Erich Kleiber
Coro y Orquesta del Teatro Colón Buenos Aires
2 September 1947
Teatro Colón Buenos Aires
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSet Svanholm
BrünnhildeAstrid Varnay
GuntherHerbert Janssen
GutruneRose Bampton
AlberichFred Destal
HagenEmanuel List
WaltrauteLydia Kindermann
WoglindeMafalda Rinaldi
WellgundeMaria de Benedictis
FloßhildeZaira Negroni
1. NornLydia Kindermann
2. NornZaira Negroni
3. NornRose Bampton
The Opera Quarterly

So many live recordings of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung have been issued that another hardly seems necessary. But this release demands attention in spite of the disfiguring cuts, imperfect orchestral playing, and sonic distortions of the original acetates. This 1947 Teatro Colón performance documents Astrid Varnay’s first performance of a role she was to repeat over a hundred times on world stages in the next twenty-five years. It also catches Set Svanholm’s Siegfried in fresh, assured voice. Above all, it enshrines Erich Kleiber’s magisterial reading of Wagner’s score.

Gebhardt’s reissue should be purchased only by owners of a CD player with a variable speed control, as the transfer is slightly but noticeably sharp. The faulty pitching affects the voices and distorts Kleiber’s interpretation. A tape taken from the original acetates was supplied by a South American dealer, Fabian Piscitelli, to the owners of the Eklipse and Walhall labels, who then shared it with Gebhardt. In an e-mail correspondence, Piscitelli informed this reviewer that the original tape was sharp because of the erratic speed of the original 78s, and he expressed dismay that Gebhardt’s engineers had not correctly pitched the performance before issuing it on compact disc. In response to an e-mail query, a Gebhardt spokesman claimed the label had used several sources for its CD of the performance; he added that Varnay was “very happy and satisfied with the results.” According to him, acetates of Buenos Aires performances on 78s are “very difficult to work with,” but “in view of the artistic value [of the Götterdämmerung] it [was] a must to release it for wide circulation.” Piscitelli subsequently tried to correct the variations in the speed of the original source for this performance. He has reissued his new version of the recording on four CDs, which can be ordered by visiting his Web site (www.piscitelli.com) or sending an e-mail query ([email protected]).

Gebhardt’s release has more consistent sound, even if it is pitched sharp. The German engineers have turned up the volume, enhancing the voices, and have attempted to equalize the balance between the singers and orchestra. The voices slip in and out of perspective depending on their stage position. Nevertheless, the Piscitelli release is more accurately pitched and gives a more honest account of this important performance. Therefore, this review is based primarily on the reissue.

Kleiber left few aural documents of his work in the opera house. This Götterdämmerung joins the studio and live recordings of Le nozze di Figaro, Fidelio, Der Freischütz, Tristan und Isolde, Der Rosenkavalier, and Daphne in his discography. (Other Kleiber performances from Buenos Aires—including a 1938 Rosenkavalier with Anny Konetzni and Risë Stevens and a 1939 Orfeo ed Euridice with Stevens and Janine Micheau—still await commercial release.) As for this Götterdämmerung, if one can listen beyond the imperfect playing of the orchestra and ignore the occasional sonic distortions—for some, this is a big “if”—one will discover a great conductor at work.

Kleiber leads a lithe, pliantly paced performance that catches both the lyricism and dramatic power of Wagner’s heroic score. Intently urging his musicians on, the conductor never sacrifices the long musical line for superficial effects. Lyrical portions blossom radiantly, and the dramatic climaxes, shrewdly built, emerge with whiplike intensity. It is a grandly scaled yet sensitive reading: for example, the Norns deliver their pronouncements as though they were singing lieder, the chamberlike orchestral fabric allowing Lydia Kindermann, Zaira Negroni, and Rose Bampton to engage in intimate dialogue. The music flows naturally, without exaggeration…

Robert Baxter | The Opera Quarterly 20.1 (2004) 145-148

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Media Type/Label
Gebhardt, OOA, HO, Line, OD
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Technical Specifications
234 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 384 MiB (flac)
A production by Otto Erhardt