OP2630. SIEGFRIED, Live Performance, 13 Jan., 1962, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Hans Hopf, George London, Paul Kuën, Gottlob Frick, Birgit Nilsson, Jean Madeira, Martina Arroyo, etc. (E.U.) 4-Walhall 0372. - 4035122653724
“Nilsson’s Brünnhilde is the revelation of the afternoon. Brilliant tone, secure top notes, thrusting energy of phrase – these are the expected elements of any Nilsson portrayal, and they surface in the final joyous phrases of the grand duet. But they are the lesser components of her beautiful conception and execution of the entire scene. Awakened Brünnhildes are apt to greet the light with bursts of tone calculated to shame the brilliance of the sun: how easily Nilsson might have chosen that route. Her greeting, however, is effected with the loveliest, gentlest tone, like a sliver of silver from the most innocent and youthful of maidens….In page after page of the score, the soprano underplays, maintaining a stream of argent tone, tenderly embracing Wagner’s phrases. The ice inherent in Nilsson’s voice has melted – only its purity remains. And no pitch problems mar this superlative reading….The bass-baritone [London] sings his second (and last) Metropolitan Wanderer on this afternoon. He is adept at revealing inner anguish and proves quite sympathetic as Wotan opens his heart to the earth mother.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.294-96
“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 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
“In the many performances I have appeared in, there were many wonderful colleagues who had me in raptures. There were those with magnificent voices, or great musicians, wonderful actors or great personalities. But George London had it ALL. He was as impressive on stage as he was the wonderful colleague and friend in his private life.”
- Birgit Nilsson, as quoted in Leonardo A. Ciampa’s THE TWILIGHT OF BELCANTO, p.130
“George London was a dramatic and very expressive singer. In many roles he sang like a demonic panther with a sound of purple-black in color. London was a singer favoring the drama in a piece, varying color to suggest shifts of mood. His acting on stage was described as overwhelming. The special magnetism of this artist is documented on his great recordings. Every role he sang was sung with utmost expression and unbelievable commitment, truly a singing-actor!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
"Born Jean Browning in Central Illinois, this contralto established for herself a singular identity among singers of the deepest, darkest roles for female voice. Tall and strikingly attractive, she possessed both the physical and vocal allure for Carmen and created a riveting portrait of Klytemnestra, both addled and imperious. The later role, perhaps the one with which she was most closely identified, was captured on disc in both studio (with Bohm) and on-stage at Salzburg (with Mitropoulos). Her RHEINGOLD Erda in Solti's RING was likewise striking, voiced with steady, earth-deep tones, a sound once likened to 'gleaming anthracite'."
Browning's father, half American Indian, half English, was a coal miner; her mother taught piano and soon included her daughter among her pupils. Upon her father's death, Browning moved with her family to St. Louis, where she won a scholarship to the Leo C. Miller School of Music. While a student there, she placed first in a competition whose prize was an appearance with the St. Louis Symphony. Under Vladimir Golschmann's direction, she performed Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. In 1941, Browning entered the Juilliard School of Music, where she majored in piano, but also pursued singing, making her debut as Nancy in von Flotow's MARTHA in a 1943 Chautauqua Summer Opera production. At Juilliard, she met and subsequently married a piano student, Francis Madeira, who later became conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, a faculty member at Brown University, and occasionally accompanied his wife following her transition to a full-time singing career.
Olga Samaroff urged the young woman in 1946 to concentrate on becoming a professional singer. While still studying voice at Juilliard, Jean Madeira (as she was by then known) began making appearances with such other groups as the (American) San Carlo Opera Company. Gian Carlo Menotti chose her in 1947 to alternate with Marie Powers in the title role of his THE MEDIUM on its European tour. That same year, she was the recipient of the St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award. In 1948, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the First Norn in a performance of DIE GOTTERDAMMERUNG, beginning her steady progress through such roles as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, and Dalila. In 1954, she began a series of European appearances taking her to Covent Garden, Stockholm, Munich, and Salzburg.
The fall of 1955 brought Madeira's debut at the Vienna Staatsoper in the role of Carmen, a triumph resulting in 45 curtain calls. When she sang Carmen at the Metropolitan in 1956, critic Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review, described her as 'an intelligent artist who gives thought to what she undertakes' and noted her effective use of her striking height. He also praised her portrayal by commenting, 'Mostly it was done with a suggestion of youthful suppleness not often seen'.
In addition to her almost 300 Metropolitan performances in some 41 roles, Madeira continued to appear elsewhere in America and Europe, offering her Carmen at Chicago, where critic Claudia Cassidy praised her as 'svelte, darkly beautiful, with a mezzo soprano streaked in burnt umber and edged with a threat', and at Aix-en-Provence. Her authoritative Erda was heard at Munich, London, and Bayreuth. In 1968, she took part in the premiere of Dallapiccola's ULISSE IN BERLIN, creating the role of Circe. She retired in 1971, shortly before her death in 1972."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"Erich Leinsdorf, a conductor whose abrasive intelligence and deep musical learning served as a conscience for two generations of conductors, had a utilitarian stage manner and his disdain of dramatic effects for their own sake stood out as a not-so-silent rebuke to his colleagues in this most glamorous of all musical jobs. In addition, Mr. Leinsdorf - in rehearsal, in the press and in his valuable book on conducting, THE COMPOSER'S ADVOCATE - never tired of pointing out gaps in culture among musicians, faulty editing among music publishers and errors in judgment or acts of ignorance among his fellow conductors. He rarely named his victims, but his messages and their targets were often clear. Moreover, he usually had the solid grasp of facts to support his contentions.
Mr. Leinsdorf moved to this country from Vienna in 1937. Helped by the recommendation of Arturo Toscanini, whom he had been assisting at the Salzburg Festival, Mr. Leinsdorf made his conducting début at the Metropolitan Opera a year later with DIE WALKÜRE. He was 25 years old at the time . A year later he was made overseer of the Met's German repertory, and his contentious style - in particular an insistence on textual accuracy and more rehearsal - won him no friends among singers like Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad. Backed by management, he remained at the Met until 1943. At the New York City Opera, where he became music director in 1956, Mr. Leinsdorf's demanding policies in matters of repertory and preparation made him further enemies, and he left a year later. His searches for permanent employment turned mostly to orchestras. After the briefest of tenures at the Cleveland Orchestra during World War II, Mr. Leinsdorf took over the Rochester Philharmonic and stayed for nine years.
Mr. Leinsdorf's last and most prestigious music directorship was at the Boston Symphony, where he replaced Charles Münch in 1962. No contrast in style could have been sharper: Münch had viewed conducting mystically, as a kind of priesthood; Mr. Leinsdorf's policy was to make performances work in the clearest and most rational way. Observers both in and out of the orchestra could not deny the benefits of Mr. Leinsdorf's discipline, but there were some who were hostile to what they perceived as an objectivity that could hardly be called heartwarming.
One American orchestra manager a few years ago responded to musicians' grumblings over Mr. Leinsdorf's rehearsal manner by saying that he was ‘good for my orchestra’. And so he probably was.”
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Sept., 1993