OP0365. FIDELIO, Live Performance, 22 Feb., 1941, w. Bruno Walter Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, René Maison, Julius Huehn, Alexander Kipnis, Herbert Janssen, Karl Laufkötter, Marita Farell, etc. (Germany) 2-Naxos 8.110054/55. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 636943105429
“At the head stands the kinetic Bruno Walter. It’s not a word one would ordinarily think to use of him, much less his older post-War self, but his drive and passionate command in this score was incendiary, Walter whipping up the band and singers in a fast, linear, directional and profoundly exciting way (it’s not all razor sharp tempi of course; he relaxes where necessary – but the sense is one of forward momentum). If proof were needed of his operatic mastery I would cite this FIDELIO and the 1937 Vienna performance of NOZZE - a performance that outdoes even his Met NOZZE of 1944.
He had a strong, not flawless cast but one never less than compelling. At the head stands Flagstad. In his notes Richard Caniell fights a retrospective rearguard battle in defence of Lotte Lehmann in this role, citing her greater sense of humanity over Flagstad’s intense reserve. In fact the Met’s original 1936 preference for Flagstad, who’d burst on the Wagnerian scene, so upset Lehmann that she apparently said she’d never appear again as Leonore at the Met. Notwithstanding questions of pliancy of characterisation Flagstad is in technically superb voice. She manages to colour the voice with considerable expressivity even though it could be argued, and successfully I think, that her recitatives lack the last ounce of engagement. Melchior isn’t here; he wasn’t offered the role lest it ‘offend the tenors of the Italian wing’ but we do have Maison, a hero of the Met Wagner cycles. I happen to admire both the quality of the voice and its sustenance, retaining strength across the range as it does, though equally, yes, I’d like to have heard Melchior opposite Flagstad (or Lehmann). Another noted Wagnerian, tenor Karl Laufkötter, also impresses through force of character as much as anything – the voice was never particularly beautiful but it was deployed with real reserves of imagination. As Rocco Kipnis employs his big voice with exceptional flexibility – his theatrical instincts are sure, as we hear time and again in this performance, and the voice is at its magnificent best. Not to be overlooked is Marita Farell’s Marzelline – most impressively sung – and American born Huehn (what a loss that he recorded so infrequently and that his career lost ground after the War) and Herbert Janssen’s notable Don Fernando.
But above all this is Walter’s FIDELIO in only his second Met performance. And you should lose no opportunity to acquaint yourself with his fast-moving humanity, and his intense identification with every fissure of a work that bore more than usual weight and resonance at the time.”
- Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international
"More important for the opera itself is Walter's sure hand in shaping every element of the performance....each orchestral motive, each chord, has its appropriate place in the web of symphonic play; at the same time, each element supports and guides the action....the result is a speaking musicality....Walter's well-known reverence for the prisoners' release to sunlight shows in his beautiful pacing of the choral ensemble....the sixty-five-year-old Walter already enjoyed an almost mystical veneration among associates and public....Flagstad is in superb form throughout the entire afternoon. How expertly she hones the mass of her instrument to suit Beethoven's chiseled melodic lines....throughout it all, the voice rings as clear as crystal. She wraps the entire dungeon scene in classical composure...and draws Beethoven's melodic profile with exemplary care....In the final scene of jubilation her long, sustained B-flat, so deftly colored and perfectly placed, hangs over the ensemble like a protective shield....Memory long will dwell on these marks of her greatness."
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.261-62
"[Maison's] efforts are to be applauded, as they are most fulfilling in every musical and artistic aspect imaginable, and underline the fact that he was one of the most histrionically and vocally talented tenors of his generation....René Maison's voice has a timbre that can perhaps be compared to a slightly dry, yet rich and full-bodied red wine. He was a big man physically, and his repertoire and the tone emitted on his recordings do indicate size, weight and a delivery that (according to critical reviews) must have demonstrated excellent projection."
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2011
"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.
In addition to his stage work, Janssen acquired a reputation as a superior singer of Lieder. The exceptional beauty of his voice and his interpretive acuity made him a prime candidate for Walter Legge's Hugo Wolf Society venture of the 1930s. Among the finest singers Legge could pull together, Janssen was given the largest assignment and his subscription recordings made throughout the decade remain supreme, even in the face of the best achievements of post-war Lieder singers.
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.
From 1940 onwards Janssen sang regularly at Buenos Aires and with the San Francisco Opera between 1945 and 1951. Following his retirement in 1952, he remained in New York as a respected teacher.
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