Cher Public

The hill is greener

Live recordings of Hans Knappertsbusch conducting Parsifal seem to proliferate like stairways in M.C. Escher prints. The high priest of the podium so owned this music in the 1950s and early 1960s that at least a half dozen transfers are in circulation, augmenting his gold standard 1962 Philips release and the historic 1951 reading that inaugurated the post-war Bayreuth Festival.

All share common characteristics: a spacious approach to Wagner’s musical line, great depth of expression and an unforced wash of sound that tenor Jess Thomas likened to a cloud cushioning the voices on stage.  

Each, too, has its quirks, possibly due to Knappertsbusch’s somewhat casual approach to rehearsing. A Myto remastering from the 1961 Bayreuth Festival is generally lighter and more vigorous than some of his earlier accounts but also noticeably mannered in key spots, such as the statements of the faith motif and in the syncopated, rising figures in the prelude to Act 3. The pacing slackens a bit too much before Parsifal’s return in the final act, at which point the forces seem to rally to deliver a stirring finale redolent with themes of rebirth and enlightenment.

Part of the legend surrounding old school maestros such as Knappertsbusch is built on the notion that they saw Wagner’s scores as a series of huge dramatic blocks that could be fused in a way that suspended a sense of time. Leitmotifs inferred plot and structure instead of serving as dramatic tip-offs. The seriousness of purpose didn’t allow for fussy affectations.

In truth, Knappertsbusch took his share of interpretive liberties like lacing in unwritten ritardandi. What’s striking is how echt his improvisational approach sounds. The first act has a wonderful sense of discovery and expectation, with tempi subtly pushed and pulled and capped by a majestic transformation scene and a full throttle statement of the Grail theme. The opening of Act 2 foams and froths with distorted allusions to motifs heard in the first act. Throughout the performance, the “alertness,” for lack of a better word, is more palpable than in latter-day interpretations by say, James Levine, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Daniel Barenboim.

That said, this release isn’t an essential purchase. The 1961 cast is almost identical to the one Philips would record the next year and is presented in thinner monaural sound that doesn’t nearly capture the unique acoustic of the Festspielhaus.

Thomas, making his Bayreuth debut in the title role, has a distinctive, ringing voice and guileless manner that’s quite effective in Act 1. HIs pivotal middle act confrontation with Kundry is not the most dramatic on disc but intelligently played, with a strong sympathetic cord to Amfortas’ suffering. Though Thomas may have been overshadowed by Jon Vickers in this and other roles, his portrayal is top-notch, gaining strength through the evening and sounding fresh decades later.

On disc, Irene Dalis doesn’t come across as a particularly sensuous or overwhelming Kundry—one wishes for more depth of expression in “Ich sah das Kind,” for example—but is technically spot on at the important moments, with a formidable chest voice and a laser-like upper extension that gives an extra piercing quality to “lachte,” describing how she scorned Christ on the cross.

The lower voices are represented by a group of legendary Wagnerians, most of whom have sounded better elsewhere. As Gurnemanz, Hans Hotter transforms himself from wise, occasionally gruff sage into devout acolyte over the long evening by milking every syllable of Wagner’s text but at times sounds quivery and not as commanding as on the Philips disc.

George London’s familiar, anguished Amfortas similarly doesn’t feel as poignant as on either the 1962 or 1951 Knappertsbusch sets, veering into startlingly throaty cries of suffering before Parsifal absolves him near the end of the opera. The imposing Ludwig Weber is alternately wooly and magisterial as Titurel, possibly as a function of stage blocking or microphone placement. Gustav Neidlinger, on the other hand, is ever reliable as a dark and menacing Klingsor, backed by a squadron of Zaubermadchen that includes the young Gundula Janowitz and Anja Silja.

With so many of the principals better represented in their roles elsewhere in the catalogue, it may be hard to come up with a compelling reason to acquire this set other than for historical completeness. Perhaps it serves as a reminder that even with imperfections, certain combinations of artists can sound like they’ve receded into the score for long stretches of time and leave the impression that the music has taken over.

