About this Recording
8.110228-30 - WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Ring Cycle 4) (Metropolitan Opera) (1936)
English 

Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Götterdämmerung

‘I’ll ride the horse when I sing Götterdämmerung in New York’ Marjorie Lawrence, quoted in her autobiography Interrupted Melody

Marjorie Lawrence was one of the twentieth century’s great Wagnerian sopranos, whose career and recordings may be too little remembered today. She arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1935 and sang the last performance there of her ‘first career’ in 1941, the same years as the début and departure of Kirsten Flagstad. Lawrence shared some of her repertoire with Flagstad too, notably Sieglinde and the three Brünnhildes, which they would sometimes alternate during Wagnerian cycles at the Met. There the similarity ends, for vocally and temperamentally these two singers were very different. When Flagstad arrived at the Met she had a twenty-year career behind her, spent husbanding her vocal resources ready for a sensational New York début. Lawrence, at the age of 26, was fourteen years Flagstad’s junior and, it seems, the youngest singer ever to have tackled Brünnhilde in the history of the Met up to that time. Flagstad’s voice was formidable, firm, focussed and untiring; Lawrence’s was feminine and vibrant, with a richness that enabled her to sing several rôles of a mezzo hue, including Ortrud, Alceste and Carmen. If there were any rivalry between the two divas, it would seem to have been of the friendliest sort. Flagstad was Nordic, restrained and emotionally cool, Lawrence a vivacious spirit, an Australian outdoor girl and a skilled horsewoman.

And so to the horse; the climactic scene of Götterdämmerung is often a visual and dramatic disappointment, even in the best-made productions. Contrary to Wagner’s instructions, instead of riding onto Siegfried’s funeral pyre, sopranos have traditionally led their trusty Grane offstage or, worse, frequently been accompanied by no steed at all. Lawrence determined to change all that at her New York appearances in the opera; she privately decided to mount the horse and ride bareback into the conflagration as Wagner had intended, in direct defiance of the stage director and conductor. Apparently not attempted at the Met in its then-recent history, this equine feat caused uproar at the close of the first performance, the very performance, indeed, preserved on these discs, for what we hear is the soprano’s New York début as the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde. The wild approval of the audience can be heard a few seconds after the soprano’s final bars in the Immolation Scene; the astonishment of the stage director and conductor can only be imagined. But Lawrence was permitted ‘to keep in’ this imaginative piece of stage business, and it became a feature of her subsequent performances of the opera with the Met company.

There is, of course, far more that is memorable about this interpretation than the horse. Lawrence brought a freshness of voice to Brünnhilde, and an excitement and conviction that this passionate warrior-maid was a loved and loving woman. The timbre is clear and lustrous, penetrating the orchestral surges and complying with the energetic tempi that the conductor, Bodanzky, preferred. The other members of the cast are similarly inspired; Melchior is tireless as ever and brings his unique heroic timbre to the rôle of Siegfried, in what appears to be his only surviving complete recording of Götterdämmerung. (That said, the confrontation between Brünnhilde and Gutrune in the third scene of Act 3 is cut in this performance, a Bodanzky tradition). The incomparable Friedrich Schorr is a sonorous Gunther, caught here well before his vocal decline; the German bass Ludwig Hofmann (1895-1963) is a dark-voiced Hagen, singing again the rôle of his 1932 Met début; and his compatriot Eduard Habich (1880-1960) contributes a suitably unpleasant Alberich. For all its imperfections, this recording is one of the great documents of Wagnerian performance for it preserves the interpretations of (at least) three of the finest singers of their day in some of their most impressive rôles. Among the ‘what ifs’ of operatic history, the ‘what if Marjorie Lawrence had not succumbed to such crippling illness at the age of 32?’ must rank highly. We can never answer, but we can listen to this, one of her major operatic recordings, and wonder.

Götterdämmerung was first performed on 17th August 1876 at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth.

Paul Campion

Synopsis

CD1

Prologue. [1] The motifs associated with the Rhine and with Nature, first heard at the start of Das Rheingold are now heard again in the instrumental introduction to Götterdämmerung. The Fate motif returns, a hint, as we know from Die Walküre, of Siegfried’s impending death. [2] It is night, as the curtain rises to reveal the three Norns, weavers of Fate, sitting on Brünnhilde’s rock, near the entrance to a cave, resolved to spin and sing. They tell how, once, a brave god came to the sacred ash-tree and paid with one of his eyes to drink there from the well of wisdom. From the tree he cut a branch, from which he made a spear. The motifs here recall Wotan’s dreams of Valhalla and his promise to pay for the building of Valhalla. The tree died, the third Norn ends her tale, throwing the rope she holds to the second Norn, who continues the story. She tells how Wotan engraved the words of his agreement on the spear, how a young hero broke the spear in battle and how Wotan sent heroes from Valhalla to cut the sacred tree up into logs. The first Norn continues, telling how these logs are piled around the fortress of Valhalla, to be set ablaze and bring about its end. They see Loge, transformed again into fire, guarding Brünnhilde’s rock, but later to set fire to the fragments of the spear and set ablaze the logs round Valhalla, at Wotan’s command. What then of the Rhinegold, the Ring? The rope has become entangled and now breaks. The Norns know their time has come and they must return to Erda, goddess of Fate.

