OP2969. TANNHÄUSER, Live Performance, 18 Jan., 1936, w.Bodanzky Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lauritz Melchior, Kirsten Flagstad, Lawrence Tibbett, Kerstin Thorborg (replaces Margaret Halstead), Emanuel List, Arnold Gabor, Editha Fleischer, etc.; TANNHÄUSER - Act III complete, Bayreuth 1930 and 1931, w.Lauritz Melchior, Maria Müller, Herbert Janssen, Ruth Jost-Arden; TANNHÄUSER – Excerpts, recorded 1940; William Steinberg & Edwin McCarthur Cond. Lauritz Melchior, Rose Bampton & Richard Bonelli. Two booklets including rare photographs, extensive texts and biographies. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1039. Transfers & Essay by Richard Caniell. - 748252293046.
"To have in one performance, even if it existed only in our dreams, Melchior, Flagstad, Thorborg, Tibbett, and List is to have as close to a Wagnerian ideal as there is. . . .The key to any performance of TANNHÄUSER is the tenor in the title role, and it is doubtful that there was ever a better one than Melchior. Seven Met broadcasts exist in some form featuring the great Dane, most having been released on multiple labels . . . In all cases the transfers are not very good, exhibiting pitch problems, muffled sound leading to colorless voices, and dynamic compression. For this transfer . . . Caniell has gotten a far superior, more natural, orchestral and vocal sound from the material than is heard even on some of the other labels’ later performances. What we have here sounds like the voices we know from later studio recordings, here caught in the heat of performance.
Melchior was as good as it gets in this fiendishly [difficult] role, retaining freshness of voice throughout the opera and characterizing the music with more specificity and dramatic meaning than he is usually credited with. The sound itself is glorious, his ability to sing an even, gentle legato and then to let his voice peal forth with glorious power without ever losing richness of tone is unique to him among Heldentenors. Captured here in his prime, he gives a performance to treasure.
This is the only recording Tibbett left of a complete German role . . . and if there has ever been a Wolfram with a richer or more beautiful timbre I have not encountered him. He, like Melchior, is capable of a seamless legato, and his singing of the ‘Hymn to the Evening Star’ has far more of a face to it than his studio recording.
Flagstad too contradicts the clichés about her glorious voice being married to a too stolid temperament. She sings with variety of color and dynamic shadings and inflects with specificity in a way that brings Elisabeth vividly to life. And indeed that voice is something of a miracle of nature in its glow and evenness from top to bottom.
The principal issue in this TANNHÄUSER is Margaret Halstead’s Venus, a completely unacceptable singer in the company of Melchior, Flagstad, Tibbett, and List. She was apparently a last-minute substitute for Gertrude Wettergren. Caniell has substituted Kerstin Thorborg from a 1941 Met broadcast . . . The insertions are extremely natural and smooth, sonically and musically, and one is not jarred. For those who wonder about the justification for this kind of technical wizardry, Caniell has inserted after the conclusion of the first act some excerpts of Halstead’s performance. It is fairly gruesome singing, with intonation problems and a hollowness of sound that is really hard on the ear. What is particularly impressive is that instead of just lifting Thorborg/Melchior from 1941, because he wanted to keep Melchior from 1936 (where Thorborg wasn’t present) he had to keep switching between the two performances when they sang sequentially. That one cannot hear it is an impressive achievement. Thorborg’s rich vocal colors and sensitive shaping of Venus’s music more than justifies Caniell’s decision to bring her in from 1941 to remove the disastrous Halstead. None of the insertions is audible, and if we weren’t told . . . we would never realize that this was not a single performance.
The individual bonus recordings speak for themselves—all are famous among collectors, and all have been restored lovingly and beautifully. . .
As is normal for Immortal Performances, there are excellent notes about the opera itself, the singers involved, and the history of the recording as well as insights into the thought processes of Caniell in putting this together.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE Nov./Dec., 2014
“The 4th disc offers a reconstruction of the 1930-31 Bayreuth performance with Melchior, Müller, Janssen, and Jost-Arden as Venus. This performance was not recorded, but the 1930 performance was, by Columbia, and it offered Pilinszky in the title role, a tenor who is unbearable to me and who was greatly disliked by Toscanini (see our album notes). As the 1930 recording is all that exists, what I intended to achieve was another entry in the ‘Opera House of Our Dreams’ series (as was the ‘DREAM RING’ and the 1936 Met TANNHÄUSER which substitutes Thorborg for Halstead while retaining Melchior from 1936 throughout). The Bayreuth 1930 Act III was subjected to huge cuts by Columbia so as to make it more an album of excerpts (full details in our booklet notes). All the missing music has been brought back and while we now have a rich experience of the sound of the 1930-1931 performances; alas we have no records of Toscanini in it so Karl Elmendorff conducts.
I have known many opera lovers who recall with distaste these unconscionable cuts by Columbia management, which would have taken only two more 78 rpm discs (4 sides) and possibly a full side to complete. And another number who join me in disliking Pilinszky’s wobbly, sour singing. This album then is as much for them as it is for me, finally permitting us to hear the 1930 - 1931 performances with Müller, Janssen and Jost-Arden recordings in a fully enjoyable context featuring the imperishable singing of Melchior.”
