Above: soprano Claire Watson
There's so much opera on YouTube now; some days I will go there to track down a specific singer or work and end up in an endless round of sampling as one treasure after another shows up in the right-hand 'shoppping list'. One drawback at YouTube is that almost every video now has an opening commercial: a 30-second advertisement that has absolutely nothing to do with what you're searching for.
It was a search for Claire Watson that led me to this televised concert perfomance of the first act of Wagner's DIE WALKURE from the 1963 Vienna Festival. Conducted with great authority and deliberate pacing by the mythic Hans Knappertsbusch, we have the grandly cantankerous Hunding of Josef Greindl and a sturdy Siegmund from Fritz Uhl, best known for his Tristan on the Solti recording. Ms. Watson's Sieglinde is very impressive, both in her command of the music and her sense of dramatic involvement without artificial theatricality. She also displays some awesome feats of breath control.
Claire Watson's career centered mainly in Europe, and particularly at Munich. She was the subject of a chapter in Lanfranco Rasponi's splendid book The Last Prima Donnas where she spoke of the difficulties she faced in establishing a career against her first husband's wishes. Watson, who never sang at The Met (though I saw her there in the audience one evening in the late 1960s,) died of a brain tumor in 1986, leaving behind an especially impressive studio recording: the complete PETER GRIMES, conducted by Britten himself.
William Cochran was a Met Auditions finalist in 1968; at the annual Winners Concert that year, he sang the "Winterstürme" from WALKURE, with another finalist, Jessye Norman, continuing with "Du bist der lenz". He subsequently sang a series of performances as Vogelgesang in MEISTERSINGER and then was not seen at The Met again until 1984-1985 when he reunited with Jessye Norman in two performances of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS (one of which was broadcast). In the intervening years, Cochran established himself as a very fine heldentenor with major engagements throughout Europe and the USA. In this recording of the final scene of Act I of WALKURE, the tenor makes an impressive showing opposite the prodigiously sung Sieglinde of Eileen Farrell, with Maurice Abravanel conducting.
In 1969, William Cochran had participated in a recording of Act I of WALKURE with Helga Dernesch and Hans Sotin, conducted by Otto Klemperer. It is available here.