OP3159. LOHENGRIN, Live Performance, 2 Sept., 1963, w. Hans Knappertsbusch Cond. Bayerischen Staatsoper Ensemble; Hans Hopf, Ingrid Bjoner, Astrid Varnay, Kurt Böhme, Hans Günter Nöcker, Josef Metternich & Gislinde Skroblin. (Austria) 3-Orfeo C900153D. - 4011790900322
“This is the kind of lucky ‘find’ of which collectors dream: the first release of the first-ever recording of LOHENGRIN by Knappertsbusch. Of course Wagnerians knew that Furtwängler’s rival, the arch-Wagnerian Hans Knappertsbusch, repeatedly conducted the late works including his 1960 MEISTERSINGER from Bayreuth, for example, which was recently released on Orfeo. But who realised that he conducted LOHENGRIN in post-War Munich no less than 16 times, and that a recording exists? After his MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, this then is the second ORFEO Knappertsbusch world première recording, both of them from the Prinzregententheater in Munich, his LOHENGRIN dating from just before the reopening of the National Theatre in 1963. Knappertsbusch came originally from Elberfeld in the Rhineland, but chose Munich as his home and the city of Munich can be proud that he conducted LOHENGRIN here, but never did so in Bayreuth. Another ‘first’ on this recording is the singing of Hans Hopf in the title role, for no recording of him as Lohengrin had surfaced up to now. He is partnered by the highly dramatic duo of Astrid Varnay – who seemed predestined for the role of Ortrud – and the great Wagner soprano Ingrid Bjoner as Elsa, who was 35 at the time of this recording. This is Bjoner’s only complete, extant Wagner recording from Munich, even though she was for many years a member of the Munich ensemble (and was so well-versed that she was even able to jump in to take on the role of Isolde in Bayreuth in 1986). Alongside Kurt Böhme as King Heinrich, the quality of the ensemble is further proven by the luxury casting of Josef Metternich in the role of the Heerrufer. This recording is not taken from a radio broadcast, but was found in the archives of the then deputy Intendant of the Bavarian State Opera, Herbert List, and it has been prepared carefully using all the technological means available today.”
"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
“Hans Hopf sang the title role in SIEGFRIED and Siegfried in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG. He was singing both roles for the first time and naturally had put in yeoman’s work to have readied these mammoth roles for performances on the level demanded by the Bayreuth Festival. Formerly he had sung primarily the Italian repertoire, but was now beginning to concentrate on Wagner roles, which suited his robust voice very well. Hopf was an incomparable raconteur, and one was never bored in his company.”
- Birgit Nilsson, LA NILSSON, p.160
“For many of the record-buying public, their impression of German dramatic tenor Hans Hopf was formed upon viewing the wretched photograph that was displayed on the cover of his 1960 EMI recording of TANNHÄUSER. Appearing bloated and dim-witted, the tenor was sorely misrepresented by a portrait that should never have been released. While his voice had by that time grown beefier and less pliant, Hopf was too serious an artist to have been exposed to such a public relations disaster. For a truer picture, physically and aurally, turn to his Walter in EMI's live recording of Bayreuth's 1951 DIE MEISTERSINGER with Schwarzkopf, Edelmann, and Karajan. Here, before the strain of too many heroic roles took their toll, his singing was strong and highly agreeable, accomplished if somewhat short of poetic. Hopf studied with bass Paul Bender in Munich before making his début in 1936 singing Pinkerton with the Bavarian Regional Opera. Affiliations with Augsburg, Dresden, Oslo, and Berlin preceded his extended membership at the Bavarian Staatsoper beginning in 1949. In addition to his Bayreuth début, the 1950 -- 1951 season held a first appearance at Covent Garden, where Hopf sang his German-language Radames in an otherwise English-language AÏDA. He was also heard as Walter, pleasing the critics and audiences more for his sturdy singing than for his subtlety. Hopf remained with the Royal Opera through the 1952 - 1953 season, offering his Walter all three years. At Bayreuth, Hopf worked his way to Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and Siegfried by the 1960s. In 1952, he made his Metropolitan Opera début as Walter. He continued to appear for five more years, eventually amassing a total of 34 performances in the Wagnerian repertory. At Salzburg in 1954, Hopf made his début as Max in Weber's DER FREISCHÜTZ. Although most of his career was spent in Europe, Hopf made two further appearances in American opera houses singing Herodes in both Chicago (1968) and San Francisco (1974), both times with Astrid Varnay as his consort. Although the latter production caught him rather late in the day, he was still an arresting Herod, dissolute and clearly not quite stable. In Germany, Hopf had achieved a considerable reputation as Verdi's Otello.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“In the Norwegian Radio production of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, mounted for Kirsten Flagstad in 1956, Ingrid Bjoner sang the Third Norn and Gutrune; and in 1957 she not only made her début with the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo as Donna Anna, but also sang the title role in Handel’s RODELINDA at the Drottningholm Festival at the invitation of Flagstad. Between 1957 and 1959 Bjoner was a member of the Wuppertal Opera and of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf-Duisburg between 1959 and 1961. She made her first appearance at the Vienna State Opera in 1959 and sang there regularly until 1986 in parts such as Desdemona, Leonore, Rezia, and the title rôles in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS and TURANDOT. In 1960 she made her débuts in San Francisco as Elsa and at the Bayreuth Festival as Freia, Helmwige, and Gutrune in DER RING, conducted by Rudolf Kempe.
Bjoner joined the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1961, where she sang the Empress in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN at the reopening of the National Theatre in 1963, as Isolde at its centenary performance in 1965, and the Marschallin in 1966. Her Metropolitan Opera début came in 1961 with Elsa, and she sang there regularly until 1967 where her rôles included Ariadne, the Countess in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Donna Anna, the Empress, Eva and Gutrune. While in New York Bjöner sang the Duchess of Parma in the American première of Busoni’s DOKTOR FAUST at Carnegie Hall in 1964. She first appeared at La Scala, Milan, as Elsa in 1965 and at Covent Garden in 1967 as Senta, returning in the same year to sing Sieglinde and Leonore, a rôle which she sang at the Salzburg Festivals of 1969 and 1970 and in which she made a return to the Metropolitan Opera in 1971.
During the 1970s Bjoner sang in major opera houses, including those of Berlin (Deutsche Oper), Copenhagen, Madrid, Milan, Oslo, Pittsburgh, Stockholm and Stuttgart as well as at the Bayreuth Festival. Her first appearances at the Paris Opéra were in 1972, as Isolde and Tosca. She both directed and sang the title part in Elektra in Oslo in 1985, repeating this feat in Copenhagen during the following year, when she also sang Isolde at Bayreuth and the Kostelnicka at Karlsruhe. Bjoner recorded Elektra for Italian Radio in 1987 and returned to Munich in 1988 to sing the Empress. Her last operatic performance was at Karlsruhe in 1990, again with the Empress; she continued however to be active as a teacher in both Oslo and Copenhagen.
Bjoner possesed a strong and vibrant soprano voice which was well suited to the major Wagner and Strauss rôles. Her recorded legacy consists predominantly of live recordings of stage and radio performances, which preserve much of the excitement of her singing.”
- David Patmore
"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