Turkey: Kober’s Krappy “Götterdämmerung”



Turkey of the Month: January

WAGNER: Götterdämmerung / Renée Morloc, mezzo (1st Norn); Annika Schlicht, mezzo (2nd Norn); Barno Ismatullaeva, sop (3nd Norn); Linda Watson, sop (Brünnhilde); Corby Welch, ten (Siegfried); Richard Šveda, bar (Gunther); Sami Luttinen, bass (Hagen); Anke Krabbe, sop (Gutrune); Sarah Ferede, mezzo (Waltraute); Jochen Schmeckenbecher, bar (Alberich); Heidi Elisabeth Meier, sop (Woglinde); Annelle Sophie Muller (Wellgunde); Ramona Zaharia, sop (Flosshilde); Duisburg Philharmonic Chorus & Orch.; Axel Kober, cond / Avi Music Cavi8553507D

Although this recording was officially released in July 2020, Naxos didn’t distribute it to reviewers until this month, so I’m claiming dibs on it as my very first Turkey of the Month.

Staunch Wagner collectors will surely agree with me that most of the recordings of his operas in the past decade, maybe decade and a half, have featured incredibly defective and/or underpowered voices for the principal roles, but this one really takes the cake (two-week-old angel food, I’d say). I mean, seriously, how can you even listen to a complete Götterdämmerung in which the only firm and attractive voices are the Rhinemaidens? Yes, folks, if you want a complete Götterdämmerung solely for the Rhinemaidens, you’re in luck ‘cause this is IT.

Of the other singers in both large and small roles, the only ones who kind of pass muster because their voices are at least attractive in timbre and sound like they’re the right size for their roles are Annika Schlicht as the Second Norn, Sami Luttinen as Hagen and Sarah Ferede as Waltraute. Although both Luttinen and Waltraute have some fluttering/wobble problems, they sound like Hans Hotter and Leonie Rysanek on a bad night, so at least they pass muster.

But everyone else ranges from “Are you kidding me?” to “God, I can’t believe these people are on a record!” Our intrepid Brünnhilde, one Linda Watson, not only has a slow vibrato (read: uneven flutter bordering on wobble) and strain, but she is not secure in either her high range or her low range. (By the way, I also found her on an earlier recording of this opera and she sucked then, too…but she’s a voice teacher!!!!) Way back in the 1960s, Westminster Gold issued a budget Ring cycle that featured one Nadéžda Kniplová as Brünnhilde, and critics far and wide dumped on her as if she was a third-rate comprimario soprano trying to sing the role, but by comparison with Watson, Kniplová was Astrid Varnay. Her flutter gets a little better by the time she reaches the Immolation Scene, but not much. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And then there’s our Siegfried, Corby Welch. He’s so bad that he makes the dry, somewhat strained tones of Stuart “Red” Skelton sound like Wolfgang Windgassen in his prime. He sounds like a third-rate Cavaradossi. Heck, for all I know, he may very well be a third-rate Cavaradossi—and yet, this guy is singing Wagner operas all over the place this year: Heidenheim, Dusseldorf, and last year at Budapest…wherever there’s a third-rate Wagner production, good ol’ third-rate Corby is there to make you figure out a way to get up, out of your seating aisle, and out of the auditorium. But you’re stuck there ‘til the end of the act, absorbing all the wonderfulness that Corby has to offer. Give me a break.

But hey, if you think they’re bad, wait until you hear the Gunther, Richard Šveda, who has a wobble you can drive a truck through; Jochen Schmeckenbecher (this poor guy really needs to change his name) as the wobbliest, least impressive-sounding Alberich you’ve ever suffered through in your life; and, worst of the worst, Anke Krabbe (another name that needs to be changed) as Gutrune. Words cannot adequately describe Krabbe’s voice; I don’t even think that Krabbe can describe her own voice. Imagine a small, thin, shrill voice produced through her nose, with strain galore and not a whit of acting ability to compensate for it, and you’ll have at least a little idea of how bad she is. Way back in the 1930s, the Met used a house soprano named Doris Doe as Gutrune, but although Doe was clearly not a first-rank singer, she could at least produce a pleasant, firm tone, decent projection, and convey at least a smidgen of the character.

Those of you who have bought, or at least listened to, other Wagner CDs or DVDs with similarly rotten casts must surely be thinking, “Well, so what makes this a Turkey of the Month?” Well, I’ll tell you. In addition to all this painful noise that passes for singing, we get stuck with an absolute dead-head conductor, one Axel Kober.

Although Kober has a website devoted to himself and claims to be “worldwide renowned” and has apparently conducted at Bayreuth frequently since his debut in 2013, I don’t hear a single thing in his performance to recommend him. His tempi are as slow as those of Knappertsbusch or late Furtwängler, but unlike those conductors he has absolutely no forward momentum in his conducting. The orchestra sounds as if it was playing the music as a run-through, with no life or energy whatsoever. Not even the “Dawn Music” or “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” comes to life. It doesn’t just sound dead, it sounds embalmed.

But apparently someone at Avi Music thought that this turkey of a recording was worth issuing on CD, so there you are. The listener who can, or would, willingly sit through the entire five hours of his bomb either has little else to do with his or her life, or has no knowledge of what a great performance of Götterdämmerung sounds like. Flip a coin, take your pick. There’s no other answer.

And get this, folks: for a recording that supposedly came out in July of 2020, you can’t find a review anywhere online, not even at Amazon where buyers review complete garbage CDs. Well, I hope Kober and Avi are proud of their non-achievement. I predict that they won’t even be able to sell enough copies to recoup the costs of recording this thing.

Gobble, gobble, gobble! My first Turkey of the Month!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)


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