Nicolai Gedda, tenor, (Lohengrin); Aase Nordmo-L–vberg, soprano, (Elsa); Rolf Jupither, baritone, (Friedrich); Bobro Ericson, mezzo-soprano, (Ortrud); Bengt Rundgren, bass, (King Henry); Ingvar Wixell, baritone (Herald); Kungliga Teaterns k–r und Hovkapellet, Silvio Varviso, cond.
Ponto PO-1011 (3 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 3:22:08
On 29 January 1966 in Stockholm, Nicolai Gedda performed the title role in Richard Wagner's. Apparently the Swedish tenor soon became concerned that further performances of Wagnerian repertoire might do permanent harm to his voice (As I recall, Gedda mentioned a conversation with Richard Tucker in which the American tenor advised: "Kid, you can't do everything!"). Gedda never again performed or recorded a complete Wagnerian role.
As a result this new release on the Ponto label will be of supreme interest to Nicolai Gedda's fans. And as it turns out, I think the release will also be of great importance for those who love Wagner's early masterpiece. Gedda has always been a supremely intelligent artist, and I have no doubt that his decision to abandon Wagnerian repertoire was based upon a lifetime of experience and careful thought. But there is no evidence from this January, 1966 Lohengrin that Wagner's Knight of the Holy Grail was inappropriate for his voice. Quite the contrary, this is one of the finest and most beautiful renditions of the title role I've ever heard. Gedda was 40 at the time of this Stockholm performance. And it seems he chose just the right time to sing Lohengrin. At this stage of his career his voice had a more heroic quality than in his early, lyric years. But at the same time, the voice had none of the acidity that would become more evident as time progressed.
Although Wagner expected all of his music to be sung in a lyrical style, Lohengrin is one of the German composer's most Italianate roles. The qualities that served Gedda so well in French and Italian repertoire produce a superb Lohengrin. His diction and legato are exemplary. He is able to call upon a wide range of vocal colors, allowing him to encompass both the heroic and tender aspects of the role. In glorious voice, Gedda paces himself brilliantly, so that there is no sense of fatigue at the opera's conclusion - quite the contrary - in the final scene the voice rings out with impressive beauty and heroism.
The tenor also shows tremendous involvement in the role. This Knight is no cardboard figure, but rather a man truly in love with Elsa who becomes devastated by her betrayal. There is true sadness in Geddaí's voice when Lohengrin realizes that his relationship with Elsa has come to an end. All in all, I think this Lohengrin is one of the finer achievements by this great tenor.
I wish that the rest of the cast approached Gedda's high standards. But with the exception of Ingvar Wixell's resonant Herald, the other principals are merely adequate. None is an outright failure, but then again none equals what has been accomplished by numerous other singers on various complete recordings of the opera. The orchestral execution also leaves something to be desired, with several brass fluffs causing particular distress. On the other hand, Silvio Varviso, an experienced Wagner conductor, paces the opera wisely, never allowing it to lose momentum.
The monophonic sound is crystal clear, with a superb balance between singers and orchestra. For a complete Lohengrin that covers all the bases I would probably opt for the early-60s EMI release, with Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, and Rudolf Kempe conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (beautifully remastered as a "Great Recordings of the Century" release). And of course, recordings by such great Lohengrins as Lauritz Melchior and Franz V–lker are essential listening. However, Nicolai Gedda's sole and magnificent assumption of the role deserves a place on any Wagnerian's shelf.
K.M. (April 2003)