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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Hollńnder (1843) [2:23.48]
George London (bass-baritone) - Dutchman; Leonie Rysanek (soprano) - Senta; Giorgio Tozzi (bass) - Daland; Karl Liebl (tenor) - Erik; William Olvis (tenor) - Steersman; BelÚn Amparan (mezzo-sop.) - Mary
Tribute to Leonard Warren by Rudlf Bing [1:01]
Prelude to La traviata [4:09]
Commentary by Milton Cross
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra /Thomas Schippers
rec. 5 March 1960, Metropolitan Opera, NewYork; live broadcast
XR remastering; Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO136 [72:10 + 71:39]

Wagner singing was still in a fine state in the early 60’s; a contemporary studio recording featured a youthful Fischer-Dieskau as a compelling Dutchman, accompanied by Schock, Wunderlich and Gottlob Frick and a more controversially voiced Marianne Schech as Senta; other almost contemporaneous options include Sawallisch’s live Bayreuth recording with the same two principals as here and another with Franz Crass and Anja Silja. There was also a studio recording with London and Rysanek, sadly compromised by Dorati’s listless conducting.

So how does this live broadcast from the Met shape up against that competition? Apart from the usual problem of finding the right juncture at which to place the break when transferring a through-composed opera onto two CDs, which is no more successfully handled here than in virtually every other transfer, this emerges as a truly electrifying and thus highly recommendable option. Pristine sound engineer Andrew Rose might have had the advantage of excellent source tapes to begin, with but he has excelled himself with the clarity and immediacy of the sound he has achieved here, greatly enhanced by his editing and application of Ambient Stereo; this is surely the best result from this era that Pristine has yet issued – and there was obviously nothing more that could be done to minimise the passing radio interference in track 9, CD 1.

Secondly, both principals are in finest voice, ably supported by a superb, if rather too refined and aristocratic Daland from Giorgio Tozzi, who is very different from the usual gruff old buffer, and a good contribution from Karl Liebl, even if his tenor is hardly the Erik of one’s dreams. Apparently his Tristan to Birgit Nilsson’s Isolde met with her approval, but he has his work cut out here surviving alongside the equally huge-voiced Rysanek. He is far from the usual leather-lunged bawler in what is surely the most ungrateful tenor role in Wagner and is certainly less strained than most and quite appealing in his bafflement at Senta’s fixation, even if he does miss the climactic top B in his aria ‘Willst jenes Tags’, whereas Rysanek’s concluding top B blows everyone off the stage. The other supporting singers are first rate, too: William Olvis makes a strikingly vibrant Steersman – though like Wunderlich, hardly sounds sleepy - and BelÚn Amparan is a rich-voiced Mary. The chorus is lusty if occasionally over-exuberant and ill-disciplined, while Schippers’ direction is, as one might expect of this conductor, highly energised; he infuses the opera with a compelling dynamism from the very first notes. Apparently, according to early reviews, this run at the Met had a rocky start in the New Year but was evidently in the groove by March.

The duets between Daland and the Dutchman avoid longueurs, indeed I found them for once wholly gripping, but the glory of this performance resides in the partnership of Rysanek and London. He is mesmerising in ‘Wie aus der Ferne’ and brings his great, black bass-baritone to bear upon portraying the Dutchman’s agony with enormous intensity. Rysanek is similarly intense; yes, there are moments of bald, curdled or cloudy tone in the middle of the voice and she is occasionally ungainly when swooping up to notes but little of that matters when set against the thrilling animal magnetism of her assumption of the role of Senta; her scream when she first claps eyes on the Dutchman is chilling.

Additional musical and historical bonuses are the inclusion of an introductory tribute to Leonard Warren, who died on stage the night before, the exquisitely shaped and shaded Prelude to Act III of La traviata played in his honour, Milton Cross’s commentaries and the rapturous applause at the final curtain. Truly a night to remember.

Ralph Moore



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