Der Ring des Nibelungen

Rudolf Kempe
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
26 July 1960 (R), 27 July 1960 (W)
28 July 1960 (S), 30 July 1960 (G)
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


User Reviews
Mark Hood

Wolfgang Wagner’s first Bayreuth Ring Cycle would begin with the 1960 Festival and end in 1964.

His first decisions were to find his Musical Director and to dispense, wherever possible with the singers who had already so distinguished themselves in the great Ring Cycles of the 50s, principally Astrid Varnay, Wolfgang Windgassen and Hans Hotter.

This would ultimately prove impossible but a great many new faces appeared during this period.

Rudolf Kempe was appointed MD for the five years of Ring productions. He had great experience having conducted many productions in Dresden and then as MD in Munich until the mid-fifties. He then branched out conducting memorable productions of Tannhäuser, Tristan and Meistersinger at the MET in New York between 1955 and 1956 and more notably at Covent Garden in London conducting the Ring Cycles every year (except 1959) from 1955 until 1960. In fact, after finishing the 1960 Festival at Bayreuth at the end of August, he immediately traveled to London to conduct the Covent Garden Ring in September.

Kempe’s conducting of the Ring was assured, supple and infused with great clarity, while still retaining all the great dramatic moments contained in the score. Wolfgang Wagner’s next great decision was to announce a completely new Brünnhilde – Siegfried team of Birgit Nilsson and Hans Hopf.

Hopf would reliably carry his roles unflinchingly right through to 1964. Nilsson on the other hand, after the 1960 Ring, would only sing the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung roles as she did not want to sing Walküre and Siegfried on consecutive days, so Astrid Varnay, the Brunnhilde of choice since 1951, was drafted in to fill in the gaps. So only in 1960 do we hear Nilsson singing all three roles in sequence. By 1963, having taken on the role of Isolde the year before, Nilsson stopped singing Brünnhilde for a couple of years at Bayreuth so the roles were taken by Anita Valkki (W) and Astrid Varnay (S&G).

If this was problematic enough in providing consistency, consider the greater problem of casting the roles of Wotan/Wanderer.

There were always two Ring cycles during this period, but the Bavarian Radio broadcasts were mainly from the first cycle, so the myth of completely new casting was maintained until 1963, but the reality is quite different.

1960 Both Cycles – Wotan(R) Hermann Uhde, Wotan(W) Jerome Hines, Wanderer Hermann Uhde.

1961 1st Cycle – Wotan (R & W) Jerome Hines, Wanderer James Milligan
2nd Cycle – Wotan (R & W) Hans Hotter, Wanderer James Milligan

1962 Both Cycles – Wotan/Wanderer Otto Wiener

1963 Ist Cycle – Wotan (R) Theo Adam, Wotan (W) Hans Hotter, Wanderer Otto Wiener
2nd Cycle – Wotan (R) Theo Adam, Wotan(W) Jerome Hines, Wanderer Otto Wiener

1964 Both Cycles – Wotan (R & W) Theo Adam. Wanderer Hubert Hofmann

By 1964 Rudolf Kempe had also given up and the Ring would be conducted by Berislav Klobucar.

After 1960, Hermann Uhde and Bayreuth parted company rather unamicable, because Uhde felt that he had earned the chance to sing all the Wotans, especially having bailed out the 1960 production. After arriving at Bayreuth in 1960, Hines had not fully learned the Rheingold Wotan and refused to tackle the Wanderer role, Uhde stepped in and ably managed both roles. While his is not quite the type of voice expected for these roles, he does carry them off well. It was the end of a long and distinguished relationship between Uhde and Bayreuth, beginning in 1951 at the first post-war festival and ending 10 years later, He would die of a heart attack on stage at the Copenhagen Opera in 1965 at the ridiculously early age of 41.

The casting of Siegmund went to Wolfgang Windgassen, a role he sang relatively rarely as it lay a little low for his voice. He had only once before sung this role at Bayreuth, in 1956 and then as a substitute for another tenor. One does not hear this in his performance which is exceptional. He would never sing the role again at Bayreuth, the following years of this production, the role would be taken by Fritz Uhl.

