Thursday, September 29, 2016



Seldom can anything cause such fury and rage, such strife and disharmony!

Am I talking about politics?

Hell, no. I'm talking about opera. Opera aficionados are some of the most fiercely opinionated people on earth.

I got into a riff with a guy on YouTube over the great Immolation Scene from Wagner's Gotterdammerung - - or God Damn a Rung, as they call it in Texas.

For all of you opera virgins, I'll try to explain. Composer Richard Wagner wrote Der Ring des Nebelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungen), known as the Ring Cycle. It consists of four operas (which he preferred to call "Music Dramas"). The final opera in this series is Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods). The Immolation Scene is the intensely dramatic finale of Gotterdammerung.
Siegfried is dead - killed by Hagen. Brunnhilde, (our heroine) lights a funeral pyre for Siegfried, gives the Ring back to the Rheinmaidens, and then leaps into the lake of fire.

Are you still confused?
I thought so. Heck, so am I.

 Lake of Fire

I know you're on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what happened between me and the guy on YouTube.

This particular dude is one of those armchair critics who loves to leave caustic comments on YouTube videos. This time around, he targeted soprano Gwyneth Jones and her interpretation of the Immolation Scene. After verbally ripping her performance to shreds, he concluded that she has minimal vocal skills and her voice is extremely wobbly. Wobbly! He said she can't compare to Kirsten Flagstad.

Okay, that did it. My boxing gloves are on and I'm ready to rumble. 

                    Gwyneth Jones                     Kirsten Flagstad

First off, I don't like comparisons. It is completely futile to compare musicians, artists, singers, dancers - especially from different eras. Each has their own special style and talent.

Despite the widely held opinion that Kirsten Flagstad was the greatest Wagnerian singer in history, I've always had big doubts. Opera purists desperately hang onto archaic Flagstad recordings that were made in the 1920's (she was born in 1895) and gush at the perfection of her tone.

Here's a flash: she wasn't the definitive Brunnhilde and her singing wasn't always perfect.
You want wobbly, Bucko?
I heard a 1952 recording of Flagstad singing the Immolation Scene and her voice was as wobbly as the chassis on a '34 Chevy. Of course, she was in her 50's then, but maybe she should have quit while she was ahead.

I'm being intentionally cruel. That's part of the fun.

Gwenyth Jones was superb in Gotterdammerung and has always been one of my favorite Brunnhildes.

There. Do I feel better? Hell, yes.  

 Siegfried and Brunnhilde

Kirsten Flagstad and Brigit Nilsson had Big Powerful operatic voices and are considered (by most) to be the definitive interpreters of Wagner.

In my opinion, power isn't everything. I like emotion. And the role of Brunnhilde affords ample opportunities for emotion. As well as power.

I've carefully studied many singer's interpretations of Brunnhilde and it truly is impossible to choose.

Of Flagstad and Nilsson, I prefer Nilsson. 

I've always loved Gwyneth Jones as Brunnhilde - she's smooth and appealing in the role.

Astrid Varnay has a super vocal interpretation.
Anne Evans has superb emotion. 

Jones, Varnay, Evans, and Nilsson are my favorites.

Hildegard Behrens is worthy of mention, but her Brunnhilde voice lacks sufficient strength.
And we can't overlook Marta Fuchs, Waltraud Meier....and maybe Debra Voigt.

Does anybody have a favorite Brunnhilde?
And don't you dare tell me Bette Midler.   

 The stereotypical operatic Brunnhilde - a 400 lb. Viking with a spear, shield, and brass boobs.



    you and dr. spo share a love of opera.

    "the rabbit of seville" and "what's opera, doc?" does it for me. ;-)

    1. I never knew Spo was on Wordpress. Thanks.
      The Rabbit of Seville & What's Opera, Doc? are both on YouTube.

    2. And here I wondered here you got a picture of the Warrior Queen?!?!

    3. bwhahahahahahaha! the resemblance IS quite striking, is it not? at least you have seen me in the flesh!

  2. Jon, I love your take on this operatic cycle --including your appreciation for Gwyneth Jones-- but am compelled to mention what a demanding role is imposed upon the singer by this work. As for the best interpreter, happily the vote isn't entirely in, and --as per the old adage-- it ain't over til the "stereotypical operatic Brunnhilde" sings. Most enjoyable post!

    1. Geo, I've listened to more Brunnhildes than I care to remember and it's completely impossible to chose a favorite. They were all impressive (although some more than others). As you pointed out, it's such a demanding role that one has to admire any singer who can get through it.

