OP3017. DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER, Live Performance, 6 -11 June, 1937, w.Fritz Reiner Cond.Royal Opera House Ensemble (slightly abridged); Kirsten Flagstad, Herbert Janssen, Ludwig Weber, Max Lorenz, etc.; Kirsten Flagstad, w.Merola Cond.San Francisco Opera Orch.: Senta’s Ballad, Live Performance, 1949; Befreit, Allerseelen, Cäcilie (all Strauss), Live Performance, 1950. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1051. Elaborate 40pp. Booklet with photos & notes by Richard Caniell. Restoration, re-creation & transfers by Richard Caniell. - 748252292544
“Score another triumph for Richard Caniell and his remarkable Immortal Performances label. I do not use the word ‘remarkable’ lightly. The truth is that Immortal Performances has consistently been reissuing performances that have been issued before in some form, often repeatedly, and inevitably the quality of this label’s restoration is miles beyond that which has gone before. That is certainly true of this DUTCHMAN, which has had a checkered history. Even in this production it has been labeled ‘slightly abridged’ because of the apparent loss of the original recording of the Erik-Senta scene from the second act (the scene that follows Senta’s Ballade), which has simply been omitted here. Wisely, Immortal Performances puts the disc break after the Ballade, which is preferable to creating a gap of a few seconds in the music. A few other chunks that were missing and were not as self-contained as that duet have been filled in with excerpts from other performances, connected with keeping Daland (Weber) and Reiner consistently throughout. Caniell explains in detail where these occur in his notes accompanying the set [to wit: ‘the Senta-Erik scene in Act II is missing. Reconstruction of this performance, keeping Weber as Daland, required the introduction of 16 minutes in Act I from a 1936 performance and one and a half minutes in Act III. All else is conducted by Reiner. Now, for the first time, the memorable singing of these renowned vocal artists can be heard in sustained musical and dramatic continuity and in good sound as well’].
EMI intended to record as much of Kirsten Flagstad as they could in the 1937 ‘Coronation Season’ at Covent Garden. They made test recordings of the performances of THE FLYING DUTCHMAN on 7 and 11 June, 1937, and a few other tests on 16 June (with a different Erik). The latter have remained missing and are presumably lost. EMI did not do a very good job of keeping and documenting what they had, which has created problems for those who would try to restore and make available these treasures.
Since this was to focus on Flagstad, EMI apparently did not record the Overture, so Caniell provides a Reiner / Metropolitan performance from 1950 to get the performance started. Once past that exciting and taut performance, we are thrust into a performance of incredible momentum and drama, and with stunningly good sound for a 1937 live recording. Prior issues…have issued parts or all of the material, usually incorrectly pitched and with more distortion and compression than we have here. This release opens up the sound of this performance in a way that has never been the case before.
Having Flagstad’s Senta, captured here in the prime of her career, is the obvious selling point for this set. Indeed her performance may surprise those listeners who have typed her as a matronly personality. She makes real the naïve, sacrificing, and hopelessly romantic maiden that Wagner imagined in creating his Senta, with singing that is extraordinarily beautiful. The highlight is ‘Wie aus der Ferne’, the second act duet between Senta and the Dutchman. Flagstad sings with a tenderness and a glowing radiance that no other Senta has duplicated. What is particularly special here is having Flagstad’s Senta, captured here in the prime of her career, the interaction between Flagstad and Janssen - not a baritone and soprano singing to us, but two characters relating with specificity to each other. It is this duet, rather than the Ballade, that is the locus of Flagstad’s performance.
Janssen too is a uniquely specific Dutchman. One normally thinks of Schorr and George London as perhaps the greatest of Dutchmen on disc, and indeed Janssen lacks the particularly lovely and darkly focused sound of those two. But his voice makes clear the desperation and anguish of the character, and the specificity of his way of inflecting individual words and whole phrases making his portrayal treasurable. The Dutchman is one of Wagner’s darkest characters, in a state of perpetual despondency. The risks for a singer portraying this character are to so wallow in that gloom that the result is a monochromatic bore, or alternately to concentrate on the music so that what we get is a vocal concert rather than Wagner’s music drama. Janssen avoids either extreme, giving us the complexity and depth of the character.
What strikes me about this performance, more than any one specific element, is its dramatic force and unity. This is a true musical and dramatic ensemble performance, where the characters seem to be truly interacting with each other and engaged in a real drama, rather than a high level vocal concert. These are characters who listen to, and react to and with each other. Even the orchestra seems wholly involved with the drama.
The remainder of the cast is strong, particularly Ludwig Weber’s Daland, again given here as a complete human being rather than a one-dimensional greedy villain, is another asset of the performance, and what we hear of Max Lorenz’s Erik makes us regret the fact that his big scene with Senta is lost.
Fritz Reiner deserves as much credit as Flagstad and Janssen for the success of this performance. DUTCHMAN is an uneven work, the work of a composer still finding his voice, and unless carefully shaped, the opera can drag or lack dramatic shape. Reiner brings a unique combination of musical strengths to this performance: a strong rhythmic pulse, a blend of supple and firm phrasing, carefully graded dynamics, and above all a continuous momentum that carries everything along with a sense of inevitability. Even the skillfully managed insertions to replace missing material never interrupt that flow, which is a credit to the skills of Caniell.
If you have this performance in some other restoration, you really have not heard it at all and need to replace it with this. It is worth pointing out that Immortal Performances upholds their usual high production values beyond the technical quality of the recording. The booklet contains wonderful photographs and two extremely valuable essays by Caniell.
As those who follow this label know, there is almost always going to be some interesting filler. Here we have excerpts from two Standard Hour radio broadcasts featuring Flagstad, with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Gaetano Merola. Her 1949 concert performance of Senta’s Ballade is more richly vocalized than her performance within the context of the opera (in part due to the better recording quality), but I find the timidity or hesitance expressed in the 1937 performance closer to the mark. Her singing of the three Strauss songs is glorious.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Flagstad first sang Senta in the Metropolitan Opera performances in the same year, when this music-drama was revived after an absence of six years from the repertoire. Of these performances Lawrence Gilman, music critic for the New York World Telegram, wrote: ‘Flagstad has made Senta an extension of her artistic personality, an embodiment of the naïve and ecstatic dreamer of Wagner’s dramatic fable, the selfless, sacrificial woman of the mariner’s anguished hope. The blend of poise and sensibility, vibrancy and resolution, strength and tenderness, pity and heroic faith, that make this embodiment so rare is conveyed to us by Mme. Flagstad from the first moment that we see her sitting entranced, brooding, surrounded by the spinning maidens, but immeasurably apart from them ... we hear it when Senta joins her voice with the Dutchman’s in the rapturous duet’.
Gilman’s report was echoed by other critical evaluations in the press. The music critic for the New York Herald Tribune, Francis Perkins, wrote of Flagstad that it was: ‘a memorable impersonation, vivid and intent, delighting this listener’s ears and strongly appealing to his imagination. Her Senta was, indeed, such as Wagner himself might have had in mind’. Olin Downes, music critic for the New York Times, wrote of Flagstad’s performance (8 Jan., 1939) that she: ‘was the woman of Wagner’s imagining, whose soul hovers between two worlds, whose fate is known to herself alone; who waits, as one preordained, for the moment of her destiny’.”
- Richard Caniell, Program Notes