Reviews

GHCD 2207/8/9 – SIEGFRIED – Wagner – Metropolitan Opera – 1937

Chorus and Orchestra Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera – Commentator – Milton Cross, Artur Bodansky – Conductor, Lauritz Melchior – Siegfried, Frederich Schorr – Wanderer, Kirsten Flagstad – Brünnhilde, Kerstin Thorborg – Erda, Karl Laufkoetter – Mime, Eduard Habich – Alberich, Emanuel List – Fanfer, Stella Andreva – Forest Bird

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CLASSICS TODAY

Wagner mavens with a nose for vintage opera broadcasts may have encountered this splendid Siegfried, aired January 30, 1937 live from the Metropolitan Opera, via earlier CD incarnations. I first acquired the performance on vinyl on Eddie Smith’s Golden Age of Opera label, and I envy those who are about to hear it for the first time. Your ears easily adjust to the surface noise of the original acetate airchecks and the occasional skewed balance between pit and stage, for there’s not one dud in the cast. Karl Laufkoetter reveals all of Mime’s pent-up anger and small-time scheming without resorting to caricature–he sings rather than cackles the music. Those who rightly admire Eduard Habich’s richly intoned, venomous Alberich in Das Rheingold (type Q67 in Search Reviews) won’t be surprised here. Emanuel List sings Fafner so eloquently that you almost feel sorry for his demise, rather than the other way around. At this stage in his career, Friedrich Schorr’s bass-baritone was less refulgent than it was a decade earlier, but the unassailable authority of his Wanderer leaps through the recalcitrant grooves, especially in his heated exchanges with Kerstin Thorborg’s rock-solid Erda. Even the obscure Stella Andreva delivers the Forest Bird’s directions with clarity and zest. What more can anyone add to all that’s been written about Lauritz Melchior’s legendary Siegfried? His vocalism is so secure, so free, so effortless that he can concentrate on character and mood. That goes against received opinion, which holds that Melchior is all singing, no acting. Not true at all: listen to how easily and organically he adjusts his tone to suit Siegfried’s abrupt mood swings, from defiant in the Forging Song to wistful in the lieder-like introspective passages in the second and third acts. He’s lost no freshness by the time he encounters Flagstad’s Olympian Brünnhilde in the final scene. The impeccable focus of her unique timbre (lighter than her darker post-war Brünnhilde) matches Melchior note for note. Artur Bodanzky’s lively podium work is effectively energetic if not always subtle, with particular distinction from the strings as Siegfried approaches his sleeping aunt-soon-to-be-bride on top of the mountain. Guild’s transfer smoothes out much of the surface scratch, with results that soften the edge of note attacks and compromise the singers’ overtones. For this reason I prefer Archipel’s non-interventionist transfer. At the same time, Guild’s engineers have corrected pitch inconsistencies between disc changes in the original source material that remain present in the Archipel edition, plus they include Milton Cross’ rather quaint announcements. Moreover, Guild’s excellent annotations and thorough credits provide important contextual information, including performance cuts. A must-hear for those smitten with golden-age Wagner singing.
Jed Distler