WDBX Opera Overnight – Der Ring des Nibelungen, Part 2; Bartók, Ravel

English: Sieglinde (Therese Vogl) offers Siegm...

English: Sieglinde (Therese Vogl) offers Siegmund (Heinrich Vogl) a horn of mead from Act I of the 1870 production of Wagner’s Die Walküre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are continuing tonight with our hearing of the second installment of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.  As we stated last week, Wagner wrote the cycle backwards, starting with the ending and finishing with the prelude, Das Reingold, which we heard last week.  Tonight’s opera, Die Walküre, was written between 1851 and 1856, but was not premiered until 26 June 1870 (shown at right, with Therese and Heinrich Vogl, the husband and wife original interpreters of the Sieglinde and Siegmund roles), as he interrupted composition of the cycle so that he could write  Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The first performance of the Die Walkure as part of the full cycle did not occur until August of 1876, after the completion of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Of course, the result is some of the most absolutely thrilling music in the history of classical music.  Even as the size, scope and scale of the Ring makes a full production of the cycle a major accomplishment, Die Walküre easily stands on its own as an exhilarating experience, possibly matched only by other works of Wagner’s, such as Tristan und Isolde.  It is no wonder that Wagner’s influence was so significant during the latter half of the 19th century, both positive and negative.  Love or hate, he could not be ignored.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which the Ring was ...

Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which the full Ring Cycle was premiered in 1876 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight’s performance is part of the 1966 Bayreuth Festival live recording of the full Cycle, which we are featuring, one that is considered to be among the best full cycles available.  Tonight we will hear an excellent cast of Wagnerians – James King (Siegmund), Leonie Rysanek (Sieglinde), Theo Adam (Wotan), Birgit Nilsson (Brunhilde), Gerd Nienstedt (Hunding), Annelies Burmeister (Fricka).  Karl Böhm leads the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus.

Français : Gravure sur bois de 33 x 27 cm de B...

Illustration by Gustave Doré for Perrault‘s tale Bluebeard, upon which Bartók’s opera was based. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our next work for the evening is a one act opera by Béla Bartók.  Bartók composed Bluebeard’s Castle in 1911 for a competition that Bartók entered, using a libretto by his friend Béla Balázs, which was in turn based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault.  It is usually sung in Hungarian, although there are several German translations, and an English translation was published in 2005.  At one point Bartók did not think that he would ever hear it performed, but the success of his ballet The Wooden Prince earned him the backing that allowed for a premiere in May 1918.  The work is a challenging piece to stage, especially if it is sung in the original Hungarian.  While it is rarely staged, it will occasionally be performed in concert.  Tonight’s recording is from 2003, and features Péter Fried and Cornelia Kallisch.  Peter Eötvös leads the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Our last work for the evening is a song cycle for high voice with orchestra by Maurice Ravel.  Ravel wrote Shéhérazade in 1903, and it was premiered in May of 1904.  It was inspired by a collection of poems by his friend Léon Leclère, which Leclère titled Shéhérazade in honor of the well-known symphonic suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, of which both Leclère and Ravel were fans.  Ravel was also inspired by Debussy’s recently premiered Pelléas et Mélisande.  Victoria de Los Angeles performs in this 1963 recording, with the great early 20th century conductor Pierre Monteux (he directed the premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande, among other works by Debussy, Ravel, and other composers of the day)  leading Concertgebouw Amsterdam in one of his last recordings.