OP2262 PARSIFAL, Live Performance, 1961, w.Knappertsbusch Cond. Bayreuth Festival Ensemble; Jess Thomas, George London, Hans Hotter, Ludwig Weber, Gustav Neidlinger, Irene Dalis, Gundula Janowitz, Anja Silja, etc. (E.U.) 4-Myto 00289. - 0801439902893
“Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the middle twentieth century. Although he grew up playing and loving music, his parents objected to the notion of a musical career. Thus Knappertsbusch studied philosophy at Bonn University. In 1908, however, he entered the Cologne Conservatory and took conducting courses with Fritz Steinbach.
Knappertsbusch began his career as a staff conductor at the Mülheim-Ruhr Theater (1910-1912) and then as opera director in his home town of Elberfeld. Equally important to his development were his forays into the temple of Wagnerism. 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, magisteral 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 [above] from the Bayreuth stage.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“In the many performances I have appeared in, there were many wonderful colleagues who had me in raptures. There were those with magnificent voices, or great musicians, wonderful actors or great personalities. But George London had it ALL. He was as impressive on stage as he was the wonderful colleague and friend in his private life.”
- Birgit Nilsson, as quoted in Leonardo A. Ciampa’s THE TWILIGHT OF BELCANTO, p.130
“George London was a dramatic and very expressive singer. In many rôles he sang like a demonic panther with a sound of purple-black in color. London was a singer favoring the drama in a piece, varying color to suggest shifts of mood. His acting on stage was described as overwhelming. The special magnetism of this artist is documented on his great recordings. Every rôle he sang was sung with utmost expression and unbelievable commitment, truly a singing-actor!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“This German bass was one of the superb, black-voiced basses of the 1950s and 60s….There is great joy in Neidlinger’s singing, and a great, huge, cavernous, black voice to back it up.”
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2011
“With a powerful bass-baritone of granite-like density and sharply honed dramatic instincts, Gustav Neidlinger was the foremost Alberich of his time. His realization of Wagner's misshapen creature had both the fearsome strength for the curse in DAS RHEINGOLD and the pathos that glinted through the crusty exterior to make Alberich a tragic character in SIEGFRIED and DIE GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG. While Neidlinger capably essayed many other rôles during his long career, Alberich is the rôle that remains indelibly linked to his name.
After studies at the conservatory in Frankfurt am Mainz, Neidlinger made his début at Mainz in 1929. From 1931 to 1934, he was a member of the company in Mainz before transferring his activities to Plauen in 1934. In 1936, he began a long association with Hamburg, remaining with that company until 1950. During the 1950s, his career moved outward to include many of Europe's première venues. Two years after joining the Stuttgart Opera in 1950, he made his Bayreuth Festival début where his rôles embraced Alberich, Telramund, Kurwenal, Klingsor, and even Hans Sachs. He remained on the Bayreuth roster for 23 years. La Scala heard him for the first time in 1953, and beginning in 1956, he became a frequent visitor to the Wiener Staatsoper. In 1963, he appeared at Covent Garden as Telramund, winning further respect from an English public already familiar of his recorded Alberich (with Solti). Neidlinger appeared at the Metropolitan Opera for one season only, presenting his Alberich to New York audiences in 1972. The previous year, he had impressed the Chicago public with his RHEINGOLD Alberich, an interpretation histrionically frightening and vocally undiminished. During the final half-decade of his career, he appeared almost exclusively in Europe. In addition to his Alberich, recorded live at Bayreuth under both Clemens Krauss and Karl Böhm and in the studio under Solti, Neidlinger left a snarling Pizzaro on disc. His sturdy Kurwenal was captured live at Bayreuth. Neidlinger was made a German Kammersänger in 1952.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Irene Dalis, a versatile and fiery mezzo-soprano who starred at the Metropolitan Opera for two decades before building a second career as the director of Opera San José, an innovative company she founded in her California hometown, did not set out to be a singer or an impresario. She studied piano and music education at what was then San Jose State College before earning a master’s degree at Columbia’s Teachers College in Manhattan in the late 1940s. The plan was to go back home and teach. Yet her instructors in New York were struck by her voice and encouraged her to develop it. She began taking lessons with the mezzo-soprano Edyth Walker. Instead of returning to San Jose, she went to Italy to study voice on a Fulbright scholarship in 1951. Just two years later she made her operatic début as Princess Eboli in Verdi’s DON CARLO in Oldenburg, Germany. Four years after that, she performed the same role at the Met. Her début at the Met, on 16 March, 1957, was ‘one of the most exciting of the season’, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. ‘By the time she reached the second-act trio she showed she could sing with temperament’, Mr. Taubman said. ‘And in the third-act, ‘O don fatale’, one of Verdi’s greatest dramatic arias, she was like a veteran. Her voice, which has range, security and brilliant top notes, was now under full control. She sang and moved with a total absorption in the emotion of the character. ‘Her singing had color and fire. In terms of sheer quality there may be more sumptuous voices at the Met in the mezzo-soprano division; Miss Dalis uses hers like an artist’.
