Der fliegende Holländer

Antal Doráti
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
August 1960
Walthamstow Town Hall London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandGiorgio Tozzi
SentaLeonie Rysanek
ErikKarl Liebl
MaryRosalind Elias
Der Steuermann DalandsRichard Lewis
Der HolländerGeorge London

This has always been a set notable for Leonie Rysanek’s Senta. On stage, she was the most compelling soprano in the role that I have ever heard; in the studio she couldn’t quite equal the intensity she brought to her portrayal of the role at Bayreuth and elsewhere. But some of the same singleminded dedication is to be caught here, along with that gleaming top register of hers and haunted quality in her piano singing, notable in the Ballad. She is partnered by the powerful Hollander of George London, not always a subtle artist, not always perfectly in tune, but projecting in darkhued tones the Dutchman’s agony of soul. Tozzi is an uninteresting Daland, Liebl a mellifluous Erik, his contribution surpassed only by Schunk on the new Bayreuth set (Philips 416 300-1PH3; (D 416 300-2PH2, 8/86). The main drawback to this set is the pedantic, too cautious conducting of Dorati, and the less than ideal playing and singing of the Covent Garden forces. The set has been remastered, but the sound is far from ideal; rather distant echoey voices, a rather shallow orchestra. Even at medium price, I can’t recommend this above the Philips. I wish Decca had made available again the Keilberth version from Bayreuth with Uhde and Varnay. Perhaps its sound precludes its reappearance, but I find its theatre acoustic more acceptable than what I hear here. A.B.

Corliss Phillabaum

The cast list on this 1961 studio recording is so promising that it is especially disappointing that the performance has been sabotaged by the recording engineers. George London and Leonie Rysanek were noted for their performances as the Dutchman and Senta and the supporting cast is well qualified. Antal Dorati was rarely conducting opera at this point in his career and it shows, there is a lack of the sense of an overall arc to the performance but it does have some exciting moments. However the recording dates from the beginning of attempts at creating a sense of staging in a studio recording and cannot match the success of such efforts as John Culshaw’s Ring operas. (The original recording was made by Decca for release by RCA Victor. The producer was from RCA but it isn’t clear if Culshaw’s crack engineering team was involved.) According to the notes from the producer, the stereo Astaging was modeled a recent staging at the Metropolitan Opera which had featured the same leads. This idea seems to have been taken literally and the orchestra has been placed in the foreground (theatre pit position?) while the singers are well in the background and shrouded in a haze of resonance. As a result the voices have little impact and words are lost in the mush. London and Rysanek seem to be in good voice but they also seem to be a long way from the listener. Not recommended.

Antal Dorati is without doubt one of the most recorded in the history of recorded music, though he set down little opera – the Philips series of Haydn operas, Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena – and of Wagner a couple of discs with orchestral excerpts. Generally speaking, he wasn’t a man of the opera house – though I once heard him in a concert performance of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle – but the way he moulds the phrases in the overture and conjures up Wagner’s visions of the roaring North Sea, leaves us in no doubt that here is a conductor who has the full measure of the young Wagner’s romantic idiom. The crystal clear but integrated recording allows us to hear every orchestral detail, and at the same time be embedded in the homogenous sound of the Covent Garden Orchestra. The playing is marvellous, and I don’t believe that Dorati had conducted them very often, maybe never, before. The chorus, whether we hear the male voices of the sailors or the female ones in the spinning scene or the full chorus, are also on their toes for their temporary maestro – and this is one of the great choral operas.

