The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview
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And it is so interpreted by Isolde in an immediate response, "Wagst du zu höhnen?" [You dare to mock?], lost in the cut. This cut, as defined by Wolf, covers the seventy-odd measures in which Isolde tells Tristan about her Irish hero, her betrothed, who fell by Tristan's hand in her defense, and whose death she had solemnly sworn to avenge. She had, indeed, at the time, had the wounded Tristan in her power, and could have slain him then and there. But a look in his eye had stayed her hand, and she had nursed him back to health. Tristan is deeply affected by her account, and, saying "Did Morold mean so much to you?" offers her his sword that she may fulfill her oath of vengeance. It was especially the fact that the cut imposes upon Tristan an instantaneous and textually unmotivated metamorphosis of attitude and mood, from apparent mockery to profound and troubled sympathy, that aroused Wolf's indignation, as elaborated in the succeeding paragraph.

56. Materna as Elisabeth

September 6, 1885

Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner

The performance, except for the Venusberg scene, was better than anything we have experienced on our opera stage in a long time.

Frau Materna, returning after a long absence, 1 sang the Elisabeth. It was not her dramatic talent, however, that so delighted me on this occasion. It was rather the stylistic propriety of her interpretation, the discreet employment of her vocal resources, the sensitivity with which she shaped a melodic line, the flooding warmth (far removed from all sentimental wallowing), the lovely restraint, the evidence of good taste in her vocalism - these were the virtues that left me firmly convinced that Frau Materna is unquestionably the finest of contemporary Wagnerian sopranos. There was nothing arbitrary or capricious, nothing ugly or fumbling or absurd. The purity, the exaltation, of her performance was unsullied. She may well have sung more excitingly on other occasions, but never, certainly, more beautifully. This time the graces listened entranced to her song.

Herr Scaria, who sang the Landgrave with astonishing devotion, combining power and dignity, may well have thought to himself before the performance: "Today I shall show the folks once again what I can do when I set my mind to it." What a pity that Herr Scaria is not more frequently subject to such self-indulgent seizures! Everyone would gain: Herr Scaria, if he were to sing decently; the public, if it got something decent to hear, and I, if I got something decent to write about, which unfortunately doesn't happen often.

Tannhäuser is generally thought to be one of Herr Winkelmann's most congenial roles. That may well be. But an actor whose hands dangle like the blades of a broken-down windmill, who is incapable of resolution, who -- but why get worked up about it? Nothing's to be done. And as a singer he was excellent.


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