The Unmelancholy Dane and the Exemplary American

The number of Wagner revivals has been increasing since the late 1950's and the John Culshaw/Georg Solti Ring. The Wagnerian presence is so extended that the Metropolitan Opera's production of the Ring was broadcast last summer on four successive nights on public television. The result was quite good, though it's a bit unnerving to find a mini-Bayreuth at home. Perhaps the presence of the Ring cycle as an option on the cable is even more remarkable than the performances themselves, in this age of Madonna and 2 Live Crew.

But still, there's something missing. The Briinhilde is shrewd and brave, but also "overparted." She just hasn't got the chops. The Siegfried too has his merits, all but one—he doesn't sound like a hero. In these cases and others, memory supplies what it provokes: the thought of complete mastery of the singing requirements. Some remember yet the live performances that others know from recordings. There is an immortality that attaches to certain names: Frida Leider, Friedrich Schorr, Kirsten Flagstad, perhaps Helen Traubel and Birgit Nilsson. And one other, of course. The shadow of Lauritz Melchior looms; the echo resounds.

What then—forty years after Melchior's retirement from opera and seventeen years after his death—does the operatic world still await? A Heldentenor voice of steely power and clarion ring that can...

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