The 1961 Bayreuth Festival was also noteworthy for a controversial new Wieland Wagner staging of Tannhauser that broke the house’s color barrier by featuring Grace Bumbry as Venus—a casting decision that incited protests from neo-Nazis and some segments of the German press. Though a commercial release on Philips captured a compilation of performances from that run with Bumbry and Wolfgang Windgassen, Myto now offers a one-off in mostly adequate sound with two significant cast changes: Victoria de los Angeles replaces Anja Silja as Elisabeth while Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau takes over for Eberhart Waechter as Wolfram.

The performance is a curious mashup of the 1861 Paris version of the opera up to “Geliebter, komm!” that switches to the Dresden edition and briefly reverts back to the Paris music for Venus’ reappearance in the third act. Wolfgang Sawallisch leads a fleet, clear-textured performance that’s oddly deadpan, skating over the mounting tension of the song contest and lacking sufficient expressive detail in the galumphingly earnest final act.

The 24-year-old Bumbry is more commanding than alluring as the mythical goddess, with a burnished sound that’s generally tidier than what she would produce the following year on the Philips commercial release. Fischer-Dieskau, rounding out his Bayreuth career, is suave, introverted and almost detached from his surroundings in “Blick’ ich umher.” He expertly captures the conflicted drama of a chivalric knight captive to his love of Elisabeth in “O du, mein holder Abendstern,” even though softer notes sound thin, possibly due to the microphone placement.

De los Angeles is a fresh-voice Elisabeth, with a wide column of tone that works a bit better for “Dich, teure Halle” than for the solemn Act III prayer “Allmacht’ge Jungfrau.” Windgassen struggles mightily with the title role’s punishing tessitura, overshooting notes and sounding winded in the opening scene before recovering to deliver a laudable, emotional Rome Narrative. Josef Greindl’s nicely etched take on the Landgrave is marred by a noticeable wobble while Franz Crass stands out among the rest of the cast as Biterolf. The Bayreuth chorus is radiant in the pilgrims’ choruses.

The unevenness of the cast makes the release more of a yardstick to measure the 1962 Philips recording and others that came after than an essential purchase. Bumbry fans will love it for the signs of what was to come; others may find that the vigor and folk-like character of the performance overcomes some of the technical imperfections.

  • David

    Great reviews -- thank you.

    Unaccountably Parsifal is missing from my collection. If you were to recommend just one recording, which would it be?

    • phoenix
    • Krunoslav

      The 1951 Bayreuth set, unforgettable.

      • Feldmarschallin

        1951 Bayreuth, Kubelik and Busch. All three are essential.

    • PCally

      David, Bayeuth 1951 and 1962 are both essential. The latter is in slightly better sound and has more conventionally beautiful singing but both are sensational.

      The other two essential ones for me are Barenboim and Thielemann. Barenboim is heard to better effect live (Berlin Staatsoper DVD from 1992 in the finest avaible, not even a question) but his playing is IMO definitive as is Meier as Kundry. Thielemann is very different but almost as extraordinary and IMO it’s essential to have a document of Meier and Doming together. Neither are in their best voice (though Domingo sounds damned good) but their confrontation is electrifying.

      My other recommendation is an unofficial Bayreuth recording from 1958 in which Crespin sings Kundry. You MUST hear her in this role. She is easily the best sung Kundry on record, as well as the sexiest. It’s really unbelievable, my favorite after Meier.

      I agree with Feldmarschallin that Kubliek is also up there with the best and I actually think that the Boulez recording is very much worth a listen, even if it’s not on the level of the others.

      • Krunoslav

        “She is easily the best sung Kundry on record”

        Love Crespin in this, but Christa Ludwig is not chopped liver in the rather slickly conducted Solti set, and sounds to be relishing it ( as with her Venus).

