Das Rheingold

Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
16 December 1961
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanGeorge London
DonnerNorman Mittelmann
FrohRobert Nagy
LogeKarl Liebl
FasoltJerome Hines
FafnerErnst Wiemann
AlberichRalph Herbert
MimePaul Kuën
FrickaIrene Dalis
FreiaHeidi Krall
ErdaJean Madeira
WoglindeMartina Arroyo
WellgundeRosalind Elias
FloßhildeMignon Dunn
Musical America

The Metropolitan launched its first Ring cycle since the season of ’56-’57 with an admirable performance of “Das Rheingold” (uncut and without an intermission, as Wagner wanted it) on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 16, under that devoted and eloquent Wagnerian, Erich Leinsdorf.

Since the Ring stands alone in the operatic literature, unique in its grandiose dimensions, its spiritual and emotional scope, its incredible workmanship and detail, no opera house of the first rank can afford to be long without it.

And in an era notorious for superficiality, impatience, and instability of taste, it was heartening to find a capacity audience listening with profound absorption. Much of the credit for this must go to Mr. Leinsdorf, who is giving these masterpieces uncut and with faith in their intrinsic majesty and beauty. Nor should the superb Metropolitan Opera Orchestra go unpraised.

The distinguished German tenor Paul Kuen made his debut at this performance in a role for which he is famous-Mime. All of the rest of the cast were new to their roles at the Metropolitan, with the exception of Mr. Hines, Miss Madeira and Miss Elias.

Mr. London’s “Rheingold” Wotan was an original conception. He revealed the God’s all-too-human qualities unsparingly and almost went too far in his psychological realism. Vocally, his impeccable diction and musical intelligence were always in evidence, though one missed a certain majesty of tone. Mr. Mittelmann and Mr. Nagy fulfilled their tasks capably.

Mr. Liebl’s Loge was a striking and probing characterization, and beautifully sung. In make-up, movement, gesture and inflection he pointed up the malice and cleverness of this teutonic Mephistopheles. Mr. Herbert made a dramatically fearsome figure of Alberich, but his voice was unable to achieve more than song speech in some passages. Mr. Kuen, as I had expected, was superb.

Like Mr. Hines’s Fasolt, Mr. Wiemann’s Fafner was a vivid and convincing giant. Miss Dalis was almost too handsome and attractive a Fricka, but, with her customary intelligence, made Fricka’s indictment of Wotan’s lust for wealth and power prophetically ominous. Miss Krall was visually as well as vocally an attractive Freia.

Miss Madeira’s huge voice was right for Erda, but she should have sung her mysterious warning less sensuously and more majestically. The three singing Rhine Maidens sounded as fascinating as the three ballet girls looked, swimming about under the Rhine on invisible cables.

Mr. Merrill’s direction was very sensible, except for the clouds of steam that billow out into the house; and the Lee Simonson sets for Das Rheingold are his only satisfying Ring designs.

Robert Sabin


The was the start of the first Met Ring cycle for four years; the distinguished cast was mostly new, with the exception of Hines, Madeira and Elias but the production dated back to 1948. Paul Kuen was making his Met debut, while George London was making singing Wotan for the first time on stage. He had of course been singing at the Met since 1951 and had recorded Wotan for Solti in 1958. Even the trio of Rhinedaughters were either already stars or soon to become so, including such names as a young Martina Arroyo as Woglinde. Leinsdorf continues to be under-rated as a Wagner conductor, and indeed in general; recording of Die Walküre made the same year as this performance continues to be my prime recommendation and you may hear Pristine’s excellent remastering of his superb account of that opera starring Melchior in 1940, which I reviewed.

This performance was sung in accordance with Wagner’s wishes, straight through without a break and proceeds with great impetus. It begins with Milton Cross’ introduction, then the clarity and warmth of the reprocessed sound is immediately startling: rich in the bass and exceptionally detailed, every strand of the instrumentation prominent. The microphones were obviously well positioned. The twenty-six-year-old Arroyo’s vibrant soprano is instantly recognisable, as are the warmer lower voices of her two sisters, but Ralph Herbert is merely competent, being a rather dull-voiced Alberich, lacking the snarl and bite of the best. He simply has the wrong voice for the role and his sneezing and “ho-ho-ing” are a bit stagey, too – and I’m not sure why, having nabbed the ring, he gives us two valedictory versions of the latter, one apparently backstage and one up close. However, he by no means undermines the impact of the performance as a whole.

The coughing during the lovely brass introduction to Scene 2 is annoying but the playing is lovely. In my estimation, no singer ever had a voice better suited to portray Wotan than George London, and he is here in his absolute prime before his enforced, premature retirement at 46. “Hehrer, herrlicher Bau!” is thrilling. Dalis’ Fricka is a real presence: insistent without being shrewish, and the giants are a mightily imposing pair. I had expected Jerome Hines to impress as Fasolt, but Ernst Wiemann, previously unknown to me, is, if anything, even more commanding. Robert Nagy is an excellent Froh and Heldentenor Karl Liebl makes a Loge firmer and more virile than usual, bright and incisive of voice – the best I have heard. Note, too, how the strings sing through Loge’s Narration, track 12; Leinsdorf knows how to bring out the lyrical aspects of Wagner’s score as well as engender excitement. Heidi Krall, who famously substituted for an ailing Zinka Milanov in Bruno Walter’s live, 1959 Verdi Requiem, makes a febrile, affecting Freia.

The sound for the forging scene where Wotan and Loge trick Alberich is really atmospheric, the enslaved Nibelungs’ screams are chilling and Kuen is an ideal Mime. Jean Madeira is vast of voice, stentorian of utterance and suitably sibylline; her brief appearance is a highlight Norman Mittelmann’s Donner is firm and ringing and his hammer-stroke makes a proper impact. London is as dominant in the concluding passage, as the gods trop over the Rainbow Bridge into Valhalla, as he is for Solti and, if anything, Liebl’s Loge is stronger than Svanholm’s.

What an experience it must have been to be in the audience that evening to hear such an ensemble perform the first work in Wagner’s tetralogy almost to perfection.

Ralph Moore | November 2018

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Media Type/Label
Lyric Distribution, Pristine
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Technical Specifications
664 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 684 MiB (flac)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Herbert Graf (1948)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.