Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1937 Through 1938
The following program was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation by W. B U R Boston. With. Boston University radio presents Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966. You are the you are cool. You're all. Your hosts are miles past indie music critic of The New York World Journal Tribune
and noton cross. When the time came for Edward Johnson to start the Metropolitan's 1937 season he was able to proceed with a fair degree of confidence. He had now had two seasons experience as general manager of the company and they had been reasonably successful seasons although the profit making days of opera are gone forever. He had managed to bring about a substantial increase in subscription sales as well as the day to day box office returns. For the first time since the Depression the company's income actually began to rise. The least successful aspect of the first two years of Johnson's regime was the so-called spring season. This venture was initiated as a part of the Juilliard Foundation's plans to provide additional opportunities for young American saying is to make appearances at the Opera House. These extensions of the regular metropolitan season ultimately failed but the failure
made two things obvious. The first was that there simply wasn't enough good young American singers around to make the enterprise worthwhile. They spring seasons may have brought hell and trouble and Norman called into the regular roster but artists of their caliber of a few and far between. The other circumstance that led to the abandonment of the spring season project was the discovery that the Metropolitan Opera House just couldn't be used for performances during warm weather. The management had decided that air conditioning was too costly a proposition and so an air circulating system was installed as a substitute. Unfortunately the air circulated by the system was piped in from the street and that certainly wasn't very refreshing when the temperature outside was in the 80s. The spring seasons were given up after two years and the money which had been set aside for the future ones could once again be used for other purposes since the prospects for the coming year
appeared to be favorable. Johnson decided to extend the 1937 season from 14 weeks to 16 and he then increased the repertoire from twenty nine operas to 35 as a compensating economy measure. The series of performances at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn was eliminated. The opening night of the season presented the firmly established by a nearing ensemble of planks that list and Melky owe interest on an assembly with Bodansky conducting. Although the credo Johnson expressed many assume the position of the general manager in one thousand thirty five stated opera depends for its prosperity on Verdi Wagner and Puccini. The emphasis in 1937 was definitely on Wagner. There were 38 performances of eight of the composers operas at the beginning of the season Johnson declared. It is always desired to make the Strauss work as familiar as all the music dramas of Wagner. Accordingly the German repertory was augmented by Electra salomé and Rosen cavalier
since the same group of singers was called upon for virtually all of these performances. The strain was considerable and even greater strain though was placed on all the dance. The Metropolitan's principal German conductor in fact it might be said that but it was very nearly the only conductor for the German repertory because he had no satisfactory alternate relief was fine provided however by the arrival of Eric Klein's dog a young but they're really competent conductors But Maestro Leinsdorf schedule was not to be a light one either. And he revealed some of the difficult problems he faced in this conversation with our producer Richard Calhoun. Will Mr. Leinsdorf your W at the Metropolitan came at a very young age for any artist but particularly so for a conductor and you will believe I just in your late 20s when in 1938 you started there conducting a performance of Alcoa. As I do not go like a professional beauty
concealing my age it is just as well that I tell you it was a few days before my 26 birthday my twenty sixth birthday would have come in February 38 and I debuted at the Metropolitan on January 21 1938. So I was not quite 26 then. How much experience had you had in conducting opera previously I know you had been an apprentice to a Toscanini at Salzburg. I conducted some opera in various Italian short seasons called Star Joni and the previous two years and my other conducting experience had been in both concerts repertory and opera repertory with the large orchestra of the State Academy of Music in Vienna. Thus I would say I had actual conducting experience though by of course the standards of the Metropolitan you would call it
a short experience. And it was quite. Quite an opportunity. And as I already felt the opportunities I don't as present today as much as they were in my days. And I don't want to become preaching but I do think when I look at the opportunities which we have which we have often thought of which I have seen offered to potential candidates at. Thank you ward and elsewhere. I can assure you opportunities are always there. They just have to be taken as they can. And sometimes I find today that the kids want to exactly prescribe to delimit the kind of opportunity which they consider an opportunity. And then of course it is no longer an opportunity because then the other part this is where look at the idea if you want to what I found the recipe. That's not
what we're here for. So I had to take these performances at the Metropolitan and the completely impossible conditions. I conducted 10 performances in my first year without a single orchestra the hustle. And this of course is it really an impossible situation but I did it. And when you find your opportunities you cannot you cannot control how impossible it really are. Well cause when you got to the Metropolitan Toscanini had long since left but I'm sure your work with him exerted a considerable influence on all of your career not just in operatic conducting. Naturally when you have the opportunity of working as an assistant to a man of his standards and of his excellence and of his intentions you gents it leaves a great impression. And also it influences you to a great degree. And I would say.
