Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Brünnhilde – Laila Andersson-Palme (soprano)
Siegfried – Elliot Palay (tenor)
Waltraute – Margrethe Danielsen (mezzo-soprano)
Gutrune – Eva Johansson (soprano)
Gunther – Lars Waage (baritone)
Hagen – Aage Haugland (bass)
Alberich – Jörgen Klint (baritone)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Chorus of the Jutland Opera/Francesco Cristofoli
rec. live, 6 September 1987
Libretto with English translation enclosed
STERLING CDA1813/1816-2 [4 CDs: 248:06]
Just a few months ago I reviewed a 2CD set with Laila Andersson-Palme (review), which included a substantial excerpt of her Brünnhilde in the final act of Die Walküre, recorded live in Aarhus, Denmark. Here comes from the same source a complete recording of Götterdämmerung, which certainly is a tempting companion piece. As so often with Sterling issues production values are high with photos from the performance, synopsis, artist biographies, a long interview with Laila Andersson and, in a separate 100 page booklet, the complete libretto with English translation. With such lavish presentation it is strange that neither the three Norns nor the three Rheinmaidens are listed, especially since they are so good. The stereo recording is excellent in every respect and, apart from some stage noise during Siegfried’s Rhine journey and applause at the end of acts, there is nothing extra-musical that disturbs the enjoyment of the performance. Den Jyske Opera, which is the Danish name of the company, has its base in Aarhus but is a touring company that covers all of Denmark in cooperation with five symphony orchestras. Their production of Wagner’s Ring cycle 1984 – 1987 was a great success and it has become legendary. Therefore it is pleasant to have this recording as a memorial of a great event.
Francesco Cristofoli, Danish born in spite of his name, studied conducting with Sergiu Celebidache and was for many years conductor at Den Jyske Opera and later also manager of the opera. Here he leads a taut performance that can put many a reading by more prestigious conductors in the shade. The playing of the orchestra is first class and the male chorus has all the heft needed. The cast is mainly home-grown – the exceptions being Swedish Laila Andersson-Palme as Brünnhilde and American Elliot Palay as Siegfried – but a couple of them had important international careers. Best known is probably the magnificent bass Aage Haugland, who appeared at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Met and Bayreuth and Eva Johansson, who for many years was engaged at Deutsche Oper in Berlin and made guest appearances worldwide, making her Met debut in 1998 as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Laila Andersson-Palme, whom I heard frequently from the early 1970s in roles from The Queen of the Night to Elektra and was a sensation as Lulu and later also as Marie in Wozzeck. I can’t remember hearing her in Wagner, and after listening to this recording I realise that I missed something important. Here in her mid-forties she has the perfect instrument for this repertoire: strength, brilliance and stamina – she sounds as fresh in the Immolation scene as she did in Zu neuen Taten five hours earlier. There have been many outstanding Wagnerian sopranos from the Nordic countries through the years: Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Aase Nordmo-Løvberg, Elisabeth Meyer-Topsøe, Katarina Dalayman and Nina Stemme – all with solid international careers. To this list Laila Andersson-Palme can now be added. Besides the vocal resources she is also deep inside the role.
So is Elliot Palay, whose tone can be rather bleating, but he has the strength and he has brilliance up high, where so many tenors in this role are lustreless or wobbly – sometimes both. He is also very skilled at changing his voice to a dark-coloured baritone when imitating Gunther. That rather ungrateful role is ably sung by Lars Waage. This meek character is possibly the least interesting in the whole Ring. Obviously there has to be something evil in a person to make him something more than a cardboard figure. Thus the scheming Alberich becomes so much more alive, well characterised by Jörgen Klint, the farmer turned opera singer – a parallel to Anthony Rolfe Johnson actually. Eva Johansson, quite early in her career, is well cast as Gutrune. The most towering character in this performance is however Aage Haugland’s sinister Hagen, a dream role for every black-voiced bass.
This performance must have been a thrilling experience in the theatre, but very much of the thrill also comes over to the listener via the atmospheric recording, which makes this a valuable documentation of legendary project thirty years ago as well as a musically substantial recording which can be enjoyed without any references to this specific occasion. I enjoyed this more than several more prestigious recordings I have heard.