OP1980. PARSIFAL - Act I, Live Performance, 1946, Buenos Aires, w.Kleiber Cond. Teatro Colón Ensemble; Torsten Ralf, Emanuel List, Herbert Janssen & Rose Bampton; PARSIFAL - Excerpts from Acts I & III, Live Performances, Covent Garden, 1937 & 1949, w.Reiner & Moralt Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; Torsten Ralf, Ludwig Weber, Herbert Janssen & Robert Easton; PARSIFAL - Excerpts, recorded 1925-49, w.Muck, Weissmann, Barbirolli, Ormandy, Moralt & Siegfried Wagner Cond. Frida Leider, Gotthelf Pistor, Lauritz Melchior, Alexander Kipnis & Fritz Wolff. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1006, w.Elaborate 46pp Booklet & notes by Richard Caniell. Restoration, re-creation & transfers by Richard Caniell. - 625989620621
“Every so often Richard Caniell comes through with a new issue that simply must be called to the attention of Wagnerites everywhere, but especially to those with an abiding interest in historic performance perspectives. That he invariably does so while using his considerable sound restoration talents to achieve previously unimagined heights of sound reproduction legerdemain is not a peripheral issue, since much of what he issues has been available in previous incarnations, sometimes often so, and what he achieves in this area may often be the main reason for acquiring a performance yet again on his label. For most who have heard these excursions into a kind of Wagnerian Dreamland (his most famous production was called THE DREAM RING), the ends almost always justify the means. Mr. Caniell's track record to date in this regard has been just about perfect, and then spend the rest of our time examining this new issue which, while benefiting somewhat from only a bit of quite justified tweaking here and there, is mostly devoted to a performance which has had no previous history on records, augmented by one that should not have had any in its previous state of imperfect sound reproduction, and with judiciously chosen bits and pieces added to make a whole definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Is there a pressing need for this issue in your collection? If you are performance-oriented, I would say yes, for the main interests here are a composite-but-complete performance of Amfortas as sung by one of that role's greatest interpreters, Herbert Janssen, a substantial portion of the title role by one of its leading interpreters of the postwar years, Torsten Ralf, some inkling of Rose Bampton's Kundry (possibly her most important operatic assumption), an even better example of Ludwig Weber's near-definitive Gurnemanz than the Bayreuth one we have been enjoying for almost sixty years now, and welcome exposure to both Kleiber's and Reiner's way with this score.
To the details. Amazing things are starting to show up from the Teatro Colón Radio Archives, but it is important for preserving our only glimpses of Bampton's Kundry and Kleiber's conducting of this score, and, along with the 1937 Covent Garden excerpts, our only exposure to Ralf's Parsifal and, most important of all, Herbert Janssen's Amfortas, a role of which he was arguably the world's leading interpreter at the time, and one which he pretty much owned at the Met after Schorr's departure in 1943. That London performance also gives us an idea of Reiner's way with the music and highlights a youthful Ludwig Weber's Gurnemanz. Despite what you may be thinking, the [various] patched-in segments are undetectable, even when Mr. Caniell points them out very specifically. Those familiar with Mr. Caniell's work will not be surprised by this.
As for the performances, well, it is hard to imagine that Herbert Janssen's voice ever sounded any better than it does throughout these two performances which do give you the entire role of Amfortas. Janssen, whose baritone voice was essentially lyrical, may have been unwise to acquiesce to the Met's importuning that he sing all three Wotans upon Schorr's retirement (Hans Sachs was already more than enough of a stretch for him), but though his voice did turn dry and ill-focused in time, had he not done so there would have been several years with no MEISTERSINGERS or RING operas at all at the Met, and as heard here, there really is no evidence of a falling off in vocal quality in the nine years separating his Colón and London performances of Amfortas. The voice is lovely in quality throughout.
In 1937, Ralf was arguably one of the world's great tenors, and you would infer nothing else when hearing him here. His more lyrical approach to dramatic tenor singing served him well, particularly in a role like Parsifal. If he misses the fervor that Melchior brought to the role, this is a lovely (and instructive) performance.
Bampton was always an underrated singer, especially in her soprano years, and Kundry may have been her best assumption at the Met. As with Janssen's Amfortas, Bampton was pretty much the Met Kundry in the mid-and-late 1940s (only Varnay sang the role as often at the Met during that general period, but her then-career at the Met extended well into the 1950s, whereas Bampton left the Company after the 1949-50 season). It's a lovely voice, and a relatively gentle presence. As it is she impresses in the daintier side of Kundry's character, but that is no little thing in a role that invites more than most the chewing of scenery.