You learn a great deal and you also have to get over a great deal. In what way and in the way that for instance his way of going about dealing with conditions cannot be duplicated by a younger man. And I know that this is among the generation of Italian conductors who have emulated Toscanini some of them have run into a stone was by not only trying to emulate the musicianship and the. Studying and the excellence and the precision of the great man but also his behavior toward administrators and so on that that did not go so well. Did he have any pointers for you in terms of how to get along with a metropolitan management and some of the problems he looked at even metropolitan with a fierce
hatred. I don't know why it must have been something that happened or around the time when I was born in 1912 or 1914 but never he was there. There was something between him and the Metropolitan there was a tremendous love hate relationship and he could not speak very passionately about the metropolitan he love the place and said the only way to produce good opera in America would be to set fire to the metropolitan that was Diskin in his opinion in the 30s and his and 40s I would say that there was a peculiar past history of which I had probably know nothing which must have had something to do with something hey I am completely at a loss to explain it because he certainly had the one personal relationship to so many people at the Metropolitan. Also at the time when I was there that it came
into the the Department of the mysterious. He wanted to see the place grew up in flame like flames like Valhalla got to them isn't there. Yeah. And yet he did so much for it. Yes. And let's have at it. Something must have happened while he was there I don't know what it was there was a fierce resentment against the house itself and against the block that stood for. Probably if it digs into the past one might find some something that went on. I don't mind 1914 15. I certainly must have been a basis somewhere cause of wrong feeling very strong very strong because he after all he had been also with the New York Philharmonic and was then not to be the New York Philharmonic but never was there any word of resentment on it and never anything that was negative against the method he held forth with great the volubility eloquence and all of his negatives. When I despite the initial difficulties of your first season at the Metropolitan you probably ran into an even
more difficult time when Dan ski who had been holding down the German wing at the Met for so long suddenly died and you find found yourself taking on the entire Wagnerian repertoire. In the beginning of the third season it was in the fall of 39 It was the moment when Mr. Budowsky suddenly passed away. I had by that time prepared Oh I don't know six or seven of the works of both about appetite but that proved to be an enormously tough season because there was so much of it and all these very very long and very tiring but to answer your question I would say that opera. It anytime even if it's the very best is a succession of crises. It makes the experience how to sing and it constitutes part of the fascination and it prepares you for life. The singer is it to appease actor let's face it the singer deserves our
sympathy. He then uses it to make his own points. But the singer is working with great has it's been you can see that if I died at this moment. Get a little bit of frog in my throat I'll clear it and I'll say excuse me and we carry on. If the singer gets a frog in his throat he may mess up the most important phrase of ours I'm running into people miss him when he's losing his voice. You know there are the terrible handicaps and this NG has to or should act and move it around on stage. There is the element of the prompter who then is accused of not having helped the singer early enough that their stage band and the conductor of the stage been camped at the hole into the set at the right spot so he couldn't see the conductors of the stage meant was half a bar late all the way through the organ is half.