        • PCally

          Krunoslav, here’s where I guiltily admit that I find most of Ludwig’s work post 1970 to be rather mediocre. I think she got away with it because of her musicality and expressiveness, but compared to her 1960’s recordings IMO the voice lost A LOT of juice and I personally find her Venus to sound rather matronly and droopy (it was supposed to be crespin and while I’m not sure Crespin would have been up to it at that point in time the timbre still have been closer to ideal I think). And for all the complaints about Meier’s voice, Ludwig wrestles with her voice for most of the solti Kundry. I personally find her superior in her live Vienna recordings of those roles under Von Karajan, though even then I think her interpretation of both roles emphasize the shrewish aspects of those characters a little to much.

          Regarding Kundry, obviously it’s a matter of opinion and I really think that it’s always necessary to find value in different singers interpretations. But for me there is quite simply no singer who has even come close to achieving what Meier did in that role, not Modl, Crespin, Ludwig, whoever. It’s that simple for me. I’ve seen her sing it several times and those performances rank as some of the finest performances I’ve seen of anything. Meier never had Ludwig’s beautiful voice yet somehow I think she somehow manages to sound infinitely sexier and dangerous. And there simply isn’t anyone who comes to mind her matches her textual specificity. Even when I’m just listening to her I can see her performing the role.

          • messa di voce

            What about Callas for sexy and dangerous?

            • PCally

              I actually have only heard excerpts of callas so I can’t really comment.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Not have heard Callas’ Kundry? I can’t credit that! Are you TWELVE? It is one of her greatest (some would say it IS her greatest) outings and is a very good sample of what seems to me the right style in the music by Gui!

            • Krunoslav

              Africo Baldelli is waiting--DEMANDING--to be heard!!!

            • PCally

              mrsjohnclaggart, you make me want to hide my head in shame. I’ve never been a Callas completest and quite frankly I’ve never read anything that said her Kundry was a must. Even Ardoin gives it only a brief write-up when discussing her discography.

      • Ooh, I would love to hear Crespin’s Kundry.

        I recently heard Gorr’s Kundry in the La Scala performance Konya/Christoff/Neidlinger/Cluytens (and a young Caballe as one of the flower maidens). Gorr is fabulous in it! Neidlinger is far from fabulous.

        • PCally

          Oh I’ve been meaning to give Gorr a listen. She’s someone I’ve only recently started listening two and her fricka and Ortrud and she’s smashing in those roles.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Crespin was great at the Met in 1966 with Konya, Hines (ew) and poor George London who more or less withdrew after that one. It was the end of his singing career. Then she did two in 1970, Siepi (singing in German) was amazing, I liked Brilioth very much as Parsifal but “can you see my dick? It’s BIG!” Bill Dooley was Amfortas.

          That was Leopold Ludwig from whom I’ve heard some good performances (when Hamburg visited he did the great Lulu I’ve ever encountered, although perforce in the two-act version, the death of Geschwitz was appended preceded by lots of the play Erdgeist, one of Berg’s sources both by Wedekind the other being Die Büchse der Pandora). Lulu was the fantastic Anneliese Rothenberger, Gerhard Unger, famous as a supporting tenor but fantastic vocally and physically was Alwa and Kirsten Meyer was ME, Martha Geschwitz. I also like his Tosca with Hildegard Ranczak.

          But the Parsifal didn’t gel; in ’66 it had been Pretre and I think Crespin was more comfortable with him. Crespin was magic especially in ’66, but ’70 she was having trouble at the top, though in both performances the huge, enveloping tone was thrilling.

          Christa had a massive following but I thought the best moment of her Kundry was her death. With her back to the audience, she suddenly made a terrifying noise, spasmed and died. Talk about the audience gasping!

          She got the first night of the ’70 run, with Tom Stewart as Amfortas. I remember some queens in standing room (I’m sure Gualtier M ohne S knows them and they are PROFOUND) saying Brilioth whose debut it was was a “decent sized Cavaradossi” but actually I remember him having more sound than Kaufmann (though yes, Helge wasn’t exactly Melchior or Vickers in volume).

