Das Rheingold

Herbert von Karajan
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
11 August 1951
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanSigurd Björling
DonnerWerner Faulhaber
FrohRobert Bernauer
LogeWalter Fritz
FasoltLudwig Weber
FafnerFriedrich Dalberg
AlberichHeinrich Pflanzl
MimePaul Kuën
FrickaIra Malaniuk
FreiaPaula Brivkalne
ErdaRuth Siewert
WoglindeElisabeth Schwarzkopf
WellgundeLore Wissmann
FloßhildeHertha Töpper

In Urania’s 24-bit/96 kHz transfer the murky but still listenable source tape for Herbert von Karajan’s 1951 Bayreuth Das Rheingold gains a pinch of high-end clarity, but not to the point that collectors should jettison previous CD editions. If you like Clemens Krauss’ vivid, dramatically ardent 1953 Bayreuth Rheingold, I suspect you’ll enjoy the young Karajan’s similarly fleet conception, which is even edgier and harder-hitting. Notice, for instance, the urgency with which Karajan propels the rising string passages accompanying Alberich as he begins to pursue the Rhinemaidens (so different from Knappertsbusch’s relatively sedate and uninflected treatment of the same passage in his Bayreuth Rheingolds); the menacing accents and primal brass snarls that introduce the giants Fasolt and Fafner; and the vivid, incisive accompaniments that jack up the stakes for the opera’s long conversational stretches.

There’s a genuine synergy between pit and stage that seems to inspire the singers to give their all. Even less-stellar talents such as Sigurd Björling (Wotan), Paula Brivkalne (Freia), and Walter Fritz (Loge) get swept up in the drama alongside Heinrich Pflanzl’s dark, malevolent Alberich, Ira Malaniuk’s focused, involved Fricka, and the great Ludwig Weber making the most of Fasolt’s genuine longings for love. Luxury casting gives us Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s silvery soprano dominating the Rhinemaidens just like Diana Ross’ hairdos upstaged the other Supremes. In sum, a fascinating document of Karajan’s theatrical prowess, but without the wonderful sonics and breathtaking orchestral refinement of his classic studio Rheingold on DG.

Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 4

Jed Distler

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Melodram, Myto, Urania, Line, Walhall Eternity, Hunt, OD, OOA, TOL
Technical Specifications
590 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 621 MByte (flac)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Wieland Wagner (1951)
The website from the Bayreuth festival states that Hanne Ludwig sang Fricka but according to Walter Legge notes who recorded the performance for EMI it was Ira Malaniuk who replaced Elisabeth Höngen.