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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876)
Siegfried, Lauritz Melchior; Brünnhilde, Kirsten Flagstad; Gunther, Herbert Janssen; Gutrune, Hilde Konetzni and Maria Nezádal; Hagen, Dezso Ernster and Ludwig Weber; Alberich, Eduard Habich; Waltraute, Kirsten Thorborg; Woglinde, Erna Berger; Wellgunde, Lucine Amara; Flosshilde, Herta Glaz; First Norn, Doris Doe;
Second Norn, Lucielle Browning; Third Norn, Dorothee Manski.
Orchestras of Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, "various conductors"
Notes in English with B/W photographs and cast biographies, synopsis, and article on the audio assembly. No text.
Recorded from various broadcasts between 1934 and 1944 and personal sources. AAD
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2224/7 [4CDs: 236.03]
Really serious collectors who are willing to buy many reissue copies of different historical performances of a work will endlessly debate which particular performance has the best moment of each particular artist’s performance in each of the classic roles. But collectors like me who have not the time, energy nor financial resources to explore to this degree will be grateful to Richard Caniell and Guild for having spliced together a "dream performance" from many sources. Not only that but they have applied reasonable digital restoration which removes most of the distracting noise but does not filter out any of the musical sound in the vocal range. It is presented as part of the ‘The Dream Ring Cycle’.

The sources of these recordings are not the original acetates but tape copies from the very late 1940s. The voices are clear and the instruments well differentiated. The customary artefacts of digital filtering are amazingly inaudible. We are told there are 512 splices in this recording made from many different sources, (in one case 16 minutes of music took 43 hours of work to reconstruct) but I never found any of them objectionable although on occasion I would be aware of one here and there. Occasionally one wishes it were possible to keep a little more of the orchestral bass than they have here. They of course had to join sources of varying audio quality as seamlessly as possible. This meant that, regrettably, the lowest quality source would occasionally have to set the standard.

These disks are enjoyable and the spirit of the music is genuinely evident. Listening for long periods of time to restricted recordings generally makes me feel headachy and short of breath. For this reason I generally have to break up my listening into half hour sessions, but this recording grabbed me at once and I heard it straight through. Flagstad sounds amazingly young throughout. Melchior in the sunrise scene sounds nasal and wobbly. Gunther huffs and puffs and may have been a fine stage actor, but what survives here is not distinguished. Gutrune scoops into her notes, but Siegfried’s sight of "the first woman he has ever seen (onstage, at least) who wasn’t his aunt" must have been good for him, because Melchior abruptly sounds ten years younger.

Hagen’s speech is appropriately menacing and must have frightened the orchestra players as they struggle for a while. The audience also comes down with a serious attack of morning bronchitis at sunrise. In Scene 3 Flagstad is fabulous; the orchestra is inspired by her. Even Gunther and Siegfried are feeling much better. In Act II Alberich is terrific. Hagen and his henchmen are so convincing you want to jump up and yell "rittorna vincitor!" The Act II finale is just overwhelming, better than I’ve ever heard it (here Hagen is sung briefly Ludwig Weber), and the audience applause shows they fully appreciated what was before them.

In Act III Scene II the surface crackle on the source materials is at times awful, and the worst splice in the whole recording occurs. But Melchior seems to be yet another ten years younger and does such a terrific job with his big scene you’re really sorry to see him killed. I wished I were on stage so I could grab some spears and throw one into the audience at the cougher in row C, and then one at the squirmy occupant of that squeaky folding chair in the orchestra. In Flagstad’s big finale scene the sound is at first disappointingly thinner than previously. However it gets much better and she’s there and she does it and it’s great.

This recording left me with a wonderful feeling: the art of Flagstad is not gone from us. Here before us is her Götterdämmerung in a form every opera lover can enjoy as well as appreciate and it will now last forever. Melchior (after scene 1), Thorborg, Eduard Habich as Alberich, and Dezso Ernster and Ludwig Weber as Hagen are also memorable.

With all the digital wonders available to restore historic performances, the Nobel Prize remains to be won by the inventor of a digital cough filter. Some bright child now among us will soar to riches and glory with this accomplishment.

Paul Shoemaker



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