          Christa also did it in 79 and I saw all four. That was the very greatest Jon Vickers in his greatest role, and Martti Talvela who I thought was disappointing — his first years at the Met had been stunning but by 79 his sound was smaller and more occluded and my favorite lines were not projected with the right imagination and color (one must go to Hotter with Kna for that --I’d take the Vickers pirate with ME, Barbro Erikson, even though I’m awful — over the commercial with Jess or one of the performances with Jess — who I liked very much, and Irene). It was early Jimmy.

          Christa saved like mad at all four and I didn’t much care for her tricking her way through act two but the death was still potent.

          Maybe one day Phoenix won’t rise from the flames and its ashes will be everywhere. That Reiner performance is a war between Fritz (not the world’s nicest man but great) and Vicki D (the world’s sweetest woman but stubborn), he undercuts her ruthlessly throughout. Most of the men are gruesome (although I WOULD BE Hans Hopf could I be a man — that’s not to say he’s good). It is VERY well conducted, though, when Fritz isn’t being evil.

          I asked Vicki D, the GREATEST, after one of her concerts about what had been going on. “But you see, we are singers, the puppets of little men with sticks”, she said. I was surprised at the sudden hate, but then she was Latin — as am I. But my hate isn’t sudden and LASTS.

          One thing I liked about Adriel’s review was his use of “improvisational” to describe Kna. What’s been lost in serious music, mostly, is the improvisational impulse, but it was the way music was done even into the early 20th century.

          As scores got more complex rehearsal got more important but something was always left for the performance with the hope that “the muse” would descend. Kna was of the same school as Furtwaengler. They believed if they were dealing with professionals who knew the music and had worked with them they really didn’t need much (or in Kna’s case, sometimes, ANY) rehearsal for a great performance to happen.

          Having grown up before records and even radio, a performance was not a permanent document and the conductor might change from one to another in a run without “getting caught”. And a professional could pull a performance back together efficiently and quickly if it had fallen apart. It’s an idea that goes all the way back to the basis of Western music, Palestrina, and Monteverdi, Bach and Handel, even Mozart and Beethoven improvised their performances — the last four were phenomenal performers, as composers were expected to be and famous improvisers. Working with musicians who had been trained in what was called “common practice” they could trust their groups (smaller than became the norm and often regular colleagues to know what to do) and they “jammed” in their performances.

          When it all works for Kna the performances are very thrilling (Wagner and Bruckner and Beethoven) and “feel” right even if details are a little messy around the edges. I’m sure when things went wrong, he just shrugged and thought “tomorrow is another day.”

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Oh, and Gorr (called “George Gorr” at the Met) was fantastic until she had her crisis around 1965. Immense, glorious voice but sensitive too.

            Amazing live Liebestod

            And just for the hell of it ME, Martha never say Die Modl and Mo. Bernstein in TV (AMERICAN TV once upon a time) Liebestod.

            • John L

              That clip of George London and Rita Gorr in the Wotan Fricka confrontation is one of my favorites (especially George with his majestic black bass)! Why was Rtia Gorr referred to as “George Gorr”? For her immense strong voice?

            • John L

              You still didn’t say why she was referred to as George lol. Was she in on the joke? For her sake, hopefully not!

