Surprising Wagner première from Knappertsbusch
This is the kind of lucky find of which collectors and producers dream. It’s not just a new find of a hitherto unknown or unpublished performance of the nth recording of a work by a sought-after interpreter, but the first release of the first-ever recording of a work by such an artist. In the case of the greatest musicians, and most particularly when it comes to Wagner’s oeuvre, the awareness of a painful void is part and parcel of things – thus we have no Parsifal from Furtwängler (even though he conducted the work at La Scala after the War), and no early Wagner works under his baton; but in both cases excerpts have survived that make us wish all the more that we had complete recordings. Of course we knew – at least the experts among us did – that Furtwängler’s rival, the arch-Wagnerian Hans Knappertsbusch, did not just repeatedly conduct the difficult late works (to which his 1960 Meistersinger from Bayreuth is testimony, for example, which was recently released on this label). For he also conducted the Flying Dutchman and had a penchant for the lighter muse of composers such as Karl Komzák and Albert Lortzing. But who would have suspected that he conducted Lohengrin in post-War Munich no less than 16 times, and that there even exists a recording of it? After his Merry Wives of Windsor, this is now the second time that ORFEO is able to release a Knappertsbusch world première recording, both of them from the Prinzregententheater in Munich, his Lohengrin dating from just before the reopening of the National Theatre in 1963. Knappertsbusch came originally from Elberfeld in the Rhineland, but chose Munich as his home. And this “Wagner city” of Munich can be proud that he conducted Lohengrin here, but never did so in Bayreuth.
Another first on this recording is the singing of Hans Hopf in the title role, for no recording of him as Lohengrin had surfaced up to now. He is partnered by the highly dramatic duo of Astrid Varnay – who seemed predestined for the role of Ortrud – and the great Wagner soprano Ingrid Bjoner as Elsa, who was 35 at the time of this recording. This is Bjoner’s only complete, extant Wagner recording from Munich, even though she was for many years a member of the Munich ensemble (and was so well-versed that she was even able to jump in to take on the role of Isolde in Bayreuth in 1986). Beside Kurt Böhme as King Heinrich, the quality of the ensemble of the day is further proven by the luxury casting of a singer of the calibre of Josef Metternich in the role of the Heerrufer. This recording is not taken from a radio broadcast, but was found in the archives of the then deputy Intendant of the Bavarian State Opera, Herbert List, and it has been prepared carefully using all the technological means at our disposal today.
This edition is further enriched not least by a stimulating text about the Munich music scene of the day. Even the then Telramund, Hans Günter Nöcker, was contacted for information. The opera world of the time is here brought to life before our mind’s eye, both in its musical achievements and in the manner in which the production in question featured in the vividly divergent opinions of the then authoritative critics.