Die Walküre

Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
23 December 1961
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundJon Vickers
HundingErnst Wiemann
WotanOtto Edelmann
SieglindeGladys Kuchta
BrünnhildeBirgit Nilsson
FrickaIrene Dalis
HelmwigeHeidi Krall
GerhildeCarlotta Ordassy
OrtlindeMartina Arroyo
WaltrauteMignon Dunn
SiegruneHelen Vanni
GrimgerdeMary MacKenzie
SchwertleiteGladys Kriese
RoßweißeMargaret Roggero
Musical America

This first performance of the season of “Die Walküre” strengthened the conviction that the Metropolitan’s current Ring series was to be a memorable artistic achievement and a public triumph. Once again, Erich Leinsdorf and the orchestra won some of the major ovations, and once again the audience gave every evidence of enjoying intently every measure of the unmutilated score.

New to their roles at the Metropolitan were Miss Kuchta, Mr. Wiemann, Miss Arroyo, Miss MacKenzie and Miss Kriese. Miss Kuchta was an admirable Sieglinde and a welcome addition to the new generation of first-rate Wagnerian singers that is making itself known at the Metropolitan. Her voice was fresh and appealing in quality; she acted the role with intelligence; and when her great outburst in Act III came, she was ready for it.

Though ideally one would like a heavier voice and more sinister characterization than Mr. Wiemann’s, his Hunding was well conceived and projected.

To the three new Valkyries, as well as to their sisters, should go hearty congratulations. It is vital to the opera that these roles should be taken by able singers and it was a delight to hear their fascinating music uncut and thrillingly sung.

Though not as imposing as some Wotans of fairly recent memory, Mr. Edelmann is a sterling artist, and he handled the vocal difficulties he encountered in the last act with the assurance of a veteran. A memory slip only made things more troublesome, but there was much to praise in his performance as a whole.

Miss Dalis was so beautiful a Fricka that it was hard to understand Wotan’s notorious infidelities, but she was careful to bring out the goddess’s unpleasant moral qualities. The looks which she exchanged with Brünnhilde in Act II spoke volumes. Her voice was especially lovely in the lyric passages, but she was also magnificent in the moments of vehemence and challenge.

Once again, one rejoiced that Miss Nilsson’s glorious voice was given to a splendid musician and skilled actress who could create for us the Brünnhilde of Wagner’s imagination. To many of the younger generation her artistry will bring a new understanding of Wagner.

As for Mr. Vicker’s Siegmund, it is the best I have ever encountered. He cannot make the walls of the Metropolitan bulge with the “Wälse, Wälse,” as Melchior used to, but his singing and acting of the role as a whole have a romantic glow and a musical finish that are well nigh unique.

The Simonson settings for the last three operas of the Ring are all deplorable, and one can only hope that they will wear out rapidly. Nathaniel Merrill’s direction, however, showed a genuine understanding of Wagner’s intentions. This performance was so inspired that it seemed short.

Robert Sabin

Musicweb-International.com (I)

I note that Ralph Moore, reviewing for this site the first instalment of Erich Leinsdorf’s Ring cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961-2, was highly enthused by the ensemble there, describing the performance of Das Rheingold as close to perfection. These discs of Die Walküre which, like those of Rheingold, are derived from a single performance, are a rather more mixed bag: superbly handled in parts, but then in places displaying to a distressing degree the hazards of live recording. Where I can agree with Ralph Moore is in his enthusiasm for Leinsdorf’s frequently-criticised conducting. Those who regard Solti’s approach to Wagner as overly impulsive will recoil in horror from Leinsdorf’s even more propulsive attack and headlong pace, but the excitement he generates seems to me to be far preferable to the more smoothly integrated sound of Karl Böhm’s similarly speedy approach to the music. All the same, one does miss the sheer grandeur of the more architectural approach to Wagner typified by Furtwangler, Knappersbusch, Klemperer and Goodall, all of whom find more in the textures that the sometimes generalised washes of sound that Leinsdorf produces, even with the excellent articulation of the Met orchestra (far superior in that respect to the London Symphony Orchestra, in Leinsdorf’s contemporary studio recording, at the end of Act One). But I do feel short-changed by some of Wotan’s outbursts in Act Two (for instance at CD2, tracks 8 and 11), and even more seriously so by the almost superficial treatment of Sieglinde’s ‘O heiligste Wunder!’ in Act Three (CD3, track 5). This is after all highly musically significant as the first statement of the “redemption” motif – only to be finally revealed in its full glory in the closing pages of Götterdämmerung – but here it goes for almost nothing, in a reading which skates over the passage in question without much sense of heightened tension at all.

