Francesco Cristofoli
Den Jyske Operas Kor
Aarhus Symfoniorkester
6 September 1987
Musikhuset Aarhus
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedElliot Palay
BrünnhildeLaila Andersson-Palme
GuntherLars Waage
GutruneEva Johansson
AlberichJørgen Klint
HagenAage Haugland
WaltrauteMargrethe Danielsen
1. Norn?
2. Norn?
3. Norn?

A very serviceable Götterdämmerung, and from an unlikely source. This recording captures a staged performance of the work from Aarhus in Denmark on September 6, 1987. It’s not going to compete with the best, of course, but it offers a convincing musical interpretation and a cast that ranges from good to excellent. Mediocre recorded sound and some shaky orchestral playing stand against it, but there is much to enjoy here. The font sizes on the cover make clear the reason for this release: soprano Laila Andersson-Palme in the role of Brünnhilde. She is not a household name outside of Denmark, but she seems to have pursued a long and successful career there, taking lead roles in everything from Handel to Berg at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm and making a specialty of Wagner. Her performance here fully justifies the attention. Her tone is clear and strong, and well balanced across all registers. Diction is good, and she imparts a dramatic urgency to every line. But most impressive is her power and support, seemingly effortless, especially in the top register. A finely controlled vibrato completes the package—a stunning voice, and she is clearly captured here at the height of her powers.

Although Andersson-Palme leads from the top, there are no really weak links in the cast. American tenor Elliot Palay brings a deep, baritonal quality to the role of Siegfried, his sound a little hollow at times, but always on pitch and always dramatically engaging. Aage Haugland is little less secure as Hagen, but the sheer weight of his voice makes him a valuable asset, especially with his memorable “Hoi-ho!”s. As Gunther, Lars Waage is a bit wobbly and Italianate, though it suits the role. The Gutrune of Eva Johansson is underpowered, or sounds so in this weighty cast, but her tone is solid and focused, as is the mezzo of Margrethe Danielsen as Waltraute, although her matronly delivery hardly suits a valkyrie.

The orchestra gets off to a shaky start, but soon find their form. A more solid string tone could have brought the orchestral contribution up to the standard of the singing, although the lower brass are suitably menacing and dark. Though his name might suggest otherwise, Francesco Cristofoli (1932–2004) was apparently a Danish conductor and Wagner specialist, and also Intendant of the Aarhus Opera at the time of this recording. The liner tells us that a full Ring cycle from him was released on VHS in 1995, though that seems to have disappeared without trace, and he is otherwise remembered for a 1960 recording of HMS Pinafore from Copenhagen. His conducting here is engaged and dramatic, and particularly impressive for his keen communication with the singers. He sometimes lets the temperature drop, and some of the orchestral interludes lack drive, but the big climaxes are always exhilarating. Cristofoli brings a sense of breadth to the music that can make it seem slow, but at 248 minutes (I didn’t spot any cuts), he’s on a par with Boulez and faster than most others.

No excuses, then, for the bizarre disc breaks, with every act divided between two discs. Disc 2 begins at act I scene 3, disc 3 at “Einen Ring sah ich an deiner Hand” in act II scene 4, and disc 4 at Siegfried’s Funeral Music. There not too generous with the cuts either, just 26 tracks across the four discs. But otherwise the production values are good. The liner notes focus on Andersson-Palme, who spends much of the included interview complaining about Regietheater—not that it is a concern in this apparently traditional staging from director Klaus Hoffmeyer. There is also a libretto included, though it is curiously herniated from the packaging, too large to fit in the box, so attached just by the shrink wrap.

This seems to have been an in-house recording, and the audio isn’t too bad. We get a wide stereo array for the voices onstage, though they are sometimes distant—as is the back of the pit, especially the timpani. There is also some stage noise, but the audience is quiet. But the audio is never so bad as to be off-putting. An interesting release, then, and an unexpected addition to the Wagner discography. Primarily worth hearing for Laila Andersson-Palme—clearly a Wagnerian of some stature.

