Ramon Vinay's triumphant 1954 Bayreuth Tannhaeuser
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 12/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
1954 live performance from the Bayreuth Festival.
Fairly good 1950s live-recorded mono. As usual for the period, voices are given emphasis over the orchestra. In this case, particularly, the voices are placed well to the fore. Compulsive audiophiles who measure quality by the clarity of the fourth bassoon or the third viola, turn away right now. This is not for you. You will hear neither here (nor, for that matter, would you be likely to hear them in any real theater or concert hall.) Stage noises are present but they are minimal. The Bayreuth audience was more free than most of annoying coughers and unusually well disciplined. They break into rapturous cheers only at the end of the performance. For those willing to listen to this set with the aid of a little goodwill, the sound is fine.
This is Wagner's Paris version of 1861, including some revisions for the Vienna production of 1875.
Disk 1: Overture; Act I, tracks 2-7; 65:02.
Disk 2: Act II, tracks 1-7; 65:16.
Disk 3: Act III, tracks 1-6; 54:16.
Cast: Tannhaeuser - Ramón Vinay
Elisabeth - Gre Brouwenstijn
Venus - Herta Wilfert
Wolfram von Eschenbach - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Landgraf - Josef Greindl
Walther von der Vogelweide - Josef Traxel
Biterolf - Toni Blankenheim
Heinrich der Schreiber - Gerhard Stolze
Reinmar von Zweiter - Theo Adam
Shepherd - Volker Horn
Joseph Keilberth with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus.
This recording captures what was, I believe, the first revival of Wagner's "Tannhaeuser" at the post-war Bayreuth Festival. Many, perhaps even most, of the writings about the early days of the revived Festival focus on the ground-breaking, minimalist productions of the Wagner brothers, grandsons of Richard, who had taken over control from the Nazi-tainted Winifred Wagner. With no money to speak of, and a pressing need to break all ties with the past, they offered a bare stage, next to no props, non-specific costumes and elaborate lighting. Their productions wowed the audiences of the day by their sheer difference from the grandiose, realistic and expensive offerings of the--ahem--deplorable past. (I rather fancy that a modern viewer might regard those productions as hugely self-satisfied, generally cheesy and immensely dull.)
What those writings hardly acknowledge is that the revival of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951 coincided with the flowering of a golden generation of Wagnerian singers, the like of which is not to be found anywhere in the world today. More than that, a veritable phalanx of conductors (most of them, oddly, having names beginning with the letter "K") had survived the war and were ready to lead masterful performances. The arid productions of the Wagner brothers are confined to the dusty pages of theatrical history, but their magnificent singers, larger-than-life conductors and wonderful orchestra can still thrill us in recordings.
This "Tannhaeuser" is very much a case in point. Oh, there are some rough spots. It's a live performance, after all. And Herta Wilfert is adequate as Venus, but not much more. Gré Brouwenstijn is better as Elizabeth, but a bit too matronly in sound. (Both would be overshadowed by the 1961 Bayreuth revival, which featured Grace Bumbry as Venus and the truly radiant Victoria de los Angeles as Elizabeth.) The men in the cast are quite extraordinary. The old guard is represented by Josef Griendl as the Landgraf. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Theo Adam are the brilliant newcomers. Most remarkable of all, though, is the Chilean, Ramón Vinay, who had moved up from baritone to heroic tenor only a couple of years earlier. Vinay's voice offered not much in the way of beauty, but plenty of authority, power and truth--as much truth as the wildly improbable art of opera can yield. He was a genuine operatic Man of Sorrow. His Tannhäuser was one who unquestionably had suffered and endured. Vinay's sole peer as Otello and Siegmund was Jon Vickers, but Vickers refused to perform the role of Tannhaeuser on moral grounds, leaving Vinay unmatched in the part.
Joseph Keilberth, who died midway through Act II of "Tristan und Isolde" in 1968, was an exact contemporary of Herbert von Karajan. Among other things, he was the head of the Bavarian State Opera. Popular memory tends to regard him as competent but uninspired. Of him, "Kapellmeister" was used as a term of insult. On listening to this performance, I can only wonder why that should be. Keilberth's "Tannhaeuser" is rousing throughout and always dramatically on point. It makes Sawallisch's otherwise fine 1961 Bayreuth version (also available from Od'O) seem almost pallid by comparison. Under Keilberth's hand, the whole of the song contest in Act II is simply brilliant.
This is a fine historic performance of "Tannhaeuser," captured in acceptably good sound. It features a performance from Ramón Vinay that can justly be described as great. And all this at rock-bottom price--five stars!"
Great Historic Recording
Steven Muni | Sutter Creek, CA USA | 05/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1954 recording features Ramon Vinay, the great Chilean "bari-tenor", at his finest. With his dark-timbred voice and great musical acting, he evokes Tannhauser's despair like few others. The recording also features the great German bass Josef Greindl as the Landgraf and the young Theo Adams (who would go on to be one of the great German baritones of the 1960s) in a small role. The women are reasonably good if not great. Dutch soprano Gre Brouwenstijn was a popular Bayreuth soprano of the day, singing the lighter Wagner roles like Siegelinde and Elsa as well as the Elizabeth she sings here. She had rather a fast vibrato that's a little surprising at first but handles the role quite well. Despite Vinay's overwhelming talent, this recording is almost stolen by the young Dietrich Fischer-Diskau who brings an absolute luminosity to the role of Wolfram.
Conductor Josef Keilberth was not widely known in the USA, as he worked mostly in Germany, but is now beginning to be appreciated as one of the best Wagnerian conductors of the mid-20th century. He keeps a brisk tempo without sacrificing any musical or dramatic values.
The only markdown is the quality of the sound, which although better than some Opera d'Oro recordings, is not particularly good. However it's good enough that, especially given the price, this is a fine historical recording to own."
Good for its age
T. Matthews | NJ | 02/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's a good thing the voices stand out from the music, this recording has noticable "wow and flutter" on the long, slow notes. Still worth listening to. Opera D'oro has recently released several live recordings with Ramon Vinay, including Otello and the classic Clemmens Krause Ring of the Nibelungen cycle. All are very reasonable in price and worth having. Five stars for artistic quality."