For much of the time, however, the sheer theatricality of Leinsdorf’s approach is enthusiastically abetted by the singers; I don’t think I have ever heard such a headlong approach to Siegmund’s Act One account of his last conflict than the excitement generated here by Jon Vickers, who seems positively to revel in the conductor’s plunging speeds (CD1, track 8). Birgit Nilsson, too, enters enthusiastically into the fray as she promises Siegmund her support in the coming fight at the end of Act Two (CD2, track 18). But the serious drawbacks of live performance are unfortunately all too evident in the out-and-out conflict that seems progressively to develop between the conductor and his Wotan, Otto Edelmann. In Act Two the two seem to get along fine, even though Edelmann’s rather bullish tone and his roughshod progression over Wagner’s many requests for a muffled voice leave a rather generalised impression; but at the opening of his Act Three farewell (CD3, track 14), where Leinsdorf applies the brakes fiercely as he moves into the passages of impassioned lyricism, the singer and orchestra seem to part company conclusively. Edelmann is clearly unhappy with Leinsdorf’s tempo, persistently pushing ahead of the beat; and then, during the quietest lyrical section (CD 3, track 15), he suddenly launches off in a completely different direction – jumping ahead by some bars, realising his mistake, and when he finally reconnects with the accompaniment continually hectoring his conductor in a quite unpleasant manner, totally at odds with the music. I find it startling to hear a singer with such experience in the role making such a mistake in a very well-known passage, something which can only be ascribed to carelessness or tiredness; I suspect the latter, as his breath runs out altogether in his final phrase during the opera. Be that as it may, I cannot imagine anyone having once encountered this disastrous mistake wanting to hear it again. Pristine, on their website, print a contemporary 1962 review from Musical America which describes Edelmann’s “memory slip” as “troublesome”. Quite so.

Edelmann is fortunately very much the exception in this performance; indeed, the only other error which I noticed in the performance was made by the otherwise excellent Ernst Wiemann, who misses the first note of his entry in Act Two as Hunding (presumably he was otherwise distracted by the sheer business of getting onstage while singing – CD3, track 2). In Act One his encounter with the Wälsung twins is superbly handled, with not only the expectedly superb Vickers but also the little-known Gladys Kutcha as his sister both conjuring up an atmosphere of white heat and passion. Vickers, too, brings some elements to his performance – his exquisitely lyrical conclusion to his Scene Two narrative as well as his delicate launching of the ‘spring song’, a point handled less convincingly in his studio recording with Leinsdorf – which bring an emotional lump to the throat (CD1, track12). Irene Dalis, generally known nowadays from her Bayreuth Kundry in Knappersbusch’s Parsifal, is a vitriolic Fricka who dominates Edelmann’s Wotan as much by sheer force of personality as by argument. The Valkyrie girls too are a strong bunch, dominated by such names as the young Martina Arroyo and Mignon Dunn, but well-matched and clearly well-rehearsed as well. We are told that this performance was the first complete Walküre (that is, without any cuts) given at the Met for many years, and Leinsdorf is to be congratulated on insisting on the restoration of the ‘standard deletions’ in Acts Two and Three which disfigured many other live Met relays of the period.

The central attraction of this release, of course, is the young Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde; she recorded the role again shortly afterwards, with Leinsdorf for RCA on commercial LPs, and then again for Solti in the studio and with Böhm in an assembly from several live relays from Bayreuth as well as a number of other live performances. It has become a habit of reviewers to observe that she deepened her interpretation as she got older, but to be quite honest there is plenty of careful observation of the text at the outset of her career and the freshness of her voice here is remarkable – all the more so in the context of a live performance. So far as I am aware this is the second recording she made with Vickers of their great ‘Annunciation of Death’ scene from Act Two before the RCA version from London, and although the stereo sound is richer in the studio the intensity of the stage interaction between these two great Wagnerians is even more thrilling here (I have not heard the live Covent Garden performance conducted by Solti in September 1961, which of course would have been even earlier).

The recorded sound too is excellent; it was clearly well observed by the engineers of the original broadcast, but the tapes appear to be in good condition and have responded well to the restorative attention of Andrew Rose. Given the fact that this is a mono recording only (transferred in ambient stereo), the internal balance between stage and pit, and between sections of the orchestra, is very good indeed with only very rare occasions when thematic material is masked. There are even points, such as the percussion rhythms at the end of the Act Two prelude (CD2, track 1), where unexpected points of orchestration are revealed. Leinsdorf’s speeds have a further advantage, in that they make it possible to have only one CD change during the course of the music (at the beginning of Act Two, Scene Five); the actual break itself is fairly obnoxious, but I cannot suggest any alternative that might have improved matters.

