. But then again, Melchior was a miracle among tenors.
Kirsten Flagstad is a radiant Elisabeth, brimming with youth and vocal beauty in her entrance aria, ‘Dich, teure Halle’ (the final climactic high note is a bit opaque, a rare vocal blemish in this masterfully sung account). Because Flagstad was such a vocal marvel and had a regal stage presence, she is often underappreciated as an actress. But to these ears, Flagstad’s total identification with her great Wagnerian roles is never in doubt. Flagstad is absolutely convincing as a young woman totally in love with Tannhäuser, willing to forgive his greatest sins, and even die for him….Kerstin Thorborg is an opulently voiced and sultry Venus who convincingly depicts the goddess’ own mercurial changes of mood as she tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Tannhäuser to remain with her. The role of Wolfram was tailor-made for the talents of Herbert Janssen, an artist who possessed a voice of arresting beauty and warmth, and the genius to convey the innermost humanity of characters ranging from the Dutchman, to Wolfram, to Hans Sachs. In this broadcast, Janssen may be the most sympathetic Wolfram I have ever heard. Some baritones make Wolfram’s Hymn to the Evening Star, ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’, a display of bel canto elegance and beauty, which in part it most certainly is. But Janssen also fashions the music to express Wolfram’s deep, tender, and unrequited love for Elisabeth, and his fervent hope for her salvation. The veteran bass Emanuel List sings the role of the Landgrave with admirable feeling and authority, but with a somewhat worn vocal quality. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf’s performance strikes me as what might be characterized as ‘correct’. The Met Orchestra plays with accuracy and tonal beauty, and there is never a moment when one feels that the momentum is abating. But at the same time, I don’t hear much that strikes me as individual, or for that matter, thrilling in the manner of the singing on this occasion. Melchior seems intent upon portraying Tannhäuser’s mounting passion by forging ahead at breakneck speed. Leinsdorf has other ideas, but Melchior proceeds apace until matters are finally reconciled. Still, there is nothing in Leinsdorf’s approach that diminishes enjoyment of this great afternoon. In sum, this is certainly a performance of TANNHÄUSER that easily ranks among the greatest available.
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March/ April, 2018