Classical Reissue Reviews

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act II – Kirsten Flagstad/ Lotte Lehmann/ Laurtiz Melchior/ Kathryn Meisle/ Friedrich Schorr/ Emanuel List/ San Francisco Opera Orch./ Fritz Reiner – Music&Arts

A stellar assemblage of vocal artists led by Fritz Reiner delivers a thoroughly engaging performance of Act II from Die Walküre, a perfect prize for the composer’s bi-centennial year.

Published on November 11, 2013

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act II – Kirsten Flagstad/ Lotte Lehmann/ Laurtiz Melchior/ Kathryn Meisle/ Friedrich Schorr/ Emanuel List/ San Francisco Opera Orch./ Fritz Reiner – Music&Arts

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act II – Kirsten Flagstad/ Lotte Lehmann/ Laurtiz Melchior/ Kathryn Meisle/ Friedrich Schorr/ Emanuel List/ San Francisco Opera Orch./ Fritz Reiner – Music&Arts CD-1272, 74:28 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

On November 13th, 1936, Fritz Reiner led the San Francisco Opera in Wagner’s Die Walküre, with a dream cast. NBC aired only the second act, the only one of the opera’s three in which all the principals appear. There are numerous cuts, but none is particularly serious. As Wotan, the veteran Friedrich Schorr’s top notes seem weary, but his authority (in parlando and recitative episodes) shines through the ancient AM radio sonics from a newly found, better broadcast transcription medium. Both Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior are in radiant voice as the Walsung twins, and Hunding’s few lines hint at Emanuel List’s menacing solidity in this role. Lesser known than her castmates, Kathryn Meisle proves reliable as Fricka. The real reason you’ll want this recording, though, is for Kirsten Flagstad’s Brunnhilde, captured in the singer’s glorious prime, a strong example of how her powerful voice – announcer Davenport calls her a “superwoman” – carried and sustained in the opera house. Announcer Marcia Davenport illumines the broadcast, having first alerted us to the presence of thunder, lightning, and the prompter; then bringing the Act to an end, as Wotan dispatches Hunding, describing an imaginary descending curtain. Davenport describes Fritz Reiner as “a musician’s conductor” as he mounts the podium for this historic broadcast, already having been issued in 1976 (as an LP) and restored in 1999 (on CD), but here re-processed by Ward Marston and Aaron Z. Snyder.

In 1936, the San Francisco Opera decided to dispense with the leadership of the irascible Artur Bodanzky for their Ring cycle to engage Hungarian maestro Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), who felt under-employed at the Curtis Institute, only sporadically appearing in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. NBC aired the broadcast of Friday, 13 November 1936, in which several luminaries in Wagner occupy the stage at once: Flagstad in her dominant role of Bruenhilde; Lotte Lehmann incandescent as Sieglinde; Lauritz Melchior at his resonant best as Siegmund; and the truculent Emanuel List in a brief cameo as Hunding.

In Act II, Wotan has chosen his favorite among his warrior-daughters by the earth goddess Erda called Valkyries—Brünnhilde—to intervene in the imminent fight between Siegmund and Hunding so that Siegmund comes out the victor. But his wife, as the guardian of the sanctity of wedlock, upbraids him and demands punishment for the double offense of incest and adultery, and at length Wotan is compelled to give his word that Siegmund will fall to Hunding’s sword. Brünnhilde is unable to persuade Wotan to revert to his original decision, and of course she cannot think of disobeying him. But when she confronts her half-brother to announce his impending doom, he rejects her invitation to follow her to Valhalla because his wife and their unborn child mean so much to him that he would even kill them before meeting his own death, rather than let them go uncared for in a hostile world. The Valkyrie has never before been exposed to such emotion, and she does undertake to protect Siegmund in the duel after all. Wotan, enraged by her disobedience, arrives in time to shatter Siegmund’s sword—the very one he himself had left for him in Yggdrasill—with his own spear, allowing the fatal blow to be struck by Hunding. Brünnhilde gathers up the shattered bits of the sword and goes off with Sieglinde to find a safe place for the impending birth. Wotan then expresses his contempt for the unworthy victor by killing Hunding with a wave of his hand and sorrowfully considers how to deal with his favorite daughter’s misbehavior.

The collectible moments accumulate one after another: Reiner’s gripping Prelude; Flagstad’s “Hojo to ho!”; Meisle’s emotional “So ist es den aus” and her wistful “Deiner ew’ gen Gatin”; the extended Second Scene duet “Schlimm, fuercht’ ich”; Schorr’s sudden urgency in “Ein andres ist’s”; the meditatively heroic “So sah ich Siegvater nei” of Flagstad; the entire Third Scene interchanges between Lotte Lehmann’s Siegliende and Melchior’s Siegmund. The two last scenes acquire a fateful momentum interrupted only by Siegmund and Bruennhilde’s relatively lengthy duet, “Der dir nun folgt,” already rife with Siegfried’s later funeral music. Melchior’s last two arias, from his “Zauberfest bezaehmt ein Schlaf,” projects loving sympathy and militant resignation at once. The Hunding motif intrudes, and Emanuel List enters (at first, in faded off-stage sonics). Ms. Davenport superimposes her remarks over Wotan’s dismissal of Hunding’s life, and the NBC announcer signs off.

For “the perfect Wagnerite” it has been a most thrilling afternoon.

—Gary Lemco

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