How does a quarter tone flat by the time you get to the back. If the organ comes in the first act like mice to sing to the organ is in your own because the orchestra isn't warmed up to the degree but the pitch is gone out but if you have an organ in the last act it can very often happen that the same organ which is in pitch in Meistersinger is flat because the orchestra goes up as the evening proceeds you know and by the time you get to the third act the age of the orchestra or picture of the orchestra is a quarter tone above that of the organ and so you find. So you get very rarely if ever an opera performance which isn't a succession of crises. Well when you did take over the Wagnerian wing you found yourself confronted with a team of agrarian singers who had been working together for years and years with Bodansky and suddenly you a relative newcomer to the company. A young conductor to begin with and suddenly taking over and conducting them and telling them what they should be doing in their performances how did they take this. I know there
were rumors about some difficulties that you had with him. Melky or at the very beginning the difficulty is purely musical grounds and related on parlayed I think by other people into other into other things it sort of is that way. The difficulties were that I my tempi were different from those they were used to Mr. Bodansky now they had been in a very intensive upsurge of as you said Wagner since 1936 when influx that made her a spectacular success at the Metropolitan and repertory increased vastly that means Wagner had been at the Metropolitan given regularly but then flocks that came then it became about something like three times a week. Now the truth of the matter is this that no singer no metal rock to stop me not can. Saying three times a week in three star already in get a demo
and this was the schedule and particularly met you had nobody really to talk to alternate there was Riley this very very promising Australian's Soprano Marjorie Lawton's who shared the dramatic lords of flag stuff and alas as you may recall from the reading you were a young man you wouldn't remember it but she got struck by polio and never could really resume her career which was a great pity there was a wonderful actress and artist and singer and she shared so frocks and did not sing everything or there was also still a bit back and there was lame and I for instance while there were three for up for some of the half nearly half dramatic roars of Wagner's. Measure was alone and he did not want any cuts opened and he did not want any tempi differently from what he felt
unable to him to sing three times a week. I would call this a commercial consideration rather. But there it is and he once was quite open with me about it he said. You may be perfectly right with the temper you rant but I want to sing three times a week and your tempi tired me. And there it was and that was the issue really. I kept opening cats and I had a very amusing story. In my second season at the Metropolitan I took didn't take over but. The conduct of all performances and prepared along again and without telling anybody just toward the library and the chorus master and the singers involved. I open so in so many of the cuts I did not do it entirely on Cup but there had been many more cuts and the usual long grim performances as marked in the books of the stage managers and the House managers you know when they tell the cause when to come for the patrons. It was not for 11
23 and somehow the management were unaware of the opening of the cuts and I heard later on the story that on the night of the first performance of that season it was the season thirty eight thirty nine. There was great amazement in the management and thought 11:23 the first scene of the third act was still. On stage that means a change hadn't even taken place. And suddenly every member of the administration assembled in Mr Johnson's office and it was described later by one of the of those present. It was a kind of a death watch because you know at midnight after four hours there came a very stiff overtime payment for everybody not only orchestra but the Choros and supernumeraries ballet and the stage hand which is of course the most expensive item in modern theatre reckoning. And I
understand that these four or five or six gentlemen sat around watching the clock on the wall and the clock advanced and the minute tent advanced into the dance that advanced and this long great event still arm and arm and arm. And I think they finally heaved a sigh of relief when the last major chord sounded around 11:53 I can tell you to see 53 of it was 49 but it was far. Those who were unaware what was going to happen. A complete shock and a terrible crises and they all aged considerably during that tough hour between 11:23 and at 11:53. At the end of the 1940 243 season you left the man and went to the Cleveland Center and read for a while and then returned and made a very short drive across the United States Army or got my services to you know when you when you
have this kind of competition for your services it is very flattering but it brings are sometimes into very sad conflicts at this time. At that time the United States on the run out of the Cleveland office and then after the army and the orchestra you did go back to the Metropolitan and then began to you Not really I've been in and out because I don't because I I found myself when I came out of the service a little bit at loose ends I did not exactly know that the Cleveland Orchestra was gone. They had not waited which I can very well understand because nobody knew how long it was going to be in service what they committed themselves elsewhere and I think that the Metropolitan or this just like today needed somebody to do two or three operas so I Mr. Johnson asked me if I wanted to do as a guest conductor of one season. And after I came out of the army I think it was. 546 I can't recall which season it was
and Figaro and of course from that moment on I said if I if I ever do operate again I must do a lot of Mozart because it is also it is more gratification seen vibing on top of everything else. You have the great problem particularly with an opera orchestra which is a consistently overworked. You have the problem with the title process you know and so I got thoroughly fed up with struggling with a tired orchestra and doing the reading because when an orchestra does four times a season four times a week La Traviata and the fifth day they have to get to them at home. You see working on two totally different bases of concentration and energy and that actually makes the difficulty for an opera orchestra. And of course Ahmed has such a heavy schedule the orchestra's unbelievable and then I hear today and as I've heard recently that they have great difficulty in coming to terms with the
