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Re: [furt-l] Kna: a vote for 1956

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  • boyd cathey
    Jake, A few comments, some positive, some less so, on your interesting message on Kna and 1956 Bayreuth. (BTW, I enjoyed your perspective from a
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 7, 1999
      A few comments, some positive, some less so, on your interesting
      message on Kna' and 1956
      Bayreuth. (BTW, I enjoyed your perspective from a dramatic/scenarist
      background, even if I approach those performances from a much more
      aural/audial point view):
      -----Original Message-----
      From: shire@... <shire@...>
      To: furt-l@... <furt-l@...>
      Date: Wednesday, July 07, 1999 7:26 AM
      Subject: [furt-l] Kna: a vote for 1956

      My 2 cents worth on the issue of the 1956 Parsifal conducted by Kna.

      1. Based upon my reading (Turing, Skelton, etc.) and listening to
      the 1956 Ring and Parsifal, it seems to me that 1956 was the annis
      mirabilis at Bayreuth. This was the year in which the singing-actors
      of Wieland's "rep" company -- Windgassen, Greindl, Modl, etc --
      and his own production style finally "came together". For instance,
      the Ring sets in 1951 still had three dimensional pieces pulled from
      the "Jessner steps" approach, in 1956 all such traditional holdovers
      had finally been banished from Wieland's "Neu Bayreuth" scheibe.

      The singers had learned that stillness is a releasing technique,
      permitting them to act through the voice and the brilliantly chosen
      handful of gestures and movement that Wieland had worked out with
      them. And so, the 1956 Parsifal has the best acted performance on
      record. The drama comes through with startling clarity even on

      I agree that 1956 was a capital year for Kna'. Certainly regarding Kna'
      RINGs on disc, his 1956 RING cycle is very fine indeed, better conducted and
      generally better sung than the 1957 and 1958. The issues by Music & Arts (in
      superb sound) and Melodram of the 1956 are a boon to Wagnerians. Bill
      Youngren, FANFARE magazine's chief Wagner critic, has often criticized Kna'
      for his ritards or occasional sloppiness, but in 1956, not so. Indeed he
      agreed to do the notes for the M&A issue.
      Not having SEEN the '56 PARSIFAL, I can't comment on the acting or mise
      en scene; but from a strictly aural point of view and the conducting, I
      prefer Kna's conducting in 1951 or 1962.

      2. The cast is almost ideal. While I prefer the Mozartean beauty of
      Windgassen in the heldentenor roles, Vinay's baritonal voice brought
      forward the heroic qualitites of the characters he played
      exceptionally well. If not my first choice, Vinay is certainly a
      fine alternative to WW. As for Vickers, I have heard him in the
      house in this part and Tristan and Otello and Grimes and I cannot
      recall a single performance in which he ever let the audience forget
      it was JOHN VICKERS "interpreting" the role. For me, his is a
      mannered approach more fit to oratorio and recital than the operatic
      stage, where total identification in the character and the
      elimination of the "personal" is what is called for. Admittedly, his
      best performance is in a Parsifal from Geneva in which he basically
      does the Wieland characterisation. Still, it leaves so much to be
      desired. (Pace all you Vickers fans. I have a theatre background
      and the dramatic values always come first for me in opera.) As for
      Thomas in 1962, well, he was a stopgap during a bad time. Sort of
      like James King in this part under Boulez. He saved many a show,
      like the Met's 1976 (?) revival of the Karajan Ring, but he never was
      a major artist.

      Well we do have difference on the merits of Vickers' performances. I
      think we first have to decide just what is the character of "Parsifal," and,
      indeed, whether what we are hearing (or visualizing or seeing) is or
      approximates that character. I have never had any problem with Vickers,
      either as Parsifal or Otello or Tristan or whatever. Each great singer, so
      it seems to me, must attempt to "get inside" the role he or she is
      performing, must get as close as possible to an ideal "persona." That
      persona must be projected vocally and dramatically.But the singer's own
      personality is, I would argue, never completely eliminated. Whether I listen
      to Melchior (who for me comes the very closest to the "ideal" Wagnerian
      heldentenor) or Vickers or Windgassen, the effect is the same: I listen to
      the character, but only as embodied by an artist's conception/identification
      of and with that character. I realize that there are great singers who
      don't act that well, and great operatic actors who sing less well (E.g,
      Callas, IMHO); but in Vickers case, I have no problem whatsoever when I SEE
      and HEAR his TRISTAN of SEEING and HEARING THE Tristan. I don't think of
      Vickers, but of Tristan. Ditto with his 1964 Parsifal, or his Siegmund, or
      Of Vinay, I have grown to like his Otello--the recent release by
      Preiser Records of his 1948 MET performance with L. Albanese and Leonard
      Warren, under Fritz Busch, makes a good case for him. I am less persuaded by
      his Wagner.