Maestro Dorati isn’t let down by his soloists either, quite the contrary. The cast was entirely made up of singers who had recently worked together in this opera at the Metropolitan Opera, and that certainly pays dividends. Far from pushing together six individuals, being flown in from various directions and sometimes even popping in individually and singing duets with pre-recorded tapes – this happened not infrequently in those “good old days” – we hear an integrated ensemble with recent stage experience. This is the closest we can get to a live experience, but without the drawbacks of the live event: stage noises, bad balance, audience noises, false entries. Moreover, they were all in excellent form. Some commentators in the past have stated that George London’s upcoming voice problem – a paralyzed vocal cord – can be anticipated here. However, he turned forty during 1960, and it was not until the 1963/64 season the problem went acute and eventually led to his ending his career at age 46. And even earlier than 1960 there was a certain gruffness in his tone, which is not unbecoming for a seafarer like the Dutchman. His opening monologue, initially fairly distant, is truly magnificent, when he expresses both his sorrow and his anger, with such feeling and inwardness that it is difficult to imagine it better sung. Hans Hotter may be in the same division, but Norman Bailey on the Solti recording, for all his virtues, can’t measure up with him, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, for all his verbal acuity, lacks the black weightiness of tone, his rather tenoral baritone far too light compared to London’s genuine bass-baritone. This is of course not an isolated phenomenon in the monologue but permeates the whole performance. Leonie Rysanek’s Senta is also superb. In fact, I don’t believe I have heard her in better shape anywhere. She is steady, her tone is brilliant, and she has almost incredible strength. Her ballad is, as it should be, a highlight and overall she is totally involved.

The rest of the cast have less to do, but Giorgio Tozzi is one of the best Dalands on disc: warm, rounded tone and he is uncommonly youthful. Whether this is a drawback is a moot point. Erik’s role is rather ungrateful, but Karl Liebl does what he can. His is not the most ingratiating of tenor voices but he is an able singer and actor. His recorded output is meagre. Besides this Holländer he took part in an extended compact version of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for Concert Hall some years earlier, where he was a very likeable Walther von Stoltzing. He may be best remembered for a performance of Tristan und Isolde at the Metropolitan in New York in 1959, where Birgit Nilsson sang opposite three tenors, one in each act. The other two were Ramon Vinay and Albert da Costa. Richard Lewis is a good Steuermann and Rosalind Elias is classy casting as Mary.

All in all, this newly refurbished Holländer can now, despite being made over 60 years ago, make claims to be the recommended version of this oft-recorded opera.

Göran Forsling | April 2022

In einem fernen Land

Nella meritoria iniziativa della Urania di riproporre in edizioni a prezzo economico ma di alta qualità tecnica alcune storiche incisioni del catalogo Decca tocca ora a questa produzione di “Der Fliegende Holländer” a suo tempo mitica per i prodigi tecnici messi in campo dalla casa discografica londinese ma rimasta ancor oggi una delle migliori esecuzioni del primo capolavoro wagneriano.

Ottimamente riversata in questa riedizione e presentata con un’accattivante copertina di sapore decisamente dark che sicuramente saprà incuriosire anche un pubblico più giovane e meno solito con questo repertorio permette di apprezzare al meglio le virtuosistiche incisioni originali e certe soluzioni – seppure ormai acquisite e prive della portata rivoluzionaria che avevano in origine – continuano ad avere un notevolissimo effetto ad ogni ascolto: il rumore della catena dell’ancora all’arrivo del vascello dell’olandese, i turbinare degli arcolai all’inizio del II atto, la strepitosa architettura sonora nel confronto fra i cori all’inizio del III tutto contribuisce a creare fortissime sensazioni, a dare l’impressione di un autentico teatro di suoni, non visibile, ma non per questo meno vivo e reale.

Pur privi del prestigio e dello stemma di wagnerianità di altre compagini i complessi del Covent Garden si dimostrano pienamente all’altezza delle richieste sia per la parte orchestrale che per quella corale – solo il coro delle ragazze all’inizio del II atto mostra qualche imperfezione – e assecondano in pieno l’originale lettura del direttore ungherese. Dorati infatti da all’opera un taglio per l’epoca decisamente originale, pur senza sacrificare nulla in fatto di potenza e terribilità di suono il suo “Der Fliegende Holländer” recupera una dimensione cantabile e lirica presente nella scrittura wagneriana ma quasi sempre dimenticata nelle esecuzioni storiche tutte portate a ricostruire una tellurica grandezza a scapito di una scrittura di suo spesso alquanto delicata in molti punti; Dorati invece evidenzia al pieno la cantabilità della partitura, l’abbandono melodico di diversi momenti, il legame ancora forte con un gusto di matrice italiana ancora alquanto evidente.

La compagnia di canto segue inoltre molto bene le idee del direttore così che – forse per la prima volta con tanta chiarezza – la dimensione profondamene umana di “Der Fliegende Holländer” veniva a prevalere su quella titanica e demoniaca.