Gavin Dixon | Fanfare 41/6


Just a few months ago I reviewed a 2CD set with Laila Andersson-Palme, which included a substantial excerpt of her Brünnhilde in the final act of Die Walküre, recorded live in Aarhus, Denmark. Here comes from the same source a complete recording of Götterdämmerung, which certainly is a tempting companion piece. As so often with Sterling issues production values are high with photos from the performance, synopsis, artist biographies, a long interview with Laila Andersson and, in a separate 100 page booklet, the complete libretto with English translation. With such lavish presentation it is strange that neither the three Norns nor the three Rheinmaidens are listed, especially since they are so good. The stereo recording is excellent in every respect and, apart from some stage noise during Siegfried’s Rhine journey and applause at the end of acts, there is nothing extra-musical that disturbs the enjoyment of the performance. Den Jyske Opera, which is the Danish name of the company, has its base in Aarhus but is a touring company that covers all of Denmark in cooperation with five symphony orchestras. Their production of Wagner’s Ring cycle 1984 – 1987 was a great success and it has become legendary. Therefore it is pleasant to have this recording as a memorial of a great event.

Francesco Cristofoli, Danish born in spite of his name, studied conducting with Sergiu Celebidache and was for many years conductor at Den Jyske Opera and later also manager of the opera. Here he leads a taut performance that can put many a reading by more prestigious conductors in the shade. The playing of the orchestra is first class and the male chorus has all the heft needed. The cast is mainly home-grown – the exceptions being Swedish Laila Andersson-Palme as Brünnhilde and American Elliot Palay as Siegfried – but a couple of them had important international careers. Best known is probably the magnificent bass Aage Haugland, who appeared at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Met and Bayreuth and Eva Johansson, who for many years was engaged at Deutsche Oper in Berlin and made guest appearances worldwide, making her Met debut in 1998 as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Laila Andersson-Palme, whom I heard frequently from the early 1970s in roles from The Queen of the Night to Elektra and was a sensation as Lulu and later also as Marie in Wozzeck. I can’t remember hearing her in Wagner, and after listening to this recording I realise that I missed something important. Here in her mid-forties she has the perfect instrument for this repertoire: strength, brilliance and stamina – she sounds as fresh in the Immolation scene as she did in Zu neuen Taten five hours earlier. There have been many outstanding Wagnerian sopranos from the Nordic countries through the years: Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Aase Nordmo-Løvberg, Elisabeth Meyer-Topsøe, Katarina Dalayman and Nina Stemme – all with solid international careers. To this list Laila Andersson-Palme can now be added. Besides the vocal resources she is also deep inside the role.

So is Elliot Palay, whose tone can be rather bleating, but he has the strength and he has brilliance up high, where so many tenors in this role are lustreless or wobbly – sometimes both. He is also very skilled at changing his voice to a dark-coloured baritone when imitating Gunther. That rather ungrateful role is ably sung by Lars Waage. This meek character is possibly the least interesting in the whole Ring. Obviously there has to be something evil in a person to make him something more than a cardboard figure. Thus the scheming Alberich becomes so much more alive, well characterised by Jörgen Klint, the farmer turned opera singer – a parallel to Anthony Rolfe Johnson actually. Eva Johansson, quite early in her career, is well cast as Gutrune. The most towering character in this performance is however Aage Haugland’s sinister Hagen, a dream role for every black-voiced bass.

This performance must have been a thrilling experience in the theatre, but very much of the thrill also comes over to the listener via the atmospheric recording, which makes this a valuable documentation of legendary project thirty years ago as well as a musically substantial recording which can be enjoyed without any references to this specific occasion. I enjoyed this more than several more prestigious recordings I have heard.

Göran Forsling | March 2018

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Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 339 MByte (MP3)
A production by Klaus Hoffmeyer