[3] It grows lighter with the start of dawn, and now day breaks. Siegfried and Brünnhilde come from the cave, the latter leading her horse, Grane. Each is identified by a motif, the horse by a reminiscence of the Ride of the Valkyries. Brünnhilde has given Siegfried her knowledge and strength and sends him forward to new deeds of glory. From her Siegfried has learned love, above all, and they sing of their love, with motifs associated with it. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde, as a token of faith, the ring, the symbol of all he has achieved, and she gives him her horse. [4] Through her power, now, will Siegfried act, as part of her. [5] He takes his leave and sets out on his Rhine Journey, his own bold motif mingling with those of Fire, the Rhinemaidens, the Rhine and the ring itself.

Act I

Scene 1. [6] The scene is the hall of the Gibichungs, by the Rhine. Gunther and Gutrune are seated to one side, with Hagen at the table. Gunther asks his half-brother if he has the true fame due a Gibich. Hagen respects him but tells him that he could possess greater things and should marry, as should Gutrune. For Gunther there is Brünnhilde, on her rock surrounded by fire, but she is to be Siegfried’s bride, for he has killed the dragon and taken the Nibelung’s treasure and magic power. Siegfried, however, might win Brünnhilde for Gunther, in return for the hand of Gutrune. She thinks this improbable, but Hagen reminds her of the drug they have that brings forgetfulness and will make Siegfried forget any other women. The sound of Siegfried’s approach is heard.

Scene 2. Hagen, who has gone down to the bank of the river, hails Siegfried, with the ominous motif of the curse placed on the ring by Hagen’s father, Alberich, from whom it had been taken. [7] While Hagen sees to his horse, Gunther welcomes Siegfried, who seeks to know whether Gunther is his friend or enemy. They swear friendship, Gunther pledging all he has, his land, body and sword. Hagen returns. He mentions the treasure, by which Siegfried claims to set little store, but he has the Tarn-cap that, as Hagen tells him, gives the power to take on any form. Siegfried adds that he has given the ring to a noble woman, identified at once by Hagen, to himself, as Brünnhilde. [8] Gutrune now returns with a drinking-horn, welcoming their guest, and Siegfried drinks to Brünnhilde. The potion does its work and as he looks again at Gutrune he feels desire. As she leaves, he asks Gunther her name. [9] He tells him that her name is Gutrune and goes on to explain his own desire to marry a woman who is now set on a rock, surrounded by fire, Brünnhilde, who will be the wife of the one who rescues her. Siegfried at once offers to break through the fire and bring Brünnhilde to be Gunther’s bride, disguising himself as Gunther through the Tarn-cap, in return for the hand of Gutrune. They swear to be blood-brothers and allow their blood to mingle in a drinking-horn of wine that Hagen holds for them, pledging faith or death and drinking. Hagen takes his sword and cuts the drinking-horn in two. [10] Siegfried asks him why he has not taken the oath, but Hagen tells him that his blood is mixed and not so noble. Siegfried now moves towards his boat, ready to leave with Gunther. As they make ready to leave, Hagen tells Gutrune that the two are going to seek Brünnhilde. [11] He sits motionless, to watch over the hall, thinking that now Gunther will bring Brünnhilde home with him and Hagen himself will have the ring. The music suggests both Hagen’s thoughts and Brünnhilde, as well as the two who are now travelling to seek her out.

Scene 3. [12] The scene is again the entrance to the cave of the Prologue. Brünnhilde sits contemplating the ring and remembering her beloved Siegfried. She hears the approach through the air of the Valkyrie Waltraute and asks her whether her presence is in defiance of Wotan or if Wotan has forgiven her, as he may have done, since he has allowed her to be found by Siegfried, or whether Waltraute has been condemned to share her fate. Waltraute, however, brings anxious news. [13] Wotan, she tells her, since Brünnhilde’s departure, no longer sends the Valkyries to battle, but wanders aimlessly and alone. Recently he had returned with his spear broken by a hero and he then ordered the World Ash-Tree to be cut down and its logs piled around the sacred hall. Now Wotan sits in Valhalla, Waltraute continues, not speaking or moving, surrounded by the gods, grasping the shattered spear in his hand.

