Der Ring des Nibelungen

Reginald Goodall
English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra
March 1975 (R), December 1975 (W)
August 1973 (S), August 1977 (G)
Coliseum London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre



When I heard that Chandos Records had bought EMI’s tapes of Reginald Goodall’s Ring cycle—the only recording of the work sung in English—and remastered them for release in its Opera in English series, I was interested on several counts.

First, of course, was The Language Problem: Though I’ve heard fine performances in English of other operas originally composed in Italian or German, the works of Wagner had always seemed least amenable to translation. After all, Wagner composed music dramatically sensitive to each syllable of his German text, which he also wrote; no translation, I thought, even Andrew Porter’s (the one used here), could hope to approximate such a close wedding of music to text.

Second, there is some damn fine vocalizing in this cycle, recorded live back in the mid-’70s—otherwise dark days indeed for Wagner singing. I wondered if, a decade after the last time I’d heard it, these mostly British voices would still sound as good.

Third, Chandos is making much of their 24-bit digital remastering of these recordings. I remembered that none of the previous US incarnations—two on vinyl (EMI, Musical Heritage), one on CD (EMI)—had boasted very good sound, and that the CD version of Siegfried had never been released here at all.

Issue #4 was Reginald Goodall himself, a shy, retiring second-string conductor at Covent Garden who, once given free rein with Wagner by the Sadler’s Wells Opera (later the English National Opera), proved to be one of the best things to have happened to the composer since Hans Knappertsbusch. But Goodall was notorious for the glacial pace of his performances—even slower than Kna’s—in works that, at an average of four hours each in most conductors’ hands, were already tests of operagoers’ endurance.

So, by the numbers:

1) The Language Problem is not one. Translator Porter’s plasticity of phrasing reads, sings, and sounds to me much better than it did a quarter century ago, or I am now far less doctrinaire a Wagnerite, or both. Whatever. It works—even for this (rusty) German speaker, who came to the language through Wagner rather than the other way around, and on whom Wagner’s thorny, terminally alliterative Stabreim (a challenge even for native German speakers) is deeply imprinted. The freshness of hearing Wagner in my native English brought an immediacy to the drama—no attentive energy burned up in translating on the fly, no eyes flicking back and forth between parallel columns of German and English—that I’m sure no amount of fluency auf deutsch would ever grant. In Goodall’s Ring, drama and character always trump mere beauty of tone and ensemble (more about that in 4, below), and the English helps keep it all on track. Still, I challenge any English speaker to decipher more than half of what’s sung without consulting the libretto.

Unavoidably, Porter’s translation has plenty of awkward phrasings and even more awkward vowel mouthings for the singers, and there are few of those chunky German consonants for the singers to bite into, launch themselves off from, or land on. But while everyone knows that much is lost in translation, it is often forgotten that much can be gained. The nuances heard on these recordings may not be exactly Wagner’s, but they are exactly Porter’s. For the great part they do not conflict with the music, and sometimes make clear what in the original is not, even to a German speaker. Under the circumstances, you can’t ask for more.

2) This is one of the most beautifully sung Rings in any language. Rita Hunter’s Brünnhilde has remarkable intelligence, with a vocal precision fully matched by her subtlety of interpretation. It’s clear that no word leaves her mouth unexamined for meaning and resonances emotional as well as cranial. There is no grandstanding (other than what’s writ into the notes themselves) but always understanding, and if Hunter’s low range flags a bit in the third acts of Valkyrie and Twilight, her middle and top never do. Hers is a bravura performance that has yet to receive its due. Perhaps it will with this reissue (if just too late for Hunter, who died in April).

The tireless Alberto Remedios makes such a lovely noise as Siegmund and Siegfried that, once he’s opened his mouth, you want him never to shut it. He lacks James King’s anguish and passion as Siegmund, and the edge, intelligence, and spot-on boorishness of Windgassen as Siegfried, but he so far outcroons King and so far outproduces Windgassen vocally that I ended up not caring. On the other hand, Remedios’s gorgeousness of tone and steady, seasoned lyricism lend Siegfried a maturity this much-hated hero seldom enjoys. And Remedios was the Bernd Aldenhoff of the 1970s, sounding as fresh at the end of the third acts of Siegfried and Twilight as at the beginning of the first.

