Wagner: Gotterdammerung [4CD]

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Kirsten Flagstad (Brünnhilde), Set Svanholm (Siegfried), Egil Nordsjo (Hagen), Per Gronnenberg (Alberich), Waldemar Johnsen (Gunther), Ingrid Bjoner (Gutrune), Eva Gustavson (Waltraute), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Olvin Fjeldstad

Kirsten Flagstad's farewell to the role she made her own: a rarely reissued, newly remastered and extensively documented monument in the history of Wagner on record. As the first commercial recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, this set would have lasting significance even without the presence of its undoubted star, the Norwegian soprano, Kirsten Flagstad, in her signature role of Brünnhilde. In fact Flagstad had retired from the operatic stage in 1953, just shy of her 58th birthday with her voice still largely intact when she was persuaded to return to the heroine of the 'Ring' one final time and in propitious circumstances: live performances of an act at a time, generously spaced by a few days at a time, working with a fellow-Norwegian conductor she knew well and a partner in the role of Siegfried who had developed a musical understanding with her over the course of decades. On her death in December 1962, Set Svanholm paid tribute to 'the warm dark gold in her voice', the immense physical presence she brought to the stage and 'an expression in the performance whereby the greatness of the simplicity became overwhelming'. The concerts in January 1956 were recorded by Norwegian Radio; on becoming aware of them, Decca producer John Culshaw fully appreciated their significance and arranged for an additional recording session to cover almost all the sections of the score that had been omitted in the live performances. Printed in the booklet of this Eloquence reissue there are further glowing personal tributes by Harold Rosenthal, former editor of Opera magazine, and by the conductor Richard Bonynge, for whom Flagstad's Isolde, experienced live, was 'miraculous': 'Hers was undoubtedly the greatest Wagnerian voice that I have ever heard or that I am likely to hear again.' The booklet also includes a contextual essay on the opera by Robert Boas and a full synopsis."