Cher Public

Highlight of the gods

Our JJ‘s recent reminiscences over at WQXR about the whopping cost of a Ring recording back in the Mad Men era seemed all the more startling to La Cieca when she took a gander at a “new” live Ring offered by our friends at Opera Depot.

The audio recording is from the historic 1965 Bayreuth Festival, with casting similar to that of the classic Philips release taped in 1966-1967: Karl Bõhm conducting Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Theo Adam, Leonie Rysanek, James King, Josef Greindl, Thomas Stewart, Anja Silja… plus Martti Talvela, Kerstin Meyer and Lili Chookasian.

The amazing thing here is that Opera Depot is currently offering this complete performance for only $50.91 on CD and $29.37 on MP3! (And—full disclosure—if you order through this link, will receive a commission of 20% on each set sold.)

  • senafan

    Wow… Fascinating to hear Greindl as Wandrer.

  • senafan

    Wasn’t Chookasian the Erda in von Karajan’s DG Ring? I might be wrong… but in any case, she sang Erda plenty, so it’s not that unusual an opportunity. What struck me about Greindl is, there are so many recordings of him doing the giants and Hagen. I knew he sang Wotan, but I don’t think anywhere near as often as the villain parts. This is like hearing Hotter do Alberich! Nothing wrong with it… just a bit of the unexpected,

    • You’re right. Greindl as Wotan is definitely more rare and interesting. I just excited about a powerhouse contralto as Erda.

    • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

      Back in the late 1960s Lili Chookasian sang Erda with von K at the Metropolitan performances (I saw several RHEINGOLDS and WALKURES) which is as far as he got in the Ring in New York. Von K’s DGG recording of the RING dating from the same epoch featured the very underrated Oralia Dominguez as Erda.

      • Nerva Nelli

        True, but Mme. Chookasian did sing the Erste Norn on Karajan’s GOETTERDAEMMERUNG set.

        • senafan

          Thanks! I missed this post before I wrote another below about “Where did I get Chookasian from?” That answers the question. At least I’m not completely losing my mind.

  • danpatter

    What a charming story Jorden tells! I’m a few years older, and I acquired the Decca RING in pieces as it came out. The Met RING with Gwyneth Jones was also my first complete RING performance, though I had seen the pieces of it as they premiered. Jones was wonderful, a true Brunnhilde. I’ll be ordering the OperaDepot RING -- one can never have too many Nilsson performances.

    • danpatter

      Alright, I am MANY YEARS older than Jorden. Honesty is the best policy.

    • DermotMalcolm

      Like James Jorden and danpatter, I too attended the 1989 Ring. Gwyneth Jones was sublime, at her peak in artistry, voice production, acting, understanding of the role and the work, having sung it already for thirteen years.
      I would love to hear the 1989 Met Ring again. Does anyone have access to a recording of it? It was not broadcast, alas.
      How Gwyneth got there was an interesting tale. Deborah Polaski had been scheduled but she had quit singing to study to enter a religious order. So Gwyneth was enlisted.
      Legend has it that at the end of Götterdämmerung, she received the longest ovation in Met history.

      • doktorlehar

        Very interesting post. So Polaski was the first choice for that run of the Ring? I don’t doubt it for a second, but it’s quite interesting to ponder exactly what it means. Did Jones ever have first dibs on a Ring revival at the Met?

        Although Jones’s ex-husband Till Haberfeld published a book about her career in the early 90s, a volume that many of you likely know, I do hope she considers writing her memoirs à la Nilsson or Ludwig. She has had a very interesting career and there are aspects of it, like this, I’d like to hear her tell in her own voice.

        And if she received the longest ovation in Met history, that would be saying something!

        • damekenneth

          Polaski’s breakdown (or religious conversion, depending on which way you look at it) affected San Francisco Opera’s ’88 Fliegende Hollander more dramatically. She sang the 1st performance before suddenly pulling out to put her singing career at the disposal of the Lord, replaced on short order by Janis Martin, who was quite good.

          I happened to be carted along to a dinner with Jonathan Fiend, before the 89 Ring, during which he trashed Gwyneth, saying Levine hated to conduct her and had hoped not to have to hire her again after her Rosenkavaliers the year before. Fiend went on to say that Gwyneth was the only soprano they could find who was willing and able to commit to the weeklong Ring cycle, so they took her, grudgingly.

