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Leonie Rysanek: The Soprano Queen
rec. 1951–1960. mono/stereo. ADD
Contents list at end of review
DOCUMENTS 600159 [10 CDs: 11:49:14]

Leonie Rysanek had a glorious career of some forty-seven years. She made her stage debut as Agathe in 1949 and her last appearance in 1996 as Klytemnestra at the Salzburg Festival, having sung mezzo roles in her latter years. In that regard, her career paralleled those of Astrid Varnay and Martha Mödl, two similarly great singers of comparably powerful stage presence. She could, in many ways, be accounted the most important post-war singer in terms of the length, span and range of her roles. She excelled especially in the operas of Richard Strauss but was almost as distinguished as a Wagnerian. This compilation also demonstrates how certain of Verdi’s roles suited her voice admirably; indeed her versatility is as striking as her vocal longevity.

Be under no illusions, however; despite giving us nearly twelve hours of music, this collection by no means covers her whole career. It is compiled from live and studio recordings made in her first ten years of performing , the last in 1960, when she was in her mid-twenties to mid-thirties and still had another thirty-six years of singing in public before her. We have here a portrait of the young Rysanek both on stage and in the recording studio, with the emphasis upon Wagner, Strauss and Verdi. The listener must be prepared for considerable variation in the quality of the recorded sound which ranges from approaching vile, as on the live “Aida” excerpts on CD 4, to excellent stereo sound as per the extracts from the complete studio recording of Otello which immediately precede it on the same disc.

Great as she was as an artist, there is no denying that her soprano had flaws. Live, she could take some time to warm up, could sound hoarse and “cupped” in the middle reaches of her voice and even cloudy in the lowest notes. She sometimes scooped, could sound unwieldy in anything requiring agility and was occasionally uncertain of pitch, as in her otherwise impressive impersonation of Abigaille. That approximation of intonation as opposed to hitting a note dead-centre can be irksome.

Against that we hear lovely, dusky tone, tireless volume, gleaming top notes and an intensity of utterance that made her a riveting stage animal. Nor is it always the case that those weaknesses are apparent. In the arias from the “Lady Macbeth” studio recording, for example, she finds the lower register heft to suggest the demonic nature of the Lady and is still able to float her high notes rather than resort to the famous laser-like “Rysanek Scream”. Even if she cannot recreate the eerie effect that Callas manages on the concluding high D of the Sleepwalking Scene, it remains secure. Furthermore, she negotiates the coloratura passages with exemplary flexibility. For a more typical example of her celebrated power above the stave, listen to the gleaming top A in “Abscheulicher”, the thrilling high B in “La mamma morta” or the ease with which she copes with the fearsome tessitura of “Zweite Brautnacht”.

Very few tracks here disappoint although neither the music nor the character of the ingénue Tatyana at the beginning CD 7 particularly suits her. Her quavery crooning as Elisabeth in “Tu che le vanità” is the closest we come to poor singing in the entire set. More surprising is how well her voice sits on unexpected roles such as the Santuzza on the same disc, and her sustained power as a commanding Turandot is yet more of a revelation. Who would have imagined her to be so accomplished in Mozart? Yet she also gives us an elegant, restrained Elvira, exploiting the mezzo-ish, oboe quality of her voice, sustaining a lovely legato. I am not much taken with Puccini or Verdi in German on CDs 6 and 7, but whatever language she sings them in, as Aida and Amelia she has the amplitude to fill those long phrases. She is also able to soften her tone to become a warm, sensuous, very feminine Desdemona. Her Tosca is rather careful and calculated and she swoops a bit. Some extra huskiness in her voice suggests that she had a slight cold when she recorded the Marschallin but that only adds to its seductive timbre – and her co-singers, Elisabeth Grümmer and Erika Köth, as Octavian and Sophie respectively, are a dream.

The Wagner tracks are every bit as impressive as one would expect from a singer with her pedigree and it is a bonus that the extracts from “Der fliegende Holländer” are in such good sound. Being partnered with such distinguished Wagnerians as George London, Ludwig Suthaus and Jon Vickers is all gain, just as the extended contribution of Astrid Varnay in the “Elektra” excerpts adds immeasurably to their value. Her Elsa is much less of a milksop than is too often the case and her heroic young Sieglinde shines like a beacon.

No documentation is provided beyond track-listings and credits on the reverse of the cardboard slipcases and a brief biographical note on the reverse of the case but surely no-one could complain about that at the asking price.

