Wagner, where you least expect it

Johanna MeierWhile many may still be reveling in Marianne’s extraordinary Mixcloud posting of this year’s Bayreuth Festival broadcasts, others may want still more live Wagner, so “Trove Thursday” offers a Der Fliegende Holländer from New York City Opera featuring the underrated American soprano Johanna Meier as Senta, conducted by Julius Rudel

After her City Opera debut in 1969 as Madeleine in Capriccio, Meier became one of that company’s most valuable stars during the 70s, particularly in the Mozart-Wagner-R. Strauss repertoire although she also sang Tosca, Ballo, Die Fledermaus and even Margherita/Elena when Samuel Ramey took over the Tito Capobianco production of Boito’s Mefistofele.

Despite her consistent success there, the Met didn’t seem much interested except when Meier could come in and take over from a more famous soprano experiencing difficulties. She replaced both Montserrat Caballé and Leontyne Price when they cancelled Ariadne and again when Shirley Verrett bailed out on Leonore in Fidelio. Of Meier’s 76 non-gala performances with the Met over 17 years, more than half were during the spring tour or the seasons in the New York City Parks.

Her City Opera years pre-dated my New York opera attendance, but I did catch her twice in Cincinnati—in 1980 as a superb, shining Fidelio Leonore rescuing John Alexander and six years later as an overly modest but well-sung Marschallin. This week I was surprised to learn that she had also sung Norma there in 1984 opposite Wendy White (!), presumably in the production mounted by Cincinnati for Renata Scotto in 1977. I have no recollection of that Meier revival happening or why I didn’t attend.

I managed to see her two final Met roles, neither of which made a big impression on me—a Chrysothemis caught between Ute Vinzing and Christa Ludwig and the Kaiserin in one of the final performances of the famed Nathaniel MerrillRobert O’Hearn mounting of Die Frau ohne Schatten which I remember looking exceedingly drab and un-magical by then.

The most notable success of Meier’s international career was her Isolde in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s Tristan at the Bayreuth Festival during the early 1980s. I don’t believe she was the first choice announced but she had a success and the production remains available on DVD.

Ponnelle’s proposed vision for the final scene occasioned a firestorm of notoriety when it was announced he planned to have Isolde sing the Liebestod from the pit. The hue and cry over this extraordinary “violation” convinced him to change his mind, as one can see from the video.

Other than the Tristan there are almost no commercial recordings or DVDs although a Spoleto Vanessa shown on PBS continues to float around. There are a handful of Met broadcasts but unfortunately not much from the prime NYCO years—I’ve never seen a “pirate” of the Eva, for example.

Meier’s partner in this Holländer (sung in German unlike her earlier City Opera Meistersinger which was done in Andrew Porter’s English translation) is Mexican baritone Guillermo Sarabia in, I believe, his only role with the company. He was featured on “Trove Thursday” earlier this year as Falstaff with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a performance recorded shortly before his early death in 1985 at age 49.

Wagner–Der Fliegende Höllander
New York City Opera
February 24, 1977
In-house recording

Senta: Johanna Meier
Mary: Diane Curry
Dutchman: Guillermo Sarabia
Daland: Ara Berberian
Erik: Richard Taylor
Steersman: Jerold Siena

Conductor: Julius Rudel

“Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player available above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, this Holländer, the Varady-Aragall Butterfly from last week, and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.