on 1 September 2001
I honestly think that this may be the best performance of this opera on record. Purists will object at once that it rules itself out of court by being in English. While I can understand that this is a king-sized objection for German-speakers, I do not think it should deter English-speakers, or those who are, perhaps, equally comfortable in both languages. The point is that, while Wagner's music is sublime, his libretti are pretty dire. It is not hard for a translation to be an actual improvement on the original. For instance, Wagner was almost comically addicted to alliteration. In translation, preserving his absurdly laboured alliterations is (mercifully) impossible. That is not to say that this English text is ideal; it does occasionally lapse into opera-speak, that strange language in which the word "now" appears every time the librettist needs to fill a metre. The positive points about this performance, however, are numerous and overwhelming. Paramount is Goodall's conducting. This may be the slowest performance of the opera recorded, but the tempo never seems laboured. The flow of the music is sustained throughout. As remarkable as Goodall's conducting is the singing of the late Rita Hunter, which stands comparison with that of anyone in the role of Bruennhilde, in any language (yes, including Flagstad, Varnay and Nilsson). Alberto Remedios is among the best of post-war Siegfrieds, easily outclassing Wolfgang Windgassen, who virtually monopolised the role in German and Austrian recordings for two decades. Aage Haugland was clearly not singing in his first language, but his intonation and diction are fine. The cast has no weak link. The ENO orchestra has never been quite a Rolls-Royce ensemble, but it was obviously very well rehearsed for these performances and shows a commitment to match that of the singers. There are more recent recordings (in the original German), boasting digital recording, but none of these as a performance is a match for this one.
This opera for the musicians (particularly the conductor and orchestra) is an epic. It is intense and full of coming together of the leitmotifs started off all the way back in Rhinegold and developed in the Operas that followed in this cycle. The notes in the booklet are extensive and informative, and the inclusion of the English sung (translation from German) libretto is excellent and crucial. Because despite the fact that it is sung in English, and the beautiful singing and excellent diction from the majority of the cast (which I have already explained in the previous reviews of Rhinegold, Valkyrie and Siegfried in this same Chandos series) you do need the help of the written words in some sections. I will explain in more detail... because in terms of the musical and melodic performance and overall drama, this box set doesn't disappoint and coupled with the fact that most of the sung roles can be followed in English adds a certain advantage. The continuing reservation for me (and becoming slightly annoying by the time I got to this last Opera of the cycle) as in Valkyrie and Siegfried box sets, is Alberto Remedios. His diction does not improve and in fact gets more muddled by the time you reach Twilight/Gotterdammerung. He is very difficult to follow in terms of what he is "saying". But there was one more issue for me which dropped a review "star" from this one (I gave all the others 4 stars each), and it's Hagen's part. It's so important, central and crucial to the closing of this saga that it requires a singer of might and clarity. Unfortunately he does not come off well in this set. It might be the recording quality (it was live and recorded some time ago, after all) or purely the diction and the fact that it is not the usual German libretto. Aage Haugland's poor diction as Hagen comes off even worse than Remedios' Siegfried for me. Also there are some dubious pitch problems in the more dramatic scenes sung by Haugland. Remedios at least is pretty much tone quality and pitch perfect throughout. Perhaps Haugland was attempting dramatic characterisation which can only be appreciated with being at the actual performance (which I was not. It might have actually been before my time).
The issues of diction aside, and if you already have the previous 3 operas in the cycle on this same project (Ring Cycle in English conducted by Goodall) then should have this final set to complete it. As a standalone Box set however, I do have my reservations and unless you definitely want the English sung version (which this is the only one to my knowledge) then the historic and fantastic sounding Solti set (with Birgit Nilsson as Brunnhilde), or the later Boulez or Baremboim are alternatives to investigate in my opinion.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the series and the epic undertaking of this Twilight of the Gods shines through and closes off the cycle in an apt and dramatic manner which I am sure a lot of people will enjoy. The cast "Stars" in the entire set of 4 operas recorded are Rita Hunter as Brunnhilde, Norman Bailey's majestic Wotan and Ann Howards' Fricka (particularly in Valkyrie).
on 11 July 2007
Having lived with a Wagner fanatic for many years I at first endured the Ring but after a few listenings came to appreciate what Wagner was about. I've always liked Verdi & Puccini but Wagner is on a different plane altogether. The four CD sets that make up the Goodall ring are in my opinion stunning. Rita Hunter and the rest of the cast were at the top of their game and Reginald Goodall's conducting is amazing. Unlike Solti (which would have to be my other recommendation) who drives the operas on at a quite a lick, Goodall's tempo throughout finds that little something extra within the score.