OP2924. ELEKTRA, Live Performance, 16 Dec., 1965, w.Böhm Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Regina Resnik, Wolfgang Windgassen, Eberhard Wächter, Gundula Janowitz, etc. (Austria) 2-Orfeo C 886 1421. - 4011790886220
“Following the scandalous SALOME, it was with the radical, expressive violence of ELEKTRA in 1909 that Richard Strauss finally cemented his position as the leading German opera composer of his generation. The immense vocal and orchestral demands it makes remain undiminished and few singers have really been able to meet the murderous challenge of singing the title role. In the 1960's and '70s, however, Birgit Nilsson was one, possessing as she did a powerful voice also capable of much subtlety.
This live recording from the Vienna State Opera in 1965, in a production by Wieland Wagner, was conducted by the great Karl Böhm, and was a musical triumph. Not only did Böhm and Nilsson give full rein to the eruptive violence of Strauss' setting but they also attended to the psychological details that the composer teased out of Hoffmansthal's text. They were aided in this by the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera and a cast that was homogeneous right down to the smallest roles. Leonie Rysanek sang the wistful Chrysothemis, in a role she made her own, and with her luminous soprano she was an ideal counterpart to Nilsson's tortured heroine. As their adversary, their inscrutable mother Klytämnestra, the dusky-timbred Regina Resnik gave a superb performance. For the adulterous lover Aegisth, the State Opera engaged the legendary heldentenor Wolfgang Windgassen. Eberhard Wächter sang the part of Orest, and with his unmistakeable baritone he offered every possible nuance of this important character, driven by fate.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron
"[Böhm had a] natural, essential music-making….the magical ease and naturalness of transition from one tempo to another, the human warmth, the humor, restrained pathos, the aristocratic and refined taste in final ritardandos and the incredible energy of the man."
- Walter Legge, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 Feb., 1995
“Nilsson made so strong an imprint on a number of rôles that her name came to be identified with a repertory, the ‘Nilsson repertory’, and it was a broad one. She sang the operas of Richard Strauss and made a specialty of Puccini's TURANDOT, but it was Wagner who served her career and whom she served as no other soprano since the days of Kirsten Flagstad.
A big, blunt woman with a wicked sense of humor, Ms. Nilsson brooked no interference from Wagner's powerful and eventful orchestra writing. When she sang Isolde or Brünnhilde, her voice pierced through and climbed above it. Her performances took on more pathos as the years went by, but one remembers her sound more for its muscularity, accuracy and sheer joy of singing under the most trying circumstances.
Her long career at the Bayreuth Festival and her immersion in Wagner in general, began in the mid-1950s. No dramatic soprano truly approached her stature thereafter, and in the rôles of Isolde, Brünnhilde and Sieglinde, she began her stately 30-year procession around the opera houses of the world. Her United States debut was in San Francisco in 1956. Three years later she made her début at the Metropolitan Opera, singing Isolde under Karl Böhm, and some listeners treasure the memory of that performance as much as they do her live recording of the rôle from Bayreuth in 1966, also under Böhm. The exuberant review of her first Met performance appeared on the front page of The New York Times on 19 Dec., 1959, under the headline, ‘Birgit Nilsson as Isolde Flashes Like New Star in 'Met' Heavens’."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Jan., 2006
“Regina Resnik won the Metropolitan Opera auditions and débuted with great success at the Met on 6 December, 1944, as a last-minute replacement for Zinka Milanov. The rôle was Leonora in Verdi’s IL TROVATORE and over the years performed many of opera’s most important roles on its most prominent stages, including those of the New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden and other European houses. Her best-known roles include Ellen Orford in Britten’s PETER GRIMES, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI and the title role in Bizet’s CARMEN. Later in her career she performed in musical theater and became a sought-after instructor and opera director. She was known for her strong dramatic skills and impeccable musicianship onstage and for her bold personality offstage. She displayed fearlessness from the beginning. Following the triumph of her first season, Resnik became a leading soprano at the Met, during which time she sang Rosalinde in this English-language production of DIE FLEDERMAUS, a delightful tour-de-force!
In 1942, she made her début at the New Opera Company of New York after being given 24 hours’ notice that she was needed to substitute. Two years later, she made a similar last-minute substitution in her début at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora, in IL TROVATORE. Each time she impressed. ‘All things considered, Miss Resnik’s début was an auspicious one’, a review of her Metropolitan début in THE NEW YORK TIMES said. ‘She has a strong, clear soprano, which, though occasionally marred by a tremolo, is both agile enough for the florid passages allotted to Leonora and forceful enough for the dramatic ones’.
Ms. Resnik became a much-admired soprano and toured widely through the mid-1950s, when she and others began to notice that her voice was darkening. A friend, the baritone Giuseppe Danise, helped persuade her to change, telling her he believed she had always been a mezzo. ‘It was the biggest gamble of my life, when I decided over two tumultuous years that perhaps I was not a soprano after all’, she told The Times in 1967. ‘There were many opinions: I was a soprano with low notes, or mezzo with high notes’. The gamble paid off, she said, and it ultimately provided her with better roles, including some of her most notable, as Carmen, Klytämnestra in ELEKTRA, Mistress Quickly in FALSTAFF and the Countess in PIQUE DAME. ‘I have really run the gamut’, she added, emphatic that she had not lost her upper register. ‘And my range is exactly the same today. Not one note higher or lower. But I was happier in the depth of my voice than in its height’.
Ms. Resnik graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx and studied music education at Hunter College, graduating in 1942.
‘She was a totally American original’, said F. Paul Driscoll, the editor in chief of OPERA NEWS. ‘She was always very proud of being educated in the United States and beginning her career in the United States’. Mr. Driscoll emphasized Ms. Resnik’s resilience, particularly under Rudolf Bing, the sometimes autocratic general manager of the Met, for much of her career. ‘She embraced the opportunities she was given, and whether or not Mr. Bing thought they were star parts, she made them star parts’, Mr. Driscoll said. ‘Directors loved her, conductors loved her, and the audience loved her’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Aug., 2013
“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
“Following an apprenticeship in his native Austria, Karl Böhm was appointed, at the recommendation of Karl Muck, to be assistant to Walter at the Munich State Opera in 1921. He went on to become music director in Darmstadt in 1927, in Hamburg in 1931 and, with Hitler's approval, in Dresden, as successor to Fritz Busch in 1934. During his decade-long tenure he maintained Dresden's reputation for imaginative repertory, with performances of new works that included the premieres of DIE SCHWEIGSAME FRAU, 1935, and DAPHNE, 1938, an opera dedicated by Strauss to the conductor. From 1943 to the end of the war, he was director of the Vienna State Opera.
Privately no less than publicly, Böhm was a strong supporter of Hitler and National Socialism from 1933 on and gave the Nazi salute at the beginning of a concert. He subsequently not only was unrepentant but defiant, even, claiming that while other conductors took the easy course and fled, he stayed behind to suffer and be bombed with other Germans. After a two-year ban by occupation authorities, Böhm became conductor of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic.”
- Frederic Spotts, Great Conductors of the Third Reich