Many fans and collectors will already have some of the complete sets from which these excerpts have been taken but I suspect that few will have them all. The lovely Der Rosenkavalier extracts from a rare disc of extended highlights and the recital on RCA conducted by Basile are themselves alone worth the modest asking price of this box set.
Ralph Moore

Contents List
CD 1 [78:20]
The Flying Dutchman - as Senta. Johohohe!/Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an/Senta, willst du mich verderben. Fritz Uhl, Fischer, Chorus and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival/Sawallisch (1955, live); Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang'ner Zeiten/Wirst du des Vaters wohl nicht schelten/Verzeiht, mein Volk halt draußen sich nicht mehr. London, Tozzi, Met Orchestra/Schippers (1960, live). Erfahre das Geschick, vor dem ich dich bewahre/Preis deinen Engel. London, Greindl, Fischer, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Sawallisch (1959, live).
Die Walkure - as Sieglinde. Wes Herd dies auch sei/Ein fremder Mann? Ihn muss ich fragen/Das Haus und dies Weib sind Hundings eigen. Jon Vickers, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Hans Knappertsbusch. (1958, live); Schläfst du, Gast?/Der Manner Sippe/saß hier im Saal. Ludwig Suthaus. Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/von Karajan (1958, live); Du bist der Lenz/ O süßeste Wonne/Siegmund heiß ich. Suthaus. Hinweg! Hinweg! Flieh die Entweihte! Suthaus. Wiener Philharmoniker/Wilhelm Furtwangler. Mödl as Brunnhilde. (1954) Nicht sehre dich Sorge um mich/O hehrstes Wunder. Varnay, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/von Karajan (1951, live)

CD 2 [74:29]
Lohengrin - as Elsa. Einsam in trüben Tagen/Elsa, verteid'ge/Mich irret nicht ihr träumerischer Mut. Blanc. Im Kampf hut eine Magd zu steh'n./Nie sollst du mich befragen./Euch Luften. Elsa -Wer ruft?/Entweihte Götter. Varnay and Blanc. Treulich geführt/ Das süße Lied verhallt. (Brautgemach Szene). Sandor Konya. Bayreuth Orchestra André Cluytens (1958, live radio recording). The Flying Dutchman - as Senta. Johohohe! Women's voices of the Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Philharmonia Orchestra/Schüchter (1952). Hoiho! Hagen! Aldenhoff, Frick. Einen Ring sah ich an deiner Hand. Uhde, Nilsson, Aldenhoff. Orchestra der Bayerischen Staatsoper/Hans Knappertsbusch. (1955, live) Prinzregententheater, Munich
CD 3 [75:46]
Macbeth - as Lady Macbeth. Vieni! t'affretta! accendere ti vo'quel freddo core/Regna il sonno so tutti/Fatal mia donna/La luce langue/Salve ,o Re/Ora di morte e di vendetta. Warren. Una machia è qui tuttora. Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House/Leinsdorf (1959)
Nabucco - as Abigaille. Guerrieri, è presso il tempio/I t' amava! Il regno e il core. Rosalind Elias. Fernandi. Ben io t' invenni, O fatal scritto!/Chi s'avanza? Donna, chi sei?/Oh, qual suono! Cornell MacNeil. Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House /Schippers (1960, live)
Don Carlo - as Elisabetta. Soccorso alla Regina! Hines, Thebom, Merrill. Tu che le vanità. Metropolitan Opera House Orchestra/Fausto Cleva. (1959, live)

CD 4
Otello - as Desdemona. Già nella notte. Vickers. Dio ti giocondi o sposo. Vickers. Ave Maria. Orchestra dell' Opera di Roma/Tullio Serafin (1960)
- as Aida. Ritorna vincitor! Qui Radames verra/O patria mia/Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida. Vickers, Irene Dalis, Tozzi. La fatal pieta/O terra, addio. Vickers, Irene Dalis. Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera/Molinari-Pradelli (1960, live)

CD 5
PUCCINI and others
as Turandot. Turandot: In questa reggia. Tosca - as Tosca. Vissi d'arte. Andrea Chénier - as Maddalena. La mamma morta. Cavalleria Rusticana - as Santuzza. Voi lo sapete, o mamma.
VERDI La Forza Del Destino – as Leonora. Pace, Pace, mio Dio! Un Ballo In Maschera - as Amelia. Ma dall'arido stelo/Morro, ma prima in grazia. Aida - as Aida. Ritorna vincitor!/O patria mio. Otello - as Desdemona. Mia madre aveva una povera ancella/Ave Maria. Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino/Arturo Basile (1958)

