25 NOVEMBER 1955, Page 18


TANNIIXUSER (Covent Garden) WHEN Tannhauser was performed at Sadler's Wells by the Carl Rosa Company a few months ago, it was received, in spite of an inadequate performance, with an enthusiasm that sug- gested its turn had come for a revival of popu- larity. This reception was probably part of the incentive to Covent Garden to put it on again now, for the first time since 1939, in a new production by Sumner Austin. The first per- formance on Monday, however, although musically much superior to the Carl Rosa, did not sustain the new enthusiasm or confirm the suggestion of a welcome waiting from a new generation for this opera and its like. This need not mean that the enthusiasm and the welcome are not there in the audience. It is this production that is lacking in the convic- tion and zest to set them off. Ralph Koltai's designs are disappointingly dreary and un- inspired—the Venusbcrg scene, including Kenneth MacMillan's choreography, old- fashioned and not sufficiently spectacular, the Hall of Song dull and bleak, and the Wartburg Valley like nothing so much as a row of tele- graph poles ready spiked for repair work, or the view of Daventry from the Rugby train. His costumes are brighter and better, but their part is too little of the whole to help appreci- ably. Musically it is hardly better. The singing is good, and Sylvia Fisher as Elisabeth was cow siderably more than that, creating with Or mature art and weight of voice that the part demands the illusion of the sweetness and buoyancy of a young girl's voice that it intends• Maria von Ilosvay, very plausibly Venus-like in appearance, sang most lyrically, and Wilhelm Ernest, once past the first scene, If which that strained quality of German tenor singing was disturbingly apparent to English cars, settled into more comfortable voice and gave easier pleasure. But for all the excellence of their singing, and that of the other members of the company who admirably filled the smaller parts, the performance was musical') lifeless. Rudolf Kempe, conducting, did not succeed in doing with this what he had done IS the summer with The Ring. The playing was finely controlled and disciplined again, the orchestral sound clear and well-balanced, and occasionally rich and brilliant, but behind the sound the musical interpretation was as lack. ing in vitality and enthusiasm as the production and the designs. It was not a Tannhiluser to bowl over a new generation, or to win back those of an older who once knew it too well. I Let nobody believe, for all that, that there s not life in the old horse yet.