For the next two decades, Ms. Dalis was among the Met’s most admired performers, appearing more than 270 times and singing virtually every major mezzo-soprano part written by Verdi, Wagner, Richard Strauss and others. She was nurtured by Rudolf Bing, the Met’s formidable general manager, and performed with Birgit Nilsson, Jussi Bjorling, Robert Merrill, Leontyne Price, Plácido Domingo and Leonie Rysanek.
She sang on many other stages, including at the San Francisco Opera and at Covent Garden. One of her most acclaimed performances was in 1962, when she sang the role of Kundry in PARSIFAL at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. She said later that, under stress from a grueling schedule, she had a revelation while she was there. ‘I asked myself if my talent, which I had always thought so sacred, was so special after all’, she recalled in 1964. ‘I decided it wasn’t. I realized that this was just my way of making a living. I began to see that I couldn’t deliver my best all the time, nobody can, and that I shouldn’t punish myself for my mistakes. ‘I have now approached the time of life where I want to enjoy what I’m doing. Does it seem silly? It seems to me a great discovery’.
She would perform for another decade, but in the mid-1970s she finally went home to California to teach voice, finding a position at San Jose State. Her work with students there led to her founding of Opera San José in 1984. It was modeled on a program in Oldenburg, which gave young performers like Ms. Dalis the chance to sing big roles early in their careers. ‘In the old days, singers started singing major roles at a young age, and it didn’t ruin their voices, did it?’ she said in an interview with OPERA NEWS in 2007. The company, which performs at the California Theater, a restored 1927 movie palace, has its own costume and set shops, owns administrative buildings and provides apartments to some performers. Ms. Dalis ran it until this June. OPERA NEWS called Opera San José ‘the only opera company in the U.S. entirely dedicated to developing the careers of emerging young artists’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 Dec., 2014
“Ms. Silja faced commentary about her age even at the start of her career, when she gave recital tours in Germany and Finland between the ages of 10 and 15. ‘Critics said it was a crime on a child, that this career is not going anywhere and will be over in two years’, she said. She credits her longevity to her grandfather Egon van Rijn, her only voice teacher, a painter by profession who had studied singing with the tenor Beniamino Gigli’s teacher. Ms. Silja’s parents, who were both actors, divorced before she was born, she explained. Mr. van Rijn worked with her, slowly and patiently, almost every day for 20 years, starting when she was 6. He even bestowed a stage name on his protégée: Silja came from a novel he had read.
Her Bayreuth début proved life-transforming, because she was immediately taken under the wing of Wieland Wagner, the composer’s grandson, who ran the festival. Then 43, Wagner fell in love with the tall, reddish-haired and alluring Ms. Silja, and essentially left his wife for her. Her relationship with Wagner meant everything, Ms. Silja said. ‘He is still the most important influence in my life’, she said. ‘Whatever I do, I always think: ‘What would he say? How would he react?’ I never asked questions. I just did what he said’.
