- Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), opera, WWV 86b
Though postwar Germany was in many ways a devastated and demoralized country, in one realm at least, the 1950s were the best of times, and that was in the realm of Wagnerian opera. Despite their posthumous association with the discredited Nazi regime, the music dramas of Wagner were stunningly well-served by a host of great conductors and singers. Take this August 12, 1952, recording of "Die Walküre" from the Bayreuth Festival, the high temple of Wagner's art. Its cast is generally first-class, with Günther Treptow's youthfully heroic Siegmund, Inge Borkh's intensely passionate Sieglinde, Josef Greindl's robustly brutal Hunding, Hans Hotter's magnificently tragic Wotan, and Astrid Varnay's simply iridescent Brünnhilde. The conducting by Joseph Keilberth is generally dramatic, always sympathetic to the soloists, and often thrilling; each act's close is electrifying. The cast plays the drama well, with Treptow and Borkh ravishing as the star-crossed lovers, and Hotter and Varnay moving as the estranged father and daughter. For the dedicated Wagner collector, this "Walküre" may earn a place on the shelf next to the recording of the same opera with the same conductor from the same festival taped in 1955 in stereo. Though the sound here is rougher, the performance is at least as successful.