          Of course she had the greatest triumph of her Met career that week. She was in spectacular voice and showed incredible depth in a production that, as Marshie has let us know, was built for Behrens, another artist of tremendous gravitas. What I don’t understand was how Levine and Fiend had managed to miss the great reviews Gwyneth had been garnering since her ROH Turandot, which followed a period of studying the role with Eva Turner. I have loved Gwyneth from the first time I heard her in the 70’s (from a recording of the 60’s), but it did seem she had a particularly wonderful period of vocal rejuvenation and improved technique from right around that period of study with Turner. Or maybe she just got it together again, as she had several times before. In any case, I can’t imagine an ovation going on longer or louder than that for her on the final night of the Ring in 89. How I wish it had been recorded! Peter of this blog was there that night before. We had shared coffee with another friend at Cafe La Fortuna that afternoon and with the caffeine and high of the performance, I doubt either of us slept that night.

          • marshiemarkII

            Dame Kenneth, WOW that is an amazing insight re:Friend etc. Even *I* :-) had never heard that one! And of course I’ve said it many times, Behrens and Jones were EXTREMELY fond of each other, going back to the late seventies, and when Hildegard sang those 89 Rings the Dame came for every single performance to wish toi toi toi before they started. I know because I always opened the door of her dressing room, and there was the Dame graciously standing outside. Jones was very definitely Behrens cover for those Rings. Then in 1996, the Dame came with her husband to the Behrens/Eschenbach Carnegie Hall Recital, and I have a gorgeous picture of the two of them blowing air kisses at each other.

            Marton was actually “considered” even for that first available Ring in 1989 (the one that went to Jones) but Behrens refused, as she really didn’t want to humor and feed the horse-race set up by Time Magazine, a few years earlier. She told the Met, let me do my Ring in 1989, and in 1990 Marton can have hers all to herself also, and I am out. And the Met agreed to that. We of course know now how all of that would radically change with the plans for the telecast, that turned everything upside down, and ended up in near-disaster.

      • marshiemarkII

        Ahem…., this has all been discussed before here at parterre, and some is then worth repeating. The Schenk Ring was built around Hildegard Behrens, who premiered every one of the operas, starting with the Met Season Opening of 1986 and concluding with the stunning Gotterdammerung in October 1988. At the end of the 88-89 season it would be put together for the first time as a Ring cycle and naturally Behrens got the first Ring (every weekend) and the second, for the first time since Gadski in 1909(thank you Kruno) in the week-long Bayreuth style. There was a third Ring available, because immediately after, there would be the week long audio recording of Gotterdammerung for DG at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and Levine felt very strongly that Behrens should have the benefit of a week rest for optimal results (in 1990 Behrens was scheduled for all three Rings, but we all know how that ended up). Since Polaski had been making waves at Bayreuth, she was the chosen one, until she had the breakdown, and then it went to the distinguished Dame, who was also Behrens’ cover.

        Behrens of course got never less than pandemonium at the end of each of her Met Rings, throughout, the last one in 1997 with over 45 minutes, as people knew it was her last one. But in terms of the most overwhelming ovation, what I’ve heard from very authoritative sources, it was the Opening of Elektra January 6th, 1994. This, taken two weeks later, for the broadcast, gives an approximation:

        • doktorlehar

          Ahem…., I already know almost all of what you wrote in your post, none of which illustrates any of it from the perspective of Jones, which is who I inquired about, not Behrens. It’s well know that the Schenk Ring was built around Behrens, just like it’s well know that Marton was furious that the three Brünnhildes didn’t go to her.

          Am I alone in thinking it unlikely that Jones was Behrens’s cover? She may have been available and willing to perform the dates, but a cover? Really?

          • marshiemarkII

            “Am I alone in thinking it unlikely that Jones was Behrens’s cover? She may have been available and willing to perform the dates, but a cover? Really?”

            Really!, Jones was the cover, and was paid the cover fee for all those performances. Behrens was also Jones’ cover during that Ring, and was paid the cover fee, which was not insignificant ($2500/performance if I remember correctly). What’s wrong with a star covering for another star? Pecunia non olet, you know :-)

          • damekenneth

            Jones was also the cover for Eva Marton in the San Francisco Ring of 1985 when Marton was doing the Siegfried and Gotterdammerung Brunhildes, and Jones singing only the Walkure. Terry McEwan, who was a very close friend of Jones, told me that in spite of not being given a full Ring cycle, she had offered to be on call to sing “anything you need me for. A Norn, a walkure -- even a Forest Bird.” Apparently this was both part of her complete enthusiasm for performing anything at any time and perhaps, very canny political willingness. In spite of (to me) seeming to be undervalued at the Met after her woeful Isoldes around 1980, she considered the Met and maintaining a U.S. presence as important to her career and probably was similarly willing to go along with the program in terms of covering. More astonishing to me is that, in demand as she was, she even had the time to cover. Maybe that was her idea of a vacation. (That, and singing Turandot.)

