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The Twilight of the Gods ... and the Zenith of Solti's Ring
When Conductor Sir Georg Solti and Producer John Culshaw teamed up to make the first complete stereo recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen, they ended up creating one of the popular classics of the opera discography. But as with anything that dominates a specific field for any length of time, there is bound to be backlash. Many critics and some listeners now censure the set for such varied things as over-the-top sound effects, over-the-hill performers, a lack of passion, a lack of subtlety, a lack of spontaneity, a lack of flow, a lack of detail, a lack of “substance” (what does this mean?), etc. Like all things it has its faults, but I feel they are few, and at any rate are less obvious in Götterdammerung than in some of the other installments (see my reviews for Siegfried and Die Walküre). Here Solti achieves true transcendence. With the forces of the Vienna Philharmonic under his baton, the orchestral passages are enough to make this a must-here. They sound positively symphonic. I do not know whether it is just the excellence of the playing or whether Wagner’s scoring had improved as well (I suspect it is a little of both), but the sound here is much lusher and more finely-detailed than heard in the earlier operas. The choral work by the Vienna Staatsopernchor is also outstanding; this is the only Ring opera to require a chorus and they really take advantage of it. Culshaw’s sound effects are less intrusive here than elsewhere, which might be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. The only thing that might alienate potential fans is the use of a throat microphone to lower Windgassen’s voice when he is supposed to be disguised as the baritone Gunther. I once heard it said that the golden age of Wagner singing was always the one you just missed, but it is still difficult for me to picture someone gathering a cast today that could challenge Solti’s. Even the Rhinemaidens—a starry affair headed by the sparkling Lucia Popp, the powerful Gwyneth Jones, and Maureen Guy—approach perfection. Birgit Nilsson’s high notes are not quite as exciting as they were for the Siegfried recording, but her voice is definitely at its warmest here, which should please those who find her too steely. It also fits the character of Brünnhilde at this stage. Wolfgang Windgassen is the weak point of this recording, but I prefer his Siegfried here to that from the earlier opera. Though little time has passed between the operas, the character seems much older than the brazen youth we were introduced to, which makes Windgassen’s lack of youthfulness and power are a little less grating. Additionally, the Narration and Death suit him as an artist much more than such numbers as the Forging Scene. It is a real treat to have Christa Ludwig’s Waltraute. She conveys everything we need to know about the character—sadness, determination, love for both Brünnhilde and her father—and still sounds glorious. It is particularly fascinating to compare this performance with her glorious Fricka in Die Walküre, also for Solti. Only a great artist could bring such different characters to life. Like Ludwig, Solti was also to use Gottlob Frick again, as Hunding in Walküre. However, his better performance is given here. His black, craggy voice is perfectly suited to Hagen, and his characterization is wonderfully malevolent. However, his beautiful legato also suggests a strange nobility, even beauty, which works as he must be convincing in his treachery. Speaking of nobility, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Gunther positively redefines the term. His performance may not be quite as memorable as Frick’s or Ludwig’s, but his handsome baritone is just what the role requires, and he gives a very moving performance in what he once described as a great big family tragedy. As his sister Gutrune, Claire Watson is shrill at times, but I feel other reviewers make a bit much of it. I can imagine better singers in this role (Janowitz, Studer), and sort of wish Solti’s Sieglinde, Régine Crespin had taken the part, but all in all her singing and acting is very touching. Aside from Windgassen and maybe Watson, this is a brilliant recording, with almost no flaws. It is a great example of Solti at his best and also attests what the Wagner singers of that generation were like. Do not hesitate from giving it a listen.
excellent production of Wagner
It was with great enthusiasm, I recieved myself to the attention of this album. The recording quality is superb, and I love the fact I can hear the oboes from the bassoon. ANd the singing? Top marks! This is one of the most important and most overlooked of wagners pieces. Well worth the money if one is a true purveyor of fine music.
The Solti Ring is by far the best of the Rings
I was lucky to get my hands on the complete Ring in LP from Tower Records when they were selling off their LPs (to be replaced by CDs). I took the four sets, Rheingold, Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung home and left them untouched for months. Then I ventured into listening to Rheingold. It's the shortest of the four and easily digestible. Since this is a review of Götterdämmerung, I'll skip the discussion on the other three. I literally took me two years before I had the nerve to listen to this work. I happened to listen to this opera on the radio (not the Met opera, but one from Bayern). I was humored that there were actual boos and hisses from the audience when the opera completed. So, without trepidation, I opened the box and played this again. I've already worked through Walküre and Siegfried, so I wasn't completely unprepared for Götterdämmerung. The norn narrative was certainly a bit slow, but once it got into it, the whole work moved briskly. (I remember when the Met version was aired on PBS on TV. I and several others sat and watched the whole Ring cycle over the four evenings. Götterdämmerung went for five-plus hours and we didn't realize how long the whole thing went until it was over and it was around 2AM when I walked home.) This one is great because Solti doesn't mince with the sonic dynamics. Siegfried's funeral march is magnificent. But really, the whole piece is just wonderful. It's well played. I can't recommend this piece (or any of the other Ring operas) to complete newbies. You will be overwhelmed as I was. But for historical artifact and pure musical competence, this version by Solti is one worth owning. The Met/Levine work with Hildegard Behrens and Siegfried Jerusalem was thin; not meaty at all. This one requires a formidable cabernet sauvignon to complement the chewing. (Whereas the Met/Levine might be overpowered by a cheapie rosé). Sit back, relax, be prepared to spend five plus hours, so grab a good drink. Unless you're doing a cross-country trek, of course. I drove across the country on I-80 and went through the whole Ring three times, I believe. But you can do all this in the comfort of your living room.