OP0222. OTELLO (in German), Live Performance, 1944, w.Böhm Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Torsten Ralf, Paul Schöffler, Hilde Konetzni, Elena Nikolaidi, etc. (Austria) 2-Preiser 90230. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! – 717281902304
“Dramatic tenor Torsten Ralf achieved both artistic and popular success in several of the repertory's heaviest tenor roles. His large, smoothly produced voice was not quite of Heldentenor caliber, given that it lacked the baritonal lower register thought of as necessary for such challenges as Tannhäuser, Tristan, and Siegfried. But Ralf possessed unusually full and powerful top notes, fitting him ideally for such roles as Walter von Stolzing and the often painfully high Strauss heroic tenor roles. Indeed, one of the latter was his own creation. Ralf was a conscientious musician, seeking to follow the composer's intentions. When, however, he sang the final B flat at the conclusion of ‘Celeste Aïda’ softly as Verdi notated, his reward was only a smattering of applause.
Ralf made his début in Stettin as Cavaradossi in a 1930 production of TOSCA. He sang at Chemnitz in 1932 and 1933, then in Frankfurt from 1933 to 1935. In 1935, he began an eight-year association with Dresden, where he appeared as Apollo in the premiere of Strauss' DAPHNE in 1938. A recording made at the time testifies to Ralf's extraordinary facility in the very high tessitura of the role. Ralf's début in London also took place in 1935 and he remained with Covent Garden until the outbreak of WWII made his return impossible. He revisited London once more in 1948, as Radames.
London critics appreciated Ralf at his first appearance on 8 May, 1935 -- but the opera house administration liked him even more. He had come from Germany to substitute for an ailing singer in LOHENGRIN. Unable to book a flight, he traveled by ship and train, arriving just three and a half hours before performance time. His supple, yet powerful voice appealed greatly to the public and he became an instant favorite. Surprisingly, Ralf's Walter in MEISTERSINGER the next season was felt to be lacking, but Ernest Newman wrote that his Parsifal was the finest he had ever heard. In November 1936, Ralf was a part of the Dresden Staatsoper ensemble visiting London and offered his Bacchus in a single performance of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, conducted by the composer himself.
During the period of hostilities, Ralf sang in Central Europe. On 26 November, 1945, he made his début at the Metropolitan Opera performing Lohengrin under the baton of Fritz Busch, himself new to the company. The critics were pleased with his smooth delivery of the hero's long narratives and a TANNHÄUSER three months later was regarded as positive. During the interim, Ralf's Walter elicited the opinion that no other tenor within memory had sung the role with so much freshness and ease. Under George Szell's firm direction, Ralf's Otello was fluent in the more lyric stretches, but short on the volcanic intensity needed for the dramatic outbursts. The eloquence Ralf brought to his Parsifal was as welcome at the Metropolitan in March 1947 as it had been in London.
Among Ralf's recordings, the pre-WWII MEISTERSINGER Act III is indispensable, showing his soaring tenor at its best. Ralf was only 53 at the time of his death.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Despite having been born in Germany, bass-baritone Paul Schöffler became a favorite in Austria, both at the Vienna Staatsoper and at the Salzburg Festival. Aside from Friedrich Schorr, he was undoubtedly the finest, most complex interpreter of Hans Sachs in the recorded era. Although his voice could sound slightly dry and lacked the imperious sound for Wotan (which he did sing on occasion), it served him well through an unusually long career. His Sachs at the Metropolitan Opera in November 1964 was superbly sung, remarkable in its stamina, even though Schöffler was 67 at the time. A live recording of Strauss' DAPHNE made in Vienna that same year confirms the impression. The work of an aristocratic artist, Schöffler's interpretations of such roles as Scarpia, Don Giovanni, and Iago were always distinguished, even when not stylistically definitive. The years since his retirement from leading roles have not produced a remotely comparable artist.
Schöffler studied with Waldemar Stägemann in his native Dresden before traveling to Italy to work with baritone Mario Sammarco. His 1926 stage début took place in Dresden in the role of the Herald in LOHENGRIN, beginning an association with that theater that continued until 1939. In 1939, Schöffler was engaged by the Vienna Staatsoper and remained there until 1970 when he was 73 years old. During his long career, he also sang in London, at Bayreuth, at the Salzburg Festival (1938 - 1965), in several Italian theaters and in America at the Metropolitan Opera, in San Francisco, and in Chicago.
Schöffler's London début came as Donner in a 1934 RHEINGOLD, conducted by Beecham. He was well-received by both the public and the critics, later confirming the positive first impression with his ‘excellent’ singing of the title role in Weinberger's SCHWANDA, THE BAGPIPER. In 1936, he sang Scarpia and, with the visiting Dresden Opera, Figaro in Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO (sung in German as’Die Hochzeit’) and the title role in one performance of DON GIOVANNI. In the Mozart operas, he was praised for both fine singing and histrionic aptitude. He undertook such other roles in London as Jochanaan, Kurwenal, the RHEINGOLD Wotan (described as ‘lightweight’), and, following WWII, Don Giovanni ‘Germanic’), Don Alfonso, and Pizarro with the visiting Vienna Staatsoper company. With the Royal Opera House company, he repeated his Kurwenal and RHEINGOLD Wotan and added Gunther and his genial Sachs.
At Salzburg, Schöffler created the title role in Gottfried von Einem's DANTONS TOD in 1947, and, five years later, he premiered Jupiter in Strauss' DIE LIEBE DER DANAE.
Schöffler's first American stage appearances came well after WWII, when the singer was already in his early fifties. His Met début was on 26 January, 1950, as Jochanaan, a role he sang to the spectacular Salome of Ljuba Welitsch a few weeks later. Schöffler's performance was praised as that of a superior artist, delineating the character with intelligence and involvement. The bass-baritone faced off against Welitsch in two other productions, setting his Don Giovanni at odds with her Donna Anna and, as a ‘brutish’ Scarpia, menacing her fiery Tosca. Over nine seasons, Schöffler sang a total of 91 performances. His 14 roles included Pizarro, Amfortas, Kurwenal, Oreste, and the Grand Inquisitor. San Francisco heard him, too briefly, in Wagner and Strauss, as did Chicago.
Although Schöffler's voice lacked a sensuous timbre, its warmth and firmness left a positive impression, while his musicianship and artistic integrity were unfailingly of the highest order.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Hilde Konetzni made her début in Gablonz, as Sieglinde, in 1929, and sang in Prague from 1932 to 1938. In 1936, she made her début at the Vienna State Opera and the Paris Opéra, as Donna Elvira. She appeared at the Royal Opera House in London 1938-39, returning in 1947, and at La Scala, in 1950, as Sieglinde with Furtwängler. A stylish singer, she possessed a voice of great beauty, other notable rôles included; Agathe, Isolde, Brünnhilde, Elisabeth, the Marschallin, Leonora, Chrysothemis, etc. She was very popular in Vienna, and continued singing small rôles until the 1970s. She had a sister, Anny Konetzni, who was also a soprano noted for Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss rôles.”
- Ned Ludd