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Birgit Nilsson Sings Wagner

Nilsson,Brigit
Release Date: 08/02/2011 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4803550   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Norman BaileyHelge BriliothBirgit NilssonGrace Hoffman
Conductor:  Leif SegerstamSir Colin DavisHans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden OrchestraJohn Alldis ChoirLondon Symphony Orchestra,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



WAGNER Arias Birgit Nilsson (sop); Helge Brilioth (ten 1 ); Grace Hoffman (mez 3 ); Leif Segerstam 1 , Colin Davis 2 , Hans Knappertsbusch 3 , cond; various orchestras DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3550 (2 CDs: 152:51)


Read more class="SUPER12">1 Parsifal: act II excerpts. 1 Die Walküre: act I excerpts. 2 Rienzi: Gerichte Gott! 2 Der fliegende Holländer: Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an’. 2 Die Feen: Weh mir, so nah die fürchterlische Stunde. 2 Wesendonck Lieder. 3 Tristan und Isolde: Prelude; Isolde’s Narrative and Curse; Liebestod


Despite her status as the world’s leading Wagnerian soprano, Birgit Nilsson did not record all the Wagner soprano roles, among them five that are represented in excerpt form here. Nevertheless, when she participated in a recording of Tannhäuser , back in 1968–69, she took on the roles of both Venus and Elisabeth. I am familiar with the argument for attempting this, just as I have heard and understand why a single soprano might sing the Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta/La Stella quartet in Tales of Hoffmann and why a bass-baritone might take on the roles of Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, and Dapertutto in the same opera. Should this be classified as a stunt? As that great American philosopher Dizzy Dean once said when he was accused of being boastful, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!” And it’s not a stunt if you can bring it off, either. Unhappily, in Nilsson’s case, it was more like a stunt since there was hardly any audible difference between Venus and Elisabeth; however successful it might have been in a staged production, it just sounded like Birgit Nilsson doing two roles in the same opera. She can also be heard singing Venus to Leonie Rysanek’s Elisabeth on a pirate San Carlo Opera performance conducted by Karl Böhm in 1956. Nilsson was a conscientious, musicianly singer at all times, but what made her a star was her strong upper range—in the Parsifal excerpt, which consists of more than half of act II, Kundry has an exposed high B. You know way ahead of time that Nilsson is going to absolutely nail it … which she does. Kundry, though, is a role she obviously could have sung (and may have), was usually cast with sopranos (and sometimes mezzos) who were often classified as “singing-actresses” because of its dramatic possibilities. Here in the second act, Nilsson is certainly satisfying even if she’s not exactly seductive. Having heard him in person, I can testify that her Parsifal, Helge Brilioth, did not have a voice that projected deep into a theater. When he isn’t competing with Leif Segerstam’s aggressive but effective conducting, as in “Amfortas! Die Wunde!” he sounds like a real Heldentenor but, unlike Nilsson, he needs special handling, even when singing to a microphone. When singing at half-volume, which microphonic assistance enables him to do, he’s quite listenable, if somewhat underpowered. I could say the same thing about the chunk of the first act of Die Walküre , which begins with “Schläfst du, Gast?” and continues to the act’s conclusion. Here, Nilsson is in her element and must have been a terrific Sieglinde, if she ever sang it … but who would want to sing Brünnhilde?


The Rienzi aria sounds like something Joan Sutherland might have taken on in her prime. Nilsson punches out its modest ornamentation cautiously but, if she doesn’t exactly turn it into a tour de force , she hits all the notes and gets off the usual shining high notes. One could say the same about the even more obscure aria from Die Feen. The trouble with revivals of such operas is that you’re unlikely to get someone like Nilsson in the cast. Dramatically, Senta is a difficult role to bring off and I’m not sure it would have shown Nilsson to best advantage, though she could, of course, have sung it with minimal difficulty, which her delivery of Senta’s aria suggests. I also prefer a less mature voice in the part. Although Nilsson ruled the Wagner roost for three decades, the Wesendonck Lieder require a warmer voice like, say, Janet Baker, Régine Crespin, Eileen Farrell, Christa Ludwig, or Helen Traubel (who, unfortunately, recorded only three of them). Nilsson sings them conscientiously like the good artist she was, but only in “Schmerzen” does she get a chance to cut loose; in the more famous ones, “Im Treibhaus” and “Träume,” she can’t really do much with the text.


The Tristan excerpts contain a surprise: They sound as if Nilsson were recorded up on a stage with the orchestra closer to the microphones. Maybe it’s just an audio delusion on my part, but with what other singer would a producer dare to do this? Perhaps Eileen Farrell? Kirsten Flagstad? Anyway, she projects—no one is about to drown her out. Even back in 1960, she’s got the role down pat and she actually got better over the next decade. She reputedly said that her principal requirement for singing Isolde was “a comfortable pair of shoes.” I might mention that she didn’t limit herself to Wagner roles and even recorded a few Verdi operas with some success. She may not replace your favorite singer but she’s a good Amelia in Un ballo in maschera , a solid, if sometimes uncomfortable, Aida in Verdi’s opera, and her work in Leinsdorf’s Verdi Requiem is nothing to sneeze at, either; hearing that voice cut right through the chorus and orchestra near the end of the Libera me is a truly great moment, and I think it’s safe to say that she didn’t need help from the producer. Two details: no texts, and Norman Bailey, as Klingsor, makes a very brief appearance at the end of the Parsifal excerpt.


FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

1.
Parsifal: Dies Alles, hab' ich nun geträumt? by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Norman Bailey (Baritone), Helge Brilioth (Tenor), Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1882; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/1973 
2.
Die Walküre: Schläfst du, Gast? by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano), Helge Brilioth (Tenor)
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/1973 
3.
Rienzi: Gerechter Gott! by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  John Alldis Choir,  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1843; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/1971 
4.
Der fliegende Holländer: Jo-ho-joe! Traft ihr das Schiff by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  John Alldis Choir,  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841/1852; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/1971 
5.
Die Feen: Weh mir, so nah die fürchterlische Stunde by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Date of Recording: 07/1971 
6.
Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857-1858; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/1971 
7.
Tristan und Isolde: Act 1 Prelude by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1858; Germany 
Date of Recording: 09/1959 
8.
Tristan und Isolde: Weh, ach wehe! by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Grace Hoffman (Mezzo Soprano), Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; Germany 
Date of Recording: 09/1959 
9.
Tristan und Isolde: Mild und leise "Liebestod" by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; Germany 
Date of Recording: 09/1959 

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