          • phoenix

            Now calm down, dear. Your memory serves you very well, as usual -- in 1966 I saw Crespin as Elisabeth, Cassandre & Dido and she was truly in the greatest voice I ever heard any soprano in that rep since. I didn’t see her Parsifal until the 1970 performances with Brilioth & Siepi at the Met and true to your words, she was losing her top but not her immense audial volume. As far as the 1953 Meistersigner you are kvetching about above, I failed to notice any backstage subterfuge affecting the performance as I heard it. Your colorful imagination is indeed as entertaining, as ever. I suggest you get in line for one of my personal fierienss treatments:

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              I’m so glad you’re proud of your unmusical insensitivity.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Now, John L, I believe you are being coy. But EVERYBODY called her George Gorr (except to her face). When she did Santuzza in Philly all the queens put their hands over their ears — she really was deafening in the rock concert sense. At her bows, they screamed: “Bravo, George!” to the puzzlement of civilians nearby. In New York when she grabbed Birgit during the Amneris/Aida confrontation scene and forced her to kneel (two of the loudest humans in history facing off), a chant began — “George! George! George!” At the Opera News of that era (probably a better one for the magazine) EVERYBODY called her George when her name came up.

          • Krunoslav

            “Crespin was great at the Met in 1966 with Konya, Hines (ew) and poor George London who more or less withdrew after that one. It was the end of his singing career”

            Remember, though, there was an apparently sad attempt to regain his Vienna stardom in 1967, with the TOTE STADT revival at the Volksoper opposite John Alexander and Marilyn .

            Obviously, we need to hear more about the Billy Dooley story. That speechifying odd duck Paul Jackson treats Dooley as if he had been the second coming (vocally, I mean, not biographically) of Herbert Janssen.

            • Krunoslav

              Marilyn *Zschau*, not Mims or Horne or Brustadt ( Andrew Porter’s “brave” off-Broadway Thaïs), let alone Miller or Monroe.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Oh well, PCally, I was actually teasing a bit. I do find what she does (and the contributions of Christoff, Panerai and particularly Gui) very interesting. She did a fair amount of Wagner and had an arresting understanding of line — in the Kundry but I suspect as Isolde and Brunnhilde too. At the point of the Parsifal broadcast, I think her timbre is really alluring and compelling in that tessitura.

          Of course, it may not be for you and she is part of the Italian Wagner school that waned by the mid-60’s. But Wagner loved Italian singers, he even got the great baritone Battistini one of his first major jobs (in Lohengrin) and made a point of hearing him when he could, even asking him on at least two documented occasions to sing “O tu bell’astro incantator” (O du, Mein holder Abendstern) even though the baritone raised it by half a tone.

          Complaining about mediocre tenors with Callas goes with the terrain in her early days. I am inclined to be interested in someone called Africo! She and some of her deeper voiced colleagues are what is interesting (be warned of cuts, though!).

          I think I am a Callas completist and now I must flog myself whilst (I am pretending to be British) kneeling on nails. I’ve had my doubts, less about her than about so many of her “fans”. I realized when I read you, that I probably own IT ALL. THAT is illness (I don’t LOVE it all).

          • Batty Masetto

            Oh Mrs JC, shame on you, you pushed me down another rabbit hole. I didn’t realize the Callas Parsifal was on Youtube.

            For PCally, here’s her stupendous end of Act II:

            And the whole blasted thing, which I do NOT have time to listen to, and I will NOT, I tell you, I will NOT:

          • messa di voce

            Robin Holloway in Opera on Record:

            “from the really musical screams as Klingsor first conjures her up, to the superb inflammation of her angry bafflement at Parsifal’s resistance, is remarkable. Here is no Nordic hausfrau, but a devil woman; wild, then suddenly cowed, waif-like, pitiably vulnerable in her appeal, before summoning up vehement reserves of malignity towards the end of the act.

            The focus of her attentions, Africa Badelli’s Parsifal, is exciting too, volatile and hot blooded in this outcry and moving with a psychological sureness, unsurpassed in any other performance of the part, from horrified attraction towards Kundry’s blandishments to stern self-enforced dismissal.”

          • PCally

            Well mrsjohnclaggart, I may not be a Callas completest but I’m always ready to listen to and love a Callas performance (and a Parsifal performance) so I’ll certainly check it out. And language isn’t a detriment to me as long as the performance is good.

