A special, limited edition 33-CD box set containing all of Wagner's operas from The Flying Dutchman (1841) to his final masterpiece Parsifal (1882) in performances from the opera house created specifically for the producti... more »on of Wagner's masterpieces, the Bayreuth Festival Theatre. Landmark performances by some of the greatest Wagnerians can be savored here, among them singers Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Anja Silja, Waltraud Meier, Astrid Varnay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Jess Thomas, James King, Ramon Vinay, Peter Hoffmann, Bernd Weikl, Theo Adam, Karl Ridderbusch, Hans Sotin and Simon Estes. The all-star roster of conductors includes Karl Böhm, James Levine, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Silvio Varviso. RICHARD WAGNER (1813-83) Der fliegende Holländer Anja Silja * Fritz Uhl * Josef Greindl * Franz Crass Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Tannhäuser Anja Silja * Wolfgang Windgassen * Eberhard Wächter * Josef Greindl Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Lohengrin Anja Silja * Astrid Varnay * Jess Thomas * Ramon Vinay Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Tristan und Isolde Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen Karl Böhm, conductor Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Hannelore Bode * Jean Cox * Bernd Weikl * Karl Ridderbusch * Hans Sotin Silvio Varviso, conductor Der Ring des Nibelungen Das Rheingold Annelies Burmeister * Wolfgang Windgassen * Theo Adam * Gustav Neidlinger Karl Böhm, conductor Die Walküre Birgit Nilsson * Leonie Rysanek * James King * Theo Adam Karl Böhm, conductor Siegfried Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen * Theo Adam Karl Böhm, conductor Götterdämmerung Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen * Josef Greindl * Gustav Neidlinger Karl Böhm, conductor Parsifal Waltraud Meier * Peter Hoffmann * Hans Sotin * Simon Estes James Levine, conductor« less
A special, limited edition 33-CD box set containing all of Wagner's operas from The Flying Dutchman (1841) to his final masterpiece Parsifal (1882) in performances from the opera house created specifically for the production of Wagner's masterpieces, the Bayreuth Festival Theatre. Landmark performances by some of the greatest Wagnerians can be savored here, among them singers Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Anja Silja, Waltraud Meier, Astrid Varnay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Jess Thomas, James King, Ramon Vinay, Peter Hoffmann, Bernd Weikl, Theo Adam, Karl Ridderbusch, Hans Sotin and Simon Estes. The all-star roster of conductors includes Karl Böhm, James Levine, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Silvio Varviso. RICHARD WAGNER (1813-83) Der fliegende Holländer Anja Silja * Fritz Uhl * Josef Greindl * Franz Crass Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Tannhäuser Anja Silja * Wolfgang Windgassen * Eberhard Wächter * Josef Greindl Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Lohengrin Anja Silja * Astrid Varnay * Jess Thomas * Ramon Vinay Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor Tristan und Isolde Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen Karl Böhm, conductor Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Hannelore Bode * Jean Cox * Bernd Weikl * Karl Ridderbusch * Hans Sotin Silvio Varviso, conductor Der Ring des Nibelungen Das Rheingold Annelies Burmeister * Wolfgang Windgassen * Theo Adam * Gustav Neidlinger Karl Böhm, conductor Die Walküre Birgit Nilsson * Leonie Rysanek * James King * Theo Adam Karl Böhm, conductor Siegfried Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen * Theo Adam Karl Böhm, conductor Götterdämmerung Birgit Nilsson * Wolfgang Windgassen * Josef Greindl * Gustav Neidlinger Karl Böhm, conductor Parsifal Waltraud Meier * Peter Hoffmann * Hans Sotin * Simon Estes James Levine, conductor
Bayreuth Bargain Basement Brings Big Bucks Bang
L. Lubin | NY, NY | 06/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A bargain dream for the Wagner fanatic and the beginning Wagner-lover alike...At this price you can't afford NOT to own it, unless you have them all already! That encomium now dispensed with, let us get on with the specifics: The set ranges from good to great, even legendary, but there are many variables.
