Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Götterdämmerung
Brünnhilde - Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Siegfried - Hans Hopf (tenor)
Gunther - Norman Mittelmann (baritone)
Gutrune - Gladys Kuchta (soprano)
Hagen - Gottlob Frick (bass)
Waltraute - Irene Dalis (mezzo-soprano)
Alberich - Ralph Herbert (baritone)
First Norn - Jean Madeira (contralto)
Second Norn - Irene Dalis (mezzo-soprano)
Third Norn - Martina Arroyo (soprano)
Woglinde - Martina Arroyo (soprano)
Wellgunde - Rosalind Elias (mezzo-soprano)
Flosshilde - Mignon Dunn (mezzo-soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. live radio broadcast, 27 January 1962, Metropolitan Opera, New
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Just a glance at the names on the roster for this Götterdämmerung is enough to whet the appetite of any Wagnerite, especially as we know that Hans Hopf, occasionally something of a liability, was in best form for this run of Ring performances under Leinsdorf, uncut at the conductor’s insistence. We first hear a trio of Norns as good as any that could be assembled anywhere in the world, Bayreuth included; Jean Madeira intones the First Norn with a booming lower register and artists of the calibre of Irene Dalis and Rosalind Elias double roles; these were international star-soloists here singing supporting roles. Dalis is prodigious of voice as Waltraute, providing an intense narration of Wotan’s descent into despair but Martina Arroyo is the finest of all, singing with such bell-like clarity and power that you would assume that she would go on to become a renowned Wagnerian soprano rather than a renowned spinto in the Italian repertoire. With Gottlob Frick’s moving from Fafner to Hagen and the introduction of Gladys Kuchta as Gutrune and Norman Mittelman as Gunther the continuation of superlative quality in the singing is assured. You could be forgiven for sometimes thinking that Thomas Stewart was singing
Gunther rather than Mittelman, their Heldenbariton voices are so similar and Kuchta gives a much more positive, richer-voiced and better sung Gutrune than is often the case. Frick is the incarnation of black malice and cunning as Hagen; just occasionally he yells a bit on top notes but his “Hoi-hos” are splendidly resonant and secure; I have otherwise rarely heard him with steadier or more concentrated tone and his characterisation is compelling. “Hier sitz ich zur Wacht” is riveting. The Rhinedaughters are wonderfully seductive and full-voiced. The only relative weakness resides in the brief reappearance of Ralph Herbert’s rather grey-voiced Alberich; his hoarseness is especially apparent when his baritone is pitted in conversation against Frick’s treacle-toned bass - and the coughing here just goes on and on, while the opening of Act 3 might as well be set in a TB ward.
Indeed, the Met audience makes its audible contribution throughout the opera, hacking with shameful indifference to the music all through quiet passages such as the beautiful introduction to “Zu neuen Taten”. Leinsdorf meanwhile is securing lovely playing from the orchestra, directing with plenty of momentum but without rushing. The vocal phenomenon which was Nilsson is well matched by Hopf who has the heft and stamina to keep up with her, despite the intermittent appearance of too obtrusive a beat in his tenor - and he sensitively in his Act 3 reminiscing, coping magnificently with the persistently high tessitura. Nilsson’s last “Heil” in the opening duet is like laser beam and she sounds in freshest voice throughout, “pinging” one top note after another. The twenty-minute finale finds her emitting a steady, gleaming flow of effulgent tone and she sounds younger and more girlish here than in her other recordings despite the searing power.
I find my admiration for Leinsdorf’s direction enhanced by the way he manages the transitions between scenes and generates the easy grandeur of the big orchestral set pieces like “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the “Funeral Music”. The chorus is rollicking and rumbustious in its praise of “Hagen der Grimme” and the sense of ensemble here is strong, with few of the errors which so easily mar live performances. As an example of that precision, the crucial two oath-swearing scenes, “Blühenden Lebens labendes Blut” in Act 1 and the “Vengeance Trio” concluding Act 2 are taut and thrilling.
By this last instalment of the tetralogy, the listener who has journeyed through the previous three is in danger of taking for granted the quality of both the performance and the revitalised Pristine sound; their consistency is truly admirable. Just as this cycle opened with a deeply impressive Das Rheingold, it closes with what is in many ways the best performance of all; the blips were in Edelmann’s Wotan in Die Walküre. It’s just a pity that such a good performance was not accorded the consideration it deserved from an audience prepared to stifle its incessant bronchial intrusions; if you can screen that out this is a winner.
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