Here are some reviews of Die Walküre and Lehmann’s portrayal of Sieglinde in both the recorded and live performances she gave. Below, you’ll also find LL’s own description of scenes from the opera. These following excerpts are mentioned in the following articles: Du bist der Lenz Der Männer Sippe Schläfts du Gast Hinweg! Hinweg! Flieh die Entweihte! Horch, O Horch! Das ist Hundings Horn! Zauberfest bezahmt ein Schlaf
WAGNER Die Walküre: Act I • Bruno Walter, cond; Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde); Emanuel List (Hunding); Vienna PO • PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 024 (monaural: 61:58) There are a few recordings that almost all serious collectors, listeners, and critics would probably agree belong in a “classical hall of fame,” and this is one of them. In Pristine Audio’s restoration it sounds better than it ever has.
The performance needs little commentary; it has been written about since its initial release back in 1935. Each individual element—soprano, tenor, bass, conductor, orchestra—is sensational. Together, they make for a remarkable whole. Walter’s impassioned, dramatic conducting and the orchestra’s playing with total commitment are certainly central to the impact of the performance. But no less important are the individual performances of the three singers. Because Lauritz Melchior was able to soar over the Wagnerian orchestra, and because he occasionally had rhythmic problems, it is easy to mis-characterize him as a trumpet-like Heldentenor with resonance where others have brains. But that is emphatically not the case, as his many recorded performances prove. In this case, he sings with sensitivity, astonishing variety of color and dynamic shading, and utter conviction and passion. It is impossible for me to imagine a finer Siegmund. The same can be said of Lotte Lehmann’s Sieglinde, as she digs into the part and creates a complete character while pouring out glorious tone. I had forgotten how solid and menacing Emanuel List’s Hunding was, an extremely powerful performance. The sweep of the whole is something we rarely get on any recording, and how they managed it at a time when long works were recorded in four-minute segments is beyond belief.
I compared Pristine’s new restoration to an old Angel “Great Recordings of the Century” LP, and to the best previous CD transfer I knew, Mark Obert-Thorn’s on Naxos. Doing an A–B comparison of the opening, one hears the difference immediately—Naxos’s orchestral sound is darker, warmer; Pristine’s has a bit more bite and clarity. Which is preferable could be as much a matter of the taste of the listener as anything else. But once the voices come in, I find a more lifelike quality to Pristine’s transfer—more presence, more face, to the singing. I compared both in small sections, and then listened from beginning to end to each one. As much as I admire Obert-Thorn’s work, and I do very deeply, I found the new Pristine transfer to have much more impact and to engage me more fully throughout. Pristine makes it available as a CD or a download, and provides minimal notes. Henry Fogel
WAGNER Die Walküre: Act I; Act II, Scenes 3 & 5 • Bruno Walter, cond; Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde); Emanuel List (Hunding); Vienna PO • EMI 45835, mono (79:26) Audio CD; Original recording remastered
This recording sometimes appears on “essential” and “desert island” lists and, while I think some tenors come within belting distance of Melchior and I like some Sieglindes just as much as I admire Lehmann, and even prefer some of the recorded Hundings to Emanuel List, I will concede that it may, nevertheless, deserve its apparent consensus status as the best recording of this music. Certainly, Bruno Walter’s impassioned, powerful conducting has a lot to do with the performance’s effect. He was actually supposed to conduct a complete recording of the opera and “therein,” as the saying goes, “lies a tale.” The notion of recording the first complete Die Walküre was hatched at EMI sometime in the early 1930s. It was to be done in Berlin with Bruno Walter presiding over some of the outstanding Wagner singers of the day. By the time they got around to making the arrangements in 1935, the Nazi regime had made Walter persona non grata, so the recording site was shifted to Vienna. Along with the first act, both of the act II scenes involving Melchior and Lehmann and the one that includes List were also recorded. Since the Hunding