      3. I think the Greindl Gurnemanz unsurpassed as an impersonation of
      the role. I grew up on the vastly over-rated Solti Ring set and thus
      thought of Hotter as The Wotan, etc. Since then, I have found his
      work increasingly unsatisfactory in comparison with those who were in
      greater harmony with Wieland's ideas. Greindl, Modl, Windgassen,
      Silja, Varnay -- these are the best of the Bayreuth artists, in large
      part because they were bright enough to realise the vastness of the
      opportunity offered by collaborating with Wieland. As, as he said in
      a 1955 programme note, his company of singing actors made his work
      possible. Against these artists, Hotter just doesn't come up to
      snuff. (In Turing's "bio" of Hotter, we finally can read about how
      uncomfortable he was with Wieland's work. He complains about the
      steep rake of the stage and the lights in his eyes. Jeepers! He was
      talking about the Parsifal! Perhaps the most revolutionary opera
      production since the war.)

      Greindl is, for my money, the most under-rated of Wieland's team.
      HIs Sachs is extraordinarily moving and beautifully sung. And this
      from the scariest Hagen of the post-war period -- including the
      imposing Mr Salminen, my current favourite in this role.

      Although I would certainly concur that Josef Greindl is woefuly
      underrated and a very fine artist, I can't agree that his Gurnemanz is the
      greatest assumption of the role. No. That must certainly would have to be
      Ludwig Weber, who, beginning with the mid 1930s Covent Garden PARSIFAL (of
      which a good piece survives, with Torsten Ralf and Herbert Janssen, in
      equally ravishing voice), and continuing with his 1948 Vienna PARSIFAL (with
      Gunther Treptow, on Myto CDs), and the 1951 Kna' (on Teldec Historical), is
      second to no one in that role. Weber, in these three performances, combines
      the right amount of vocal and histrionic splendor with abundant and
      supremely satisfying characterisation Although I don't share Bill
      Youngren's (and others') criticism of Greindl's "coarseness," I do find
      that--I am listening to his 1960 Bayreuth Sachs as I write this--he can
      force notes/ slide into them at times. But I do like him considerably more
      than some. His Hagen is very fine, I'll agree--have you heard the 1942
      Bayreuth GOTTERDAMMERUNG? Talk about convincing!!
      As to Hotter, the shudder in the voice can be distracting--and I do not
      find him convincing, nor the voice beautiful, in the Solti RING. Still, I
      find his 1962 performance of Gurnemanz (on Philips) one of the most
      spiritual of all. Here is a tired, weary, but also very other-worldly
      Gurnemanz, and vocally that comes through. I think Hotter is best heard in
      such performances as the 1944 FLIEGENDE HOLLAENDER, where he is steady of
      voice and superb in characterisation; then at the Met in 1950, again as the
      Hollaender (under Fritz Reiner); or perhaps as Sachs in the 1949 Munich
      performance (on Myto CDs).

      4. As noted by others, this is Kna's opera. I disagree that he was
      the "star". He was better than that -- he was the perfect ensemble
      member. This is a responsive interpretation that never intrudes.
      Though Kna had his notorious fight with Wieland, and had quit over
      the phoney dove Wieland had placed for his benefit in the flies,
      where the audience couldn't see it but Kna, the traditinalist could,
      by 1956 Kna seemed to have made peace with Wieland's approach to the
      work. At any rate, it is as fine a performance of this music that I

      No argument here: Kna', when he was "on," really could get inside
      Wagner, or as you say, he seems almost to disappear, letting the music/drama
      speak for itself. (The Dove incident is very comic--Wolfgang W. discusses it
      in his autobiography, ACTS).

      5. Since this is a WF list, does anyone know if there is even a
      rumour of a complete Parsifal from WF? The various "bleeding chunks"
      are just so many tantalizing tidbits. If we could find some record,
      then perhaps Elisabeth could set her minions tracking them down. Or
      Miriam Scherchen.

      This subject was vetted on the list about a year ago. If I remember
      correctly, the general conclusion was that although WF performed PARSIFAL
      with RAI in the early 1950s, and a performance was scheduled to be broadcast
      (and presumably recorded), the Callas-Christoff one was aired instead. But
      who can say for certain....?

      While we're at it, does anyone know if there is a tape -- pirate or
      other -- of Reggie Goodall's Covent Garden Meistersinger? That
      would be something. It's odd to me that Goodall's name isn't
      mentinoed more often here. I know his recordings are few and far
      between, but he was at least as Furtwanglerian as Kna.

      Just my 2 cents.
      Jake Shire
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