Music: Opera Made Easier

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When Marjorie Lawrence left her paralytic's wheelchair last winter to make a seated comeback in Tannhäuser (TIME, Feb. 1), many an operagoer shook his head as he applauded. It was brave business—but where was it leading? For all her good looks and magnificent voice, the soprano simply could not walk. She seemed limited to undemanding roles that could be sung lying down. But in Montreal last week Marjorie Lawrence sang the whole great, exhausting part that Richard Wagner wrote for Isolde.

This was no invalid's gesture—it was one of the finest performances of Tristan und Isolde in recent years. The conductor was Sir Thomas Beecham, and the cast a group of top-flight singers, some from Manhattan's Metropolitan. Isolde spent her first act reclining on a shipboard divan, with the necessary business carried out by her maid Brangäne. The second-act love scene had perhaps the fittest staging in history: Tristan and Isolde sang on a couch. In the last act, Isolde was carried on stage by Tristan's old retainer Kurwenal and tenderly deposited beside her dying lover.

Many operagoers found these arrangements much more pleasing than the traditional muscle-bound Wagnerian posturing. They reflected that the visual aspects of opera are secondary at best. Said the Metropolitan's stage director Herbert Graf: "One thing Miss Lawrence has showed us is how many gestures usual with opera singers are unnecessary and, in general, can be dispensed with."