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By Richard Wagner

VIDEO: Robert Hale, Julia Varady, Peter Seiffert, Ryhaenen; Sawallisch conducting; Bavarian Staatsoper, 1991; EMI 77801; By coincidence(?), Sawallisch has led most of the better recordings of this opera for the last forty years; in this VIDEO, he and his superb cast, dominated by soprano Varady's haunting Senta, achieve results possibly superior(!) to any of his AUDIO sets from the 50s and 60s! Even though bass-baritone Hale's Holländer is less than thrilling, tiring somewhat at the end, he's, at least, musical enough not to detract from the experience of a superb cast that is uniformly well-matched to its roles, Peter Seiffert's Erik, in particular, being, possibly, the finest of the past fifty or sixty years; this VIDEO, in addition, preserves a finely directed production of Wagner's first real masterpiece; the basics of characterization and development are worked out brilliantly and the result is riveting from beginning to end [G.R.]

AUDIO: A) PREISER: Joel Berglund, Maria Mueller, Franz Voelker, Ludwig Hofmann, R. Kraus conducting ("live" at Bayreuth, 1942); here, compared to the video, the shoe is on the other foot: a superb Holländer and an overparted Senta; Berglund is arguably the finest Holländer in any complete recording: untiring, unfailingly musical, always responsive to the text, with that special nobility and inner poise, both of voice and of style, that is so elusive in later interpreters; Mueller is as responsive and heartfelt as Berglund, and she was one of the finest jugendliche sopranos of her generation, but that is the problem: she is a jugendliche and not a dramatic; Senta is clearly too heavy for her; in addition, Mueller is past her prime here: one unquestionably musical phrase can frequently get offset by one ungainly lunge above the staff -- a shame, and exacerbated by her general fatigue from a role that is already too heavy for her to begin with; somehow, she manages some strong, inspiring phrases during the Act III confrontation with Eric before succumbing to complete vocal fatigue for the final moments of the opera; both Voelker's Erik and Hofmann's Daland, Senta's father, also show some vocal decline, though Hofmann can still pull it together for some pretty impressive solo work from time to time; Richard Kraus's conducting is authoritative enough, though undercut by appalling inadequacies in the much-vaunted Bayreuth chorus -- evidently, standards fell victim to wartime hardships; though this remains the closest-to-satisfactory of all the AUDIO sets, the VIDEO [above] remains the best performance of all; good mono [G.R.]

B-1) PREISER: Hans Hermann Nissen, Margarete Teschemacher, Torsten Ralf, Ludwig Weber, Leonhardt conducting ("live" radio studio aircheck at Stuttgart, 1936); vocally, as an overall ensemble, this is almost as solid as the VIDEO and possibly superior to AUDIO A; however, Leonhardt's conducting is fairly perfunctory, and neither Nissen nor Teschemacher seem that much into their parts; Nissen is in utter vocal and musical command, yes, but although Teschemacher's fresh vocal estate is welcome, her basic sound is even more unsuited than Mueller's on A, compounded by none of the compensatory commitment: gleaming, secure top is offset by narrow, constricted low; if everything here were as assured, both vocally and dramatically, as Ralf's Eric and Weber's Daland, this would be an easy top choice; as it is, the whole is less than the sum of its parts; surprisingly good sound for this vintage: one suspects it may come from station archives rather than a wireless; mono [G.R.]

B-2) PHILIPS: Franz Crass, Anja Silja, Fritz Uhl, Josef Greindl, Sawallisch conducting ("live" at Bayreuth, 1961); a suitably dominating Holländer (Crass, the finest Holländer in modern sound) versus an accomplished, musical and committed Senta (Silja) who starts tiring towards the end of Act II; still and all, the two of them make the most convincing partnership on CD, with Silja -- when at her best -- surpassing Mueller on A; it's in the supporting cast where this set yields to the PREISER with Berglund; Fritz Uhl's pedestrian Erik -- despite the problems of Voelker's over-the-hill Erik on A -- does not match his Bayreuth predecessor of 1942, and Greindl's Daland, showing an awesome instrument here but, alas, an awesome wobble as well, is no match for Hofmann's still-distinguished Daland on A; Sawallisch's fine conducting is, as in the VIDEO, assured; stereo [G.R.]

C) MELODRAM: George London, Leonie Rysanek, Fritz Uhl, Josef Greindl, Sawallisch conducting ("live" at Bayreuth, 1959); and here we have the finest Senta available on CD; Rysanek, at her best, set the standard for this part; London's Holländer cannot match Crass, let alone Berglund, and he is not even as musical as Hale on the VIDEO, but at least he maintains a strong presence and is relatively free of some of the pitch problems that dogged so much of his career; the rest of the cast is pretty much the same as in B-2, but they are in slightly fresher vocal shape here; Sawallisch's conducting continues superb [G.R.]

D) MEMORIES: Franz Crass, Leonie Rysanek, Claude Heater, Karl Ridderbusch, Sawallisch conducting ("live" at La Scala, 1966); here, both principals (Crass's Holländer and Rysanek's Senta) are genuine vocal giants, and the last scene is incomparable, but it's a bumpy, bumpy road before we get there; Rysanek isn't even warmed up until past the point where Silja on B-2 starts to tire(!), which means that well over half her role is compromised (she just couldn't seem to really get in stride); Ridderbusch's Daland is an improvement on Greindl's in B-2 and C, but Heater's uniformly off-pitch braying as Erik is even more disconcerting than Greindl's wobble; mono [G.R.]

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