Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Nilsson, Varnay, Hines, Milligan, Crespin, Resnik; Kempe. Bayreuth, 1961
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Even in an era in which there seemed to be an over abundance of great Wagner singers, this Ring Cycle stands out. Many seem to dislike the tradition of splitting up roles in a complete cycle, but when you have Astrid Varnay alternating the role of Brünnhilde with a fresh-voiced Birgit Nilsson it is hard to complain. Varnay brings a sensitivity and subtlety to Brünnhilde as well as remarkable vocal security despite having sung this role for twenty years. Birgit Nilsson takes the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung Brünnhildes and sings with effortless strength and beauty. Other stand-outs include James Milligan as the Wanderer. If you have never heard of him, it is because he tragically died a few months after this performance at the age of 33. This document, one of the few that remain, demonstrates that he was to have been the greatest Wotan of his generation. Jerome Hines sings the Rheingold and Walküre Wotans and brings both warmth and gravitas. Regina Resnik, formerly a Bayreuth Sieglinde, shows that her true calling was as Fricka and delivers a goddess formidable enough to stand up to the head god. Régine Crespin delivers an impassioned Sieglinde as well as an impressive third Norn. Gottlob Frick once again asserts his dominance over the role of Hagen and Thomas Stewart delivers a Gunther that is more dynamic hero than patsy. The sound ranges from excellent to good.