Solti’s Ring

Dot writes: I’m having a bit of a Wagner fit. It started this morning with listening to Siegfried while I worked, got sucked into the internet, and has ended up with watching a documentary, The Golden Ring – the Making of Solti’s Ring des Nibelungen, which is available in seven parts on YouTube. It’s fascinating; also beautifully unfussy considered as a programme: although there are interviews and a few whimsical reflections on Vienna (where the cycle was recorded, because that was the home of the orchestra), vast tracts of it simply show us the recording process – the singers, the conductor, the orchestra, the men on steerhorns in another room, the people in the sound booth, just doing their stuff. I’m sure if something similar were made these days it would have lots of biographical interludes about Wagner and vox pops and shots of stormy seas and crap like that. Anyway, here are some not very profound reflections and factlets arising from it.

I always thought Wolfgang Windgassen was a remarkably unheroic-looking man, and seeing him in motion confirms this. Apparently he didn’t stay to hear Siegfried’s funeral march but hopped on the train back to Germany as soon as they finished the last take of the death-scene, as he had a performance of Fidelio to take part in the next day. Quite a punishing schedule. Still, he was the sort of man who could make a dinner-jacket look like a cardigan.

It may say something bad about me that my favourite character in Götterdämmerung is Hagen, but Gottlob Frick’s wonderful performance in the Solti recording probably has something to do with it. He is another interesting person to see on film. A marvellous lugubrious long face, but a surprisingly mischievous grin glimpsed between takes. I looked him up on t’internet and found both the Wikipedia entry and an obituary (The Telegraph) rather reticent about his personal life and politics. He stayed in Germany throughout the war – as most Germans did, of course, Nazis or not – and I can’t help wondering whether something is being skirted around. Probably there are better sources than Wikipedia and The Telegraph. But anyway, he looks like fun. Here he is in another clip. Doesn’t he completely steal the scene? Admittedly the music itself doesn’t give anyone else much of a chance.

When they were recording the balance test of the immolation scene the technical team brought a real horse into the hall to play a joke on Birgit Nilsson. She was obviously very amused but sang the scene perfectly anyway.

With each great impassioned wave of his arms Sir Georg Solti’s jumper leaps up, revealing his tummy. (I said these comments weren’t going to be very profound.)

On a somewhat more substantial note, I was interested that Solti had speeded up the tempo of Siegfried’s funeral march on the request of the producer, John Culshaw. This struck me as significant in indicating that Colshaw’s creative input extended to an influence over purely musical decisions such as this; it suggested Solti had the humility to take advice; and it was also interesting because the attack and vigour of the recording is generally seen as characteristically Solti’s – which doubtless it is, but clearly he wasn’t the only person pushing in that direction.

In Siegfried’s funeral march there are four harps. Four harps.

One of the harpists was a woman, but apart from Birgit Nilsson and Clare Watson (Gutrune) I think she was the only woman I spotted in the whole thing, apart from elderly ladies shuffling around Vienna markets in the section they put in for local colour. The closing remarks of the documentary spoke stirringly of ‘men unafraid to harness technology to their pursuit of perfection’.


5 thoughts on “Solti’s Ring

  1. laura

    Offered with no particular focus: “Die Miestersinger”, also Bryn Terfel as Wotan, and also Deborah Voigt (back in the day, before ‘slimming’), and I am proud to say I attended the Met Opera “Ring Cycle” about 10 years ago. Tickets to these performances were painfully expensive on my student’s budget, but I would do it again. Tannhauser? T’internet gives crazy access to all this stuff -would have made Wagner crazy, I think.

    1. Dot

      I’ve never seen any Wagner on the stage. I would like to, one of these days, though from what I’ve seen on TV and YouTube the visuals very rarely live up to the music. I did a spot of browsing in YouTube Gotterdammerung clips and found the commenters quite rude about the Met staging with Deborah Voigt, though it may not be the version you saw (and what is there that YouTube commenters won’t be rude about).

  2. Helen Conrad-O'Briain

    I grew up listening to the Furtwangler Ring (which I now have on CD), but for take the top off your head stuff, I would recommend the Boulez version at Bayreuth with Gwenith Jones as Bruinhilde. The BBC screened it around 1980. I think Jones is the best Bruinhilde I have ever heard – and I’ve listened to a lot of them. The Wotan in that production- whose name I can’t recall at the moment – was frankly magnificent. Many people reacted badly to the staging at the time, but it grew on me; I felt rather let down by the pedestrian staging of the ENO Ring when I saw it a few years ago.

    1. kenanddot

      I grew up listening mostly to the Solti ring, but I know my parents did have at least Siegfried and Rheingold on LP in other versions. I would certainly be interested in listening to some different renditions. I hugely admire Birgit Nilsson but I would like to hear a less hard Brunhilde (I read someone’s comments in the Gramophone archive referring to her ‘endless steely tone with hardly any words’, which very much gets it), and I also find the opening scene of Rheingold oddly lumpy in the Solti recording. My recollection is that I prefer the other Rheingold that my parents had (or have – it is probably still in a cupboard), at least for the opening scene. I wonder what version that was?

      Gwyneth Jones is one of the Rhinemaidens in Gotterdammerung in the Solti version.

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