CD2

[1] He had sent his two ravens out and one returned with good news, at which he smiled, but he does not listen to the appeals of the Valkyries. Once, though, he spoke of Brünnhilde, sighing, as in a dream, and saying that if she gave the ring back to the Rhinemaidens then the curse would be ended. At this Waltraute had taken her horse and ridden to Brünnhilde. [2] In reply to Brünnhilde’s question, she tells her that she seeks her help in returning the ring. Brünnhilde will never surrender the token of Siegfried’s love for her, although Waltraute pleads with her to save Valhalla. She clings to this symbol of her own happiness and tells her sister to leave her. [3] Left alone again, as thunderclouds gather, she bids Waltraute never return. It grows darker and the fire from around the rock now grows fiercer. She hears the sound of Siegfried’s horn and a figure appears through the flames, Siegfried, in the Tarn-cap, having the form of Gunther. [4] He declares that he has come to set her free and take her as his wife, announcing himself as the Gibichung, Gunther. Brünnhilde calls down curses on Wotan for this cruel punishment. Siegfried bids her go into the cave, but she threatens him with the ring, which he tears from her finger, once he has overpowered her. As they go into the cave, he swears to be true to his oath to Gunther, and will sleep in the cave with his sword Nothung between him and Brünnhilde.

Act II

Scene 1. [5] An orchestral Prelude suggests the opening of the following scene, set in front of the Gibichungs’ hall. [6] Here Alberich crouches at his son Hagen’s feet, while the latter seems to sleep. He reminds Hagen, who seems to hear in his sleep, of the power that will be theirs, how Siegfried defeated Wotan and how Hagen must defeat Siegfried, protected as he is by his innocence from the curse of the ring. Hagen must swear to take the ring from Siegfried, for if Brünnhilde returns it to the Rhinemaidens then they will lose if for ever. He swears and Alberich disappears into the darkness.

Scene 2. [7] There is a sudden sound, as Siegfried appears behind a bush and hails Hagen, brought quickly by the magic of the Tarn-cap, followed by Gunther and Brünnhilde. He calls out to Gutrune and tells her how he has rescued Brünnhilde for Gunther, while remaining true to her. Gutrune asks Hagen to call together the men in celebration of her wedding with Siegfried, while she will call the women. Hagen mounts a rock and there sounds his horn.

Scene 3. [8] Hagen calls on the Gibichung men, who gather, seeking the reason for the summons and the nature of the enemy. He tells them they have been called to celebrate a wedding feast, to eat and drink.

Scene 4. [9] As Gunther and Brünnhilde arrive, they are greeted by the men. Gunther introduces his bride, Brünnhilde, leading her towards the hall and greeting Siegfried and his sister Gutrune. When Brünnhilde sees the couple she is near to fainting and seeing the ring on Siegfried’s finger she understands that she has been betrayed and the ring torn from her own finger. Siegfried, however, remembers how he won the ring from the dragon that he slew. Hagen intervenes, accusing Siegfried of treachery and Brünnhilde joins the accusation. [10] She calls on the gods, in her suffering, claiming to be the wife of Siegfried. He, however, declares his faithfulness to the oath that he has sworn to Gunther, as his blood-brother, separated from her by his sword, that was between them as they lay together in the cave. Brünnhilde reproaches him as a liar, joined by Gunther. [11] In the turmoil aroused, Siegfried swears by Hagen’s spear, the Spear Oath, calling for his own destruction from it, if he is forsworn. Brünnhilde calls on the same spear for vengeance and the death of Siegfried. [12] He, however, tells Gunther that Brünnhilde is lying, regretting the apparent failure of their deception with the Tarn-cap. Turning to the company, he bids them to the wedding feast, accompanying Gutrune into the hall, followed by the Gibichung men and women.

Scene 5. [13] Hagen, Gunther and Brünnhilde remain behind. She wonders what magician has brought about this change and regrets how she has bestowed on Siegfried all her wisdom. Hagen promises vengeance.

CD3

[1] She tells him that Siegfried is invincible, protected by her power, although his back is vulnerable, since she knew he would never turn his back on an enemy, in flight. Hagen, then, will use his spear to find its mark there, urging Gunther on, betrayer and betrayed. [2] Gunther must help Hagen to secure Siegfried’s death. Gunther, however, is reluctant to break his bond, but Brünnhilde joins her voice to Hagen’s, urging him to act, since Siegfried has betrayed them both. Hagen assures him that this is the only way to regain the Ring of the Nibelung. They agree to arrange a hunting-party and spare Gutrune by telling her that Siegfried has been killed by a boar. They swear vengeance. As Gunther and Brünnhilde approach the hall, the wedding procession emerges, with Siegfried and Gutrune carried high on the men’s shoulders, as they proceed to the hill for the ceremony.

