Magazine article Opera Canada

Der Ring Des Nibelungen

Magazine article Opera Canada

Der Ring Des Nibelungen

Article excerpt

DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN

WAGNER

Orfeo: C 928613Y

There are many good reasons to invest in this live, 1961 Bayreuth Festival performance of Wagner's epic Ring cycle, but for Canadian Wagnerians or anybody interested in the grand tradition of Canadian singing the most compelling is in the performance of Siegfried. Here, in very decent sound remastered from the original tapes of a Bavarian Radio broadcast, is a wonderful document of the Halifax-born bass-baritone James Milligan making his Bayreuth debut--at age 33--in the role of the Wanderer. He's in the company of some of the most eminent Wagnerians of the immediate post-war decades, but listening to this Wanderer, you wouldn't guess that he was a newcomer on the scene. Those who are familiar with Milligan, however, will know that these performances were also sadly the crowning highpoint of his short career. Not long before the festival, he had joined the ensemble of Basel Opera in Switzerland, and would suffer a fatal heart attack in rehearsal there just four months after his Bayreuth triumph.

In her 1969 survey of post-war performances, New Bayreuth, Penelope Turing writes that "there was that in Milligan's singing which made many of us throw caution to the winds and believe that we had heard one of the very great Wagnerians of the future ... He had a glorious voice of ringing quality, power and range, and he used it with real musicianship. As an actor, he had that indefinable quality which we call stage presence ...". All of which, along with excellent diction, are evident here. Milligan's Wanderer is vividly etched in his four double-handed scenes: toying with the characterful Mime of Herold Kraus in Act 1 and the deliciously malicious Alberich of Otakar Kraus in Act 11; imperious at the outset of Act III in the great summoning of Erda (the marvelously resonant Marga Hoffgen truly sounding as if she has emerged from unfathomable depths) and, tracing a nice arc from humouring the young boy to angrily defending his own desperate last stand in the Act III encounter with Siegfried. Particularly impressive is the beauty of Milligans line in all these encounters; he brings a welcome--and, sadly, all too rare--bel canto sensibility to Wagner's music in any dramatic situation. …

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