The Goodall Ring abounds in other remarkable performances: the twisted grandeur of Derek Hammond-Stroud’s Alberich, Gregory Dempsey’s vital and musical Mime, Katherine Pring’s tough but moving Waltraute, Norman Welsby’s stronger-than-the-norm Gunther, Maurine London’s precise Woodbird. But towering over all is Norman Bailey’s Wotan/Wanderer, who sounds by turns almost inhumanly grand and imposing (in Rhinegold, as befits the head god), deeply tender and anguished (in Valkyrie, as befits the humanly grieving father of Siegmund and Brünnhilde), and warmly good-natured, even playful (in his autumnal incarnation as the Wanderer, in Siegfried). The power and consistency of the voice seem endless. Bailey’s is one of the great Wotans, bettered only by Hans Hotter’s in vulnerability and subtlety of characterization.

The trios of Rhinemaidens and Norns are strong and well-balanced, and the Valkyries are a vibrant and lusty bunch, but not all is vocal wonderment. Robert Lloyd’s Fasolt is staunch but wooden, and Ann Howard’s Fricka II is relentlessly interrogative in a generic sort of way, betraying Goodall’s atavistic taste for overripe British mezzos. The great disappointment of this cycle is the Hagen of Aage Haugland, whose raw, half-baked hooting throughout Twilight has little steadiness and less grace. If the choice was deliberate, I understand but respectfully disagree—Hagen is far more complex than you’d ever know from this melodramatic mustache-twirler. (Listen to Gottlob Frick in Solti’s cycle.)

3) The 24-bit remastering has made a real improvement. Voices are warmer, richer, more fully rounded, more solidly and convincingly placed in the acoustic of the rather large London Coliseum, with much less of the hard, glaring, two-dimensional outlines the EMI CDs tended to wave in one’s face. During the A/B portion of my listening, after I’d played first the EMI, then the Chandos versions of Alberich’s Curse from Rhinegold, my wife—not an audiophile but herself a British mezzo and former opera singer—emerged from the bathroom, floss still dangling from teeth, to declare, “Now that’s an improvement!” The Chandos set is also mastered slightly less “hot,” which means there’s a crucial bit more dynamic headroom for Goodall’s most immense climaxes, which are all the more impressive and moving for being so infrequent. Which brings us to…

4) Reginald Goodall could hold things in reserve for, literally, hours, and then—as at the end of Act III of Twilight—lean into a massive crescendo longer and harder than you’ve ever heard, then land on the next chord with the perfect poise and grace of an elderly, overweight cat leaping effortlessly onto the dining-room table. It’s hard to believe it’s an orchestra and chorus of clearly flawed humans making that glorious, terrifying noise. Eleven years after his death, Goodall continues to take flak for being the man who made Wagner operas last longer than anyone has before or since. For example, at 5:11:29, he lingers a good hour more over Twilight of the Gods than the brisk Pierre Boulez, and more than half an hour more than Knappertsbusch at his most expansive.

But Goodall mostly makes it work. Only occasionally do I feel that his very slow tempos are imposed on the music rather than rising organically from it. Goodall once wrote that “I am a perfectionist—not for detail but for the mood and meaning.” It’s a fair self-assessment; in his broad wake bob many discarded details. Orchestral ensemble is a far cry from what we now take for granted at Bayreuth and the Met—or even from today’s ENO. Elsewhere, entrances of large instrumental forces are far more often vastly broken chords than truly together, and I’m not sure Goodall would have known a true sforzando had it hauled off and punched him in the snoot. Add to that the ENO’s stumbling brass (especially the tuba in Act II of Siegfried), squawking cellos, and woodwinds of uncertain tunings, and the result is a decidedly roughhewn if legato Ring. This is especially true of Rhinegold, the weakest of these performances, in which the ENO’s playing (but not the singing!) is simply unacceptable by today’s standards.