            Batty thanks for the excerpt, it’s certainly exciting. when I have the time I will give the whole thing a listen.

      • fletcher

        Not sure how many of you all buy opera on iTunes, but the Barenboim Parsifal in the iTunes store lacks “Ich sah das Kind” and when I contacted customer service about the, um, lacuna, they insisted the digital files came that way from the label (Teldec in this case, I think). In their defense, the same track is missing on the Amazon mp3 download too. It’s an important part of the score and its absence is obviously very annoying.

  • Will

    As I have always been a huge de los Angeles fan (my two favorite sopranos are dlA and Leonie Rysanek — go figure, two radically different artists, a kind of Apollo/Dionysus split). I have both this Tannhauser and a Teatro Colon Lohengrin that feature her. Does anyone know if she ever sang Eva in Meistersinger and, if so, is there a live recording available? Thanks for any info.

    • phoenix

      They broadcast this on regularly scheduled Sirius-XM repeats quite often. I think you can purchase it as a single listen & record it yourself (see the Met website), but I have never attempted to do it. The sound is actually quite good for 1953. She sings it so well, getting to the essence of the role with beauty & simplicity:

      Metropolitan Opera House
      January 10, 1953 Matinee Broadcast


      Hans Sachs…………..Paul Schöffler
      Eva…………………Victoria de los Angeles
      Walther von Stolzing….Hans Hopf
      Magdalene……………Hertha Glaz
      David……………….Richard Holm [Last performance]
      Beckmesser…………..Gerhard Pechner
      Pogner………………Josef Greindl [Last performance]
      Kothner……………..Mack Harrell
      Vogelgesang………….Thomas Hayward
      Nachtigall…………..Algerd Brazis
      Ortel……………….Osie Hawkins
      Zorn………………..Alessio De Paolis
      Moser……………….Joseph Folmer [Debut]
      Eisslinger…………..Emery Darcy
      Foltz……………….Lorenzo Alvary
      Schwarz……………..Lawrence Davidson
      Night Watchman……….Clifford Harvuot

      Conductor……………Fritz Reiner

      Rebroadcast on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio

  • messa di voce

    Regardless of version, which Tannhausers do people prefer?

    • phoenix

      Dresden. I’ve never seen nor heard an effective Paris Act 1 Venusburg performance. The ballet music is mediocre & repetitious to boot: IMO!

      • PCally

        phoenix, really? Not one good performance of the Venusburg Paris scene? Have you watched either of Meier’s DVD’s or given Baltsa a listen? I understand their divisive but they are certainly up the role and Meier at least is simply born for the role.

        • phoenix

          Yes, believe it or not. Even with Trojanos it failed to ignite my imagination. Must admit that the entire opera is not really my favorite Wagner, but I find the best music in Act 1 comes in the all-male voiced fugue finale -- Venus’ great moment (albeit short) for me is in the Act 3 finale. No, I don’t care for Waltraud Meier’s persona nor her voice (nor will I listen to S. Radvanovsky anymore either for the same reason). But when I criticize the Paris Venusburg scene, it is the score itself that I’m complaining about -- not any particular singer of it.
          — Remember, to each of us their own -- this is not Music Appreciation 301 … you can take or leave whatever you want -- it’s your hobby and you are the boss.

          • PCally

            Well phoenix the tone of your reply was completely unnecessary. There was nothing critical in my response. I was simply surprised that no Venus has appealed to you in the Paris music, simple as that. Since it seems like you’ve seen Meier once or twice live, I was simply recommending you give her Venus a shot. I never carried on as if this were music appreciation 301, so please stop projecting.

            And with the exception of the choral music, Tannhauser is also probably my least favorite of Wagner’s mature operas.

            • phoenix

              I thought my tone was very positive & supportive. As I stated, to each their own: You are the boss of this, your own personal hobby. You don’t have to go along with me or anybody else’s hype or opinions.

            • PCally

              Forgive the misunderstanding then.

