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.