- Richard Caniell
“To hear Tibbett sing Wagner is to discover another facet of his art, a simplicity of utterance, a directness of manner entirely right for Wolfram. His is a more manly characterization of the gentle knight than is often heard. Whenever the situation warrants, he summons a strong straightforward tone….It is Wolfram’s virility which Tibbett’s vocal manner emphasizes by the healthy sonority of his middle low voice….where he begins to work his heartfelt magic, sweetening the tone and binding the phrases in seamless legato…simplicity and directness….In the scene with Tannhäuser, Flagstad is at her most communicative, tenderly modifying her mass of sound in a variety of inflexions – she successfully registers girlhood confusion, subtly varies the weight of top notes, and as she tries to fathom her lover’s behavior, floats a pair of deliciously seductive ‘Heinrichs’. The romantic manner of Wagner’s early operas clearly allows her greater play in the management of line and voice….This is some of the loveliest singing in the entire Flagstad canon….In sum, the entry of Elisabeth into the Flagstad broadcast gallery provides one of her most sensitive portrayals, notable for her frequent rejection of heroic dimensions in favor of fresh buoyancy of song.”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.104-05
“Kerstin Thorborg is a true contralto voice with a powerful top extension, making it eminently suitable for the special requirements of dramatic roles. Her top notes are prefectly placed and she sings with a rich and ample tone through the whole range. She is one of the great Wagnerin singers of the 20th century and all recordings in which she was involved are a ‘must’.
She gained great success, particularly as Brangäne. Bruno Walter became one of her most important mentors. Under Bruno Walter she sang the title role in Gluck’s ORFEO, and in 1936 with Walter she made gramophone history in the first ever recording of Mahler’s DAS LIED VON DER ERDE. She was most highly estimated by many great conductors, such as Georg Szell, Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Busch, Felix Weingartner, Hans Knappertsbusch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini and Victor de Sabata. In 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria, she broke her contract and left for the USA. There she had made her début already in 1936 at the Met. She stayed with this company until 1950, where she became one of the most successful mezzos, performing some three hundred nights during twelve seasons.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Thorborg was one of the finest artists before the public during her prime years in the 1930s. Celebrated by critics in London and New York, she was admired for her completeness as an artist, excelling in both opera and concert work, and adept in many areas of the repertoire. Attractive and supple on stage, she was regarded as among the finest actresses in opera. In the company of such fellow singers as Leider, Flagstad, Lehmann, Melchior, and Schorr, she made her era an outstanding one for Wagnerian performance.
Thorborg made her début at the Stockholm Opera in AÏDA, achieving a substantial success with her first Ortrud in 1924. The mezzo remained with the company until 1930 (also fulfilling numerous concert engagements) before accepting an offer from the Prague National Theatre and, subsequently, Nuremberg. After a successful series of performances in both houses, she was summoned to Berlin, where she was engaged by the Städtische Oper, singing there from 1932 to 1935. In 1935, she began appearing at Vienna Staatsoper and remained there until 1938. Her Salzburg roles between 1935 and 1937 included Orfeo, Magdalene, Brangäne, Donna Mercedes in Hugo Wolf's rarely performed DER CORREGIDOR, and Eglantine in Weber's EURYANTHE. In the midst of her European engagements, she managed to fit in a season at Buenos Aires as well.
In 1936, Thorborg made débuts at both Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, receiving praise for her consummate artistry. Her May appearance in DIE WALKÜRE prompted London's very particular Ernest Newman to describe her as ‘the finest Fricka I have ever seen or hope to see’. Later, Newman greeted her Kundry with these words: ‘She walks like a goddess, sits like a statue; and not a single gesture is wasted throughout the whole evening. All in all, I would rank her as the greatest Wagnerian actress of the present day’.
In New York, Thorborg's December début was again as Fricka, a performance also celebrated as that of a great actress. While critics deemed her somewhat too bright in tone, they greeted her portrayal as altogether exceptional. Thorborg was described as ‘a woman of regal and distinguished beauty, stately in bearing, slender, tall and straight’. The reviewer hailed her as ‘an actress of intelligence and skill and power’. Thorborg's appearances at Covent Garden ended before the outbreak of World War II, but her Metropolitan engagement extended over fifteen seasons, during which she proved herself a mainstay of the Wagnerian wing. In 243 performances, she ranged over nearly the entire range of Wagner roles for mezzo and contralto, also performing such parts as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, Octavian, Herodias, and Marina in BORIS GODUNOV. Thorborg sang two seasons at San Francisco (1938 and 1943) and in Chicago between 1942 and 1945.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Lawrence Tibbett, to my taste the greatest operatic baritone America has ever produced. His enormous charm is complemented by fabulous diction - he's one of the very few ‘classical’ singers whose every word is clearly understandable.”
- Jeffrey Lipscomb