Wagner: The Flying Dutchman/Der Fliegende Hollander
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The Flying Dutchman is one of the most accessible of Wagner's works, and though it is the first of his operas that earned a permanent place in the repertory, it still possesses many aspects of conventional operatic practice, as well as a Weberian leitmotiv structure much simpler than that exhibited in Wagner's music after Tristan. Surprisingly, despite its accessibility, recordings of the work that are not deficient on technical or vocal or musical grounds seem to be in comparatively short supply. An exception is this classic CSO-Solti effort dating from the late '70s, where the sound is reasonably up to date, and the casting ranges from good to excellent. Of all recordings of this Wagnerian milestone, Solti's interpertation of this score still seems most authoritative. --Christian C. Rix
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This particular set was a good first choice, due in no small part to its conductor Sir George Solti. Solti's contributions to both the symphonic and operatic repertoire are legendary, and in this set he is conducting his beloved Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What shines most in this recording is the orchestra. Wagner's works need a conductor who can produce a large powerful sound one moment and beautiful softer tones the next. Solti more than manages to handle the orchestra. Beginning with the powerful overture and continuing throughout the recording, Solti has full command of the orchestra. The Chicago Symphony Chorus under the direction of longtime collaborator Margaret Hillis handles the choral parts with technical skill and vocal beauty. The principal singers in the work: Norman Bailey as the Dutchman, Rene Kollo as Erik, and Janis Martin as Senta are not the greatest interpreters of these roles, yet each does a reasonably good job in their respective roles. Kollo does seem a bit weak at times, but the role of Erik is not one of Wagner's greatest tenor roles.
If you are a fan of the golden days of Wagner, this recording is probably not for you. The principals are not the quality of a George London, Kirtsen Flagstad or Lauritz Melchoir. Still, this is a solid recording of the work and one that does, serve as an excellent introduction to the works of Wagner.
Was the cast up to the really good memories of my youth? Well yes and no!
Norman Bailey, brilliant British heldenbass, is not at ease as the Hollander here. His initial monologue is buried under Solti's thankless orchestra, his German is not well articulated and his high notes clearly come from the throat...His duet with Senta in Act II is nonetheless very good and his portrayal remains acceptable. Talvela is very lazy in this recording and the Finnish bass simply turns up with his marvellous voice without trying anything. His sound remains sumptuous though!
The rest of the cast is really good: Rene Kollo portrays a youthful, noble Erik, Janis Martin is simply put an amazing Senta. She inhabits the part with her beautiful, crystal-clear voice and her portrayal of Senta is still, twenty years after and a lot of Wagner down the road, one of the best I have heard. Krenn is an elegant Mozartian pilot and Isola Jones does the job as Mary, no more no less. The Chicago Symphony Chorus is a bit stale though and doesn't really hold its rank opposite such a demonic orchestra. Regardless of these minor flaws, this Fliegende represents a perfect introduction to the piece thanks to its Senta, Sir Georg and his fabulous orchestra. Recommended.
Unfortunately, I think Solti should have stopped after this, especially with Der Fliegende Hollander.
Aside from the usual impeccable detail given to intonation, this performance is quite boring. The brass during the sailors' chorus is hysterically loud and the solo singing is lackluster throughout. While Margaret Hillis' efforts are apparent, this doesn't seem to matter because the orchestral effort is so dull. Bombastic is okay, but like everything else, it's better in moderation.
I apologize for offending, but even though Solti and the Viennese forces gave us the unparalleld "Ring" cycle, no such effort exists with this set.
3 stars for the sound and intonation and the chrous.