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.