Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Ring (of the Nibelung)

The Ring
Originally uploaded by jhhymas
I am in deep mourning for VOX, the vocal music station on XM Satellite Radio. After XM was bought by Sirius, they dropped VOX. My favorite host, Robert Aubry Davis, is on another station with vocal music from MIDNIGHT to dawn. I really miss his special mix of opera, religious, and early vocal music and especially miss his informed and witty opera commentary. Tonight I had to write an essay for our haiku periodical and was having a little trouble, but I was consoled when S turned on the music (the new channel is called the Metropolitan Opera Channel--that ain't bad) and it was Die Valkyrie. One of my favorites. Ah, Wagner, why did you have to be such a jerk??
I want to tell you about this broadcast, which was recorded on December 6, 1941. The announcer mentioned that it might suffer from issues involved with the sound recording technology of the time. But the date really knocked me out! The DAY before Pearl Harbor! It reminded me of the way I felt on Sept. 11, 2001. When my son called me early in the morning and told me to turn on the TV, I did. And watched the towers fall, and fall again, and the white particulate smoke billow down the canyons between skyscrapers. And the people running. I said to my son then: Nothing will ever be the same. And it hasn't been.
I imagined the people who saw that opera performance getting up on Dec 7th, and telling their kids over brunch what a great live performance they had seen. The legendary Erich Leinsdorf conducted; Lauritz Melchior and Helen Traubel were two stars in the superb cast. Later, the family all gathered around the radio and listened to news about Pearl Harbor--and the voice of FDR. And nothing was ever the same. We still call it THE war.
The major recorded sound issue I noticed on this recording was that the horns sounded bad. I missed the richness of the sound. If anyone knows why this should be when the rest of the instruments sounded better, please leave a comment and let me know.
I think that sometimes the tempo of the music was a little slower than I have heard in other recordings, which seemed right. But what I really want to record is how beautiful the sound of the voices was. When I was growing up, Helen Traubel was a very famous star. She made appearances in movies and got lots of coverage in Life Magazine. She was beginning to become somewhat of a familiar joke, with the molded breastplate, braids and that Teutonic helmet with wings on it. This recording made something very clear to me. There was a sweetness, an effortless, non-shrieky sound to Brunnhilde's music. It was quite different than others I have heard. They were good, but this was GORGEOUS. Melchior's Siegmund was transcendent, and also of a beautiful vocal quality, The Wotan of Friedrich Schorr was spectacular and also unstrained and melodic. Well, I can tell you, the whole thing made me very happy. Good night. It's pretty late, since it lasted until afte midnight; I stayed up for every note!


  1. Joann, I am awestruck!! What a lovely surprise. I started tonight on a list of favorites, but need to cut it down. I looked at all of yours and used up my available time.