What he asked her to do struck many opera insiders as reckless. For the next six years, Ms. Silja worked under Wagner’s direction on some 30 productions at Bayreuth and other companies, performing Elisabeth, Venus, Isolde and Brünnhilde, plus Strauss’ Elektra and Salome; Beethoven’s Leonore and Berg’s Marie and Lulu.
Wieland Wagner’s scenically spare and radically abstract productions caused controversy at the time. After working with Ms. Silja, then a young woman who looked the ages of the roles she created and sang with bold impetuosity, his productions became more human and poignant, she asserted. ‘Just look at the pictures from before and after I cam’, she said. Today, Wieland Wagner is seen as a towering figure, influential not just in opera but in contemporary theater as well.
When he died of lung cancer in 1966, Ms. Silja had a brief relationship with the Belgian-born French conductor André Cluytens, who died the next year at 62. (Ms. Silja lives today in Paris in Mr. Cluytens’s house, which she later bought.) For a couple of seasons she continued to sing in the Bayreuth productions that Wieland Wagner had created with her. Then she essentially gave up the Wagner repertory and has never returned to Bayreuth, finding it too filled with powerful memories.
Ms. Silja has never cultivated a generically beautiful voice. ‘I never cared for so-called bel canto sound’, she said. ‘I cared much more for character’. In this she welcomes the comparisons with Callas. ‘I admired her very much, but, and you can say this nowadays, this was one of the ugliest voices, if you just listen to the voice. The personality made the voice beautiful. From the first second, you recognize her. The personality came through so strongly. That is the goal in opera’.
And yet, a singer must not be self-conscious about projecting emotions, Ms. Silja said, citing her acclaimed portrayal of Berg’s Lulu, the young actress and dancer whose only power in patriarchal German society comes from her attractiveness to men. ‘Lulu was erotic, but sexy is a different thing’, she said. ‘She is a victim of the men in her life. She is an unconscious erotic person. I was unconscious of her danger. The moment you discover your own danger, you interfere too much’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 13 Feb., 2007
“Anja Silja Regina Langwagen is a German soprano who is known for her great abilities as a singing-actress and for the vastness of her repertoire.
The important part of her career began in 1959, when she sang the Queen of Night in Mozart's DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE at the Vienna State Opera (under Karl Böhm) and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. France-Soir dubbed her ‘a second Callas’. Other early roles included Leonora in IL TROVATORE, Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, the four heroines of LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN, Konstanze in DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL, and Fiordiligi in COSÌ FAN TUTTE. She made her début in 1960 at the Bayreuth Festival, as Senta in DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER. At Bayreuth, she also sang Elsa in LOHENGRIN (opposite Astrid Varnay), Elisabeth in TANNHÄUSER, Eva in DIE MEISTERSINGER, Venus in TANNHÄUSER, Freia in DAS RHEINGOLD, the Waldvogel in SIEGFRIED, etc. Outside Bayreuth, the soprano appeared in Wieland Wagner's productions of SALOME, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, DIE WALKÜRE and SIEGFRIED (as Brünnhilde), ELEKTRA, FIDELIO, OTELLO, LULU, WOZZECK (conducted by Pierre Boulez), and other operas.
Silja continued her career with appearances at Trieste, the Edinburgh Festival, the Salzburg Festival, Barcelona, Metropolitan Opera (FIDELIO and SALOME, 1972), Paris (ERWARTUNG, under Sir Georg Solti), Berlin, Cologne (LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST), Vienna (world premiere of Einem's KABALE UND LIEBE) and Brussels. Other new roles in this period were Emilia Marty in THE MAKROPOULOS CASE, Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, MÉDÉE, DIE LUSTIGE WITWE, CARMEN (staged by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle), LA JUIVE, KATYA KABANOVA, TOSCA, Tatiana in EUGENE ONEGIN, and DIE KÖNIGEN VON SABA.
Silja made her début as a stage director in 1990 at Brussels with LOHENGRIN. Her 2001 recording of JENUFA, from Covent Garden, won a Grammy Award.”
- Loyal Bluto