Some years ago, a friend of mine was remembering his
childhood in New York. His parents took him to the Metropolitan Opera.
Being Wagner devotees, he was always seeing Flagstad and Melchior. It
was only much later in his life that he realized what treasured memories
these indeed were. During the period, between 1935 and 1940, they were
the reigning monarchs of the Wagnerian repertory at the Met. The war
intervened and they were not to sing together again. Now Wagner lovers
speak of those magical years with reverent tones. Most would agree that
they were the century's finest Wagner interpreters and to have them
singing together on record is a unique event.
If you are not familiar with these two, this recording
is a delicious and stirring documentation of their truly masterful abilities
in this repertory. To cite but one example, in Tristan und Isolde the
duet "So stürben wir" is one of the most exciting and passionate
in all opera. Their lesser colleagues are usually heard shouting, barking,
straining and scooping in this duet. These two sail through it effortlessly,
punching out those high notes with accuracy and force and leaving you
at the end limp with pleasure.
The Prologue from Götterdämmerung is sung
with intense musical involvement and clearly shows the ability of Flagstad
and Melchior to soar with the music. The sections from Act II of Parsifal
are a remarkable record of Flagstad in the role of Kundry and the strong
interaction between her and Melchior is clearly evident.
The Tristan and Götterdämmerung sections
were recorded in the Victor Studios in Hollywood in November of 1939.
The Lohengrin and Parsifal excerpts were made in Philadelphia in November
1940 using members of the Philadelphia Orchestra to comprise the Victor
Symphony. In the biography, Flagstad - A Personal Memoir, the conductor
for these recordings, a lifetime musical collaborator and confidant
of Miss Flagstad, wrote that the soprano often mentioned that she thought
that these Philadelphia recordings were the best she had ever made.
Remastered by the loving hands of Ward Marston, these monaural recordings
will let you hear this duo in the best possible technical light.
For those who want more, there is the complete 1936
Tristan, also recently reissued on Naxos. For those who do not own a
recording of these two giants, this is an excellent start.