Rheingold
Live recording in mono from
the Boston Opera House
April 3, 1937
Conductor: Artur Bodanzky
Wotan Friedrich Schorr
Donner Julius Huehn
Froh Hans Clemens
Loge René Maison
Alberich Eduard Habich
Mime Karl Laufkötter
Fasolt Norman Cordon
Fafner Emanuel List
Fricka Karin Branzell
Freia Dorothee Manski
Erda Doris Doe
Woglinde Stella Andreva
Wellgunde Irra Petina
Flo▀hilde Doris Doe
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Naxos, 8.110047-48 2 CDs AAD
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Review by Benoit Allard

First, a couple of warnings...

WARNING #1: Don't even think of buying this as your first Rheingold. There is no libretto and the sound is so-so, even for a 1930s recording. The balance between orchestra and singers is usually okay, but sometimes the voices vanish for no good reason and the volume level is variable. If you're ready to put up with extra hiss, turn up the treble to get a little more detail out of the orchestra.

WARNING #2: Don't buy this set to hear Friedrich Schorr. He is very good, his "Abendlich..." at the end is awesome, but everytime he has to hit a high note (or even a medium-high one) is a painful reminder that he is past his prime.

If you're willing to take these warnings and flush them down the toilet... BINGO!!! Here is what you win:

1) Eduard Habich as Alberich. If Neidlinger has that unique "I'm evil and loving it" kind of voice, Habich has exactly the opposite. This Alberich hates being the bad guy and he hates the world for it; he wants power, not for power's sake but for the downfall of the happy. His use of tone color is a fearful delight to listen to. For example, Alberich says that the Ring is as much a part of him as his hands, head, eyes and ears; well, when Wotan takes the Ring, Habich sounds like indeed a body part has been torn off him; you have to feel sorry for the guy, even if you don't want to because he remains the blackest, evilest son of a b___ there ever was. After he curses the gold, it's a wonder that Wotan and Loge are stupid enough not to take his threat seriously.

2) René Maison as Loge. Great character tenors such as Gerhard Stolze, Peter Schreier, even Windgassen have (brilliantly) portrayed Loge as the witty guy who is above all the dealings and schemings of the gods, dwarfs and giants. The Ring's only intellectual, blah blah blah... Not so here. This Loge is a shifty, pathetic, groveling twit; he argues with Alberich like no one, yet at the same time we know that he is nothing more than Wotan's slave; his closing monologue is that of a paranoid psychopath: "They all hate me, but one day I'll show them, mwaaahahaaa!" Maison makes this work with an excessive vibrato that some may find annoying; I think it is a stroke of genius.

3) The conducting of Artur Bodanzky. He is at his best in the hot-headed passages of the drama, where he makes things happen - especially around Alberich - that can make you cringe with fear. Listen to the super-fast passage after "Mein Fluch flehest du nicht!", it is pure horror. Yes, he does tend to rush things at times, and he did commit the sacrilege of splitting the work into two acts... but luckily, the end of "Act 1" was lost due to a damaged disc and the good people at Naxos took the opportunity to restore the continuity, so the music flows without a break as the composer intended.

Here is another intriguing detail about this set, concerning Doris Doe who sings both Erda and Flo▀hilde: the very notes that come with the CD pan her as "wobbly, unpleasant" and "appalling"! This is the first time I've ever seen an album saying unequivocally bad things about one of its artists. But I don't share this opinion, I think she does a very adequate Erda, without a trace of wobbliness. Just a good, solid vibrato.

Karin Branzell is an appropriately naggy Fricka and the rest of the cast is very good, with a mention to Julius Huehn (Donner) who sings "He da, He do!" with great authority; his arguments with Emanuel List (Fafner) are far from friendly conversation. Mime is sung by the great Karl Laufkötter, and it is no surprise that the biggest treats in this performance are Scene 3 and the first part of Scene 4, which revolve around Mime, Alberich and Loge.

If you don't mind the bad sound and don't expect the "Schorr = God" experience, this low-priced set is a must. You will still get (merely) "Schorr = very good" alongside the above-mentioned qualities. This Rheingold could even become your favorite if you prefer a "horror story" interpretation (as opposed to one that produces beautiful sounds) thanks to Bodanzky's torrid conducting, Maison's psychotic Loge, arguably the best Alberich on record, and even the sound imbalance that favors the low instruments and timpani - there, I've just managed to put a good spin on both of my earlier warnings... Enjoy.