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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Holländer
Der Holländer – George London
Daland – Josef Greindl
Senta – Leonie Rysanek
Erik – Fritz Uhl
Mary – Res Fischer
Der Steuermann – George Paskuda
Chor und Orchester Bayreuther Festspiele / Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. 5 August 1959, Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, Germany. Mono
ORFEO C936182I [49:10+77:42]

Whilst Der fliegende Holländer has never been my favourite Wagner opera, and anyone who knows me will tell you of my dislike of hysterical, or historical recordings, my interest was sparked by the fact that George London, who was once described to me as the best American baritone of his generation in Italian opera, was singing the role of the Dutchman, something that intrigued me. Mind you it is only nine years older than my other version on disc, Klemperer’s famous 1968 version on EMI (CMS 5 67405 2), my other more modern versions both being on DVD.

At first I thought that at 127 minutes this version was a little too quick and wondered whether it had been cut, I am not expert enough to know either way, but Klemperer does take 152 minutes, and whilst I appreciate that his is one of the slowest versions on disc, it is only when you look at Wolfgang Sawallisch’s 1975 (date of recording) DVD production on DG (073 4433) that you realise that he made a habit of rushing through the opera as in the DVD version he only takes 117 minutes. The overture alone is just under two minutes quicker than it is under Klemperer, and this sets the tone for the whole recording, which is a noisy one. Whilst the audience is well behaved, there are times, especially in Act I were the cast sound as if they are stomping around in hobnail boots – which takes time to get use to. The recorded sound is good but is certainly showing its age; for example, during the Terzett at the end of Act II, which opens with Daland singing ‘Verzeiht!’ the orchestral sound is too thin and is overwhelmed by Josef Greindl’s voice, and as with stage productions of the period the recording of the singers is acceptable as long as they project their voice forwards, but there are times when the singers turn away from the microphones which leads to a slight loss in definition.

The cast itself is very good, George London is certainly impressive in the role of the Dutchman, whilst Josef Greindl is the equal of Martti Talvela for Klemperer. As the love interest, Leonie Rysanek is a fine Senta, whilst Res Fischer is well cast as Mary. Georg Paskuda is captivating as Der Steuermann, with his Act I aria ‘Mit Gewitter und Sturm aus fernem Meer’ setting the scene well for the first arrival of the Dutchman. Indeed, all the soloists and the chorus are in fine form, as are the orchestra, who are sparkling in the overture and the other purely orchestral pieces; unfortunately, it just sounds as if they are a little under recorded in favour of the vocalists during the vocal sections. This is an exciting and well sung performance; you soon get use to the mono sound and it doesn’t detract from your enjoyment, but it is perhaps, not the recording to get to know the opera by.

The accompanying booklet note is informative, but it is the lengthy and detailed synopsis in German and English that impresses. However, no matter how good the synopsis is, the total lack of a libretto is a shame and had me clambering for the Klemperer recording just so I could follow the action properly.

Stuart Sillitoe

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