For the three main villains of the Ring, Alberich, Hunding and Hagen, Bayreuth excelled itself in casting Otakar Kraus and Gottlob Frick.

Kraus had been singing Alberich at Covent Garden since 1951 and since 1955 with Kempe as well. In fact, Kempe was responsible for getting Kraus invited to Bayreuth. He was, according to all who saw him, the greatest Alberich of them all, the consummate actor with the wonderfully malevolent tone of voice, his Alberich was a magnificent achievement.

Gottlob Frick, “the blackest Bass in Germany” said Wilhelm Furtwängler, had the most distinctive voice, dark, evil sounding in timbre, and his characterizations of Hunding and Hagen are one of the vocal highlights of this Ring.

Birgit Nilsson sang as only she could, her diamond hard timbre, and superb technique were perfectly matched for the roles of Brünnhilde. She had already been singing the roles in London and elsewhere so she was fully developed by the time she brought them to Bayreuth.

Hans Hopf had a long and successful career, which encompassed all the Wagner roles. He began at Bayreuth in 1951 as Walther in Die Meistersinger and by 1960, he was one of only two world class Siegfrieds extant at that time (Windgassen was the other). A true heldentenor with a seemingly inexhaustible stamina, but with a timbre not to everyone’s liking. Would that we had his voice today! He would continue for five years singing these two roles with distinction.

Other voices of great merit making their debut at Bayreuth in this production were

Hertha Töpper as the two Frickas (a great stalwart for many years at the Munich Opera)
Grace Hoffman as Waltraute
Ingrid Bjöner as Freia and Gutrune (a future Brünnhilde and another asset of the Munich Opera)
Herold Kraus as the two Mime’s (a longtime member of the Düsseldorf Opera)
Aase Nordmo-Lövberg as Sieglinde and the 3rd Norn.
Thomas Stewart as Donner and Gunther (a future Wotan of distinction)

This then is a bit of a curate’s egg of a Ring Cycle – good/very good in parts.

Kempe was very distrustful of the Festspielhaus acoustic, and like many before or since, tried to have parts of the shell over the orchestra pit removed, without success.

Consequently, his conducting was less assured than normal. He tried to cancel his contract with Bayreuth but was persuaded to return and 1961 would bring the triumph that he so richly deserved.

One anomaly, this Ring comprises the Rheingold (26th July), Siegfried (28th) and Götterdämmerung (30th) of the first Cycle given at Bayreuth that year. The Walküre issued by Myto (Melodram) is from the second cycle with Astrid Varnay as Brünnhilde.

The mastertapes were taken from BR in 1979 without checking that the Walküre was actually the 2nd cycle (17th August). The cycle was issued and re-issued many times on LP and CD always with the wrong date (27 July) of the Walküre performance thus compounding the error. It is still sold that way today.

Only thanks to a BBC broadcast in October 1960 do we have the first cycle Walküre (27th July) with Nilsson as Brünnhilde. The only time she sang all three roles without rest days between Walküre and Siegfried. Although a mastertape is held by BR, it has never been released officially.

For the 1961 festival, Nilsson refused to sing the Walküre as there was no rest day between it and Siegfried, Varnay sang Walküre, Nilsson the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

By the time Nilsson came to sing Wieland Wagner’s new Ring production in 1965, an extra rest day was inserted between Walküre and Siegfried for the very first time at the Bayreuth Festival thus Nilsson sang all three Brünnhildes.

So, a very interesting Ring Cycle in excellent sound and with many new voices.

On to 1961.

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Media Type/Label
GM, OD, Pan, PO
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Technical Specifications
342 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 2.1 GiB (flac)
Broadcasts from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Wolfgang Wagner (premiere)
The Melodram (and the GM) release contains Die Walküre from August 17, 1960 (with A. Varnay) instead of the performance from July 27 (with B. Nilsson) though the booklet states it’s a release of the complete first Ring from July 26-30 which is false.