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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried - opera in three acts (1876)
Siegfried - Hans Hopf (tenor)
Mime - Paul Kuen (tenor)
Der Wanderer - George London (bass-baritone)
Alberich - Ralph Herbert (baritone)
Fafner - Gottlob Frick (bass)
Erda - Jean Madeira (alto)
Brünnhilde - Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Stimme des Waldvogels - Martina Arroyo (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera House/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. live, 13 January 1962, Metropolitan Opera House, New York. ADD
WALHALL ETERNITY SERIES WLCD 0372 [4 CDs]

Archipel’s output is variable from a sonic engineering point of view and this so-called re-mastering doesn’t buck that reputation. An apology for “surface noise due to the original acetates” is included in the booklet but that’s not as distracting a problem as the muddy, distant sound with little definition and frequent pre-echo. Carelessness is frequent and apparent, such as the irritating two second gap between tracks 4 and 5 on the last CD, during Brünnhilde’s awakening, and the sudden cut-off at the end of CDs. Worst of all, so much of the performance is vitiated by constant hacking from the audience. The entire four and a half minutes of the atmospheric orchestral Prologue to Act II is ruined by it. It must have been a cold January in New York in 1962; it is remarkable that in so fuzzy a recording while the actual music remains remote, we are allowed a faithful representation of a TB ward for terminally ill patients. I can tolerate a reasonable amount of audience noise but this is so prominent a blot on the recording throughout that I lose patience.
 
Hans Hopf is generally a trial: he is a stentorian belter with unlovely tone, little musicality of phrasing and a fearsome wobble. Birgit Nilsson provides welcome relief but Brünnhilde’s arrival is so long delayed that even she barely compensates for the preceding mediocrity. At first, during her awakening, she sounds below form and little like herself - unless it’s the recording disguising her voice - but she soon warms up and is thrilling in the final duet, while Hopf mostly bellows. Maybe the recording emphasises his bleat but we hear what we hear while she lives up to her reputation for vocal consistency.
 
I was primarily attracted to the idea of hearing George London as the Wanderer and he is impressive at such moments as when he summons Erda, but too often the gleam and grandeur of his voice are hidden by the murky recording. He may be heard to much greater advantage as Wotan in Solti’s Das Rheingold and in Die Walküre conducted by Leinsdorf - a favourite version. Leinsdorf seems to lose momentum in the last scene which is the last thing I expected of a conductor who generally aims for propulsion. Paul Kuen is first class as Mime; both his singing and acting are wholly apt, striking a balance between the twin need to achieve characterisation while avoiding exaggeration and wheedling without grating. Ralph Herbert’s Alberich is dry and undistinguished of voice. Jean Madeira as Erda is stentorian but with a pronounced break between registers. The impact of Gottlob Frick’s imposing Fafner is reduced by his being placed far back. Martina Arroyo’s pure and powerful Woodbird is a delight; the role is too often under-cast.
 
This is a radio broadcast including part of the commentary from Milton Cross. The lack of any timings is symptomatic of the poor production values. I had high hopes of this recording but whatever its vocal merits - and they are decidedly inconsistent - they are masked by the bad sonics; I found that the combination of poor sound and Hopf’s ungainliness meant that I was unable to listen with much pleasure.  

Ralph Moore 

Masterwork Index: Siegfried

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