  3. Wagner puts me to sleep.Swooping from note to note in agony. No wonder you're always depressed. Bel canto is the way to go. Give me Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti any day! (And a little Mozart of course.)

    1. Wagner, admittedly, could be used as a successful torture device.....
      But I love the drama, agony, ecstasy, harrowing emotion and tears. I'm the only person on earth who could sit through five hours of "Parsifal" and say "Let's hear it again". I've always been a masochist.

      I like Rossini - - even though he wrote 6,000 operas and they all sound exactly alike (*smile*). I love Bellini and Donizetti.

      And who doesn't like Mozart?
      ......except maybe Salieri....

    2. Rossini was the Marvin Hamlisch of his day $$$$$$$$$$$$$. (only straight)

  4. You tell him Jon. I know little about opera, but do enjoy hearing it on Saturdays if I m home. The one guy I currently see took me to my first opera ever two years ago. I was of course excited about wearing opera gloves, and getting a pearl necklace!! I have heard Gwyneth Jones sing.....she is excellent. Not sure I have seen that part much. But I did also enjoy the voice of Beverly Sills and Joan Sutherland.

    1. I've listened to the live MET broadcasts since I was twelve or thirteen (that's about 100 years). I do love Gwyneth Jones, and Joan Sutherland was absolute perfection.

      I saw my first live opera at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. when I was 16. "The Barber of Seville". There's nothing like "live" opera......except live sex, or course....

  5. "God Damn a Rung," eh?

    Do they also listen to "I'm Inclined To Knock Music" in Texas?



  6. I don't know enough about the topic to make an intelligent comment. Just letting you know I read this, and appreciated it. I love opera, but have only been to two live performance in my life, and that was years ago, before getting married. My husband isn't an opera fan, so I content myself with listening to my CDs. Not a huge fan of Wagner, though. Too angsty for me.

    1. There's no pressure to leave an intelligent comment. My posts aren't exactly intelligent.....

      Angst and I are synonymous.

  7. "I know nothing", said Sergeant Shultz...emphatically.

    1. Knowing nothing is better than trying to know everything. I think that was supposed to be a compliment....

  8. Now, I am wondering. Is that last photo of a Brunnhilde real? Or is she dressed up to look how Brunnhilde ought to look? Thats the kind of question that preoccupies me. I wouldn't argue with you about the music (I wouldn't dare LOL)! but in fact I am one of those people who have never been able to hack it with Wagner. Something about his music doesn't agree with me. I'm more a Monteverdi sort of person, which you will agree is very different! I am certainly with you on the idiots who leave crass comments on youtube, you'll bet they couldn't do a half of what these performers can manage when half asleep on a bad day!

    1. That last photo is just a funny picture I lifted from the Internet - she's not a real singer. I performed music by Monteverdi when I was in a chamber orchestra in college. I suppose Wagner's music reflects my personality - passionate, complex, brooding, romantic - - and consistently annoying.....

  9. What SHE said ... Rita, that is.
    I'd an aunt who eschewed owning a television set and was forever dragging her children to the opera. As a child, I believed her to be the meanest thing that ever walked the earth. (Tho' the girls certainly turned out more successful than me.)

    I did enjoy that Lake of Fire image.

    1. Dragging an unwilling child to the opera would be torture. Fortunately, my parents never did that. For some strange reason I loved opera at an early age from hearing it on the radio.
      I like that Lake of Fire image, too!

  10. Jon,
    Never really got too much into opera but there are some aria's and Wagner that are interesting, notwithstanding that Hitler also loved Wagner.

    1. Wagner and Hitler were obsessed with their Fatherland and especially legends of the Deutschland. It's a shame that Hitler's dastardly image still taints the fine music of Germany, but unfortunately it does.

  11. I only saw Gwyneth J. live the once (in the title role of 'Turandot', Covent Garden - late 80s?). I went with a friend who told me that he'd once chauffered her back from London to when she lived in Wales and had then kept in occasional contact with her.
    In Wagner I only recall her in that televised, defiantly odd Ring cycle conducted by Pierre Boulez with bizarrely distracting Patrice Chereau stage settings, where just about everything on stage seemed to be deliberately at odds with the music.

    As for the general standard of her performances I don't feel I know enough about the art to judge. Unless she's another F.F.Jenkins (or Schwarzkopf, whose voice always grated with me, like fingernails down a blackboard), most of them sound pretty good or okay enough to me.


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