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--Standard Repertory--

By Richard Wagner

To see the review for any of the individual RING operas, click below:



VIDEO: Levine and the Metropolitan Opera doing the entire cycle in 1990 and released on PGD 072 522 Unevenly conducted and directed, but boasts certain benchmark vocal assumptions that remain unrivalled today [G.R.]

AUDIO: A) EMI: Martha Mödl, Ludwig Suthaus, Ferdinand Frantz, Gustav Neidlinger, Julius Patzak, Furtwängler conducting; 1953; not to be confused with a complete Furtwängler Ring cycle from La Scala in 1950 now available on a variety of labels--the 1950 has its exciting moments (including Flagstad in place of EMI's less sure Mödl), but tenor troubles and cuts mar the value of the La Scala cycle; this EMI 1953 broadcast is the Ring to have; unfortunately, individual works of this tetralogy are not available separately for this 1953 recording; mono [G.R.]

B) DG: Regine Crespin/Helga Dernesch, Jess Thomas/Helge Brilioth, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Thomas Stewart, Zoltan Kelemen, Gerhard Stolze, von Karajan conducting (1967-68); this is in sumptuous sound preserving an interpretation that is long on lyrical and poetic beauty, short on galvanic energy; what is attractive here is a surprising emphasis on a compact, musical, vocal line, though the voices as such are not uniformly rich and powerful; acting is spotty; stereo [G.R.]

C) DECCA/LONDON: Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, George London/Hans Hotter, Gustav Neidlinger, Paul Kuen/Gerhard Stolze, Solti conducting (1958-65); a favorite for many, there is much more excitement here, but I don't find much beauty or poetry; most of the voices are quite rich and imposing, but there are some disconcerting inequalities in musical phrasing and the once-great but now wobbly Hotter as Wotan is a real trial; superb stereo [G.R.]



--Standard Repertory--

VIDEO: Christa Ludwig, James Morris, Ekkehard Wlaschiha, Siegfried Jerusalem, Levine conducting; PGD 072 518

AUDIO: A) DECCA/LONDON: Kirsten Flagstad, Set Svanholm, George London, Gustav Neidlinger, Solti conducting (from complete cycle); stereo



--Standard Repertory--

VIDEO: Gwyneth Jones, Jeanine Altmeyer, Peter Hofmann, Donald McIntyre, Boulez conducting; Bayreuth, 1980; PGD 070 502

AUDIO:A) DG: Regine Crespin, Thomas Stewart, Jon Vickers, Gundula Janowitz, von Karajan conducting (from complete cycle); stereo

B) FONIT/CETRA: Kirsten Flagstad, Ferdinand Frantz, Gunther Treptow, Hilde Konetzni, Furtwängler conducting (from complete "live" cycle at La Scala, 1950); neither Treptow nor Konetzni match Vickers and Janowitz on A and there are a few performance cuts in Act II, BUT this is still a striking enough cast to complement the most richly satisfying conducting available anywhere for WALKÜRE! Even Furtwängler himself never matches, in alternate versions, what he achieves here--unique; fair mono [G.R.]

C) HMV: Martha Mödl, Ferdinand Frantz, Ludwig Suthaus, Leonie Rysanek, Furtwängler conducting Vienna Philharmonic (1954); the most vividly reproduced document of Furtwängler's Ring mastery--featuring, for once, an orchestra steeped in the tradition and at one with their maestro, heard in very good mono sound; caveats are the studio ambience that goes with the fine engineering, and which partly compromises the full dramatic surge of which Furtwängler was capable; the cast too is uneven, Rysanek being the shining exception; mono [G.R.]

D1) for ACT I: ANGEL: Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior, Walter conducting (1935); the most splendidly sung account of this act ever recorded; fair mono [G.R.]

D2) for ACT II: ANGEL: Marta Fuchs, Hans Hotter, Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior, Seidler-Winkler/Walter conducting (1935/38); a superbly sung version, slightly cut; fair mono [G.R.]

D3) for ACT III: MYTO: Kirsten Flagstad, Rudolf Bockelmann; Furtwängler conducting ("live" at Covent Garden, 1937); this Olympian performance boasting poised singing and outstanding conducting sets the highest standards, but so-so mono and an indifferent (frequently inaudible) octet of vocalists in the "Ride" place this document just a tad short of perfection [G.R.]



--Standard Repertory--

VIDEO: Siegfried Jerusalem, John Tomlinson, Graham Clark, Guenter von Kannen, Barenboim; Bayreuth, 1992; Teldec 94193

Sadly, the multiplicity of offerings here is due to a balance of flaws, not an embarrassment of riches [G.R.]

AUDIO:A) MELODRAM --LP only: Windgassen, Mödl, Hotter, Keilberth conducting(1953); solid enough singing, not very inspired conducting; mono [G.R.]

B) FOYER: Wolfgang Windgassen, Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Clemens Krauss conducting (1953); almost the same cast with, unfortunately, the less simpatico Varnay replacing the richly communicative Mödl as Brünnhilde; still, utterly inspired conducting here and CD availablility compensate; mono [G.R.]