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN(1961):Wolfgang Sawallisch is his usual forthright, straight-ahead self, and that can be a blessing in Wagner. Tempi tend toward brisk and textures are unusually clear. Franz Crass is a fine Dutchman, a beautiful voice always in service to the text. He broods better, though in the La Scala performance, of 1966 with Rysanek. Anja Silja's voice is girlishly bright, almost shrill at times but she captures Senta's manic obsession without going over the top. Fritz Uhl is a better-than-average Erik. The veteran Josef Greindl lightens his voice admirably, and there is some fine character work, but his half voice approach is not always attractive. The balance between stage and pit is fine. A very good, but not great, performance in which the chorus steals the third act.
TANNHÄUSER(Dresden version, 1962): This was the notorious scandal of the season, Grace Bumbry's "Black Venus" which, for all the fuss (first black singer at Bayreuth, no big whoop these days) isn't as well sung as we would expect from her other recordings. Not bad, but not as voluptuous as, say, her Eboli. Silja is not at her best either, reminding me a good deal of Gwyneth Jones, and not in a good way. Windgassen is at his best, though; a voice I find hard to love (that top range can get awfully pinched) in an artist I always respect and admire. This is some of his most beautiful singing on record. Eberhard Wächter is a bit coarse as Wolfram, a real disappointment from such a rich-voiced singer. Greindl is adequate as the Landgraf, Franz Crass is wasted in the minor role of Biterolf, but Gerhard Stolze, before his stroke, reminds us of what a formidable singer he could have been. The chorus is fine, but the sound is so overly balanced to the stage that the orchestra sometimes disappears. There is an awful lot of stage and audience noise, very brightly recorded. The stage vs. pit balance is decidedly toward the singers, sometimes unnervingly so. Overall a good second recording, though the chorus, as usual, is excellent.
LOHENGRIN (1962): This is a GREAT Lohengrin. Not the blockbuster of Solti's, but clear, solid and sensitive. All the singers are at the top of their form. Silja is sweetly girlish and sensitive, a teenager eager for her sexual awakening, Jess Thomas ranges from heroic to tender and everything in between. The third act duet is a real joy. Ramon Vinay and Astrid Varnay, both Bayreuth veterans as tenor and soprano, are outstanding as the baritone and mezzo villain pair. Tom Krause is an unusually sensitive Herald, and Franz Crass, as King Henry the Fowler, is in superb voice, cutting through the massive ensembles. The choruses and brass fanfares are brilliant, with the second act finale especially good. The only disappointment is the very difficult act one chorus before Lohengrin's entrance: very clear and precise, but no real tension and excitement. Overall the sound is good, orchestra to pit ratio excellent.
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE (1966): This is the best Tristan recording available. If you don't already know that, there's nothing much more I can say. Böhm's orchestra is all white-hot passion; Windgassen, Nilsson, Ludwig, Talvela, Wächter...everyone at the peak of their game. If you already have it, don't worry, you can give the old one as a gift, or sell it.
DIE MEISTERSINGER (1967): This was the Centenary of this opera, and Bayreuth could have done better. (Bavarian State Opera, just up the road, did it proud: get the Kubelik recording of that production!) Karl Ridderbusch is a fine, Sachs, the chief reason for this recording being reissued, I guess, although I find his phrasing rather choppy at times. Hans Sotin, at the beginning of his career is excellent, too. This opera benefits from the italianate touch of Silvio Varviso in the pit. But Hannelore Bode, although she sings well, is a bit overpowering as Eva. And Jean Cox...never heard of him? Here's the reason. Its a decent performance, but not one of the top features of the set.
DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN (1967 & 1971?): This is a very, very great Ring, although it is reviled by some who learned it from the Solti recording. That is also a very, very great Ring, but quite different. Böhm's tempi are quicker, his colors brighter, and the textures clearer. It should be remembered that Böhm was of an earlier generation than Solti and Karajan. He learned much from his close association with Richard Strauss, who was an assistant conductor at Bayreuth for several years, working with Levi and Mottl, who learned it from, guess who...the composer. So it just may be that Böhm has it right. Theo Adam is a very great Wotan, his voice clear and diction incisive, his characterization powerful and deep. Nilsson and Windgassen are perhaps better, at least more spontaneous than in the studio. Rysanek is glorious, if a bit loony as Sieglinde, but hey, you would be too if you'd been through...well, you know. James King is fine again as Siegmund, maybe not so intense as in Solti, but vocally solid. Gerd Nienstedt is surprisingly good as Hunding, a very low bass role, after a strong Donner, a baritone, in Das Rheingold. The Ride of the Valkyries is one of the most vivid I've ever heard. While much of the cast duplicates the Solti set, there are some interesting difference: Erwin Wohlfahrt's Mime is darker and richer than Stolze's; Thomas Stewart (Karajan's excellent Wotan) is overkill as Gunther, but doesn't acheive the tragic grandeur of Hermann Uhde in the '53 Krauss Goetterdaemmerung. Vera Soukupova's Erda is exemplary, while Ludmilla Dvorakova's Gutrune is, well, not. Still, There is much greatness here, and at a price $40 less for this entire set than this Ring alone, seriously worth it.
PARSIFAL (1985): James Levine had conducted the centennial performance of this opera at Bayreuth three years earlier with nearly the same cast except for Leonie Rysanek. While still a great actress and effective in act one, she was largely intolerable in the second act. Waltraud Meier, on the other hand, was at the very beginning of her steep trajectory into the Wagnerian stratosphere as Kundry and Isolde. Levine's tempi are even slower here than at the 100th Anniversary,(I believe this is the slowest Parsifal on recording; the prelude is 4 minutes longer than Solti's and the 1st act is 7 minutes longer than Karajan) and everyone in the cast has trouble coping with the languor. Not that there aren't some very beautiful moments here and there, but you will have to be very patient to get to them. Hoffmann shows serious vocal decline and absolutely no interpretive growth in the role of Parsifal, considering he'd been singing the part for at least five years . Meier is a bit tentative, and Simon Estes' Amfortas ranges from blustery to mawkish. Hans Sotin's huge sonorous voice mainly works to fill out the sluggishness of Levine's baton. I miss the expression of the magnificent '82 performance. Also missing here is a decent microphone over the stage. The sound is decidedly balanced toward the pit, making the singers difficult to hear at times. Was this at Sunny Jim's insistence? This is not a Parsifal I would recommend as a first or second recording, but its the one thats here. Maybe the '62 Knappertsbusch would have been more appropriate. But this is my 15th Parsifal recording, so what do I know?
Overall, this compendium scores best on Lohengrin, Tristan and the Ring. But you can't beat the price, even with a bag of chips thrown in. The booklet contains cast-lists and a few non-functional errors(one amusing typo puts Erda and two of the Rhinemaidens into Die Walküre), directories of cues, and synopses with cue points in English, French, and German. There is one very early photo of Wagner. Packaging is minimal: A cardboard box, and the discs are in plain sleeves with a clear window, each disc is numbered consecutively (i.e. Tannhaeuser Act III is disc #5, Parsifal Act I starts on disc #30)and the print is small, so if you aren't careful they will easily get out of order and hard to sort through. Consider the liberal use of some Sharpies and color code, or get extravagant and print clear label overlays. I've put mine in 4 to a page sheets in a binder. The individual sheets come out easily and fold up CD size.
For anyone just starting on the journey through the Wagner operas, this is a great start. For those of us who have been traveling this path for decades, its a great supplement. Now what do I do with my DGG Tristan? Ebay?"
Irresistible bargain for Wagnerites and explorers
D. H Patterson | Houston, TX United States | 06/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 33-CD compendium is certainly one of the finest bargains Decca has made available. All these recordings were made from live and rehearsal performances at Bayreuth and all are in fine stereo sound, well-mastered, which captures the Green Hill acoustic wonderfully well. At least one of these performances (Boehm's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE) can lay claim to being the best available version; the old mono Furtwaengler version is its only real competition. Boehm's RING is also a fine achievement, capped by Nilsson's matchless Brunnhilde in white hot performances, perhaps preferable to her performances under Solti. The performances by King, Rysanek, Windgassen and Adam are classic and not to be missed, and Boehm's conducting of the scores is propulsive and all of a piece. No other RING performance is so well integrated as this one.
