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Classical 101

Sir Reginald Goodall's Take on Siegfried

ONE AUDIO PIECE I've been on a Wagner kick lately. I'm sure my neighbors and friends are grateful that headphones were ever invented. Siegfried, the third of the Ring der Nibelung music dramas, has always been difficult for me. It does go on. There are very few female voices until the final half hour, and that's four hours into the evening. One's an earth goddess and the other is a bird and we don't really see either of them. Siegfried does kill the dragon, Fafner, who is almost chatty in his final moments, and there are dwarfs and elves and forest sounds. No Rhinemaidens though, and a bit of feminine pulchritude might be welcome. Siegfried is a conductor's opera. As with all Wagner, but especially here, the story is told in the orchestra, in the use of leitmotifs, in the harmonies and key changes. A true Wagner conductor-who is not always a singer's conductor, Solti is a great example here-brings out all of Wagner's orchestral sonorities. That's why you can almost get away with indifferent singing in Wagner (I said almost) if you have a great orchestra and a great conductor. Very rarely you get it all. Sir Reginald Goodall (1901-1987) conducted Wagner's Ring in English language performances (translation by Andrew Porter) in London in the early 1970s. These performance were recorded from the stage and are now on CD from Chandos. Goodall was a character. He was a Mosleyite-anit-Semitic anti-social who loved modernist stagings and saw his singers as the accompaniment to the orchestra. I don't envy anyone who sang with him, but the results could be thrilling. If today nobody can sing the title role of Siegfried, back in Goodall's day Alberto Remedios sure as hell could. His parents were from Argentina, but Remedios was a working class boy from Liverpool with a tireless, magnificent voice. Goodall cast him opposite the Brunnhilde of another Liverpudlian, the great Rita Hunter (1933-2000) Rita was a big lady and even forty years ago her girth hurt her career. But when she began to sing -trust me, nobody complained. Quite the opposite. These two were the centerpieces of Goodall's Ring performances in London. Sir Reginald was known for his slow tempi, which threatened to lose completely the thread of the drama in music. Threatened yes, and he came perilously close, but he never ever dropped the orchestral tension. He was very daring in his way. Goodall demanded and got hours and hours of rehearsal. He was prickly and temperamental and most of his most cherished singers eventually fell out with him. Rita Hunter walked out when he reprimanded her for missing a rehearsal to attend her mother's funeral. "I never forgave Reggie for that, and he never forgave me!" I want you to listen to the last few moments of Siegfried, with Reginald Goodall conducting, with Alberto Remedios and Rita Hunter. This was taped at the Coliseum in London in August, 1973. Goodall's tempi and the relative softness of his attaca in the orchestra make this music not only bold but also beautiful(!). That doesn't always happen. There's nobody today to compare with the voices of Alberto Remedios-happily he's alive and well and enjoying his retirement in Australia-and Rita Hunter. Goodall does a lot more than get away with slow tempi. I guess, as with Wagner, you don't need to love the musician. They do allow you to really love the music. [audio:siegfried]