orchestra. I will say whatever the difficulties are the the the burden on that orchestra is is is staggering. What are your most recent stay at the Metropolitan started around one thousand fifty eight I believe wasn't there maybe a little Cessna. Yes it was a little sooner. I think I've conducted again at the Metropolitan. If my memory is correct it generally are February 57. My but I would call the entry was done with Arabella and the following for Ben marks Rudolph. Accepted the post in Cincinnati. Mr. Bangs asked me if I not only wanted to continue to do some performances at the Metropolitan but he asked me to become his musical advisor. But because of the music consultant and I found this very fascinating and very interesting and spent I think four seasons in this capacity. 966 That's right with you had a great deal of
fun and very interesting that one of the last things you did then at the Met was the complete ring that they put on in. Well I guess beginning in 61 what differences did you notice in doing the ringing that approximately 30 years later than the first ones you had done in terms of the Wagnerian casts. It would be very much surprised when I tell you I missed many hero because he was never really replaced but any tenor who had this kind of flaws because there just isn't nobody there still is what I want to write. There's absolutely nobody and no matter what odds we might have had I missed I missed the old man because he really could sing and you know for also for a conductor then you all of us have to go to the orchestra in low gear in order to let these half baked voices come through. This is not fun but with measure you really could let go and I would say the outstanding
The outstanding and. Observation in that ring was that we had completely satisfactory cast and even double cast. For our all the female roles of the ring and not even missing to satisfactory casting for the male roles. MT highlight No I'm actually saying that that would be the wrong word to use. The Lord died of that ring was a performance of our curative and we had to vote and in the third act when the curtain had to come down for only time in my tire career that is never happened because the replacement of water and came on in the third act and obviously did not remember his part now. The man at Sun the completer or a few days earlier which meant he knew of the part. Now you figure it out logically why a man who knows apart on say December 30th does not know the part on January
11. I can't say what I think because the man has sued subsequently a newspaper man in Germany for oh really for letting forth the assumption why he didn't know the part but he had to be taken off the stage. The captain came down and the man whom he replaced although indisposed was good enough to declare his willingness to finish the performance. And the funniest moment happened backstage. The fellow who was taken off the replacement. Met the original what and who was going to be good enough to go back in and as they met in the corridor I see they're exactly looking alike with his long blue tunic and red beard and a wig with the eyepatch and that brought sloppy hat which of all time wears no the helmet it was it was white it wasn't under That's right with the helmet and they look exactly alike because you can't recognize the normal features of the man
behind the vote on his mask and costume and the fellow was taken off his past by the other one and he just points his finger and says next as if about the Barber Shop this was an unforgettable moment of a quite a performance all around. If you were coming back quite quietly I agreed with you. I can't say that it was an elevating performance because the event a couple comes down you know and when you suddenly find out you know people oversea Wagner the music is all in the orchestra but the new ones have a singer go completely dead on you on stage and the orchestra comes forth with an occasional chord you know between which chords the singer is supposed to hold forth and nobody holds forth. If you have those silences which seemed an interminable you'll find out of Wagner wrote a lot of music forcing us. Well considering the number of times you have been back and forth to the
Metropolitan with symphonic work in between do you think there's any chance you might be going back again. I never rule out possibilities I've certainly been asked time and again and all I can say is this. The schedule of the Boston Symphony certainly makes this moment any consideration of producing an opera. With rehearsals and repeat performances and in possibility. But the point is to be I'm very cordial relations I've seen normal chance of this moment to return for any production. But I would at the same time not exclude it because I found in these many years in this country that the Metropolitan has been a second or third home to me. I know all the personnel when I call up something the telephone switchboard operator immediately recognizes my
voice and we greet each other in. This is same with the stuff and there's a very cordial order coming out that he between the Metropolitan special night and and by staff that was any Klein's doff who conducted many outstanding performances of opera at the Metropolitan beginning in 1937 and continuing right up until the very last day at the old house. On our program next week we'll be hearing about the career of another metropolitan artist. The American metal Soprano resist even the dam Steven has many interesting stories to tell and I'm sure you'll want to join us. For now this is Milton Cross. On behalf of Myles cast and be thanking you for listening.
- 1937 Through 1938
- Producing Organization
- WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- 1937 -1938. Erich Leinsdorf arrives to assist Artur Bodanzky with the German operas. Maestro Leinsdorf is interviewed.
- Other Description
- Documentary series on history of the Metropolitan Opera Company ("The Met") in its original home at Broadway and 39th Street in New York. "The Met" closed its old location on April 16, 1966. Series includes interviews and rare recordings of noted performers.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Host: Cross, Milton, 1897-1975
Host: Kastendieck, Miles
Interviewee: Leinsdorf, Erich, 1912-1993
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-25 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1937 Through 1938,” 1967-02-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 18, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xk84pf3b.
- MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1937 Through 1938.” 1967-02-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 18, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xk84pf3b>.
- APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1937 Through 1938. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xk84pf3b