Magnifico protagonista George London, il baritono canadese offre una lettura per molti aspetti insuperata dell’Olandese, la voce di suo è bellissima e raramente si ascolta una materiale naturalmente tanto privilegiato, timbro bellissimo caldo e corposo, facilità e omogeneità su tutta la gamma, acuti corposi e ricchi di squillo – inutile dire quanto il ruolo guadagni al riguardo cantato da un vero baritono drammatico anziché da un bass-baritone – il tutto unito ad un canto sempre morbido in cui non ci sono scappatoie ma tutto è sempre risolto nel canto e mai contro di esso. L’interprete è poi straordinario, mai prima di lui l’Olandese era stata figura tanto sofferta e torturata, la voce morde la linea ma senza sacrificare mai una naturalezza che si fa simbolo stesso della natura intimamente umana del personaggio; il grande monologo del primo atto cessa così di essere l’epifania di un Dio delle tempeste per diventare l’espressione di un dolore profondo e intimo così come terribilmente umano e lo sgomento di fronte al presunto tradimento di Senta nel III atto. Una figura quindi in cui la statura autenticamente eroica è raggiunta proprio nel riconoscimento della propria umanità e del bisogno di superarne i limiti e non nella negazione di essa e il pensiero non può che correre all’Ulisse dantesco nella sua umanissima brama di conoscenza dell’infinito. Un’interpretazione quella di London destinata a rimanere imperitura negli annali delle esecuzioni wagneriane.

Il resto del cast non ha la statura del baritono canadese ma resta uno dei migliori mai messi insieme per quest’opera. La Rysanek realizza con Senta uno dei personaggi per cui verrà più ricordata; certo l’intonazione non è sempre perfettamente a posto e gli acuti tendono ad essere fin troppo fissi però la voce è di rara solidità e il personaggio pienamente riuscito nel suo clima di esaltazione quasi psicotica ma cui è sempre sottesa una profonda femminilità. Tozzi è un Daland ottimamente cantato, uno dei pochi a far pienamente intendere la natura ancora tutta italiana della sua vocalità e la sua natura quasi di basso buffo che emerge con chiarezza ad esempio nel duetto con Senta e che Tozzi, grande specialista dell’opera italiana rende al meglio. Di impetuosa giovinezza anche se non sempre impeccabile sul piano tecnico l’Erik di Karl Lieb e autentico lusso le parti di fianco con una cantante di prima grandezza come Rosalind Elias nei panni di Mery e addirittura Richard Lewis, l’indimenticabile Idomeneo di Glyndebourne con Pritchard come timoniere.

