WHERE ARE THE WAGNERIAN BASS-BARITONES?
Thank the gods of Valhalla, here they are, alive and singing well in recent pirated performances caught on You Tube.
Greer Grimsley – Das Rheingold: Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge https://youtu.be/hIZe3gF1Ye0 A late bloomer, Grimsley hung out in the regions until the MET finally caught on to this singer being one of the great Wagnerians of our time. In addition to singing like a god in Wotan’s address to his rank and file before entering Valhalla, this singer is a terrific actor.
Evgeny Nitikin – O du, mein holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser https://youtu.be/Reycvq0u_dY OK, so he should have had his notorious swastika tattoo removed from his chest before showing up for a costume fitting in Bayreuth a few years ago, which caused his contract to be “terminated” (to be polite.) But he is still singing and singing very well in the Russian rough and ready tradition at the MET and other places but nicht in Deutschland.
René Pape – Leb’ wohl… (Die Walküre) https://youtu.be/rUuNUaDxqPs – Pape is more of a basso cantante than a true-blue Heldenbariton. Wagner asked for a “Hoher Bass”, which we suppose is more or less what Pape is. But should he decide to plant his flag on Wagner Land to the exclusion of all the Italian and French roles in his resume, that will be his call. For now we are glad he is mixing it up.
Falk Struckmann – Wehvolles Erbe from Parsifal https://youtu.be/j_kTILC3sDA – Like some other singers, Struckmann is of the more is more school of singing. His take on Amfortas’ Wehvolles Erbe is raw and dramatic and compelling. He is also a very good Telramund and a first rate Pizarro – both villains, which is Struckmann’s strong suit.
Bryn Terfel – In Was duftet doch der Flieder from Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg, Bryn Terfel sings with the lyricism that has been a hallmark of his singing throughout a 25 year career that is still going strong. His Sachs will get better and better with age. https://youtu.be/LOOSBsACimU
Michael Volle – Wahn, wahn from Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg https://youtu.be/Z5QTnMellyg (start at 5:00) – Like that of his predecessor, Paul Schöffler who also sang both Wagner and Italian roles, Volle’s beautiful lyric voice lies a bit higher than those of most bass-baritones. That equips him to comfortably handle the high tessitura of many long passages in Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg
Mark Delavan, Richard Paul Fink, Gordon Hawkins, Alan Held, James Johnson, Eric Owens and Alfred Walker are at different stages of careers that have encompassed Wagnerian roles, among them, Wotan, Hans Sachs, Telramund, Amfortas, Klingsor, Dutchman, Kurwenal, and Colonna. The other roles with which several of these singers have come to be associated include Pizarro, Orest, Jochanaan, Barak, Mandryka, the Four Villains in Les Conte d’Hoffman, Athanael, William Tell, Amonasro, Iago, Falstaff, and Scarpia. But it is in Wagner that time and again they prove their mettle.
Retired or deceased or slowly winding down their fine careers are Theo Adam, Tom Fox, Jerome Hines, Sir Donald McIntyre, Sigmund Nymsgern, Thomas Stewart and Sir John Tomlinson, all of whom successfully sang many of the Wagner bass-baritone roles.
Among some of the great Wagnerian bass-baritones of the immediate past we single out the four artists below. Their singing sets the bar high for singers of today. And that is a good thing.
Hans Hotter singing Wahn, wahn…from Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg in a 1956 Bayreuth performance ( https://youtu.be/LXmNXBBv2y4 ) is a thing of wonder, producing a firm column of inky sound not often heard these days.
George London’s complete mastery of text and technique are in evidence in this recording of Sach’s Wahn, wahn…from Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg: https://youtu.be/j-EUtmZhEkY London first sang the major Wagnerian roles in Bayreuth in 1951, at age 31. He ended his singing career fifteen years later, due to a paralyzed vocal cord.
James Morris – Leb’ wohl… (Die Walküre) One of the finest Wotans of his generation, Morris here sings Wotan’s Farewell from Die Walküre https://youtu.be/7pTaH8USQH4. His absolutely flawless technique is in evidence in his seamless legato and effortless singing from pianissimo to fortissimo which allow the voice to retain its placement even in “killer” phrases like the notorious “Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet, durchschreite das Feuer nie!”
Paul Schöffler – More baritone than bass, a rock-solid artist and a refined vocalist, Schöffler’s lyrical delivery of Hans Sach’s Wahn, wahn…from Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg (https://youtu.be/oorAihLiuVk ) is a worthy reminder of the glory days of Wagnerian singing in the post-war years when yelling never took the place of singing.
So, the news is good and the future of Wagnerian singing looks bright, thanks to a new generation of Wagnerians busy traveling from New York to San Francisco to Chicago to Washington and on to and from Europe to keep the Wagnerian flame alive.
Rafael de Acha www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com All About the Arts