Wagner: Tannhäuser - Windgassen, de los Ángeles, Bumbry; Sawallisch. Bayreuth, 1961


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History was made with this 1961 performance of Tannhäuser, as Grace Bumbry became the first artist of African descent to sing at Bayreuth. The importance of the occasion, is more than just historical, though. Bumbry’s opulent voice is almost luxury casting in this crucial role, and she is more than up to the challenge of leaving an impact in a very brief span of time. Victoria de los Angeles is a brilliant Elisabeth, unleashing the full power of her beautiful soprano. Wolfgang Windgassen seems to tire a bit in Act I, but he pulls out all the stops in a devastating Rome Narration in Act III, producing anguished sounds that can barely be called “singing” to heart-stopping effect. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is a noble, elegant Wolfram (by far the best of his Wagnerian roles) and the lineup of minor characters features turns from Theo Adam, Franz Crass and Gerhard Stolze. Wolfgang Sawallisch lets the lengthy overture whip into a frenzy before settling in for a highly effective reading of the score. The sound is generally quite good.

OD 11276-3