WAGNER: Die Walkure
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Great Opera Recordings
Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Die Walküre
First Day of the Stage Festival Play, The Ring of the Nibelung
Libretto by the Composer
Brünnhilde - Martha Mödl (soprano)
Sieglinde - Leonie Rysanek (soprano)
Wotan - Ferdinand Frantz (baritone)
Siegmund - Ludwig Suthaus (tenor)
Fricka - Margarete Klose (mezzo-soprano)
Hunding - Gottlob Frick (bass)
Gerhilde - Gerda Schreyer (soprano)
Ortlinde - Judith Hellwig (soprano)
Waltraute - Dagmar Schmedes (soprano)
Schwertleite - Ruth Siewert (contralto)
Helmwige - Erika Köth (soprano)
Siegrune - Hertha Töpper (contralto)
Grimgerde - Johanna Blatter (contralto)
Roßweiße - Dagmar Hermann (contralto)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
It was in June 1837 that a German publication entitled Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, edited at that time by the composer Robert Schumann, published an article on the suitability of German folk-lore and mythology as a possible source for the operatic stage. Seven years later the theorist Vischer went further to recommend the Nibelungen legend as the basis for a libretto for an opera. Wagner himself possessed over two dozen books on the Nibelungen legends in his library at his Dresden home and he drew heavily on these sources when putting together his text for the Ring cycle. The whole undertaking for this cycle would occupy him for a period of 26 years.
The text for Die Walküre, the second work in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, covered the years 1851-53, with the earliest musical sketches dating from the summer of 1852. The first completed draft was undertaken from June to December 1854. Unlike Das Rheingold Wagner made no revised draft but went into full score in January 1855. The whole opera was finished by mid-March the following year. The first performance of Die Walküre eventually took place at he Court opera in Munich on 28 June 1870 and it was at the newly constructed Bayreuth Festspielhaus that the whole cycle was given in August 1876. The American première was at the Academy of Music in New York on 2 April 1877 and the British one at Her Majesty's Theatre in London on 6 May 1882.
The principal characters in the opera are Brünnhilde, a Valkyrie, daughter of Wotan and Erda, the Earth goddess, and eventually the wife of Siegfried; Sieglinde, a Volsung, twin sister and lover of Siegmund, daughter of Wotan, mother of Siegfried; Fricka, a goddess, the guardian of wedlock and wife of Wotan; Siegmund, twin brother and lover of Sieglinde, son of Wotan, and father of Siegfried; Wotan, the ruler of the gods, father of Brünnhilde, Sieglinde and Siegmund, grandfather of Siegfried; Hunding, a descendant of the giants and husband of Sieglinde, and the Valkyries, who are daughters of Wotan and Erda.
The pre-opera background concerns Wotan who, believing that the power of the gods can only be protected from eventual annihilation, senses that only a hero (Siegfried) can win back the ring, lost in Das Rheingold, and return it to the Rhinemaidens. Thus he has raised twins, Sieglinde and Siegmund, born of an earthly mother Erda. Returning home one day father and son discover their home burnt down, the mother slain, and Sieglinde abducted by Hunding who forces her into a loveless marriage. At their wedding a stranger, Wotan in disguise, thrusts a sword called Nothung into an ash-tree. By the time of the opening of Die Walküre no one has been able to remove the weapon.
This recording of Die Walküre proved a landmark for a number of reasons. It was the last studio recording made by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who would die less than two months later. It was also the last EMI recording to be made in Vienna by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over three years in addition to being the final Viennese recording to be supervised by Lawrence Collingwood before his retirement in 1957. It was the last mono-only recording to be made by EMI in Vienna before the introduction of parallel stereo system in 1955. From the musical point of view it was the first complete studio recording of the opera, originally planned as part of a projected Ring cycle. Sadly Furtwängler never heard the edited master tapes before his death. There is, however, an extant letter from David Bicknell of the EMI International Artistes Department to the conductor dated 1 November 1954 which states: "Mr Collingwood and I heard a large part of the First Act of Die Walküre and the end of the Third Act and found the recording even better than I expected. In fact, in every way it was quite outstanding. We were both greatly moved by your unique interpretation". Thus the absurd rumour that Karajan had finished Act 3 of the recording after Furtwängler's death is proved total nonsense.
The German soprano Martha Mödl (born 1913) began her career as a mezzo-soprano to which she returned later in her career. Born in Nuremberg, she originally worked for a local transport company and later became a book-keeper. It was not until 1935 that she began vocal studies, first at the Nuremberg Conservatorium and later in Milan. In 1942 she made her début in the contralto rôle of Hänsel at Remscheid. Between the years 1945-49 she worked in Düsseldorf as a mezzo. She also sang in Hamburg from 1947 to 1955 where she changed to become a dramatic soprano, singing the rôles of Kundry, Venus, Isolde and Brünnhilde. She scored a particular success as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's opera in Berlin in 1950. With the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951 Mödl appeared as Kundry in Parsifal and Gutrune in the Ring cycle. She would later sing Brünnhilde and Isolde, continuing to be a valued member during the 1950s and 1960s. She also sang in Vienna (début 1952), and visited the Edinburgh Festival with the Hamburg and Stuttgart companies in 1952 and 1958. She first appeared at Covent Garden as Carmen in 1949 and sang in that house regularly until 1966. She also appeared in Paris, Milan and at the Salzburg Festival. In 1955 she sang Leonore in Fidelio at the reopening of the Staatsoper in Vienna and made her Metropolitan début in 1957 as Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung. Her voice, whilst warm and lustrous in its lower regions, always displayed some sense of strain in its topmost register. A superb actress, Mödl was a highly individual and intense artist on stage.
The Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998) was born in Vienna, where she studied with Alfred Jerger and Rudolf Grossmann, whom she later married. Making her début as Agathe in Der Freischütz in Innsbruck in 1949, she joined the Saarbrücken Opera the following year for a three-year period, singing Arabella, Donna Anna, Senta, Leonora (La forza del destino) and Sieglinde. She sang the last rôle at the 1951 Bayreuth