Living Horus Review

By 1960 Decca’s exploration of the new medium of stereo was in full swing. This recording of Richard Wagner’s Die Fliegender Hollander is captured in atmospheric, classic Decca sound of the era, complete with convincing sound effects that add substantially to the overall aural picture.
Couple this with the performances of two superlative Wagnerian singers captured at the early peak of their careers and you have a recording that stands the test of time.
In a career tragically cut short as a result of a paralysed vocal chord, George London left his mark on many of the important roles for bass-baritone, the Dutchman among them. His glorious, dark tone suits the character’s supernatural aspect well and while being slightly off-pitch occasionally in this recording, this minor shortfall aside he is one of the most memorable Hollander’s on disc.
Die Frist ist um is beautifully constructed, rising from sepulchral depths to something that evokes great drama and insight. It’s glorious and dark, a hugely evocative piece of thrilling singing.
London has this uncanny ability to support his heroine with great delicacy and the love duet is absolutely divine. This is a remarkable achievement and a performance that deserves returning to again and again, testament to a remarkable talent.
It’s been said that the smoky tones of the soprano voice of Leonie Rysanek make her sound too mature for the part. I say that this adds considerably to her portrayal of a slightly unhinged Senta which works successfully on many subtle levels.
Rysanek’s exceptional account of the Ballad, even at such a slow tempo as Dorati commands, is not only a highlight of this recording, but in my mind one of the best available. In fact, here Dorati’s slow tempo serves to enhance the dreamlike and introverted aspects of Senta’s character, at her inability to connect with those around her.
One of the glories of Rysanek’s interpretation are her golden high notes. She is secure and hurls them out seemingly with great abandon, yet with immense control, in particularly as the opera reaches its conclusion. This is one of the most satisfying interpretations of Senta on disc and stands as a lesson to all who come after.
In the love duet with the Hollander she reaches moments of intense pathos. On the words Wonach mit sehnsucht es dich treibt my heart breaks everytime, it is simply the most divine expression of Senta’s love I have heard.
As Senta’s father, Daland, Giorgio Tozzi uses his impressive bass to great effect. Aptly scheming when he meets the Dutchman, he presents a solid characterisation aided by a most impressively varied vocal colour. Tozzi shows his versatility across many repertoires, demonstrating he is equally at home in German as well as Italian.
As Eric, Karl Leibl is honey-toned and suitably ardent. His Italianate tone suits the music beautifully and in Act Two his duet with Senta comes across passionately. A few inarticulate grupettas aside in the Act Three Cavatina however, this is a solid portrayal.
A piece of luxury casting from the era is the Steersman of Richard Lewis. Mit Gewitter und Sturm aus fernem Meer is sweetly sung and with humour. He could quite easily have been cast as Eric, his heroic tone scaled down nicely for the Steersman.
Rosalind Elias is a mature and stern sounding Mary, leading the spinners in Act 2 with the style she was renowned for. It’s a relatively small role but her commitment is admirable.
While Antal Dorati’s tempos are on the slow side, he never lets his concentration waver and as a result the ensuing reading is full of tension and atmosphere. He reveals the lyrical side of the score and the influence of Beethoven and Weber are highly evident in this early work of Wagner’s, particularly in the orchestral accompaniment.
The Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, directed by Douglas Robinson are involved and turn in a performance as good is the rest of the combined forces. They provide some lusty singing by sailor’s, ghosts and girls alike. Special mention to the Ladies and their excellent Spinning Chorus. The ensemble is particularly good in Act Three where things take a dangerous turn and the crowd turns on Senta.
Aided by some beautiful sonic staging by the Decca engineers, moments like the approach of the Hollander’s ship in Act One, the Spinning Chorus in Act Two and the crowd scenes in Act Three add to the drama and stage picture greatly without being distracting or overwhelming.
I have to admit to admiring this recording greatly. It’s a rewarding experience overall with one of the strongest casts on disc and some beautiful direction. This one Hollander to enjoy over and over again and I consider it vital to any collection of Wagner’s musical legacy.
Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fünfzehn Jahre früher, nämlich 1962, hatte Decca bereits einen Stereo-“Holländer” aufgenommen, und zwar unter der Leitung von Antal Dorati mit dem Chor und Orchester des Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Die Stärke dieser Aufnahme liegt darin, dass sie über das wohl kompletteste Sängerteam verfügt – allesamt erstklassige Wagner-Stimmen. Leonie Rysanek klingt als Senta ausgeglichener und höhensicherer als Astrid Varnay (und auf jeden Fall angenehmer), aber auch souveräner als Anja Silja, Janis Martin oder Marianne Schech, die sich mit dieser Rolle jeweils an ihrer Fachgrenze bewegen. Auch Rysanek gelingt es allerdings nicht, in Sentas großer Ballade eine Zwanzigjährige darzustellen – genauso wenig wie so viele ihrer reifen Rollenkolleginnen. Giorgio Tozzi stellt einen etwas schmierigen und ziemlich witzigen Daland auf die Bühne, der hervorragend bei Stimme ist. George London singt den Holländer mit tiefschwarzem, mächtigem Heldenbariton; träge strömt sein Singen dahin und gaumig und hohl klingt es. Dieser imponierende Holländer, ähnlich fremdartig und dämonisch wie Hermann Uhdes, ist allenfalls unter dem Aspekt vokaler Finessen anfechtbar. Doratis Aufnahme hat kaum Schwächen und Ausfälle, deshalb wird sie wohl auch so oft als “Referenzeinspielung” genannt – trotz relativ zäher Tempi. Die Klangqualität dieser fast fünfzig Jahre alten Aufnahme ist recht gut.

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Decca, RCA Victor
Decca, Urania, HDTT
Get this Recording
Donate $5 to download flac
Technical Specifications
669 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 698 MByte (flac)
Antal Dorati’s only complete Wagner opera recording