- Siegfried, opera, WWV 86c
This Bayreuth Festival performance of "Siegfried" is nearly a triumph. Taped on August 14, 1952, Wagner's music drama was led by Joseph Keilberth, then a rising star among postwar German conductors. As with his performances of "Das Rheingold" and "Die Walküre" from earlier in the same festival, Keilberth is about as exciting here as he ever got as a conductor, which is to say, quite exciting. With the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra in the pit, Keilberth's readings of Act I's forging scene, Act II's battle between man and dragon, and Act III's climax between man and woman are as thrilling as they have ever been. As in his earlier performances, Keilberth's attention does sometimes go slack between the big moments, allowing the orchestra to function merely as an accompaniment to the soloists. This is not always a wise move in Wagner, because the orchestral writing is often as interesting as the events on-stage. Most of the singers are excellent, while a few are anything but. Astrid Varnay is simply glorious as Brünnhilde. As bold, impetuous, and youthfully heroic as she had been in the same role in "Die Walküre" two nights earlier, Varnay is sweet, strong, and very hot in the role here. Just as magnificent is Hans Hotter as "Der Wanderer" (aka, Wotan). Hotter sings with tremendous dignity in Act I and II, and in his Act III confrontation with Siegfried, Hotter delivers a stupendous display of vocal power. On the other side of the ledger are Paul Kuën as Mime and Bernd Aldenhoff as Siegfried. Reactions to Kuën's performance might be considered a matter of taste. With its cries and whimpers, his broad portrayal of the dwarf could be amusing to some, but offensive to others. Aldenhoff's brash, blustery, and bombastic Siegfried is merely offensive and not at all amusing. With his often unsteady pitch, occasionally indeterminate pronunciation, and disregard of any dynamic except fortissimo, Aldenhoff's Siegfried is not so much a god-like innocent as a bellowing blowhard. For Varnay and Hotter, this "Siegfried" is a triumph. For Keilberth and the Festival Orchestra, it's a semi-triumph. But for Kuën and especially Aldenhoff, it's ignominy. Myto's sound is rough and hard-edged, but clear enough, considering the time and place.