Above: American bass-baritone Ralph Herbert
Still being held captive by the evil sorceress Sciatica, I decided I needed a different "front page" article for my blog.
Coming randomly upon an excerpt from Act II of Wagner's GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG - from my premiere encounter with that opera - I was taken back over the decades to a wintry afternoon in January, 1962, when I heard Wagner's "grand finale of the RING Cycle" for the very first time. At age fourteen, I had already been an opera-lover for three years when the complete RING was broadcast via the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera Radio Network.
I never missed a Texaco matinee in the first 20 or so years of my operatic 'career', my first one having been Sutherland's "debut season" LUCIA broadcast. I would sit alone in the family rec room, and no one was allowed to disturb me; the phone was taken off the hook. Once in a great while, if a particular opera was not grabbing my attention, my grandmother and I would play Honeymoon Bridge as the sun went down. We always loved Milton Cross's narration of the curtain calls.
The RING Cycle of course became a great favorite work of mine over time; but at first, allured as was by by BUTTERFLY, TROVATORE, and GIOCONDA, it wasn't easy to comprehend.
RHEINGOLD was not very accessible for me: too much "male" singing. I did better with DIE WALKÜRE, in part because the story had more meaning for me, and three singers I already knew and liked - Birgit Nilsson, Gladys Kuchta, and Jon Vickers - had leading roles. Hearing Milton Cross describe the final scene of WALKÜRE prompted me to go out into the field behind our house and make a circle of empty boxes, newspapers, etc on the snow-covered ground. I set it afire in four different places and then realized I was in the middle of the ring.
SIEGFRIED was something of a trial, at least until Jean Madeira (Erda) and Birgit Nilsson (Brunnhilde) started to sing. I remember liking the Norn Scene from GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG quite a bit, wherein Madeira was joined by Irene Dalis and Martina Arroyo; and the Dawn Duet was fun, thanks to Birgit's lightning bolt high-C, but my mind began to wander during much of the rest of Act I, re-engaging when Nilsson and Irene Dalis met as the sundered Valkyrie sisters.
Above: bass Gottlob Frick
I can remember distinctly being drawn into the mystery of the opening of Act II, especially as Milton Cross had described Alberich's dreamlike appearance to his slumbering son, Hagen, sung by Gottlob Frick, who over the ensuing years has always been my idea of a great Wagner basso.
In this eerie scene, Mr. Frick is joined by baritone Ralph Herbert as Alberich:
Of course, Birgit's Immolation Scene was exciting, though at the time it seemed too long; now it sometimes seems too short.
Erich Leinsdorf conducted this RING Cycle; a grand master of the Wagner repertoire, he had made his Met debut in 1938 (!) conducting WALKÜRE with Flagstad as Brunnhilde and Elizabeth Rethberg as Sieglinde, and made his farewell to The Met in 1983, conducting ARABELLA with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. In all, Leinsdorf led nearly 500 performances for The Met, both at home and on tour.
It was fun coming across the Opera News cast page (above) for this particular broadcast, and to see that Ms. Dalis had sent me an autographed copy of the same head-shot used in the magazine:
And here are Nilsson and Dalis in final part of the scene where Waltraute has asked Brunnhilde to give up the ring. It begins with Brunnhilde's "Welch' banger Träume Mären meldest du Traurige mir!" ("What tales of tortured dreams do you tell in such distress?")
Recalling those first few seasons of broadcasts, I remember one of my grandmother's great comeback lines. Sutherland was singing Amina in SONNAMBULA and at the end of "Sovra il sen" I said: "Grandma, Joan Sutherland just hit E-flat above high-C!" "That's nothin'..." she retorted, "...once I got up to P and held it all night!"
I'm sorry not to be attending performances at this time, and blogging about them; hopefully I will become more mobile in the next few days, and start venturing out. I appreciate everyone continuing to visit Oberon's Grove and finding things to read.