OP3249. DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER, Live Performance, 24 Jan., 1937, w.Heinrich Steiner Cond. Reichssenders Berlin Ensemble; Herbert Janssen, Kurt Bohme, Elisabeth Friedrich, Marius Andersen, Margarethe Arndt-Ober, etc., w.broadcast commentary in German; World Premiere Release; HERBERT JANSSEN: Arias & Duets (w.Lotte Schone, Margherita Perras & Gota Ljungberg) from Rigoletto, Faust, Madama Butterfly, Zar und Zimmermann, Der Waffenschmied & Die Drei Musketiere - recorded 1926-28. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1080. Restoration by Richard Caniell. Includes 33pp Booklet w.notes by Dewey Faulkner & Richard Caniell. - 019962665714
"In the period 1937-38, Reichssender Berlin produced a number of operas for broadcast, including this DUTCHMAN. While most of the singers used remained in Germany throughout the war years, Herbert Janssen did not. In 1938, a year after this broadcast, he fled Germany, having been warned by Toscanini that he was now on a 'hit list' of the Nazis because the baritone had rebuffed a dinner invitation at Bayreuth from Hitler. He traveled to Buenos Aires, and eventually, with Toscanini's help, settled in New York and never returned to Germany again. Although his repertoire was quite broad, the Met's general manager Edward Johnson liked pigeon-holing his artists, and Janssen was mostly limited to Wagner and a few other Germanic roles. He never quite achieved the stardom of Friedrich Schorr; his less rich voice was perhaps responsible for that, but Janssen was a great artist. He was known to state that he sang opera to build up an audience for his Lieder recitals, an art form he evidently preferred.
It is that aspect of Janssen's singing that makes this broadcast, never before available, unique and worth hearing. Because this was a broadcast meant for radio, with the singers all singing directly into microphones (though there was an audience present, as we can tell from applause between acts in this three-act version of the opera), Janssen could apply a degree of coloration and subtle inflection that would be lost in the opera house. His big monologue, 'Die Frist ist um', seems related as much to Schubert's WINTERREISE in its sense of desolation and loneliness as to operatic models from Weber or Marschner. Instead of the thunderingly heroic climaxes that we get with singers such as George London (whose Dutchman I adore, by the way), this is much more of an internal monologue. The character sounds beaten down by his despair, rather than raging against it. This is an extremely valid and intriguing interpretation, one that is not often encountered with as much interpretive detail as we get here, and Janssen is consistent throughout the opera. We know that Wagner admired Bellini, and in this early opera there is still a bel canto influence at work, and the way Janssen sings the opening of the duet with Senta, 'Wie aus der Ferne', makes that clear.
It is interesting to compare Janssen here with Janssen in a live Covent Garden performance conducted by Reiner (also issued on Immortal Performances [OP3017]). That is of course quite impressive because of the presence of Reiner and Kirsten Flagstad as Senta. But what is fascinating is the interpretive and coloristic differences applied by Janssen in a staged setting vs. a broadcast studio. There is much that is more stentorian in the Covent Garden performance, some of which even stretches his vocal resources a bit. But in this broadcast he can bring a subtlety of coloration and inflection that humanizes the character in a more detailed way. You can hear it at all points - in the big opening monologue, the duet with Senta, and in particular in the opera's final scene. The anguish and desperation of the character is made stunningly real. In this broadcast setting, singing to a microphone, he can create an emptier, more hollow tone reflective of the Dutchman's fate.
Elisabeth Friedrich, the Senta, is a soprano previously unknown to me. According to Dewey Faulkner's superb notes she was a member of the Berlin State Opera and was quite popular. She made very few actual recordings, and this is her only complete role known to exist in recorded form. She is lovely throughout. Her Ballade is beautifully sung, the tone having a real luster to it, if not necessarily the distinctiveness of timbre that identifies a star. It is rather monochromatic, lacking tonal variety.