Really worth waiting for, and closing out the third CD, are about 45 minutes of some of the very finest recordings from PARSIFAL made during the second quarter of the last century, these presented in the order in which they appear in the opera. The Transformation Scene, with Ivar Andresen and Gotthelf Pistor (a much underrated Wagner tenor of the period); then a Karl Muck-led Flowermaidens Scene (the ladies anonymous); after which we get four of the most famous vocal recordings of all time, Frida Leider's ‘Ich sah' das Kind’, followed by the Lauritz Melchior-Eugene Ormandy ‘Amfortas! - die Wunde!’, then the Good Friday Music with Alexander Kipnis and Fritz Wolf, and finally the Melchior-Ormandy ‘Nur eine Waffe taugt’ which leads so seamlessly into the Moralt-led Finale. There isn't anything much one can say about any of these performances, other than that the vocal solo ones have not been surpassed since they were made, but it is a sobering thought that in, say, 1935, the world had Ivar Andresen, Ludwig Weber, Alexander Kipnis, Ludwig Hoffmann, Michael Bohnen and Emanuel List to do the Wagnerian bass honors at the world's great opera houses and that, at least up to that time, only Bohnen had been a star of the magnitude of such non-Wagner basses as Ezio Pinza, Tancredi Pasero and Feodor Chaliapin!
Mr. Caniell's notes are informative, comprehensive and, quite honestly, treasurable. And although they are a bit shorter than is usually the case with these issues, we still get lengthy to quite lengthy articles on PARSIFAL, then on Wagner and PARSIFAL, then a six-page Synopsis of the opera taken from the 1914 Victor Book of the Opera (you've never read a better one), then excellent biographical notes on the singers and conductors and, finally, six pages of Recording Notes (the latter very important in the context of this set). They could hardly be better-written and arranged, and might well serve as models for other reissuing companies to emulate. As is usual with such reissues, there are no texts.
If you have any interest in the performance history of Wagner in general, and of PARSIFAL in particular, this is, like almost all of Mr. Caniell's recorded projects, a set that really does automatically recommend itself. I do, too.”
- Joe Pearce, OPERA QUARTERLY
"Dramatic tenor Torsten Ralf achieved both artistic and popular success in several of the repertory's heaviest tenor roles. His large, smoothly produced voice was not quite of Heldentenor caliber, given that it lacked the baritonal lower register thought of as necessary for such challenges as Tannhï¿½user, Tristan, and Siegfried. But Ralf possessed unusually full and powerful top notes, fitting him ideally for such roles as Walter von Stolzing and the often painfully high Strauss heroic tenor roles. Indeed, one of the latter was his own creation. Ralf was a conscientious musician, seeking to follow the composer's intentions. When, however, he sang the final B flat at the conclusion of 'Celeste Aida' softly as Verdi notated, his reward was only a smattering of applause.
Ralf made his debut in Stettin as Cavaradossi in a 1930 production of TOSCA. He sang at Chemnitz in 1932 and 1933, then in Frankfurt from 1933 to 1935. In 1935, he began an eight-year association with Dresden, where he appeared as Apollo in the premiere of Strauss' DAPHNE in 1938. A recording made at the time testifies to Ralf's extraordinary facility in the very high tessitura of the role. Ralf's dï¿½but in London also took place in 1935 and he remained with Covent Garden until the outbreak of WWII made his return impossible. He revisited London once more in 1948, as Radames.
London critics appreciated Ralf at his first appearance on 8 May, 1935 -- but the opera house administration liked him even more. He had come from Germany to substitute for an ailing singer in LOHENGRIN. Unable to book a flight, he traveled by ship and train, arriving just three and a half hours before performance time. His supple, yet powerful voice appealed greatly to the public and he became an instant favorite. Surprisingly, Ralf's Walter in MEISTERSINGER the next season was felt to be lacking, but Ernest Newman wrote that his Parsifal was the finest he had ever heard. In November 1936, Ralf was a part of the Dresden Staatsoper ensemble visiting London and offered his Bacchus in a single performance of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, conducted by the composer himself.
During the period of hostilities, Ralf sang in Central Europe. On 26 November, 1945, he made his dï¿½but at the Metropolitan Opera performing Lohengrin under the baton of Fritz Busch, himself new to the company. The critics were pleased with his smooth delivery of the hero's long narratives and a TANNHï¿½USER three months later was regarded as positive. During the interim, Ralf's Walter elicited the opinion that no other tenor within memory had sung the role with so much freshness and ease. Under George Szell's firm direction, Ralf's Otello was fluent in the more lyric stretches, but short on the volcanic intensity needed for the dramatic outbursts. The eloquence Ralf brought to his Parsifal was as welcome at the Metropolitan in March 1947 as it had been in London.
Among Ralf's recordings, the pre-WWII MEISTERSINGER Act III is indispensable, showing his soaring tenor at its best. Ralf was only 53 at the time of his death."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"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
"Rose Bampton, an American opera singer who switched from mezzo-soprano to soprano and sang leading roles in both ranges at the Metropolitan Opera. In January, 1940, she appeared at the Met as Aïda one Saturday and as Amneris a week later. By the time she married Wilfrid Pelletier, a conductor at the Met, in 1937 (he died in 1982) [she] decided to return to the soprano repertory."
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 23 Aug., 2007