1961 live performance from the Bayreuth Festival.
Decent live-recorded mono. Voices and orchestra are fairly evenly balanced. There is some variation in the pick-up of the singers as they roam over the stage, changing their relationships with the microphones, but this serves to provide a certain feel of authenticity to the piece. As I have noted before with regard to live mono recordings, compulsive audiophiles who measure quality by the clarity of the fourth bassoon or the third viola, should turn away right now. This is not for you. You will hear neither here (nor, for that matter, would you be likely to hear them in any real theater or concert hall.) Some not terribly disturbing stage noises are present, as is the occasional voice of a prompter. There are some coughs, but the Bayreuth audience was generally well-disciplined. For those willing to listen to this set with a little goodwill, the sound is perfectly acceptable.
This performance is an amalgam of Wagner's Dresden Version of 1845 and his Paris version of 1861, in essentially the form adopted for the Vienna production of 1875.
Disk 1: Overture; Act I, tracks 2-13. Disk 2: Act II, tracks 1-18. Disk 3: Act III, tracks 1-12.
No libretto. Short essay on the opera. Short summary of the plot by Act. Track listing that identifies the main character singing but does not provide timings.
Tannhaeuser - Wolfgang Windgassen
Elisabeth - Victoria de los Angeles
Venus - Grace Bumbry
Wolfram von Eschenbach - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Landgraf - Josef Greindl
Walther von der Vogelweide - Gerhard Stolze
Biterolf - Franz Crass
Heinrich der Schreiber - Georg Paskuda
Reinmar von Zweter - Theo Adam
Shepherd - Else-Margarete Gardelli
Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus.
The greatest Wagner-worshiper of them all once huffily dismissed "Tannhaeuser" as "Mein schlectest Oper." I am going to take the contrary position. I think that "Tannhaeuser" is Wagner's best opera. Before all you true-blue Wagnerites begin foaming at the mouth, I hasten to remind you the RW did not regard "Tristan und Isolde," "Die Meistersinger" and especially, "The Ring" as operas. They were music dramas, entirely superior things to mere operas, in his opinion (if in no-one else's.) "Tannhaeuser" is an opera directly in the line of descent in German Romantic opera from the very first of the bunch, Weber's "Der Freischuetz." "The Flying Dutchman" and "Lohengrin" are both Romantic operas, the former, of course, more so than the latter--and so are Wagner's effectively dead operas, "Die Feen," "Das Liebesverbot" and, alas, "Rienzi." Of the three Romantic operas still in the living repertory, I find "Tannhaeuser" the most pleasing for its sheer, grand melodiousness, its use of operatic conventions such as vocal ensembles showing emotional counterpoint and full-blown musical conflicts between a character and the whole ensemble. "Tannhaeuser" is also the least afflicted among the three by the long (and too-often drearily repetitive) monologues that would become one of the essential features of the forthcoming music dramas.
This recording captures the 1961 revival of "Tannhaeuser" at the Bayreuth Festival. Greindl, Adam and Fischer-Dieskau assumed the same roles they'd had in the 1954 version. Gerhard Stolze was promoted from Heinrich der Schreiber to Walther von der Vogelweide. New voices were heard at Bayreuth for the roles of Venus, Elizabeth and Tannhaeuser.
Josef Greindl's big, dark, sometimes mean-sounding voice, had allowed him to perform long and wonderful service as opera's resident cave man, but 1961 is late for him and he sounds it. I find him markedly more effective in the 1954 version. Adam and Stolze are fine, but they are in not especially memorable parts. Fischer-Dieskau is fine, too, but between 1954 and 1961 he had become a great deal more Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and much less Wolfram von Eschenbach. Wolfgang Windgassen took over the title role from the magnificent Ramón Vinay. Of Windgassen, previous Amazon reviewers have written that he "blusters and shouts, and sounds barytonal [sic]," that he "emphasizes the choppiness of the lines". Perhaps, perhaps, (although that baritonal crack is a little hard to swallow) but if anyone can name a tenor, with the dubious exception of Domingo, who could have sung the part half as well as the 1961 Windgassen at any time in the past twenty-five years, I would be surprised--no, astonished!
The stars of this recording are Grace Bumbry, with her big, bold Venus, and Victoria de los Angeles, whose Elizabeth very nearly equals that of the exquisite Elizabeth Gruemmer. (For those in any doubt, that last is intended as high praise indeed!)
Sawallisch's conducting is admirable. I can find no significant fault with it. But in some largely indefinable way it lacks the oomph, zing and--for want of a better word--truth of Keilberth's 1954 version.
Opera d'Oro has performed a valuable service by making the Bayreuth Festival "Tannhaeusers" of 1954 and 1961 available at super-bargain price. Both are excellent. Your choice between them depends on whether your prefer the incomparable Vinay or the glowing De los Angeles. My advice, for what it's worth, is to get both.
- Performer: Sigismund Pilinszky, Erna Berger, Georg Von Tschurtschenthaler, Herbert Janssen, Ivar AndrÃ©sen, et al.
- Orchestra: Bayreuther Festspiele Orchester & Chorus
- Composer: Richard Wagner
- Audio CD (December 2, 1998)
- Number of Discs: 2
- Label: Arkadia: the 78's
- ASIN: B00000FXYQ
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,267,265 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)