Act III

[3] An orchestral prelude depicts the hunting-party, as horns resound and echo, while the Rhine flows on. Scene 1. [4] The curtain rises on a rocky valley and forest by the Rhine, from which the three Rhinemaidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde, rise, lamenting the loss of the Rhinegold, as they wait for Siegfried, whose horn-call they hear. [5] He appears, having lost his way, led astray by some spirit, and the Rhinemaidens laugh at him, seeking to have the ring from his finger, which he is about to give them, holding it up to tempt them to him. They warn him, however, of its dangers. [6] He remembers now the warning of the dragon, but this did not teach him to fear. The Rhinemaidens leave him, in his folly, blind to danger, since a woman will inherit the ring and listen to them. They swim away.

Scene 2. [7] Siegfried pulls himself together, as he hears the Gibichung horn-call, an inversion of his own, with which he answers, as the men call to him. He is joined now by them, with Gunther and Hagen, ready to rest from the hunt and take refreshment. He tells Hagen that he has taken no prey, but has met three wild waterbirds, who sang to him. Hagen fills a drinking-horn for Siegfried and asks if it is true that he can understand the language of birds. As the latter hands the drinking-horn to Gunther, he tells them he has not heard their language for a long time, but now goes on to recount his earlier deeds, recalled by the earlier motifs, of the dwarf Mime, who taught him the art of the smith, so that, of his own art, he restored his father’s weapon, the sword Nothung, and killed the dragon, Fafner. When he dipped his finger in the dragon’s blood and touched his mouth, he could understand a bird that told him of the Tarn-cap and the ring, and then, when he had them both, warned him of the treachery of Mime, who tried to poison him and whom he then killed. Hagen refills the drinking-horn, now adding a drug and urging Siegfried to drink. The latter continues his story, telling how the bird told him of Brünnhilde, on her rock, surrounded by fire. Now he remembers how he had found her and wakened her with a kiss. Gunther is horrified at what he hears and two ravens fly out of a nearby bush, circle over Siegfried and fly then to the Rhine. Hagen asks if he can guess their meaning, and Siegfried stands up, turning his back on Hagen, who plunges his spear into him. He tries to hurl his shield at Hagen, but is too weak, and sinks to the ground, while the men reproach Hagen, who strides away. [8] Gunther bows his head, by Siegfried’s side as he dies with the name of Brünnhilde on his lips. [9] To the sound of the funeral march the men, at a signal from Gunther, bear Siegfried’s body away. A mist rises from the river, hiding the procession.

Scene 3. The mists part to reveal the hall of the Gibichungs in the moonlight, reflected from the river. [10] Gutrune comes out, thinking she hears Siegfried’s horn-call, wakened now by a bad dream and seeking Brünnhilde, whom she thinks she has seen walking to the Rhine. She hears the voice of Hagen, calling for lights, as he returns from the hunt, and he appears, bidding Gutrune welcome Siegfried, as the hero’s body is borne in. Hagen tells her that Siegfried was killed by a wild boar, as she falls on the body in grief. Gunther tries to comfort her, but she calls him a murderer. He tells her rather to accuse Hagen, who admits the deed and seeks to claim the ring. Gunther rises to defend Gutrune’s inheritance and in a short fight is killed by Hagen, who tries to seize the ring, but is prevented when Siegfried’s hand rises, to the horror of all. Now Brünnhilde appears, seeking final revenge on those who have betrayed her. [Gutrune accuses her of bringing sorrow on their house, but Brünnhilde tells her that she was never Siegfried’s wife, as she was]. Gutrune turns on Hagen, realising that the drugged potion had made Siegfried forget Brünnhilde. [11] In the Immolation Scene Brünnhilde orders the men to raise a pyre for Siegfried, to bring his horse, to share with her the funeral rites. She tells of the purity of Siegfried, the truest, who yet had broken every oath and vow. She calls on Wotan to hear her, now with her knowledge restored to her; his ravens may take him a message of peace. She gives a sign to the men to bear Siegfried’s body to the pyre and takes from his finger the ring, which she now will return to the Rhine with her ashes. She takes a burning brand, bidding the ravens fly home and on their way urge Loge to Valhalla to bring fire there. She hurls the brand onto the pyre and mounting the horse, Grane, rides into the flames, which burn the fiercer. The Rhine swells and overflows its banks, quelling the fire, as the Rhinemaidens emerge. Hagen, casting aside spear, shield and helmet, plunges into the water, eager to seize the ring, and is dragged down by the Rhinemaidens, who now hold the ring up in triumph. In the sky Valhalla is seen, with the gods and goddesses sitting motionless, as the great hall is consumed in cleansing fire, bringing the reign of gods and heroes to an end.

Keith Anderson

Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.


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