            It was too bad for her that she was engaged for the Walkure instead of, say, the Gotterdammerung, which would have played much more to her vocal strengths.)

      • marshiemarkII

        “but it’s quite interesting to ponder exactly what it means. Did Jones ever have first dibs on a Ring revival at the Met?”

        The answer is yes. When the Schenk Ring was revived in the 1992-93 season, Behrens was per-force out of the running, because there already was litigation over the 1990 accident. This time the Met turned to Dame Gwyneth, who was also having a vocal renaissance of her own, and gave it to her in full, all of them (or did she share with Gaby Shout already? I cannot remember), the New York Times review was not kind but I understand she had the public on her side.

        • doktorlehar

          Ah, now that is a very informative answer. Thanks. I think Jones’s perspective on a lot of this would be very interesting to hear. Let’s hope she writes a book.

        • Arianna a Nasso

          Jones sang all 3 cycles in 92-93; Schnaut did not until 96-97. Seems odd for the Met to risk 3 cycles on one Brunnhilde after the Behrens accident -- did someone else pull out, giving Jones the 3rd cycle as well? Or given the Met’s 4-5 year planning cycle, was Behrens already intended for 92-93 before her accident, with Jones as her alternate, and then when Behrens went out due to the litigation, Jones took over her cycles? Marshie, do you recall?

          • marshiemarkII

            Ariana, no Behrens was not officially contracted for the 93 Ring other than, if in good voice, “of course she’d do some” kind of thing from Jimmy. Remember Behrens was getting old, and while in retrospect, she sang very well until 1999 at least, and sang Brunnhilde until 2002 in Vienna, by 1990 she was already 53…… To wit, the only contract she had signed with the Met at that point, was a new production of Elektra in 1992, and the revival and telecast of 1994, and nothing else.

            After the accident there was no further communication until the Elektra of 1992. After the disaster with the opening night, and subsequent cancellation of the entire run, the Met was still contract-bound for the 1994 revivals, but the telecast was cancelled right away. The day after the sensational opening night, she was told the telecast was reinstated for the next performance, and she was also offered the Ring in 1997. So it seems that the 5 year plan was not so set in stone at the time, and there was some flexibility.

            The original idea probably was, give the reigning Wagnerian Diva a new production of Elektra, and free up the Ring for a newer younger talent, while always counting on Behrens being around, and available, if necessary. By 1993, Behrens was out altogether, and there really was no new younger talent available, so it was back to the same good ol’ stalwarts, hence Dame Gwyneth fit in perfectly. After all she had had big successes with Elektra and so forth in Europe, and had also a contract for the second run of the Met Elektra in April 1994 from the very beginning (not as a replacement for Behrens who had the first five in January).

          • marshiemarkII

            Actually after the accident Behrens did have a contract for Salome in the fall of 1990, and against all the advice of her attorneys, she did actually sing. “I don’t live for the lawsuit” she would say, “if I can still sing, I will sing!” There were also the Fidelio and Dutchman of 1992, which caught her in not very good shape at all, but all of those contracts had been signed prior to the accident obviously, and she fulfilled them best she could with the diminished resources she had at that point.

          • marshiemarkII

            OK Arianisssssima, I gave it a memory jog while I was at the gym, and this is what I can put up as a very plausible conjecture. Perhaps the wonderful and knowledgeable Damekenneth can help to corroborate or dispute my recollections:
            Behrens was supposed to sing only the 1989 Rings, and the 1990 ones were slated for Marton, who being six years younger than Behrens, would then take over. Since Behrens would have the new production of Elektra in 1992, it seems that Marton would have naturally continued with the Ring again in the 1993 revival, and possibly Jones, having had a success in 1989, would now be eligible for one Ring also? After the Marton dust-up, and with Behrens in litigation, suddenly all three fell by default on the Dame. I think this makes a lot of sense and would jibe with the 4-5 year plan, and the fact that Behrens definitely did not have a contract for the 1993 Ring at all, even before the accident. The assumption being that by then at 56 yo, she would be nearing the time to start moving into Moedlrollen. In reality that never really happened, unless you consider Kostelnicka a Moedelrollen, and when she left the Met in 1999, left with a magnificent assumption, in full rejuvenated voice, of Marie in Wozzeck! no Moedlrollen she :-)