Goodall gets almost all the big things right: the overall rhythm of a scene, an act, an opera; the sense of overwhelming inevitability that mounts throughout the Ring, its propulsive narrative power; “the mood and meaning,” if you will. In these he shares much of the best of Knappertsbusch. And Goodall makes Wagner’s leitmotifs speak perhaps more clearly and more pointedly than has any other conductor—it’s clear that he knew this vast work intimately, and not merely as gorgeous symphonic music with vocal obbligato. Each motive—even some obscurities that still remain to be labeled, defined, and catalogued—speaks with a sure voice under Goodall’s baton.

Goodall’s mountain-slow pace reveals and makes plain certain figures and transitions in ways no one else has conjured from these scores. For instance, it seems that, among the 18 complete Rings on my shelves, only Goodall truly understands—and has made it possible for me to hear—each of the multiple harp parts in Act 3, Scene 1 of Twilight. In fact, more than the rest of the cycle, Twilight is Goodall’s opera, the one in which everything he does works best (Siegfried is almost as good). If you want to buy only one installment of this Ring to test the Rhine’s troubled waters, start at the end and work back.

Anyone’s first complete Ring really must be sung in German, if only to know exactly what Wagner’s intentions were. For that I recommend Solti, then Barenboim or Böhm, then Boulez or (in mono, from 1953) Krauss.

But make your second cycle Goodall’s—more than any other, it contains more of what you can hear nowhere else, and with all of the qualifications listed here, I still recommend it very highly. And the great sound, sumptuous packaging, and generous notes and essays make it even more tempting. Goodall gets the essentials right, and the essentials are, by definition, the only things you can’t do without.

Richard Lehnert

As for the Goodall performances, their virtues and minor shortcomings are pretty well known by now. If you doubt that they are for you, try the inexpensive download of the sampler – no longer available on CD. The generally broad tempi mostly work very well, giving the music time to expand, though occasionally allowing the tension to drop. The slight lack of tension at the opening of Rhinegold is more than offset by the scene in Nibelheim later in the opera. The singing, too, is generally good or very good: where individual contributions don’t quite convince, the teamwork always does. And with Goodall and Solti there are no visual distractions. The ENO productions were fairly gimmick-free anyway, with Fasolt and Fafner looking like giant nuts and bolts, as illustrated in the booklet for Rhinegold – about as unusual as it gets.

The live recording inevitably brings a few moments of minor imbalance and the odd stage clunk. The ADD sound cannot compare with the sonic glories of the most recent refurbishment of the Solti recording or even the Stuttgart DVDs, but it still sounds very much more than satisfactory.

Goodall’s Twilight of the Gods may run for over half an hour longer than the Zagrosek, but I enjoyed it very much more. At just over five hours, it’s also longer than the Hallé recording of Götterdämmerung with Mark Elder which I recently recommended as Bargain of the Month in both its conventional multi-disc version and the single-CD mp3 incarnation. (CDHLD7525 or CDHLM7530 – see review)*. That recording restored my faith in the final opera of the Ring as the equal of its predecessors. The single-CD version provided an example of innovative technology, building on Nimbus’s successful mp3 versions of Haydn and Bach. I could hardly, if at all, tell the mp3 from the original, but younger, sharper ears may spot a slight difference.

Now Chandos offer the whole Ring in an even more compact format and cater for those who insist on CD-quality sound at the same time. In comparison with Elder and Solti, Goodall’s Twilight is a little slow to get underway – the scene with the Norns always drags a little – but it catches fire by the time that Siegfried is off on his Rhine journey. All three versions are preferable to having to watch the charade from Stuttgart and all three offer better singing, even if Zagrosek’s direction is sound.

Those wary of opera in English need have no fear of Andrew Porter’s idiomatic English translation. The Faber edition of that translation, with the original text on the facing page, has been my companion during hours of listening to various operas in the Ring cycle for many years – preferable to the minuscule fonts in the Decca CD booklets.

Brian Wilson

Wagner auf englisch – da stellen sich in Kreisen der Fundamentalisten sofort alle Haare auf. Nicht ganz ohne Grund, denn Wagners Ring-Komposition ist ein literarisch-musikalisches Kompendium, in welchem den Sängern nicht nur Töne und Worte, sondern auch ganz spezielle Vokal- und Konsonanten-Verbindungen in den Mund gelegt werden.

