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Namenlos in Lieb’ umfangen

SiriusXM is broadcasting right now a 1981 performance of Tristan und Isolde featuring Gwyneth Jones (pictured) and Spas Wenkoff, with James Levine conducting the work that season for the first time in his career. And yet, here’s an operatic mystery: neither Ms. Jones nor Mr. Wenkoff was the casting originally conceived by Mr. Levine for this revival: they joined the cast fairly late in the game. So, who among the cher public can tell us which two familiar Met artists were supposed to sing these roles?

58 comments

  • Porgy Amor says:

    Wenkoff immobile, constantly grinning for 5 hours

    Was that a Wenkoff “thing”? The one and only performance of his I have ever seen or heard is the classic Colin Davis/Götz Friedrich Tannhäuser, also with Jones, and he’s smirking and grinning a lot in that too. Sometimes I can talk myself into reading it as an acting choice that works with the production, but sometimes it is a stretch.

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    Thanks, guys, for those reflections. They’re consistent with the negative reviews and remembrances I’ve been able to find. In my experience, thirty-year old memories are often much worse -- or much better -- than the actual events. At any rate, the consensus seems to be that the 1981 run was pretty dismal. Maybe my idea of the Liebestod as a psychedelic trip is not so crazy after all. Sounds like the Met audience might have wished they were on one instead of seeing one.

    I was thinking of responding with something clever like, “Well, at least the sets were great,” until, scouring the interwebs, I read this from a New York Times review (11 January 1981):

    “As for the physical production itself, with its ingenious stage machinery to send the lovers up into the clouds at climactic moments and bring them down again to earthy reality, it must be said that certain problems persist. The very cleverness of the elevators and folding ramps sometimes forces the attention on the devices and distracts the ear from the musical continuity.”

    Sound familiar? Tweak a few phrases, and you have a typical reaction to “The Machine” in LePage’s recent Ring of multi-ton memory (and not a little hatred).

    The more things change . . .

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    So what is the right answer if not Nilsson and Vickers? This reminds me I must find a long Levine biography to read and fill the many lacunae. I hope Troyanos was always the intended Brangena in planning 1981, “Habet acht, habet ach…”

    • armerjacquino says:

      I’ve seen the Centennial Gala. The answer is obviously Roberta Peters and David Rendall. Or maybe Edda Moser and Dano Raffanti.

      • Krunoslav says:

        Richard Kness and Joann Grillo?

        • steveac10 says:

          Be fair. After the 81 strike AGMA let the Met phase out full time employment for comprimarios and covers. This might have happened in 79 in 81 they would have been Brangane and Melot at best.

      • tiger1 says:

        According to the website of Ms Moser “Edda Mosers Repertoire wächst ständig. Zu den in jüngster Zeit neu aufgenommenen Partien zählen Fidelio, die Marschallin im Rosenkavalier, Rezia in Oberon, Ariadne auf Naxos, Salome, Senta und Isolde.”

  • actfive says:

    I attended one performance in this run, and it was my first Wagner opera heard live. My very opera-savvy friend Brian took me, and we smoked a joint on the Met plaza before the opera. I became a Wagner fan that night, even though I could tell that something was “off” about the performance (Jones was very pitchy and Wenkoff was a lump). In Act One, a Wagner freak near us in the audience began singing along with Isolde’s “Luft! Luft!”and continued on despite vigorous shushing. I think I was in the balcony. I definitely recall that Jones was a committed actress.

  • NoelAnn says:

    Was the soprano Hildegard Behrens ?

  • Orlando Furioso says:

    I hope Troyanos was always the intended Brangena in planning 1981, “Habet acht, habet ach…”

    Actually, I think it was for this revival (though it may have been the next in 1983, when Behrens was Isolde) that Yvonne Minton was announced for Brangäne. It was one of several hopeful announced returns for Minton to the Met in those years (another was in the Handel Samson) that didn’t work out; in fact she had quietly retired from performing. She made a bit of a return later in the 1980s with carefully selected roles but it didn’t really work out. I remain sorry at the early withdrawal of such a special artist. Her Met career remains 14 performances, 2 runs of Octavian.

    • Krunoslav says:

      Yes, Minton was meant to appear (I was looking forward to hearing her live) and as I recall Tatiana-- with whom I was indeed on a first-name basis as a teenager, the only famous singer of whom I can say that--was also scheduled to appear in the run.