    • PCally

      Barenboim on his recording uses the Dresden version but inserts the Paris Venusberg scene so that Waltraud Meier gets something to do. That is my preferred combination and I’ve always wondered why more people didn’t perform the opera like that.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        PCally, I suspect you are too young to have heard Waltraud do Brangaene act two with Hildegarde the B and Barenboim in Carnegie Hall. Waltraud was still “only” a mezzo then but she was the loudest Brangaene I have ever heard, HURLING her voice out into the hall both in the first scene and then delicately picking her way to the back of the orchestra and ROCKING OUT the Warning. I and those I was with were in HEAVEN every time she opened her mouth. I think she became more künstlerisch with time but the night Jimmy was so slow Parsifal lasted six and a half hours (“Mr.Levine has the flu and has taken medication”) she got louder and louder during act two scene two and her cries of “Irre! Irre!” were massive!!!

        • PCally

          mrsjohnclaggart, that was just very slightly before my time. I didn’t see Meier live until her Isolde at Carnegie Hall. I do however have a DVD of her Brangaene in Paris opposite Gwyneth as Isolde (I do love Gwyneth but Isolde just never seemed to be her best role) and find her to be excellent, though I actually would probably take Hanna Schwarz (divine for Barenboim) or Ludwig for Bohm over her.

          I go on and on about Meier but I simply find that her combination of emotional range, expressiveness, fascinating stage presence, and (and this is something I can’t stress enough) musicality is awe inspiring in every way. I’ve seen her a couple of times where she has been in really poor voice and still have found her to be never less than completely compelling. And she’s never content to settle into a routine and do things the same way over and over. She’s always refining and focusing more and more. I would most certainly not appreciate the density and complexity of Wagner’s music and text if it weren’t for her. Before I saw her Isolde, that opera was an example of one where I admired the “big” moments like the curse, love duet, and liebestod and sort of faded out during the rest. Well after seeing AND hearing what she did with the dialogue between her and Tristan after the curse in Act One that opera has became my desert island score.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            PCally I LOVED that Carnegie Isolde, I also loved her Isolde in Munich in the great Peter Konwitschny production. I suppose her tone can strike some (and even all now and then) as “equivocal” with some contrivances to manage register shifts. But when totally able to concentrate on expression, either in good voice or “damn the notes” mood she is very thrilling. I have seen her be less good than he best now and then but I don’t think I’ve seen her be awful.

            On the other hand, Gwynnie can be REALLY bad and is the worst Isolde I’ve ever seen on a high professional level. Her Met performance with the shockingly bad Wenkoff was disastrous with large booing for all at the end. I went back once, it wasn’t better.

            Now I LOVE Gwynnie just because she is queen bee of the world and on a good night, there’s nothing like her. But that was a difficult experience. (I had seen Wenkoff at Bayreuth with the greatest Carlos Kleiber and he was OK, but that house is magic, you can hear a mouse in oestrus there, and since the singers don’t need to force, the best light is put on a voice. At the Met though Wenkoff had to belt and bleat the part and was about to sink through the stage from exhaustion mid love duet.)

            In that production the stage changed during the drinking of the love potion, the lovers stood on a platform that soared aloft into a magical sky. It was supposed to come down as the chorus sang. But it got stuck the first night, Gwynnie and Spas freaked and poor Tatie (loved her) ran around the bottom making gestures that she would catch Gwynnie if she jumped. Hysteria reigned at the end of that act and those I was with and I could hear a lot of screaming backstage (as the audience booed).

            That didn’t happen the second time, but the performance was horrible anyway.

  • David

    Thank you all for your generosity in making Parsifal recommendations -- I will start with the 1951 Bayreuth recording.

    Years ago, knowing little about Wagner and nothing about the artist, on a whim I bought a tape of Wagner highlights featuring George London. It helped open my ears to Wagner and so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing him in this.

    And thanks also to Batty for posting Callas in the end of Act II -- thrilling!