Andrew Porter, der renommierte Kritiker und Musikschriftsteller, hat für die seinerzeitigen Aufführungen der Ring-Tetralogie an der English National Opera (Sadler’s Wells) eine englische Textfassung hergestellt, die gewiß ihre Qualitäten besitzt, aber doch auch in ihrer Nüchternheit kaum alle Intentionen des Dichter-Komponisten einfangen kann. Abgesehen vom weichen, verschmelzenden Duktus der englischen Sprache gibt es auch Probleme mit der inhaltlichen Substanz. Wenn Loges Preisgesang über Weibes Wonne und Wert mit “woman’s beauty and love” übersetzt wird, dann ist damit das Eigentliche und Wesentliche doch nicht ganz getroffen.

Der außerordentlich hohe Rang dieser englischen Ring-Einspielung wird jedoch von solchen im Grunde unumgänglichen Einbußen nicht beeinträchtigt. Schon anläßlich der Erstveröffentlichung bei EMI hat die Einspielung hohe Beachtung gefunden, und mit dem Erscheinen des 16-CD-Pakets von Chandos tritt fast eine Multiplizierung der früheren günstigen Eindrücke ein. Auch wenn das Klangbild etwas matt erscheinen mag und das Orchester der English Opera nicht ganz dem höchsten Standard entspricht – es steckt soviel Liebe und Begeisterung in dieser Wiedergabe, daß alle Einwände hinfällig werden.

Das Hauptverdienst an dieser mitreißenden Darstellung gebührt ohne Frage dem Dirigenten Reginald Goodall (1905-1990), der es verdienen würde, in die Liste der großen Wagner-Dirigenten eingetragen zu werden. Analoges gilt für einige der mitwirkenden Sänger, von denen nur wenige, wie Robert Lloyd (Fasolt), Norman Bailey (Wotan und Wanderer) und Aage Haugland (Hagen) in den Lichtkreis der Internationalität gerückt sind. Wie ungerecht dies ist, beweist allein der Fall Alberto Remedios. Unter allen deutschen Aufnahmen wird man kaum einen Tenor mit einer so herrlich blühenden, jugendlich-schlanken Stimme finden, der die Schwergewichts-Partien wie Siegmund und Siegfried mit der Poesie eines Schubert-Sängers erfüllt. Wer einmal Remedios mit der Erzählung Siegfrieds im dritten Akt der Götterdämmerung vernommen hat, wird andere Interpretationen immer an diesem Beispiel messen. Ebenso wie Remedios ist auch die Sopranistin Rita Hunter, die grandiose Brünnhilde der Aufnahme, hauptsächlich in England, Amerika, Australien bekannt geworden. Eine bedeutende Künstlerin, deren leuchtender, seelenvoller Gesang den höchsten Jubel und alles Leid der Menschheit auszudrücken vermag. Rita Hunter (1933-2000) hatte das Handicap einer ungünstigen Bühnenerscheinung, das hat ihren Rang als einer der bedeutendsten hochdramatischen Sängerinnen ihrer Epoche leider sehr vermindert. Weitere Glanzpunkte: Emile Belcourts Loge und Katherine Pring als Rheingold-Fricka und Waltraute. Norman Bailey als Wotan und Wanderer kann vor allem mit überlegenem Vortrag beeindrucken, bei den meisten sonstigen Mitwirkenden stimmen Gesang und vokale Gestik vollkommen überein.

Das britische Plattenlabel Chandos bemüht sich mit großem Eifer um “Opera in English”. Wohl auch mit gutem Erfolg, der jedoch vorwiegend auf die sprachliche Region begrenzt bleibt. Bei uns werden englisch gesungene Toscas oder Cavallerias wohl kaum mit offenen Armen empfangen werden. Beim Goodall-Ring liegen die Dinge anders, der zählt zu den Aufnahmen, die man unbedingt kennen sollte.

Clemens Höslinger | 01.11.2001

User Rating
Media Type/Label
EMI, HMV, Angel, World Record Club
EMI, Chandos
Technical Specifications
598 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 4.0 GByte (flac)
Sung in English (translation by Andrew Porter)
A production by Glen Byam Shaw and John Blatchley