      When Minton canceled, Tatiana did all of the performances. She was, as many know, very self-critical, and she was not happy with her opening night, when she was sick. But she did recover and according to friends ( I could not face the prospect of Gwyneth’s Isolde again) she sounded lovely in much of the music.

      She came back and did more Branagaenes opposite the Comparable Hildegarde in 1983-- she of course fared much better in the role than had Gwyneth, quite exciting, though since I like a middle voice in Isolde’s music :) I preferred Johanna Meier, who was saddled with inadequate partners ( Jung and the clueless Lorna Myers, only Talvela was near her level) and given no rehearsal.

      • Buster says:

        Were Minton’s Lyric Genevieves with Stratas and Hadley her final US performances?

        She was still superb, a singer from a different age. Genevieve is a key figure in the opera, the only one giving actual information, and Minton, a tall and most beautiful woman, seemed to realize this from the start. She was more urgent and immediate than the other Genevieves I have seen. Splendid!

        • peter says:

          I guess I was lucky to have heard MInton’s only role at the Met: Octavian. Kruno, you will be happy to know that was also Derek Hammond Stroud’s debut :-)

          • Krunoslav says:

            I saw Hammond-Stroud too, but with Tatiana, Jones and Grist ( and the barely adequate Marius Rintzler).

            Hammond-Strroud was fine as Faninal; but not so hot as Krucina after that.

            He did better at the ENO as both Alberich and Melitone.

          • Regina delle fate says:

            Slightly off topic, but Krunobait nonetheless, Christine Rice’s biography in Sunday night’s Proms programme says she has an upcoming debut at the Met? Hard to imagine what as, unless it’s a Handel role. :)

            • Hippolyte says:

              You haven’t been paying attention: he’s been crabbing for months about her MET debut in December as Hansel.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Well, of all the ridiculous roles to import a singer for, Hansel must be near the top of the list in this age of trouser mezzos on every corner.

              Plus I found Rice’s singing wan and colorless in an ENO PARTENOPE, and in everything else I’ve heard on recordings. Who needs her?

              The cover is Jennifer Johnson Cano, a far more distinctive singer IMO; she has at least one billed performance, and with the very promising Andriana Chuchman instead of the superannuated remains of Christine Schaefer’s voice filtered through her iffy diction.

            • steveac10 says:

              I really don’t get the Met’s casting (past or current) with this Hansel production.Let’s do a German opera in English and then cast non-english speakers in major roles. I also don’t get the Fiend’s bizarre affection for Christine Schafer. Yes, she was a good Lulu a decade ago, but everything else has been fair to middling at best. At least he seems to have given up on casting aging “commonwealth” sopranos and mezzos in character roles. I was shocked when I saw Suzanne Mentzer was the Marcellina for the new Figaro. I assumed it would be Anne Murray or Roz Plowright. Because, we know there are no decent character mezzos in North America.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Well, of all the ridiculous roles to import a singer for, Hansel must be near the top of the list in this age of trouser mezzos on every corner.

              Ah, I get it. I understand now. This sentence makes it very clear that you feel the *default setting* for any role should be a local singer, and that imports should only happen under exceptional circumstances.

              That must be why we disagree so often- I like opera as an international art form. The last thing I saw at CG was ARIADNE, and I didn’t much care for Donose or Archibald. But I’m glad I got to see them to find out, rather than be restricted to singers who happen to have been born on the same land mass.

  • overstimmelated says:

    If those weren’t the originally planned leads, you’d never know it from this article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1981/01/04/arts/can-the-met-recreate-its-historic-tristan.html

    • steveac10 says:

      Well, they do mention changes have been made to the cast, but do not specify what those changes were.

      On another note. Everding comes across as a real director. Questioning his initial assumptions and realizing what worked beautifully for one cast, might not with another. I was especially struck by this quote:

      ”You know,” he says, ”Brecht was wrong when he said you could give a production of a drama and let it stand as a model for all eternity. No, you have to keep changing because in the theater we have no such thing as truth, only accuracy -- truth is something for philosophers and theologians. A play or an opera is never finished like a book or a painting, and we directors are constantly challenged to change an audience’s seeing and hearing habits. What was valid 50 years ago cannot be made to look or sound relevant today.

      • Porgy Amor says:

        Slightly tangential, but as both Everding and the opera Hansel and Gretel have come up tonight, just above: Helga Dernesch’s singing/acting of the mother in his film of that opera is the special greatness you sometimes get in an opera at a point (or role) where you are expecting to settle for much less. The desperation of her prayer seems so real.