OP0286. DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER, 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. Standing Room Only SRO 808. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy!
"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.
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 naive, 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.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Herbert Janssen - with his plangent, fine-grained voice, keen intelligence, aristocratic musicianship, and (not incidentally) handsome appearance - was the leading German baritone in several major theatres during the 1920s and 1930s. After study with Oskar Daniel in Berlin he was immediately accepted by Max von Schillings for the Berlin State Opera, where he made his debut in 1922 as Herod in Schreker's DER SCHATZGRABER . He remained at the Berlin State Opera until 1937 singing both lyric and dramatic roles, many of them in the Italian repertory. He later appeared in important productions of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER and TRISTAN UND ISOLDE at Covent Garden conducted by Reiner and Beecham, also singing Orest / ELEKTRA and in 1935 taking the title role in Borodin's PRINCE IGOR, for which he was highly praised.
Janssen was a fixture at the Bayreuth Festival from 1930 to 1937. His Wolfram in TANNHAUSER set a standard not approached since, and, fortunately, it was recorded in a somewhat truncated 1930 production. During that decade, he established benchmarks for several Wagner roles, particularly Kurwenal, Telramund, Gunther, and - especially - Amfortas. His interpretation of the latter was an exquisitely sung realization of a soul in torment, achieving a remarkable unity of voice, movement, and makeup. His doggedly loyal Kurwenal is preserved on complete recordings of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE made live at Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937. His tortured Dutchman is also available in a live recording made at Covent Garden and featuring Kirsten Flagstad as Senta.
Janssen was very unpopular with the Nazi regime, having turned down a dinner invitation from Hitler at Bayreuth, Janssen left Germany in 1937 and with Toscanini's assistance traveled immediately to Buenos Aires. After a season in Argentina, he came to the United States where he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1939, remaining at that theater until his stage retirement in 1952.
Janssen's performances were notable for the warm and sympathetic timbre of his voice, his excellent command of legato and clear enunciation, as well as his convincing acting. Also a highly accomplished lieder singer, he had in addition starred in the musical DREI MUSKETIERE at the Metropol Theatre in Berlin during 1928 opposite Gota Ljungberg."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com