OP2143. GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, Live Performance, 30 July, 1960, w.Kempe Cond. Bayreuth Festival Ensemble; Hans Hopf, Birgit Nilsson, Thomas Stewart, Otakar Kraus, Ingrid Bjoner, Grace Hoffmann, etc. (E.U.) 4-Myto 00273. - 0801439902732
Nilsson is at her peak, especially in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, singing with absolute security and showing a degree of involvement not always heard in later performances; most especially, she projects a vulnerabilty that is touching and totally convincing! I don't understand the lack of enthusiasm that surrounds the name of Hans Hopf. Here, he is simply thrilling as Siegfried, a true Heldentenor. This is a treasurable RING, and I would recommend it to anyone. Not being terribly fond of any of the stereo RINGS, this Kempe RING would be my first choice, along with Knappertsbusch's 1956 Bayreuth set."
- Ralph John Steinberg, wagneropera.net
One of the great unsung conductors of the middle twentieth century, Rudolf Kempe enjoyed a strong reputation in England but never quite achieved the international acclaim that he might have had with more aggressive management, promotion, and recording. Not well enough known to be a celebrity but too widely respected to count as a cult figure, Kempe is perhaps best remembered as a connoisseur's conductor, one valued for his strong creative temperament rather than for any personal mystique. He studied oboe as a child, performed with the Dortmund Opera, and, in 1929, barely out of his teens, he became first oboist of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. His conducting début came in 1936, at the Leipzig Opera; this performance of Lortzing's DER WILDSCHÜTZ was so successful that the Leipzig Opera hired him as a répétiteur. Kempe served in the German army during World War II, but much of his duty was out of the line of fire; in 1942 he was assigned to a music post at the Chemnitz Opera. After the war, untainted by Nazi activities, he returned to Chemnitz as director of the opera (1945-1948), and then moved on to the Weimar National Theater (1948-1949). From 1949 to 1953 he served as general music director of the Staatskapelle Dresden, East Germany's finest orchestra. He then moved to the identical position at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, 1952-1954, succeeding the young and upwardly mobile Georg Solti. During this period he was also making guest appearances outside of Germany, mainly in opera: in Vienna (1951), at Covent Garden (1953), and at the Metropolitan Opera (1954), to mention only the highlights. Although he conducted Wagner extensively, especially at Covent Garden, Kempe did not make his Bayreuth début until 1960. As an opera conductor he was greatly concerned with balance and texture, and singers particularly appreciated his efforts on their behalf. Kempe made a great impression in England, and in 1960 Sir Thomas Beecham named him associate conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic. Kempe became the orchestra's principal conductor upon Beecham's death the following year, and, after the orchestra was reorganized, served as its artistic director from 1963 to 1975. He was also the chief conductor of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra from 1965 to 1972, and of the Munich Philharmonic from 1967 until his death in 1976. During the last year of his life he also entered into a close association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Interpretively, Kempe was something of a German Beecham. He was at his best -- lively, incisive, warm, expressive, but never even remotely self-indulgent -- in the Austro-Germanic and Czech repertory. Opera lovers prize his versions of LOHENGRIN, DIE MEISTERSINGER, and ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. His greatest recorded legacy, accomplished during the last four or five years of his life, was the multi-volume EMI set of the orchestral works and concertos of Richard Strauss, performed with the highly idiomatic Dresden Staatskapelle. These recordings were only intermittently available outside of Europe in the LP days, but in the 1990s EMI issued them on nine compact discs.
- James Reel, Rovi
Nilsson made so strong an imprint on a number of rôles that her name came to be identified with a repertory, the Nilsson repertory, and it was a broad one. She sang the operas of Richard Strauss and made a specialty of Puccini's TURANDOT, but it was Wagner who served her career and whom she served as no other soprano since the days of Kirsten Flagstad.
A big, blunt woman with a wicked sense of humor, Ms. Nilsson brooked no interference from Wagner's powerful and eventful orchestra writing. When she sang Isolde or Brünnhilde, her voice pierced through and climbed above it. Her performances took on more pathos as the years went by, but one remembers her sound more for its muscularity, accuracy and sheer joy of singing under the most trying circumstances.
Her long career at the Bayreuth Festival and her immersion in Wagner in general, began in the mid-1950s. No dramatic soprano truly approached her stature thereafter, and in the rôles of Isolde, Brünnhilde and Sieglinde, she began her stately 30-year procession around the opera houses of the world. Her United States debut was in San Francisco in 1956. Three years later she made her début at the Metropolitan Opera, singing Isolde under Karl Böhm, and some listeners treasure the memory of that performance as much as they do her live recording of the rôle from Bayreuth in 1966, also under Böhm. The exuberant review of her first Met performance appeared on the front page of The New York Times on 19 Dec., 1959, under the headline, Birgit Nilsson as Isolde Flashes Like New Star in 'Met' Heavens."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Jan., 2006
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 yeomans 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
"Thomas Stewart, was an American baritone who was renowned for his portrayals of Wotan, Amfortas and other central Wagnerian roles and who was heard frequently at Bayreuth and the Metropolitan Opera....his commanding quality came less from the size or mettle of his voice, which was surprisingly lyrical for a Wagner baritone, but from his imaginative approach to his roles. He gave his characters a measure of warmth and expressivity that made them seem complex and surprising."
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Sept., 2006
"No one could sing Brangänes Warning more perfectly than [Grace Hoffman], and it was one of the high points of the evening to hear the beautiful sound of her voice penetrating the darkness of night, while I was enfolded in Tristans arms.
- Birgit Nilsson, LA NILSSON, pp. 198 & 153
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 Handels 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 Busonis 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