Joseph Rosenstock
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
14 December 1963
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedHans Hopf
BrünnhildeBirgit Nilsson
GuntherNorman Mittelmann
GutruneMary Curtis-Verna
AlberichGerhard Pechner
HagenErnst Wiemann
WaltrauteMignon Dunn
WoglindeMary Ellen Pracht
WellgundeRosalind Elias
FloßhildeGladys Kriese
1. NornLili Chookasian
2. NornMignon Dunn
3. NornMary Curtis-Verna
Saturday Review

Reiner-less “Götterdämmerung”

Relative even to the other works of the Ring, “Götterdämmerung” is a massive test of stagecraft, musical skills, and organizational effort. Though we see it now as the summary of its predecessors, it was, of course, conceived as a saga in itself, a creation of accents and emphases carefully calculated to work against each other. Hagen’s black villainy and Gunther’s blind trust, Brüinnhilde’s deception and Waltraute’s despair, Siegfried’s gullibility and Gutrune’s innocence – all are shadings of a canvas on a heroic scale. In its first presentation at the Metropolitan this year, the accents and emphases were pretty much blurred together, so that Birgit Nilsson’s Brünnhilde stood out as a single vivid figure in the foreground.

Possibly if Fritz Reiner had lived to see through the last task of his productive life (the preparatory effort sent him to a hospital with pneumonia, to which he succumbed within a week), there would have been drama and conflict in the interaction of the great conductor and the great singer. But it would hardly be rational to blame his emergency replacement, Joseph Rosenstock, who had stage rehearsals for the second and third acts and only an orchestral session for the first, for Hans Hopf’s tight voice for Siegfried, Ernst Wiemann’s inadequate range for Hagen, and the insufficiently bright sound of Mary Curtis-Verna for Gutrune. Rather than accents and emphases, they were varying shades of gray.

As a result, rather than being a music drama, in the Wagnerian sense, this Götterdämmerung was downgraded to the status of opera, with a star part for Miss Nilsson. The voice was not quite “awake” for the [first] scene with Siegfried (she is adverse to prolonged vocalization prior to so long a stint as this Brünnhilde). However, by the second act it was yielding a brightness and intensity that gave the denunciation of Siegfried’s treachery and Brüinnhilde’s participation in the plot of Hagen a high place in the Nilsson repertory. The tonal penetration that makes her an impressive Turandot strikes sparks against the outcry of the orchestra, with an aural splendor that eluded such recent paragons of the part as Flagstad and Traubel. She has also improved her action so that it mounts in impact up to and including the Immolation Scene.

Were there a partner or two capable of sustaining a dialogue on the Nilsson level (Irene Dalis as Waltraute came closest), much else could be condoned. Of the other principals, only Norman Mittelmann as Gunther and Gerhard Pechner as Alberich had what it takes to realize the composer’s purpose: Mittelmann a resonantly flexible sound, Pechner a responsively rasping one. Some may say that Hopf is a better Siegfried than those who have been no Siegfried at all, which is akin to saying that a bad cold is better than influenza. When he is working with the equipment of his lyric tenor days, he makes a musical sound on or near the pitch, but where the text demands a full-fashioned dramatic production, he is wanting. His is a well-rounded figure for Siegfried, but his acting techniques are rudimentary.

As Hagen, Wiemann has some good notes in the middle range with which to make an effect with the “Watch” in Act I and the call to the Gibichungs in Act II, but where are the low tones on which the menace of the character is based? Not audible, certainly. Miss Curtis-Verna made her first venture into German opera by singing two parts (successively, not simultaneously). She achieved the not inconsiderable feat of getting from the mountain heights (as the Third Norn) to the Hall of the Gibichungs (as Gutrune) even quicker than Siegfried did, but her vocal character is not the silvery blond sound with which the composer succeeded so brilliantly in characterizing Gutrune. The other Norns (Lili Chookasian and Mignon Dunn) were well chosen, as were the Rhinemaidens (Mary Ellen Pracht, Rosalind Elias, and Gladys Kriese).

If the list of complaints, as well as compliments, is long – well, so is Götterdämmerung. Nathaniel Merrill’s staging was, for the most part, functional, though it is hard to imagine how Grane got to the Rhine for the Immolation; Brünnhilde did not present him to Siegfried at his departure, and there was no sign of him when the latter arrived in Gibichungland. However, those who know the story were also penalized by the cuts (during Act I, I didn’t hear Hagen tell Siegfried how to use the Tamhelm). Judgment on Rosenstock’s command of this score may be left for another occasion. Doubtless when the Met has its new Ring in its new theatre, the Rhine will look less like the Hudson. Otherwise, everything was fine.

Irving Kolodin | Metropolitan Opera House November 14, 1963

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Technical Specifications
128 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 199 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Herbert Graf (1948)
Hans Hopf’s last performance at the Met.