OP1804. GOTTERDAMMERUNG, Live Performance, 1958, w.Knappertsbusch Cond. Bayreuth Festival Ensemble; Astrid Varnay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Otto Wiener, Josef Greindl, Elisabeth Grümmer, Jean Madeira, Rita Gorr, etc. (E.U.) 4-Walhall 0249. - 4035122652499
“The most important singer of the German Heldentenor repertory in the 1950s and 1960s, Wolfgang Windgassen employed his not-quite-heroic instrument, believable physique, and considerable musical intelligence to forge memorable performances on-stage and in the recording studio.
The tenor made his début as Alvaro in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Pforzheim in 1941. In 1945, he joined the Württembergisches Staatstheater in Stuttgart, steadily moving from lyric rôles to more heroic parts; he remained a singer there until 1972. Upon making his début in the first postwar season at Bayreuth in 1951, he came to international attention. His Parsifal, growing from uncomprehending innocence to maturity and service, was a moving portrayal and was recorded live by Decca Records. Windgassen became indispensable at the Bayreuth Festival, excelling as Lohengrin, the two Siegfrieds, Tannhäuser, and Tristan. There, he earned the respect and devotion of the three leading dramatic sopranos of the age: Martha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson. Elsewhere, Windgassen made positive impressions at La Scala (where he débuted as Florestan in 1952), Paris (Parsifal in 1954), and Covent Garden, where he appeared as Tristan in 1954. Although regarded by English critics as somewhat light of voice for Wagner's heaviest tenor rôles, his lyric expression and dramatic aptness were wholly admired. The Metropolitan Opera briefly heard him as Siegmund beginning in January 1957 and as Siegfried. Windgassen did not return to America until 1970, when he sang Tristan to the Isolde of Nilsson at San Francisco. Beginning that same year, he turned to stage direction. Among Windgassen's finest recordings are his Bayreuth PARSIFAL, captured with a superb cast under Knappertsbusch's direction, his 1954 Bayreuth LOHENGRIN under Jochum, his SIEGFRIEDs under both Böhm at Bayreuth and in the studio with Solti, and his Bayreuth TRISTAN with Böhm conducting and Nilsson as his Isolde.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the middle twentieth century. He spent several summers as an assistant to director Siegfried Wagner and conductor Hans Richter at the Bayreuth Festival and took part in the Netherlands Wagner Festivals in 1913 and 1914. After the end of World War I Knappertsbusch worked in Dessau and Leipzig, and in 1922 he was asked to succeed Bruno Walter as music director of the Munich Opera.
Knappertsbusch's personality was easygoing; he was notably free of the restlessness and undue ambition that often attended a rising career such as his. He was content mainly to stay in Munich, with the result that he never became as well-known as many of his colleagues. In any case, Munich fully appreciated Knappertsbusch's talents, and he was named conductor for life. However, he refused several demands made by the Nazis and was fired from his lifetime post in 1936. He conducted a memorable SALOME in Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937, and made some guest appearances elsewhere in Germany, but was content to maintain a low profile during the Nazi regime. He left Germany after the Munich debacle, settling in Vienna where he frequently conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Knappertsbusch's career was again affected by the Nazis when Germany took over Austria over in 1938, but he was mostly able to steer clear of trouble.
Knappertsbusch gained a reputation for broad, magisterial performances of Bruckner, and more and more seemed to emerge as the representative of the traditional style of unhurried Wagner performances. He was famous for disliking rehearsals, often cutting them short; his orchestral players maintained that this was not the result of laziness, but of complete security in his interpretation and trust of the players. His performances were therefore not rigidly preconceived, but instead had a remarkable freshness and spontaneity.
When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951, Knappertsbusch worked closely with Wieland Wagner on orchestral matters (though the conductor was known to dislike the director's spare, revolutionary stage productions). Perhaps Knappertsbusch's most notable recording is his stereo account of Wagner's PARSIFAL from the Bayreuth stage."
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“After an early career in provincial opera companies, Knappertsbusch succeeded Bruno Walter as conductor of the Munich Opera in 1922. Although he was fervently nationalistic and conservative, Hitler considered Knappertsbusch inept both as an opera manager and as an operatic conductor and in 1936 prohibited him from conducting anywhere in Germany. After several years as conductor at the Vienna Opera and the Salzburg Festival, he and Nazi-party authorities were reconciled. Hitler dismissed him as a ‘military bandleader’ but permitted him to conduct several times at the Nuremberg party rallies and at the celebration of his birthday. Knappertsbusch also conducted in occupied countries, once in Cracow at the invitation of the notorious Hans Frank, Governor of the rump state of Poland. After the war Knappertsbusch returned to Munich. He was known for his interpretations of Wagner and Bruckner and was a leading conductor at Bayreuth between 1951 and 1964, famed for his PARSIFAL performances.”
