Lawrence Tibbett: Wrestling Bradford
Göta Ljungberg: Lady Marigold Sandys
Gladys Swarthout: Plentiful Tewke
Edward Johnson: Sir Gower Lackland
Chorus and Orchestra of Metropolitan opera, New York
conducted by Tullio Serafin
broadcast 10 February 1934 with commentaries by Milton Cross
This major late-romantic opera can be heard here in historical sound. It
is not as if you have any options if you want to hear the whole thing.
OK there is an orchestral suite (Delos DE3105) and years ago there used to
be at least one Eastman Rochester Archive collection of extended orchestral
excerpts on LP. There are rumours that a recent US production has been taped
for later issue but nothing definite on that yet.
Hanson is a strongly late-romantic composer. His only grand opera is every
bit as passionate and melodic as you might have hoped. No doubt the title
has not helped the work to make its way in the world. The names of
characters seem equally crass now. This sort of thing does not help.
None of this hindered its initial success in mid-1930s USA where the
premiere production of which this is a document (although there may
have been fillings-in from later performances in the season) was greeted
The 2 hour work opens gently sombre with a prelude where the storm clouds
gather. At the first crash there is some recording overload. You should bear
in mind that the recording comes from tapes of acetates and metal
discs made for Tibbett from the broadcast and kept for years in a barrel.
Those who know Hanson's Nordic Symphony will know what to expect. Interesting
that the Nordic dates from Hanson's years in Italy and of course the Italian
conductor Serafin may well have met Hanson during his time there. The chorus
plays a warmly prominent role usually singing unison (like the voice of the
Russian people in Boris Godunov) hinting at the great black towers of sound
created by Sibelius in his Kullervo (perhaps Hanson knew of the Sibelius
On the first entry of Tibbett applause greets his deep darkly velvet voice.
Tibbett's ringingly heroic tone (e.g. at track 5 1.30) defeats the hiss and
crackle through which the electricity of this major event struggles (largely
successfully). The first woman's voice is heard after about 25 minutes. Track
8 brings a scene of the maypole and of bright carefree girls and joyous children
(track 8 3.20) in a 'pat-a-cake' song which ends in shrieks and screams of
delight. The first act closes in the sheer glowing splendour of Tibbett's
auburn glowing voice and uproarious applause.
Each Act is separated by the spoken commentary of Milton Cross all of which
lends the pair of discs a feeling of time travelling as if somehow you had
fallen through a gap in time into the parlour of a US household in the mid
Act 2 opens with a very broad Rimskian melody lit with fragments of typically
Hansonian gusts and gales. The women's chorus and the xylophone each have
prominent roles. A village dance with banging sticks and choral singing delivers
acres more strongly rhythmic material.
The Rimskian melody could easily have decked out another Sheherazade or Antar
but Hanson has his own chilly take on the proceedings. The dance becomes
a grand scene of Bacchanalian celebration with the xylophone returning in
Waltonian high jinks. On the magically set words 'The morning stars together'
the feeling of muscular sea-current turning and turning delivers a guaranteed
shiver down the spine.
After an RVW-type hymn/carol tune (19 4.20) the first disc ends (splitting
Act II) in a Delian glow.
The second disc resumes the second act and we are soon into decidedly Romantic
Symphony recollections but with Puccinian heroic singing intertwined. The
plot's purposes are served by a lengthy dream interlude in which a vision
worthy of Hieronymus Bosch is rather well portrayed by Hanson. This Garden
of Unearthly Terror also taps into the lascivious and the violent. Neptune
and Hanson's rather under-rated sixth symphony (of thirty years later) are
reference points in track 5. Tibbett's burnished tone is an enduring beauty
of this set and can be wonderingly heard in Rise Up My Fair One where hero
and heroine attain ecstatic climax as Act 2 ends around them.
In the final Act the Red Indians, scorned and insulted earlier, turn to bloody
vengeance and a new peremptory urgent tone pervades the writing with strong
rhythmic rustle and a real crackle in the air. As battle is met the drums
thud and the 'call to arms' from the Romantic Symphony can be heard in the
orchestra which is met with a similarly spirited response from the big chorus
delighting in Rózsa-like splendour. Indian war-whoops and horrific
scenes are suggested. One of the puritan women is scalped by the Indian leader
who in turn is quickly killed. The mother of the slain woman cries out
heartbroken. Bradford walks into the flames with the body of his beloved
in his arms. Hanson, Nordic to the last, has found his own boat-fire funeral
and the opera ends in a mixture of terror and excited exaltation.
The opera is one of considerable richness and melodic resource - lots of
good tunes and effects. The names now sound preposterous and some of the
language is that stilted 'thee and thou'-ery which would have benefited from
being in a language we do not understand.
The 65 year old sound of this set is somewhat distressed but you can clearly
hear the vigour and passion of the work. This beatitude of a stage premiere
glows easily through the limited dynamic range and the occasional distortion.
This is recommended for all Hansonians and those with a taste for Puccinian
grandeur and indeed anyone with even a passing interest in American opera.