One of the greatest works in the hisotry of music has finally been heard complete in this city. It took the University of Maryland and Eve Queler to bring it off Saturday nightwhen Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" had what was certainly its first uncut performance in Washington.
With an orchestra especially created for the purpose, and an all-American castheaded by two greatest stars, the matchless score was heardin concert form. It often took wing in ways that fully staged accounts have not surpassed. The National Opera Workshop Orchestra, which Queler has spent four weeks training and to which 11 distinguished strings players were added, frequently covered itself with glory.
With a superb ensemble of men from the university's chorus and added brass at the end of the first act, nothing was lacking that even some of the world's most famous theaters might have added. If the principals were uneven, that is a common situation in today's Wagnerian casts.
Queler, perhaps because the performance was for concert purposes, without the usual lighting or sets and with only minimal dramatic movement, took the long work in tempos whose sometimes quick touches were welcome. Her hand was secure at every moment. There could have been more impressive accents at Tristan's entrance into Isolde's presence in the first act, and a more searing crescendo at his outry, "Ach, Isolde," in the last. But the sound was frequently glowing, and nearly always secure.
Jess Thomas and Roberta Knie, from South Dakota and Oklahoma respectively, sang the leading roles, as they do regularly in the world's greatest house. Each was so completely imbued with the deepest meanings of the work that when they are singing, any thought of the absence of stage equipment disappeared. At ease in every word of the uncut text, Thomas rose, in the last act, to heights of psychological and musical intensity that only the greatest Tristans attain. His voice was fresh and unforced throughout the long role.
Knie may today be the foremost soprano for the large Wagner roles. With brilliant power she rides the big climaxes. She is more effective in the anger ofthe first act than the lyricism of the second, largely because she is not absolutely comfortable in her soft singing.
But talk about acting! At every moment, even in the brief passage where she referred to the score, she transformed the hot, humid, crowded stage of Tawes Theater into the ship carrying her to a hated marriage, or to the garden where her Tristan-centered love could bloom. She is the most impressiveartist to appear in this repertoire in years.
Richard Clark from Tucson, Ariz., sang a handsome Kurwenal, stylish, vocally admirable, an exciting new singer. And Curtis Rayam from Florida, singing the sailor, Melot, and the shepherd, excelled in the latter role but was too confined to his score as Melot.
Martha Snoddy was outclassed in the role of Brangaene.Rarely taking her eyes from the music, she failed to enter into the strong dramatic interplay which Knie's Isolde constantly offered her. Her voice has neither the size nor the lower range for the part, however, the boat she missed was in failing to know her role without the score.
But this was an astonishing affair in every way, and Queler and the University of Maryland are entitled to unlimited praise for their vision and its achievement.
Between the first two actsof the opera, which began at 5 p.m. and ended at around 11:20, several hundred patrons sat down at tables in a large striped tent set up in front of the theater. There they enjoyed dinners of lobster and white wine.
During the second intermission champagne and hors d'oeuvres were served until thebrass choir, in the same manner was Wagner's Bayreuth shrine, called the audience back for the last act.