OPERA NEWS - Die Walküre
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WAGNER: Die Walküre

spacer Nilsson, Rysanek, Madeira; Suthaus, Hotter, Frick; Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Karajan. No text or translation. MYTO 3CD 00185

Recordings Die Walkure Karajan Rysanek Cover 815

This ideally cast Walküre, beautifully conducted by Herbert von Karajan, would surely be a contender for one’s favorite “live” performance document of the opera — had it been recorded in Germany. The less than adequate sound quality of so many marvelous performances originating at La Scala during the 1950s is a source of frustration for eager collectors, while Bayreuth airchecks from the same time period rival some studio efforts for their sonic beauty. While one is grateful to have this 1958 Walküre — which was thought to be a lost recording — potential buyers must be warned that the frequent overload of orchestral sound at forte, causing distortion at key moments, is disheartening. And fans of Leonie Rysanek will be disappointed that virtually all her high notes, the glory of her voice, are robbed of their soaring beauty by rumble and distortion in this capture of an otherwise definitive Sieglinde. The other caveat comes in the form of two cuts Karajan takes in Act II. It is not unusual to encounter a cut in the lengthy monologue of Wotan, but slicing a chunk out of the Todesverkündigung scene is simply baffling. Fortunately, enough of this Walküre is redeemed by stunning performances and passages of decent recorded sound to make it worth considering.

Aside from some lack of coordination between stage and pit (most notably in a Ride of the Valkyries already obliterated by the recorded sound), Karajan leads a performance of profound insight, beauty and theatricality. He does not lapse into self-indulgence but draws riches from the score. At this point in his career, he was still putting Wagner before Karajan. Birgit Nilsson’s ease of delivery and superhuman stamina are matched by poignancy in Brünnhilde’s Act III “War es so schmählich.” Fortunately, she is far enough upstage during her celebrated battle cry for the Nilsson trademark high Bs and Cs to avoid distortion. Wow! 

This Scala performance captures Hans Hotter’s Wotan at the tail end of his glorious prime. Hotter is still able to lend a lieder-singer’s intimacy to Wotan’s Act II monologue while pouring out impressive mountains of tone where required. And his farewell to Brünnhilde is simply heartbreaking. His twins are scarcely less good. Under Karajan, Rysanek’s peerless Sieglinde offers even more tender, vulnerable piano passages than usual, and her emotional journey through Sieglinde’s sense of aloneness and liberation, then dismay and loss, then transcendent joy at carrying Siegmund’s son, has rarely been more vivid. Her Siegmund, Ludwig Suthaus, is fresher of voice on Furtwangler’s 1954 studio recording (also opposite Rysanek); still, he was an artist who understood the role and supplied more than adequate heroic tone and fervent delivery.

The ensemble of principals is rounded out by the searing, dark-toned Fricka of Jean Madeira and the menacing, black-voiced bass of Gottlob Frick as Hunding. One could hardly imagine a better cast. Add to this the Valkyries, who include among their number rising star Christa Ludwig, as Waltraute, and Leonie’s sister Lotte Rysanek, as Helmwige. In a perfect universe, some day a tape of this performance will be discovered in good sound; until then, we have to make do with great art, imperfectly preserved. spacer

IRA SIFF

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