Levine's PARSIFAL is also on a very high level, with Waltrud Meier's excellent and thrilling Kundry and Hans Sotin's gorgeously sung Gurnemanz. The digital sound is especially winning here, capturing the opera in the theatre it was written for. I have real affection for Levine's way with this score. I saw him do it at the Met nine times over the years and those are among my most cherished operatic memories. He made several later recordings of PARSIFAL and all of them are wonderful.
The other performances might not be my first choice among competing versions, but all of them are fine, representative recordings with many delights and nothing to seriously disappoint one. I'm quite fond of Silja's performances (FLYING DUTCMAN, TANNHAUSER and LOHENGRIN - all superbly conducted by Sawallisch), and Astrid Varnay's Ortrud certainly burns up the soundwaves.
At less than two dollars per disc, what are you waiting for? This won't be around long."
Don't let the sloppy book confuse you
Louis G. Pecek | Cleveland, OH | 06/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great bargain. The best Lohengrin available and a blazing Ring. The booklet has many errors, the biggest of which is that Rheingold and Siegfried date from 1971 while the other two parts are from 1967. Don't be fooled. The entire Ring is from 1967. Bohm did not conduct the Ring in 1971 -- Horst Stein did, Windgassen was not singing in it in '71, the 67 was Wieland's production, the 71 was Wolfgang's. And on and on. Enjoy the CD's. For less than $2 a disc, we can do with a sloppy book."
For Wagner Fans And At A Fantastic Price.
J. D. Jensen | Texas | 07/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When most music enthusiasts think of "great" Wagner conductors, usually the names of Von Karajan, Solti, and Furtwaengler come to mind. For some odd reason, Karl Boehm and Wolfgang Sawallisch are rarely considered and that's a shame. (No disrepect meant towards James Levine, an excellent conductor of Wagner or Silvio Varviso.) I'd venture as far as to say that Karl Boehm is one of the least appreciated "great" conductors, period. I had the good fortune to see him conduct Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos" in Vienna at the twilight of his long and illustrious career and well as having been to many Wolfgang Sawallisch-led performances at the Wiener Staatsoper in the early 70's. Many of the soloists featured on these live recordings from Bayreuth are or were famous for their Wagnerian singing and I was thrilled to get to hear them again.
Fortunately, all of these performances were recorded in excellent stereo, and the live audiences were quiet for the most part and the engineers have wisely excised audience applause. Some coughing is more noticable in some performances than in others reminding me of the old joke, "When people have a cough they don't stay home, they go to the opera!!"
And now Decca has re-issued all the "great" operas from Der Fliegende Hollander to Parzifal and if one is really desperate to have the "complete" operas, one can augment the collection to include "Das Liebesverbot", "Die Feen", and "Rienzi" still for a pittance when compared to buying the European-issued "Complete Wagner" series that includes those three early operas and at a much higher cost.
My only quibble is that one must do with plot synopses and not have the libretti included.
And all of this for only $56 bucks for 33 CDs?? Thank you, Decca and God bless you!! This is just too good to pass up for several reasons. Most current Ring cycles alone can cost over $100, so what are you waiting for??
A Phenomenal Bargain -- Don't Hesitate
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 09/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though hardly a Wagner fanatic, I have increasingly come to admire, if not always to love, his music dramas for their boldness, sublime pathos, and cosmic scope. To know Wagner is to appreciate, at very least, where Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss came from (they didn't spring fully formed from the head of Zeus--or Woden as the case may be). Wagner also has the ability to shed light--sometimes garish, sometimes healing, always searching--on some of the darkest places in the human psyche. If you fancy modern myth--Tolkien, Lewis, Mary Stewart, et. al.--then you cannot afford to ignore Wagner, who as the pioneer of *Gesamtkunstwerk* (multi-media) may well be the greatest mythmaker of all.
If you are perchance a Wagner neophyte with a hankering to discover what all the fuss is about when it comes to this greatest of musical megalomaniacs, then this box is tailor-made for you. The performances contained herein all convey a unique sense of authenticity, insofar as they were taken down live at Bayreuth, the theater that Wagner designed as a sacred shrine of consecration for the Grail that was his hypertrophic ego (when you're a genius of that caliber, I suppose a wee bit of bravado is allowed). Make no mistake: nowhere on the face of the earth is Wagner performed with greater zeal and dedication than on that Holy Hill, and nowhere will you find more prolific opportunities to be initiated into the Highest Mysteries of the music drama.
