Cast Your Own Ring
WNYC Staff Pick Their Favorite Recordings of Wagner's Ring Cycle
Monday, March 15, 2004
- David Garland, WNYC Host
"What's Opera, Doc?"
Wagner, adapted by Milt Franklyn
Performed by Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd and Siegfried) and Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny and Brunhilde), with The Warner Bros. Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Daugherty. From the CD "Bugs Bunny on Broadway," (Merrie Melodies/Warner Bros., 9 26494-2) released in 1991.
Probably most baby-boomers first heard Wagner's music while watching Chuck Jones' 1957 cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" Arthur Q. Bryan and Mel Blanc, the voices of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, prove remarkably effective at singing Wagnerian melodies in character. Before "Apocalypse Now" put Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries into a still newer context, for most Americans that melody would evoke the memory of Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"
- Mitchell Heskel, VP Finance
My pick for best recording is the Solti complete cycle with Nilsson. Incomparable.
The brass of the Vienna Philharmonic are just magnificent (and there is a lot of Brass throughout the Ring). Nilsson and the Vienna Philharmonic (and of course Solti) are the main selling points of this wonderful set. Nilsson, at her very peak, sings with power, tenderness and style that are unmatched (and may never be equaled). And those high notes are unbelievable.
The Vienna Phil has this music in their bones—the playing, conducting is exciting, beautiful and stylish. Windgassen is at his best, but the Wotan of Hans Hotter is a serious disappointment—way past his prime his sound is worn and hard to take.
Kobbe's Opera Book gives a great dramatic and musical summary of all 4 operas.
- George Preston, Music Director
The Dream Ring Cycle
I also love the Solti set, but this one, from actual stage performances, gives one an idea of the true abilities of these phenomenal artists. Lauritz Melchior, in particular, is a marvel of strength, stamina, and vocal brilliance.
- John Schaefer, WNYC Host
For my money, Wilhelm Furtwängler is the ultimate Wagner conductor. I know lots of people like his La Scala Ring Cycle from the early 50s, and the other Italian Ring from that decade—with the RAI (Italy's national radio network)—has a great cast. But the best has to be the 1930s recording with the great Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior in the cast. Done at London's Covent Garden, it is a performance so good that it almost SOUNDS good—despite a poor mono recording. With all due respect to the great singers who've done the Ring, the heart of these operas is the orchestral music. Fürtwangler's reading creates an incredible tension—will the slowly-spun lines collapse under their own weight? Of course they don't. The result is a truly epic performance—a musical saga to match the Nordic tale being told, and almost a match for Wagner's own epic ambitions and ego.