Rafael Kubelík
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
8 March 1974
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedJess Thomas
BrünnhildeBirgit Nilsson
GuntherThomas Stewart
GutruneNell Rankin
AlberichMarius Rintzler
HagenBengt Rundgren
WaltrauteMignon Dunn
WoglindeMary Ellen Pracht
WellgundeMarcia Baldwin
FloßhildeBatyah Godfrey Ben-David
1. NornLili Chookasian
2. NornMignon Dunn
3. NornNell Rankin
New York Times

Kubelik Gives Wagner Poetic Coloration; Miss Nilsson Thrills in Immolation Scene

About a half dozen years after it started, the Metropolitan Opera has finally brought its new “Ring” cycle to a close. Last night “Gotterdammerung” was staged, and it followed, more or less, the lines of the previous three operas of the Wagner cycle. It was based on Herbert von Karajan’s version, with sets and projections by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen, staged by Wolfgang Weber, and with costumes by George Wakhevitch.

And Birgit Nilsson sang Brunnhilde.

The great soprano had injured herself earlier in the week during a rehearsal, falling and dislocating a shoulder. There was much speculation, of course, whether she could make it by Friday. She did, her right arm in a sling, covered by a cape. Nilsson the Indestructible sang magnificently. More of that anon.

The new production is, loosely, neo-Bayreuth. That means a prevailingly dark stage, a tilted turntable, and addles of symbolism. In this “Gotterdammerung,” which anyway is the most “realistic” of the “Ring” operas, there was a more naturalistic approach than in the previous ones. There was no turntable in the hall of the Gibichungs to be accurate, elements of the turntable were on the side. The hall seemed carved from a cavern, lacking only stalactites.

Outside the hall it was all Stonehenge. Costumes were curious and may have left some members of the audience in a state of culture shock. For the final scene, for instance, Gunther’s torchbearers were dressed in something out of Isis and Osiris, a long way from heroic hunting and fighting society of Wagner’s world. On the stage, dominating the hall of the Gibichungs, was something that looked vaguely bipedalian-a huge, bifurcated rocklike formation. More symbolism? Maybe. Or maybe not.

We expect this kind of stuff from modern “Ring” stagings, and there were really no unexpected ideas. And, with Miss Nilsson and Jess Thomas as the leading singers, there were no surprises there either. But there was an unknown quantity in the pit. Rafael Kubelik, conducting his first “Gotterdammerung” anywhere, was in the pit. It was an interesting performance that he conducted.

His tempos were slow and perhaps lacking in tension. But there was an unusual degree of orchestral color, much nuance in the playing, and a much steadier rhythm than the conductor had shown previously in “Les Troyens.” In its way, it was beautiful. Erich Leinsdorf has given us a sharply contoured, objective, strong “Ring.” Mr. Kubelik, if he conducts the others this way, will be giving us a more poetic one.

It was the first “Gotterdammerung” Siegfried that Mr. Thomas has sung at the Metropolitan, but he has sung the “Siegfried” title role and his performance last night was of the standard he previously has set. That means clear, intelligent, smooth singing; sympathetic acting; stylish musicianship.

Miss Nilson was white hot last night. She got stronger as she went along, and the “Immolation” scene was thrilling in its power and pure focus. The soprano seemed eager to show the audience that a little thing like a dislocated shoulder and perhaps a few bent ribs meant nothing to her, a real Valkyrie. She continues to be a marvel, and one can do no more than stand off and admire her with awe.

Bengt Rundgren, a Swedish bass, made his debut as Hagen. He is a giant of a man but does not have a voice to match; it is a little weak on top and bottom. He is an imposing figure on stage, of course, and acted with intensity. Another debut saw the Rumanian bass, Marius Rintzler, as Alberich. He sounded like a well-routined singer, but other roles will give a better indication of what he can do.

Thomas Stewart was a forceful Gunther. He sang with more freedom than he recently has, and his characterization was thought all the way through. There was some doubling in the cast — a sign of the financial times? Mignon Dunn was fine as the Second Norn and Waltraute; and Nell Rankin sang a competent Third Norn and Gutrune. The three Rhine Maidens-Mary Ellen Pracht, Marcia Baldwin and Batyah Godfrey-sang more sweetly and with better ensemble than the usual run. The opera, incidentally, was presented uncut. It started at 6:30 and ended just under the, wire around midnight.

Harold C. Schonberg

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
256 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 459 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Herbert von Karajan (premiere; Herbert von Karajan did not come to New York to stage this production. He had directed Götterdämmerung at the 1970 Salzburg Easter Festival, and his staging, with some necessary modifications, was replicated in New York by Wolfgang Weber.)