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Wagner: Die Walkure / Nilsson, Vickers, Rysanek, Stewart, Metropolitan Opera

Release Date: 05/03/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 85308  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Christa LudwigJon VickersBirgit NilssonLeonie Rysanek,   ... 
Conductor:  Berislav Klobucar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Die Walküre Berislav Klobucar, cond; Jon Vickers ( Siegmund ); Leonie Rysanek ( Sieglinde ); Karl Ridderbusch ( Hunding ); Thomas Stewart ( Wotan ); Birgit Nilsson ( Brünnhilde ); Christa Ludwig ( Fricka ); Metropolitan Op O & Ch Read more SONY 85308, mono (3 CDs: 216:36) Live: New York 2/24/68

Given that the principals participate in my three favorite studio recordings of Die Walküre , this recording of a February 1968 Met broadcast looked promising. To a large extent, it lives up to that promise. Herbert von Karajan had conducted previous performances and would conduct future Met performances of the opera but, for the rest of this season, due to illness, he was replaced by the Bayreuth veteran Berislav Klobucar. Would he prove to be a Karajan manqué? For better or worse, he’s his own man and, using Karajan’s studio Walküre as a reference, I can say that Klobucar’s performance is faster and brassier (some of this, of course, may be due to microphone placement). Some listeners may prefer his more straightforward approach to Karajan’s more subtle, supple one (I don’t). Where Karajan will sometimes stretch a phrase for expression, Klobucar keeps moving along (this does have the virtue of enabling Sony to get the performance onto three CDs). Since Karajan’s DG recording was conceived with the microphone in mind, his singers were able to adopt a more conversational tone at times. When the score asks Wotan to sing “with a muffled voice,” for example, Thomas Stewart can do it, knowing he’ll be heard. Here, with the need of projecting into the vast Met, he tends to sing out—in fact, except for some weakness on the bottom, the third act finds him in healthy voice, really sounding angry at his disobedient daughter. The same is true of the Siegmund, Jon Vickers, who has been accused in some circles of crooning on the Karajan recording. There’s certainly none of that here and, though I like his Karajan performance very much, I expect most people will prefer this one. He was certainly the Siegmund of choice during the third quarter of the 20th century. In addition to Vickers and Stewart, Karajan’s recording features Karl Ridderbusch as Hunding. I would prefer a darker, even rougher voice, but it’s hard to complain about so conventionally beautiful a sound. By 1968, Leonie Rysanek, whose younger self can be heard on Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Vienna Walküre , had become an uneven, erratic singer—you never knew which Rysanek you were going to hear on a given night. Maybe matinees agreed with her; in any event, she’s in reasonably good voice and her usual intense form. As for the two other female members of the cast, who are also heard on Solti’s recording, I suppose all I have to write is “Nilsson is Nilsson” and “Ludwig is Ludwig,” but there’s a little more to be said. However one appreciates the most potent Wagnerian soprano of her time and one of the best of her century, there are things that frustrate me about that peerless laser of a voice. When tossing off “Ho-jo-to-ho,” or giving Siegmund the bad news about his future, she projects a goddesslike strength but, on the whole, I actually prefer Régine Crespin, the Brünnhilde of Karajan’s recording, because she can “melt” and project compassion or pleading, sounds that are not to be heard in Nilsson’s voice, whether she’s sympathizing with her father’s dilemma and Siegmund’s courageous defiance, or trying to wheedle a lighter punishment for her disobedience. I guess I actually can content myself with “Ludwig is Ludwig.” As for Klobucar, I sometimes think that the Met’s brass are too loud, but the orchestra plays for him and, although it lacks the sonic punch of the Karajan and Solti Walküre s and Furtwängler’s magic touch (of his three, the Vienna one is my favorite), this recording is in the picture because of its very serviceable sound and strong cast.

FANFARE: James Miller


"The run of Walküres at the Met in late 1967 and early 1968 were to be directed and conducted by Herbert von Karajan--and indeed, the Austrian maestro helmed the November and December performances to great and very controversial acclaim. Critics found his "chamber" approach to the opera both brilliant and incorrect, depending on whom you asked, but almost nobody enjoyed the staging, which gave the characters very little to do. In addition, the lighting was so dim that you could barely see the principals, a point driven home by the fact that Birgit Nilsson showed up at a rehearsal wearing a miner's helmet, bringing the discussion home with great sarcasm. Back to Europe Karajan went, and unfortunately came down with influenza and could not travel, which led to the substitution for the February performances of Berislav Klobucar as conductor. As you can tell from this broadcast of February 24, 1968, Klobucar, leading an absolutely dream cast, left nobody feeling deprived.

Because all of the principals are well known, I won't elaborate too much; suffice it to say that all are in their primes. Jon Vickers' vocal production never has sounded freer and more secure; there isn't anything the gigantic voice cannot and does not do. His Siegmund is suspicious, confused, manly, loving, tender, resolved--and at all volume levels. He is matched by Leonie Rysanek's Sieglinde. Always an earthy, involved singer, her tendency to sing sharp is almost never in evidence, and the voice is all of a piece, without the three or four "empty" notes in mid-voice that often plagued her. We are riveted by her storytelling (and the obvious attention she's paying to Siegmund) in Act 1, and her last-act "O hehrestes Wunder!" is superbly cathartic. Karl Ridderbusch's Hunding varies between utterly menacing and somewhat dull. The Valkyries are properly noisy and very accurate.

God-wise, we're on equally firm ground. By 1968 Nilsson was without peer as Brünnhilde, the voice gigantic--listen to the long swoops up to the Bs and Cs in her opening Battle Cry, and marvel at the sheer strength and accuracy of the voice from top to bottom--and she is regal and loving throughout. Her Announcement of Death is potent and godly, her disobedience thoroughly understandable. And her last act is stunning as well.

Thomas Stewart was a favorite of Karajan's, and it's easy to see why. He's the most human and vulnerable of Wotans, the voice just a bit small for the part--but in the reading of the text his sensitivity and intelligence are on an epic level. Together, he and Nilsson can move us to tears in Act 3. And Christa Ludwig as Fricka would be a tough one to say "no" to.

Klobucar's reading lacks the sweetness and transparency in Act 1 that Karajan engendered everywhere, but his reading is thrilling, sensible, and a fine piece of musical narrative. The Met Orchestra, trained by Karajan but obviously doing Klobucar's bidding, plays beautifully (apart from a few horn bobbles) and tempos are never eccentric. This is a great performance. Is it the best? Well, it's among the best to be sure, but maybe Keilberth 1955 on Testament is "deeper" (whatever that means)."

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano), Jon Vickers (Tenor), Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Leonie Rysanek (Soprano), Thomas Stewart (Baritone)
Conductor:  Berislav Klobucar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 
Date of Recording: February 24, 1968 
Venue:  Metropolitan Opera, New York 

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