The Flagstad Norwegian Radio Götterdämmerung: Curio or Collector’s Item?

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 5

In January 1956 the Norwegian State Radio System presented Wagner’s Götterdämmerung conducted by Øivin Fjelstad, with a cast headed by Kirsten Flagstad, who came out of retirement to sing her signature role of Brünnhilde for the last time. The soprano had expressed a desire for the performance’s release on records. Decca’s producer John Culshaw agreed, providing that music omitted from the broadcast could be recorded and spliced in. The artists reconvened and managed to record the Prologue and opening scene for Act 2, but ran out of time before they could set down the instrumental interlude between scenes three and four in Act 1. As such, Decca issued this substantially complete Götterdämmerung, both as a gesture to Flagstad and as a catalog stopgap.

The combined Oslo Philharmonic and Norwegian State Radio Orchestra forces hardly add up to a major Wagner ensemble (the tenuous brass playing throughout, for example), and all of the male leads are overtaxed by the demands of Wagner’s vocal writing, except for Set Svanholm’s aging yet fully capable portrayal of Siegfried. The women fare much better, notably Ingrid Bjoner’s young and attractive Gutrune. As Waltraute, Eva Gustavson’s heavy top register doesn’t really soar, but her sense of drama and word shading holds attention during her lengthy Act 1 narrative.

Despite less secure and edgier top notes at this point in her career, Flagstad summons up plenty of power and authority, most notably from her entrance in Act 2 onwards, and her Immolation Scene gets better as it unfolds, albeit hardly on the level of Flagstad’s live and studio collaborations with Furtwängler. Apparently this first CD reissue from Decca stems from the “original tapes”, which can mean many things. That said, you notice more depth and room tone in comparison with the LP-derived Urania and Naxos CD editions. However, some listeners may prefer Naxos’ brighter overall equalization and more extensive track divisions within scenes.

There is no libretto, but the booklet includes Decca’s original printed introduction, excellent annotations by Raymond Tuttle, an extensive synopsis by Robert Boas, and a brief remembrance of Flagstad from Richard Bonynge. Perhaps this Götterdämmerung is more of a curio than a collector’s item, yet I’m happy to reconnect with it for personal reasons. When I was around five or six, my mother borrowed a scratchy, beat-up copy from the West Orange Public Library in New Jersey, and I quickly became fascinated by the music’s size (a six-record set!) and sound world. (I also remember spilling orange juice on side 12; no doubt an unconscious attempt to extinguish the immolation pyre before Brünnhilde could make her fateful plunge.)

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Solti/Vienna Philharmonic (Decca); Elder/Hallé Orchestra (Hallé)

  • Kirsten Flagstad (soprano); Set Svanholm (tenor); Ingrid Bjoner (soprano); Egil Nordsø (bass); Eva Gustavson (soprano); others
  • Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Norwegian State Radio Orchestra, Øivin Fjeldstad

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