          • Camille

            MarshieMIItm!!! Nitey-nite and keep your mitts off that retinol!!!!!
            Big bisou
            Cow Bells

          • Camille

            Yes Marshie, I heard that Marie and even mrsjohnclaggart said she was good in that set of performances!!!! Mirabile dictu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            She looked all of about forty years old at the curtain call, I thought.

          • marshiemarkII

            CammiB!!!!! we missed you the other day when manoucita, batty, and porgy and yours truly decided to go whole hog silly :-) I even invoked your holy name!
            and the mention right above about the 1999 Wozzecks was with you in mind, because you recently wrote something very beautiful about them!

            Off the Retin A for now, and getting the yellow diamants ready for the big event on the 18th.
            Nitey nite to you carisssssisima CammiB!

          • marshiemarkII

            Our posts just crossed CammiB! :-)

          • Camille

            Marshie—whatever you do, please don’t those old rich gorgonesses convince you to “get some work done.” Let your wrinkles and laugh lines live their lives!

          • marshiemarkII

            My adorata CammiB!!! thank you so much for your concern, but no, giammai!, after what I saw at the Opening of the Prinzregenten in 1996, I swore I’d never even consider it ever again! and I haven’t changed my mind. What the gym alone cannot do, it shall be as it shall be :-)
            Mille baci carissssima!

  • senafan

    Oh, yes, that’s right about Dominguez… I forgot. (I don’t have the Von K Ring and haven’t heard it for many years.) Did she sing both Erdas? Where am I getting Chookasian from?

    • Byrnham Woode

      Yes, Dominguez recorded both Erdda’s for Karajan. She also sang them at the Salzburg Easter Festivals that were part of his RING project with DG and at the MET.

      At the MET for RHEINGOLD in 1968, Karajan discovered Chookasian, who was doing RHEINGOLD there. He immediately engaged her to do First Norn for the upcoming recording and also at Salzburg. But he honored his contract for SIEGFRIED with Dominguez.

      Chookasian sang these roles again at the MET in 1972-75 as the RING was mounted with other conductors and stage directors replacing Karajan.

      At Bayreuth only in 1965, she sang Erda, First Norn, Schwertleite and Mary in HOLLANDER. I have no idea why she didn’t return.

      Josef Greindl apparently sang Wanderer a lot in German opera houses. I don’t think he sang the other Wotan roles. Bayreuth was grooming Theo Adam and Thomas Stewart for these parts, but neither was ready to sing Wanderer in 1965, so Greindl got the call. In fact, Stewart’s first Bayreuth Wotans weren’t till 1967, and Wanderer not till 1969. During all these years (65-69) Greindl also did parts like Hagen, Hunding and Fafner, and Wanderer when Adam was occupied with Sachs and the other Wotans.

      • senafan

        Thank you for all that clarification! I figured that Greindl must be more versatile than his more obvious recorded legacy suggested, but I didn’t realize how much so until watching one of the Everding “Da capo” segments to be found on Youtube. I guess this Wandrer wasn’t that much of a rarity for him… just for us!

  • Byrnham Woode

    I was at the 1989 RING wherein Gywyneth Jones astonished everyone in the house -- including the orchestra and the conductor. If it’s true that she was “in house” covering Behrens at the earlier cycles, then that’s how she learned the staging, because I was told that week that she had no rehearsal onstage or with the orchestra.

    She was amazing, particularly in SIEGFRIED (an astonishing wake-up scene) and GOTTERDAMMERUNG. A few weeks earlier I had seen Jones in Boston as the Marschallin, for Sarah Caldwell’s company. She was wonderful in that, too.

    The next New Year’s Day we went to NYC primarily to seee Jones as Turandot. She peeled the paint off the ceiling that day, too. I love her.

    Polaski had in fact been announce in print when RING tickets went on sale in late 1988. I think she officially pulled out in February, and we were delighted to get Jones as a “substitute”.

    The 1993 cycles with Jones did not find her in as memorable a condition, vocally, but she still was the Brunnhilde of the decade. The first cycle was broadcast, so the evidence is available.