So, if the listener is prepared to take the CD out of the player at the beginning of Wotan’s farewell, he or she will find this to be a thrilling performance of the Valkyrie, by no means overshadowed by the studio recording made the following year with the same conductor, Brünnhilde and Siegmund. The documentary material, as is usual with Pristine, is basic in the extreme; but purchasers will also be able to access mp3 files including both full and vocal scores as well as the normal texts and translations. The discs retain the original radio announcements at the beginning and end of the broadcast, but these add nothing of value to the set. Ralph Moore hailed the Rheingold set as a “recording of the month” – I am afraid that the contribution of Edelmann prevents such an encomium for this second instalment, but it is most welcome nonetheless.

Paul Corfield Godfrey | January 2019

Musicweb-International.com (II)

This was the second instalment in the first complete Ring cycle since Leinsdorf had conducted it uncut in 1940 and Nilsson’s first complete Ring, too, although she had sung individual Brünnhilde previously at the Met and in Bayreuth.

The sound is very clear, if a bit brittle with wiry strings, but the greatest drawback is the persistent, irritating coughing throughout the whole performance: the beautiful orchestral passages in Act 1 in CD 1 track 9, following Siegmund’s narration, just before Hagen’s baleful good night and through “Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater” and the Todesverkündigung both sound as though they were recorded in a TB sanitorium. There is also the constant sound of running water through the first two Acts, which was presumably a feature of the stage set and unavoidable flaws in the tape, but these distractions are mitigated by Pristine’s typically effective Ambient Stereo XR remastering. The voices are very forward but the balance with the orchestra is good enough. The break at the end of CD 2, presumably for the purpose of allowing transfer onto three rather than four CDs is abrupt and unfortunate. The obvious comparison is with Leinsdorf’s studio recording for Decca with the LSO in Walthamstow Town Hall earlier the same year, in which Vickers and Nilsson sang the same roles but all the other parts are sung by different singers, including, of course, George London as Wotan. That has long been my favourite studio recording of this opera and the stereo sound is of course superior.

Leinsdorf is gentler and more inclined to bring out the poetry of Wagner’s music here than in that studio recording. His singers – especially Vickers in his Act 1 narrative – are similarly more reflective and poetic; however, they rise to the moments of high drama, too. I cannot fault his pacing or phrasing and the Met orchestra plays magnificently, especially in the final scene.

The young Jon Vickers is in sovereign form and his “Nun weißt du, fragende Frau, warum ich Friedmund nicht heiße” is sung in a meltingly poignant half voice. He had already triumphed as Siegmund at Bayreuth three years earlier under Knappertsbusch and at Covent Garden for Solti and at the Met the previous year, but there are fewer errors here and his voice is, if anything, even finer, both tenderer and more powerful.

Kuchta has a fuller, warmer voice than we sometimes here, closer to Leonie Rysanek in timbre – and she does her own version if the “Rysanek scream” when Siegmund wrenches Nothung from the trunk of the ash tree. She is secure if a tad stately compared with nervier, more febrile readings from such as Rysanek or Brouwenstijn but firm and secure.

Wiedemann has a big, rounded bass and inhabits the role of Hunding credibly, without the variety of tone we hear from Frick or Talvela. Irene Dalis is as good as any Fricka on record, her mezzo rich and vibrant; she was singing anything and everything superbly around this time at the Met – Brangäne, Venus, Amneris, Azucena and Eboli – because she could. The Valkyries are an impressive bunch, including the instantly recognisable voice of Martina Arroyo. Obviously the star of the show is Nilsson and her familiar laser-tones and voluminous projection carry the day. She is not as verbally acute as in later performances but vocally she is resplendent and the audience roars its appreciation at the curtain calls.

Edelmann is more than adequate as Wotan, using the text expressively and showing considerable stamina in the role but his bass is without the massive authority of Hotter or London; he is not always ideally steady and his voice is more nasal and distinctly baritonal in timbre where perhaps a darker bass-baritone sound is better. His “Wo ist Brünnhild’, wo die Verbrecherin?” lacks might and menace and to my ears he occasionally sounds over-parted but he mostly rises to the grandeur of “Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind”. Unfortunately, he then falters badly over the words and music in “Der Augen leuchtendes Paar”, crooning and sliding, muddling the text then stopping to sing altogether until he can recover his place with the help of the prompter, and finally getting a frog in his throat on “muss es scheidend sich schließen”. These are really quite big blots on what should be a climactic passage and it takes him a while to recover his equilibrium and deliver a good summoning of Loge and his fire.

I confess to finding the incessant coughing from the Met audience a disincentive to listening to this but it is otherwise great performance, catching the singing of two great Wagnerians on the wing very ably supported by their co-singers and conductor. For an even more satisfying listening experience, however, with a better Wotan, I would recommend the studio recording of the same year.

Ralph Moore | December 2018

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Lyric Distribution, Pristine
Technical Specifications
346 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 494 MByte (flac)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Herbert Graf (1948)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.