OPERAS IN THIS BOX: PHOTOS 1-2 Lohengrin with Wolfgang Windgassen (Jochum/Bayreuth) 1954 PHOTOS 3-4 Die Walkürie with Jon Vickers (Karajan/Metropolitan Opera) 1967 PHOTOS 5-6 Tristan und Isolde with Jon Vickers (Böhm/Théâtre antique d'Orange) 1973 PHOTOS 7-8 Turandot with Franco Corelli (Stokowski/Metropolitan Opera) 1961 PHOTOS 9-10 Salome (Böhm/Metropolitan Opera) 1965 PHOTO 11: Stokowski at the old Metropolitan Opera House (closed 1966, demolished 1967)
What a wonderful bargain from Sony: Authorized in-house recordings from the Bayreuth Festival, the Vienna State Opera, New York’s Metropolitan Opera and various European broadcasting authorities. Nine different operas in twelve complete performances (two are stereo) + five excerpts (three are stereo) from four Wagner operas.
FIDELIO (1970) mono with Ludovic Spiess (Bernstein/Rome Radio) An exciting performance from Bernstein's middle period, recorded nine years before his DG recording with Gundula Janowitz & Rene Kollo. The only document we have of Nilsson with Bernstein. Previously, Sony issued Nilsson's 1960 Metropolitan Opera broadcast with Jon Vickers as Florestan, conducted by Karl Böhm: Beethoven: Fidelio.
LOHENGRIN (1954) mono with Wolfgang Windgassen (Jochum/Bayreuth Festival) Nilsson’s only recording of Elsa (photos 1-2) For a list of other Wagner roles that Birgit Nilsson seldom or never recorded, see Comment One (sort by Oldest)
DIE WALKURE (1969) mono with Jon Vickers (Karajan/Metropolitan Opera) One of only two documents we have of Herbert von Karajan at the Metropolitan Opera (the other is ‘Das Rheingold’, available as a download on the Met’s website). Karajan recorded Wagner’s Ring Cycle for Deutsche Grammophon in 1966-69. He then planned to both conduct and direct the Ring in Salzburg, and at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. 1967: ‘Die Walküre’ conducted by Karajan (photos 3-4). 1968: revival conducted by Berislav Klobucar (Wagner: Die Walkure), 1969: ‘Die Walküre’ conducted by Karajan (in this box). Then everything fell apart, and Karajan never again conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, leaving the Ring unfinished. -- Brünnhilde: Regine Crespin on DG -- Birgit Nilsson at the Met (’67, ’68, ’69) -- Siegmund: John Vickers on DG and at the Met (’67, ’68, ’69) -- Sieglinde: Gundula Janowitz on DG -- Regine Crespin at the Met (’67, ‘69) [Leonie Rysanek in ‘68] -- Hunding: Gottlob Frick on DG -- Martti Talvela at the Met (’69) [Karl Ridderbusch in ‘67, ‘68] -- Wotan: Thomas Stewart on DG -- Theo Adam at the Met (’69) [Thomas Stewart in ‘67, ‘68] -- Fricka: Josephine Veasey on DG and at the Met (’69) [Christa Ludwig in ‘67, ‘68] I’m old enough to have listened to this on a Saturday afternoon “Live from the Met” broadcast, sponsored by Texaco. Nothing special mono sound, but this was deliberate: Stereo FM had been commonplace in America since the late 1950s, but Met management worried that if the sound was too good, it would cut into ticket and record sales. Stereo broadcasting from the Met didn’t begin until December 1973.
