Severe drawback in casting
The Cultural Observer | 11/16/2001
(1 out of 5 stars)
"A Gotterdammerung without a decent Siegfried and Brunnhilde just won't do! In this recording, these all important roles are given to Reiner Goldberg and Hildegard Behrens, both simply not up to the task. Nothing can compensate for such a severe drawback."
Leaves You Craving for Something
The Cultural Observer | 08/25/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Decision between rating this three or four star recording is a difficult one. This is not a bad performance, but after hearing the last notes of the recording I was thinking, was this all ... The Metropolitan orchestra is one of the best opera orchestra's, if not the best. The performers are supposed to be top of the line Wagner soloist, but still I thought something was missing. Goldberg as Siegfried is a disappointment, not to be compared with Windgassen or the other great Siegfrieds, but I guess there is no good alternative at the moment anyway. Behrens is somewhat better, but not on the level with the great Nilsson or Flagstad. As for Hagen, Salminen is the greatest living Hagen, to my opinion even better than Gottlob Frick, but I guess that's matter of taste. I have always been fond of somewhat pedestrian tempos in Wagner's operas, and Levine really does have quite slow tempos on this performance. That is what I like in his conducting, but his dynamics disappoint me, the music is too sterile and analytical for me. The only exception is Siegfried's funeral march which, I think, is comparable to Karajan's cycle with Berlin Philharmonic or Knappertsbuch's '56 Decca recording. Recording quality is the best on disc (though I haven't heard Dohnanyi's Rheingold or Walküre). Every single note can be heard from the recording, a very good reference CD to any audiophile."
An epic Götterdämmerung with the sweep, beauty, and tragedy
The Cultural Observer | 11/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recording has been unfairly reviewed by others. While Behrens and Goldberg are by default not history's greatest exponents of Brünnhilde and Siegfried (that would go to either Nilsson or Varnay and Wolfgang Windgassen or Siegfried Jerusalem), that is not to say that both of them are so awful that anyone should overlook the fantastic work that this entire team of musicians put behind this recording. For starters, there is probably no orchestra more beautifully tuned to the landscape of Wagner's cycle than the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. That every motif and nuance is captured to detail by this team is an achievement that in itself should be a reason for any lover of music to buy this recording. You have the clarity of the Cleveland Symphony, the gravity of the Vienna Philharmonic, the virtuosity of the Berlin Philharmonic, and the beauty of the Dresden Staatskapelle all combined in one package that not only meets but rather exceeds all expectations as to what a truly great performance of a Wagner opera, or for that matter, any opera, should sound like. Listen to that autumnal brass and the shimmering strings that heralds the opening of this tragic opera. Not even the Vienna Philharmonic or Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic could make such an immediate aural impact on the listener. The Metropolitan Opera not only combines lyrical beauty with histrionic immediacy. It also packs a punch when needed. More proof needed? Listen to the Vassal's call. That Solti's recording falls short in this aspect behind Levine's should come as a surprise to many Ringphiles who for years regarded this classic as the benchmark for which all Götterdämmerungs to be judged. It still is, but Levine's recording has many pluses to it that listeners should hardly overlook. The scope of this entire opera is captured by James Levine's awesome leadership. He is sensitive, lyrical, careful, yet also dramatic.
The orchestra isn't just the largest asset to this recording though. In no other recording of Götterdämmerung has the opera been cast with such an amazing troupe of singers who not only have the voices for Wagner, but are able to breath some truth and poignancy into the characters. More so than the whole shebang of Rings on the market, this recording perhaps showcases the most talented singers of the 90's. For instance, this recording perhaps showcases the best Gibichungs in the discography--Cheryl Studer and Bernd Weikl. Beautiful of tone and theatrically alert, they turn what are usually treated as two dimensional cardboard cutouts into organic pawns in a larger game. Another finely tuned performance is Hanna Schwarz's alert and vocally resplendent Waltraute. This is an intelligent mezzo whose light voice is used to its greatest advantage by the singer's will and determination. And it shows. Ekkehard Wlaschicha is the most three-dimensional and vocally gifted baritone to sing the forlorn and spiteful Alberich. The norns are perhaps the starriest on record, sung by former Isolde and Brünnhilde Helga Dernesch, exemplary Strauss mezzo Tatiana Troyanos, and dramatic soprano Andrea Gruber. The Rheinmaidens are sung by the same trio of youthful and fine-tuned singers who introduced us to the cycle in the Prologue.
Best of them all is Matti Salminen's Hagen. The darkness of his voice, combined with that seamless, deafening power and that frightening intensity he infuses into his singing, makes him the prime exponent of a role that is often mishandled by shouters. It is not as complex as let's say John Tomlinson's assumption of the role or as dark and traditional as Gottlob Frick's, but vocally no one quite tops him in the same grain.
As for the leads, I wouldn't be the one to compare them with Nilsson and Windgassen. After all, no one after the great Swede quite captured Brünnhilde et al. in the same grandiose quality that she did, and no one after Windgassen could boast the miraculous achievement of tirelessly singing Siegfried for the greater part of his career. Behrens, a lighter soprano who by sheer will brought her intelligence and humanity to the Valkyrie to compensate for lack of vocal opulence, gives us a portrayal of the character that is all the more vulnerable and human, even if it doesn't quite match the apotheosis-like understanding that Varnay brought to the part. Her voice may not be in the same pristine shape where she began with in Walküre and Siegfried, and while weak spots exist here and there, you could not accuse of her dedication to the rule. Her voice is also seamless save for a few dips into her almost nonexistent lower register. Her gleaming top is definitely an asset.
While you can overlook the shortcomings of Behrens' voice, it is slightly more difficult to appreciate Reiner Goldberg's Siegfried. It is not alive, mature, or vibrant as Siegfried should be, and neither is it naive and assuming as others have portrayed him to be. It just lacks the definitive histrionic qualities of a truly effective Siegfried. It doesn't provide a complete picture of the character, yet it suffices anyways to not detract listeners from appreciating this recording. I have heard worse, and while Goldberg doesn't have the most beautiful of voices, his Siegfried is not the worse that listeners have to endure. Think Jon Frederic West, or even worse, John Treleaven.
To sum it up, while this is no definitive Ring for the ages, I would more than urge you to give it a listen to see just how amazing this team of musicians is."