The Golden Ring & • Georg Solti, cond; Birgit Nilsson; Wolfgang Windgassen; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Gottlob Frick; Vienna P & St Op Ch • DECCA 074 3196 (DVD: 88:00)
& Audio Highlights from Solti’s Ring (69:00)
Humphrey Burton produced and directed this documentary in 1964 for BBC Television, specifically for its then-new second network BBC2. Burton and hisRead more crew were able to observe eight days of recording in Vienna’s Sofiensäle as Georg Solti, an estimable group of singers, the VPO, the chorus of the Vienna State opera, and the legendary Decca recording team led by John Culshaw worked on acts II and III of Götterdämmerung. The story of how Burton and the BBC managed to convince Decca to allow the project, as remembered by Burton in his liner note essay, is nearly as interesting as the documentary itself. The film first aired in May of 1965, at the time the longest music documentary ever made.
The film engagingly details the monumental challenges of recording not just the Ring but any opera, in terms of both technical issues and musical ones—that is, how to create a coherent end-product from takes that are 10 to 15 minutes long, taped over an extended period of time. The recording of the steerhorns utilized in act II, as Hagen summons his vassals, is fascinating, as Burton dismissively informs us that most Götterdämmerungs settle for trombones whereas Culshaw insisted on the real thing, specially manufactured for the Decca recording because “the original instruments were pinched from Bayreuth by American soldiers after the war.” We see one steerhorn played by a musician standing next to Gottlob Frick, the black-voiced Hagen, and two others (built to produce different pitches as per Wagner’s instructions) recorded in another room so as to provide the desired distancing effect. Burton does fawn a bit over Culshaw and his talented crew of engineers with some softball questions along the lines of “does anyone else do this as terrifically as you do?” But the Decca team’s achievement was unparalleled and a reminder that the days of making studio recordings of opera in this fashion—Decca’s Götterdämmerung required 25 sessions—are gone, and the loss is ours.
Along the way are brief interviews with Culshaw, Solti, and others. Especially knowing is Burton’s questioning of a young and fluent-in-English Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who sings the part of Gunther. His role in the documentary clearly was to assure a British viewership that, in 1965, still had memories of German rockets dropping on the U.K., that Wagner was not synomymous with Nazism. Fischer-Dieskau makes it clear that he doesn’t see Götterdämmerung as any kind of political parable but, rather, as a “family tragedy.” “It’s not Wagner’s fault” that Hitler liked this music, the singer states, fairly enough.
Beyond revealing the dynamics of a successful relationship between a producer and his artists, the film is enjoyable for the long stretches of music-making it presents. The sound is quite good, as Burton was able to “plug in” to Decca’s exemplary mix, which was balanced on the fly in those days. Particularly wonderful is the “vengeance trio” that concludes act II (Frick, Fischer-Dieskau, and Birgit Nilsson) and the Immolation Scene. And we’re shown the famous practical joke of the latter session when, during an early take, a real horse was led into the Sofiensäle’s ballroom as Nilsson was singing. The soprano was definitely surprised.
The film, of course, is black and white with monaural sound and sports the 4:3 aspect ratio appropriate for television. The original version also had a German narration taped by Wilfried Scheib, included here as an option. As a not inconsequential bonus, Decca amends 69 minutes of Ring highlights in 5.1 Dolby Digital multichannel. Along with Culshaw’s book, Ring Resounding, all who recognize the Solti/Decca Ring for the landmark recording it is will treasure this DVD.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 full screen
Sound: Dolby Mono (documentaries) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (highlights)
Color: Black & White
Booklet Notes: English, French, German Read less
Works on This Recording
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Excerpt(s)by Richard Wagner Performer:
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Wolfgang Windgassen (Tenor),
Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Gottlob Frick (Bass)
Sir Georg Solti
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1853-1874; Germany
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
worthy companionJanuary 5, 2015By James Nuckels (Dallas, TX)See All My Reviews"The film of recording part of Gotterdammerung is a worthy companion to the wonderful audio disc of the complete opera. Solti's energetic conducting style gets the job done. Interesting portions of Nilsson recording her part. Sound recordings of excerpts of the four operas fill out the disc. If you are interested at all in opera production, this disc will interest you."Report Abuse
Over-joyedJune 18, 2012By T. Nikos (West Hollywood, CA)See All My Reviews"iI remember seeing this when it first came out, Having been looking and waiting all these years as a repeat on TV for decades. Thank God I bought one and will buy 3 more as Christmas gifts for 3 good friends. To me,a real treasure. Bless the little horse. T.Nikos"Report Abuse