Another advantage of this set (beyond its obvious bargain status) is that every one of the ten great operas receives a performance that at least does justice to the music, and some have rightly been accorded classic status. First and foremost, you will be treated to the greatest *Tristan und Isolde* of the Stereo era, and a *Ring* cycle that must figure at or near the top of a very short list--all conducted by Karl Böhm (one of the most formidable, and dramatically compelling, Wagnerians on record). These Böhm-led performances feature the likes of Brigit Nilsson (as Isolde and Brunhilde) and Wolfgang Windgassen (as Tristan and Siegfried), alongside other top Wagnerian singers of their generation. Those five operas would have constituted a plausible bargain box on their own (and indeed the Böhm Ring cycle has fairly recently been selling for about the same price as this entire collection); but we also are treated to three wonderful performances (*Der Fliegende Holländer*, *Lohengrin* and *Tannhäuser*) under Wolfgang Sawallisch, another seasoned Wagnerian who can usually be counted on (as here) to provide a vivid theatrical experience. All three of these performances are exceptionally well cast (a difficult matter in these particular works), though some listeners might be put off by certain vagaries of live recording (odd balances, audible prompters, lots of stage noises, less than spot-on choral ensemble, etc.); these minor irritations are more noticeable in the three Sawallisch outings than in some of the other performances anthologized here. Least satisfying (to these ears anyway) are Varviso's *Meistersinger* (inconsistently cast, with less than engaging portrayals of Sachs and Walther) and Levine's *Parsifal* (too slow, and minus a musically and dramatically plausible singer in the title role); yet even in these two cases, where one could cite several superior alternatives, you will probably not be disappointed--for there is something about a live occasion at Bayreuth that stirs the blood, even when the conducting or singing prove uneven.
Perhaps the best news about this set, apart from the price, is that the recordings all date from the Stereo era, and provide a splendid sense of space and occasion, if not always ideal clarity of focus. The documentation is what one would expect for bargain boxes these days--scanty, though detailed cast lists and recording dates are provided along with a cued plot synopsis for each work.
In sum, then, you cannot go wrong with this compilation, whether you are a neophyte or a veteran opera collector and Wagnerian: the performances are memorable, the sonics variable but never less than good, and the cost minimal. Strongly recommended.
NOTE: Since I originally wrote this review, this set has apparently been discontinued--with the inevitable result that, as a now-collectable item, it is being offered at considerably higher prices. It's still an excellent investment, though surely not the bargain it was when originally issued. I would therefore now recommend purchasing these operas separately (you will find many bargains from various Amazon "used and new" sellers). For what it's worth, here are my current recommendations in this repertoire:
*Ring of the Niebelungen*: Clemens Krauss (if you don't mind decent monaural); Solti/VPO (if you require modern sonics plus a virtually unbeatable roster of singers); Goodall (if you like opera in English and don't mind a contemplative approach to Wagner); Böhm (if you want an outstanding live-from-Bayreuth Ring in vivid stereo sound).
*Meistersinger*: Solti/VPO (his first recording (notable for Noman Bailey's superb Sachs); Karajan/Dresden/EMI (his second recording); Knappertsbusch (resissued on Naxos). I have not heard the much-vaunted Kubelik.
*Tristan*: Böhm/Bayreuth; Furtwängler/EMI. I have not heard the recent Pappano with Domingo, but many critics have lauded it.
*Parsifal*: Either of Knappertsbusch's recordings (the first in mono, the second in stereo); Solti; Karajan (for gorgeous playing and perceptive conducting, not for the cast).
*Lohengrin*: Kempe or Solti.
*Tannhäuser*: Solti (the best account I have heard of the Paris version) or Cluytens/Bayreuth (on Orfeo D'Or--historical, in mono), Sawallisch/Bayreuth (a composite of Dresden and Paris versions).
*Fliegende Holländer*: Klemperer, Karajan or Reiner (historical, on Naxos)"