- Frederic Spotts, Great Conductors of the Third Reich
"The dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay was born into an operatic family: her mother was a coloratura soprano and her father a spinto tenor. The year in which she was born they founded the Opera Comique Theatre in Kristiania, Sweden, although they were both born in Hungary, and they managed it until 1921.The family then moved to Argentina and later to New York, where her father died in 1924. Her mother subsequently remarried another tenor, and the young Astrid, after studying to be a pianist, decided at the age of eighteen to become a singer. She worked intensively, first with her mother and then with the Metropolitan Opera conductor and coach Hermann Weigert, whom she later married. She made her sensational stage début at the Metropolitan in 1941, substituting at short notice for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in DIE WALKÜRE with no rehearsal. After this triumph, six days later she replaced Helen Traubel in the same opera as Brünnhilde, and her operatic career was effectively launched. She made her Covent Garden début in 1948 and, at the suggestion of Kirsten Flagstad, her Bayreuth Festival début in 1951. She sang every year at Bayreuth for the next seventeen years and at the Met until 1956, when she left following a disagreement with Rudolf Bing. She henceforth concentrated her career on Germany where she was revered, living in Munich. She moved from the dramatic soprano repertoire into that for mezzo-soprano in 1969, and during the 1980s into character parts. She made her last appearance in Munich in 1995, almost fifty-five years after her Metropolitan début. Her brilliant career is well documented in both commercial and unofficial sound recordings."
- David Patmore
"Born Jean Browning in Central Illinois, this contralto established for herself a singular identity among singers of the deepest, darkest roles for female voice. Tall and strikingly attractive, she possessed both the physical and vocal allure for Carmen and created a riveting portrait of Klytemnestra, both addled and imperious. The later role, perhaps the one with which she was most closely identified, was captured on disc in both studio (with Bohm) and on-stage at Salzburg (with Mitropoulos). Her RHEINGOLD Erda in Solti's RING was likewise striking, voiced with steady, earth-deep tones, a sound once likened to 'gleaming anthracite'."
Browning's father, half American Indian, half English, was a coal miner; her mother taught piano and soon included her daughter among her pupils. Upon her father's death, Browning moved with her family to St. Louis, where she won a scholarship to the Leo C. Miller School of Music. While a student there, she placed first in a competition whose prize was an appearance with the St. Louis Symphony. Under Vladimir Golschmann's direction, she performed Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. In 1941, Browning entered the Juilliard School of Music, where she majored in piano, but also pursued singing, making her debut as Nancy in von Flotow's MARTHA in a 1943 Chautauqua Summer Opera production. At Juilliard, she met and subsequently married a piano student, Francis Madeira, who later became conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, a faculty member at Brown University, and occasionally accompanied his wife following her transition to a full-time singing career.
Olga Samaroff urged the young woman in 1946 to concentrate on becoming a professional singer. While still studying voice at Juilliard, Jean Madeira (as she was by then known) began making appearances with such other groups as the (American) San Carlo Opera Company. Gian Carlo Menotti chose her in 1947 to alternate with Marie Powers in the title role of his THE MEDIUM on its European tour. That same year, she was the recipient of the St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award. In 1948, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the First Norn in a performance of DIE GOTTERDAMMERUNG, beginning her steady progress through such roles as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, and Dalila. In 1954, she began a series of European appearances taking her to Covent Garden, Stockholm, Munich, and Salzburg.
The fall of 1955 brought Madeira's debut at the Vienna Staatsoper in the role of Carmen, a triumph resulting in 45 curtain calls. When she sang Carmen at the Metropolitan in 1956, critic Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review, described her as 'an intelligent artist who gives thought to what she undertakes' and noted her effective use of her striking height. He also praised her portrayal by commenting, 'Mostly it was done with a suggestion of youthful suppleness not often seen'.
In addition to her almost 300 Metropolitan performances in some 41 roles, Madeira continued to appear elsewhere in America and Europe, offering her Carmen at Chicago, where critic Claudia Cassidy praised her as 'svelte, darkly beautiful, with a mezzo soprano streaked in burnt umber and edged with a threat', and at Aix-en-Provence. Her authoritative Erda was heard at Munich, London, and Bayreuth. In 1968, she took part in the premiere of Dallapiccola's ULISSE IN BERLIN, creating the role of Circe. She retired in 1971, shortly before her death in 1972."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com