CD 6 [79:52]
Die Macht Des Schicksals: Frieden! Frieden! Berliner Symphoniker/Schüchter. (1955). Macbeth: as Lady Macbeth. Rings liegt alles im Schlummer/ Nun sink der Abend. Munich Radio Orchestra/ Eichhorn (1953, live). Othello Nun in der nacht'gen stille. Aldenhoff. Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Jochum (1953, live). Aida: Als Sieger kehre heim. Wohl war euch das Los der Waffen feindich. Jean Madeira. Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Kubelik. (1955, live); Bald kommt Radames/Mein Vaterland. Wehe! Mein Vater/Ich seh' dich wieder, meine Aida. Metternich, Schock, Sieglinde Wagner, Es hat der Stein sich über mir geschlossen/Leb wohl o Erde. Schock, Wagner, Berliner Symphoniker/ Schüchter (1955). Sung in German

CD 7 [75:21]
TCHAIKOVSKY and others

Eugen Onegin: Und sei's mein Untergang. Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Klobucar (1955, live). VERDI: Macbeth: Dieser Flecken kommt immer wieder. Munich Radio Orchestra (?)/Eichhorn (1953, live). MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana Ah, Euch hat Gott hergesendet/Die Schuld wird nicht vergeben. Metternich. Orchester der Städtischen Oper Berlin/Schüchter (1955). PUCCINI: Tosca: Was gibts?/Mario, Mario, Mario/Nur der Schönheit weiht ich mein Leben/ siehe, mit gefalteten Händen. Metternich. Hofmann. Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Richard Kraus (1954). Turandot: In diesem Schlosse. Symphonie Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Sawallisch (1953). MOZART: Don Giovanni: Ah, chi mi dice mai. Marcello Cortis. Ah! taci, ingiusto core. Cortis, Rehfuss. Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Hans Rosbaud (1952, live), Aix-en Provence. Sung in German
CD 8 [67:38]
BEETHOVEN and others
Fidelio: Abscheulicher!/Komm, Hoffnung. Gut, Söhnchen, gut. Frick, Seefried. Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten. Frick, Haefliger, Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Fricsay (1957). WEBER: Oberon: Ach, edler Held. Litz. Über die blauen Wogen. Ozean, du Ungeheuer. Trauere, mein Herz. Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester/Keilberth (1953). d'ALBERT: Tiefland: Ich weiss nicht, wer mein Vater war. Philharmonia Orchestra/Schüchter (1952). WAGNER: Tannhauser: Dich, teure Halle. Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, Napoli/Böhm (1956, live). Dort is sie/Den Gott der Liebe sollst du preisen. Prey, Hopf. Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House/Solti (1960, live); Allmacht'ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen. Dich, teure Halle. Münchner Philharmoniker/Leitner (1955)

CD 9 [67:04]
Die Frau Ohne Schatten - as Kaiserin. Ist mein Liebster/Wie soll ich denn nicht weinen/ Amme, um alles, wo find ich den Schatten/Erdenflug. Höngen, Hellwig. Fort von hier. Hongen. Vater, bist du's? Loose, Goltz, Schöffler. Trift mich sein Lieben nicht/Nun will ich jubeln/Vater, dir drohet nichts. Schöffler, Hopf, Goltz, Wiener Philharmoniker/Bohm (1955). Die Agyptische Helena: Zweite Brautnacht/Wo ist das Haus? Mein Geliebter? Menelas. Aldenhoff, Kupper, Uhde, Bayerischen Staatsoper/Keilberth (1956, live). Ariadne Auf Naxos - as Ariadne. Es gibt ein Reich. Wiener Philharmoniker/Leinsdorf (1958)

CD 10 [56:35]
Der Rosenkavalier - as Marschallin. Da geht er hin./Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding/Mein schöner Schatz. Elisabeth Grümmer. Marie Theres! Hab mir's gelobt, ihn lieb zu haben./Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein. Grümmer, Koth, Berliner Philharmoniker/Schüchter (1955). Elisabeth Schumann. Richard Mayr. Maria Olszewka. Wiener Philharmoniker/Robert Heger. Arabella: Das war sehr gut, Mandryka. Philharmonia Orchestra/ Schüchter (1952). Elektra: Elektra! Ah, das Gesicht! Es geht ein Lärm los. Varnay. Orest! Orest ist tot/Nun muss es hier von uns geschehen/Wie stark bist du. Varnay, Kölner Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester /Richard Krauss. Elektra, Schwester! Horst du denn nicht/Schweig und tanze (Finale) Christel Goltz. Orchester des Bayerischen Staatsoper/Karl Bohm. Staatskapelle Dresden/Kempe (1953, live)