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE The Sony box has an orgy of Tristans: -- 1957 with Wolfgang Windgassen (Sawallisch/Bayreuth) mono -- 1967 with Jess Thomas (Böhm/Vienna State Opera) mono -- 1973 with Jon Vickers (Böhm/Théâtre antique d'Orange) stereo (photo 5) The 1973 performance was videotaped by O.R.T.F. (Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française) at the 2000 year-old Roman Amphitheatre in Orange, France (photo 6). It looks and sounds terrible on DVD: Wagner - Tristan Und Isolde (Bohm, Nilsson, Vickers, Hesse) [DVD] The DVDs are mono, but the Sony CDs are stereo, clearly derived from a different source. Despite the fact the fact that it was recorded outdoors in front of 8,000 Frenchmen, the sound on CD is astonishingly good, infinitely better than the DVD. (don't be put off by audience noise at the start; they quiet down two minutes into the prelude) Apparently the 1973 FM radio broadcast was stereo, but the TV signal was mono. What we really need is a new video transfer on DVD or Blu-Ray, with stereo sound synchronized from the radio tape.
TURANDOT (1961) mono with Franco Corelli and Anna Moffo (Stokowski/Metropolitan Opera) The only complete opera that Leopold Stokowski conducted at the Met (photos 7-8). [Stokowski conducted the U.S. premiere of ‘Wozzek’ at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1931, but it was a concert performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra on tour.]
SALOME (1965) mono Metropolitan Opera conducted by Karl Böhm (photos 9-10). Birgit Nilsson (born 1918) pretty much dropped Salome from her stage repertoire after this performance. It became increasingly difficult to imagine her as a teenage girl (though she sang the closing scene in a 1972 gala honoring Rudolf Bing).
ELEKTRA -- 1967 with Leonie Rysanek and Regina Resnik (Böhm, Vienna State Opera) mono -- 1971 with Leonie Rysanek and Jean Madeira (Böhm, Metropolitan Opera) mono In the 1960s and ‘70s, the roles of Elektra, Chrysothemis and Klytämnestra were dominated by Nilsson, Rysanek and Resnik. As a team, they left two Vienna recordings, both conducted by Karl Böhm: 1965 on Orfeo, and 1967 in the Sony box.
DIR FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN (1976) stereo Nilsson left two recordings as the Dyer’s Wife, a role learned late in her career: 1976 Sawallisch/Bavarian Opera, with Fischer-Dieskau as her husband (in the Sony box) and 1977 Böhm/Vienna State Opera, with Walter Berry as her husband (on Deutsche Grammophon). Both recordings are stereo. Unfortunately both recordings are heavily cut.
BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1953) mono Nilsson’s only recording of Judith, conducted by Ferenc Fricsay, recorded by Swedish Radio and sung in German translation.
------------------------------------------------------------------------ EXCERPTS FROM WAGNER OPERAS:
DIE WALKURE: Act One, Scene Three (1957) mono Nilsson as Sieglinde with Ramón Vinay (Knappertsbusch/Bayreuth Festival) Nilsson started out singing Sieglinde in Sweden, before graduating to Brünnhilde. Like many Wagnerian sopranos, she was able to alternate between the two roles. Nilsson left just one recording of Sieglinde, from the 1957 Bayreuth Festival (Astrid Varnay was Brünnhilde). My only real complaint with the Sony box is their decision to include just one of the six scenes Sieglinde appears in. The complete ‘Walküre’ is on Walhall: Wagner: Die Walküre For a list of other Wagner roles that Birgit Nilsson seldom or never recorded, see Comment One (sort by Oldest)
SIEGFRIED: “Heil dir, Sonne!” (1967) stereo with Wolfgang Windgassen (Suitner/Bayreuth Festival)
GOTTERDAMMERUNG: Brünnhilde's Immolation --- Stig Rybrant, Stockholm Philharmonic, sung in Swedish (1953) mono --- Charles Mackerras, Sydney Symphony (1973) stereo these are Nilsson’s earliest and last recordings of Brünnhilde's Immolation (there may have been later performances, but I haven’t found any recordings after 1973).
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE: Prelude and Liebestod Sergiu Celibidache, Swedish Radio Orchestra (1967) stereo
For a complete list of the contents of ‘Birgit Nilsson: The Great Live Recordings’ arranged alphabetically by composer, and a list of Wagner roles that Birgit Nilsson seldom or never recorded, see Comment One (sort by Oldest).