Distinctiveness of timbre does, in fact, mark the deep bass of Kurt Bohme, heard here in his younger days. This singer, who contributed to many performances and recordings into the 1960s, is a powerful Daland, but he too catches the overall mood of a more inward-looking style of Wagner singing than would be appropriate in an opera house. His Daland is a complex character, father and greedy villain all wrapped up in one.
The remaining singers are quite good, and they too catch the highly musical, lyrical atmosphere of this broadcast. At the core of this is conductor Heinrich Steiner, apparently one of the regulars in the Berlin Radio's series of opera broadcasts. There is nothing really special about his leadership, but neither is there anything distressingly wrong-headed. The chorus is, in fact, excellent in terms of ensemble and intonation, and except for some occasional roughness from the brass the orchestra too plays well. Steiner works well with his singers, and when Janssen sets a particularly rapt, quiet mood (the opening of 'Wie aus der Ferne' for example) Steiner captures it well in the orchestra.
The value in this recording, and it is considerable, is in Janssen's inward looking, complex, and very convincing Dutchman. It is a performance unlike any other of which I am aware (in some ways close to Fischer-Dieskau, but frankly more spontaneous and natural in its flow and its interaction with other characters). It is a performance that adds to one's knowledge and understanding of the opera, and that is not something that can often be said.
The bonus material is a revelation. I was quite astonished to hear the idiomatic performances of the RIGOLETTO and FAUST scenes (the former sung in quite good Italian). The elegance and stylistic rightness of Valentin's scenes, sung with a remarkably smooth legato, are particularly attractive. He is a wonderfully sympathetic Sharpless too. This release makes clear the intelligence and keen musicianship of Herbert Janssen, an artist perhaps under-appreciated in our time.
Immortal Performances' usual high production standards are of course present. Given that they were starting with a broadcast recording, the sound is quite remarkable for a 1937 transcription. The booklet's notes are informative and provocative, and the photographs are lovely. The inclusion of the German radio announcers will interest some, and the others can skip those tracks."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Sept. / Oct., 2017
"The German-born baritone Herbert Janssen had a distinguished career, both in Europe and the United States. This broadcast was, in fact, Janssen's final performance in Germany. An opponent of Hitler, Janssen was soon forced to escape Germany, which he accomplished in part thanks to assistance by the Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini. Janssen ultimately became a regular presence at New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he was, with a few exceptions, limited to Wagnerian roles.
Among Janssen's 204 Met performances, he sang the Dutchman only twice. And in truth, the Dutchman is not a role one would naturally associate with Janssen and his vocal and artistic gifts. Herbert Janssen had a warm and arrestingly beautiful voice. He was also a sensitive interpreter, one who seemed to excel most in such human, sympathetic roles as Wolfram (TANNHÄUSER), Kurvenal (TRISTAN UND ISOLDE), and Hans Sachs (DIE MEISTERSINGER). The character of the Dutchman is a much darker, tortured soul, traits embodied in Wagner's challenging music. Perhaps the Dutchman was not the most congenial role for Janssen in the opera house. But in the 1937 Berlin Dutchman, Janssen was singing in the far more intimate venue of a broadcast studio. As a result, on this occasion Janssen was able to apply a Lieder singer's sensitivity and variety to Wagner's text and music. In addition, the performance took place before a studio audience and as such, has the kind of immediacy and electricity so much harder to achieve when making a commercial studio recording. The end result is a Dutchman who is not a mythical, archetypal otherworldly character, but very much a flesh and blood human being, and a most compelling one at that. And Herbert Janssen is in absolutely glorious, secure voice throughout. I don't think it is at all hyperbolic to suggest that this set is worth acquiring for Janssen's Dutchman alone.
As an appendix to the second disc, Immortal Performances includes several studio recordings, all in fine sound, and featuring Janssen in non-Wagnerian repertoire. They are most welcome, both for the quality of the performances, and as an illustration of Janssen's repertoire breadth and versatility that the Met chose to ignore.
If you are in the market for a unique and truly inspired rendition of the opera's title character, this new Immortal Performances release is enthusiastically recommended."
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Sept. / Oct., 2017
"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 TANNHÄUSER 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