C) MUSIC & ARTS: Lauritz Melchior, Kirsten Flagstad, Friedrich Schorr, Bodanzky conducting ("Live," 1937); for once, a genuinely accomplished cast, but in fair sound only; all other Siegfrieds come off as merely adequate at best (if you're lucky!) alongside the incomparable Melchior, whose sheer splendor would still be obvious, even if his competition were not so dismal; his remarkable colleagues here also convey far more of the grandeur, the sheer emotions, and the genuine beauty of Wagner's vocal writing than do most of their counterparts on any of the other sets; (to enjoy Melchior in almost as good voice and in better sound, though not with such consistent colleagues and in excerpts only, see E below); unfortunately, the so-so sound here is compounded by Bodanzky's severe cuts in Act III; MUSIC & ARTS CD 696 [not for sale in the U.S.] in fair mono [G.R.]

D) DG: Jess Thomas, Helga Dernesch, Thomas Stewart, von Karajan conducting (from complete cycle); least unsatisfactory recording in full stereo sound; von Karajan brings out a lot of lyricism in the score but lacks the cohesion and alertness of Krauss; Thomas's Siegfried is merely adequate--most of the time(!); rest of the singers quite musical; stereo [G.R.]

E) DANACORD: Lauritz Melchior, Florence Easton, Friedrich Schorr, Heger/Coates conducting (ca. 1930); only two or so hours of extended excerpts--NOT the whole opera; Melchior's Siegfried is almost as commanding here as in C above, and some of his colleagues are almost as remarkable as well, though the frequent shifting around in casting throughout (sic) entails inevitable artistic compromises; this DANACORD album is only one volume in a whole numbered set of Melchior's commercially recorded discography; available separately; in surprisingly clear mono for early electricals [G.R.]



--Standard Repertory--

VIDEO: Anne Evans, Siegfried Jerusalem, Phillip Kang, Barenboim; Bayreuth, (1992); Teldec 94194

AUDIO:A) DG: Helga Dernesch, Helge Brilioth, Karl Ridderbusch, von Karajan conducting (from complete cycle); this recording is guilty of occasional listlessness, but that flaw has been exaggerated by too many critics; the great dramatic moments make their proper effect, and it is a treat to hear warm, sympathetic singers doing Brünnhilde (Dernesch), Siegfried (Brilioth), Waltraute (Ludwig), and Gutrune (Janowitz); even Hagen and Alberich (Ridderbusch and Kelemen) are made more human and interesting than usual, and that's not at all a bad thing; in fine stereo [G.R.]

B) DECCA/LONDON: Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Gottlob Frick, Solti conducting (from complete cycle); more thrills and chills than Star Wars; the engineers even win out over the artists when Siegfried (tenor Windgassen) disguised as Gunther (baritone Fischer-Dieskau) defers to his electronic colleagues to make his voice sound deeper(!); of course, a true Siegfried voice will automatically have a baritonal underpinning, and the few genuine heldentenors who have performed this role have had no trouble maintaining an implacable deep resonance on Wagner's obligingly low-lying vocal writing for this scene; Windgassen aside, all the principals are pretty well up to their parts here, but, make no mistake about it, it is Solti who's the star--love him or hate him, he sure makes this show go; the favorite GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG recording of many a collector (though I must demur), the genuinely superb stereophonic sound here has to be heard to be believed (especially on million-dollar equipment if available(!)) [G.R.]

C) PEARL: Frieda Leider, Lauritz Melchior, Wilhelm Schirp, Furtwängler conducting ("live," Covent Garden, 1938); my desert island recording from the Ring cycle, though it's far from being all of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG; only the second half of Act II was preserved from this performance--it was Leider's farewell appearance at Covent Garden, and one can only wish she had gone on for another ten years; Leider's Brünnhilde (what we have of it from various haphazard sources) is, for me, the most satisfying of all; Melchior's Siegfried is every collector's first choice in this role; and Furtwängler's deep understanding and mastery in Wagner, particularly the Ring cycle, is yet to be surpassed; this is the sole recorded document bringing all three giants together; it is worth the occasional sonic blipout, typical of wireless broadcasting of the period, just to hear the sparks flying from this unique trio of Wagnerians; PEARL has made a more than respectable attempt at restoration of this priceless document; fillers include Leider's studio recording of Brünnhilde's final Immolation Scene, icing on the cake; fair mono [G.R.]

For Further Reading:

Penetrating Wagner's Ring : An Anthology (Da Capo Paperback), by John Louis Di Gaetani (Editor)

The Perfect Wagnerite : A Commentary on the Nibelung's Ring, by George Bernard Shaw

The Valkyrie/Die Walkuere (English National Opera Series, No 23), by Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner : Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Goetterdaemmerung, Siegfried, Die Walkuere, Das Rheingold (Boxed Set), by Rudolph Sabor(translator), Richard Wagner

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