appearance in the closing scene of the act also requires a Wotan and Brünnhilde, Alfred Jerger, not one of nature’s Wotans, and Ella Flesch made brief appearances. By the time EMI was ready for act II in 1938, the German takeover of Austria meant that Walter was unavailable in Vienna, so the recording scene shifted back to Berlin and a new conductor, Bruno Seidler-Winkler. Melchior was on hand for the “Todesverkundigung,” and he was joined by Marta Fuchs (Brünnhilde), Margarete Klose (Fricka), and Hans Hotter (Wotan). A slightly edited version of act II, with a few cuts, was recorded. The scenes that had already been recorded under Walter were slipped into the performance later on, how smoothly, I don’t know, since I never heard the 78s. I might point out that, when this act was put on CD, an additional cut was made by EMI so that it would fit on a single disc. The onset of World War II interrupted the project. In 1945, American Columbia finished the job when Helen Traubel, Herbert Janssen, and Artur Rodzinski recorded the third act. Thus, in 1946, you could purchase a nearly complete Die Walküre on 26 breakable shellac 78s, recorded by two companies, in three cities, on two continents, with three conductors, three orchestras (the Vienna and New York Philharmonics and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra), three Wotans, three Brünnhildes, and two Sieglindes (Irene Jessner, doubling as Ortlinde, was the other).
Although Melchior could outbelt any tenor of his time (and ours), his contribution to the recording goes beyond mere power—he actually creates a character—first exhausted, then intrigued by his hostess, rueful about his tribulations, and finally, passionately in love. Lehmann’s ability to go beyond the notes was never questioned, and List is certainly a strong, menacing Hunding. The sound won’t blow you away but it has ample power and clarity for 1935. At this stage of his career Walter was more virile and energetic than the kindly old philosopher promoted by Columbia toward the end of his career and one can only regret that EMI’s project languished—a 1930s Bruno Walter Ring would have been something to hear, but I would have settled for a Bruno Walter Die Walküre if this recording is an indication of what could have transpired. James Miller
WAGNER Die Walküre: Act II • Fritz Reiner, cond; Kirsten Flagstad (Brünnhilde); Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde); Lauritz Meichior (Siegmund); Friedrich Schorr (Wotan); Kathryn Meisle (Fricka); Emanuel List (Hunding); San Francisco Op O • MUSIC & ARTS CD-1048, mono (67:14) This is a justly famous performance. It took place in San Francisco on November 13, 1936, and is said to document the only time that Flagstad and Lehmann, who evidently did not get on well, ever appeared on the same stage. [They actually appeared together a total of three times.] It has a couple of whopping cuts, but it also has some magnificent singing, and every Wagner collector should have a recording of it. But perhaps not this particular recording.
The big problem with the performance is that Marcia Davenport, a now forgotten novelist and woman-about-town in the New York of the 1930s and 1940s, was allowed to intrude with a closing announcement before the music came to an end. Just as Wotan is singing “Geh hin, Knecht!” we have Marcia telling the radio audience that “The curtain is now coming down, very slowly,” etc. Of course the curtain was doing no such thing: There was about a minute and a half of music to go, and, anyway, Wagner directed that the curtain fall quickly on this act. This new disc, alas, has Marcia firmly in place; but there is another issue, Legato Classics LCD-133-1, on which another performance by Schorr, roughly contemporaneous, is dubbed in—no Marcia! So I would recommend that you get the Legato disc, which I reviewed in Fanfare 12:5. Also, and surprisingly, the sound on the Legato disc is better: the Music & Arts disc is, to my ears, rather shrill.
I will not repeat here everything I said about the performance in my earlier review. To sum up: Reiner conducts with verve; Flagstad is splendid throughout; Lehmann is in good form, but occasionally overacts; Meisle is powerful and convincing; Schorr sings well but sounds old and fluffs a few notes; Melchior is superb—he and Flagstad make the Todesverkündigung scene alone worth the price of the disc. William Youngren
WAGNER Die Walküre: Acts I;1 Act II2 • Bruno Walter, cond;1, 2 Bruno Seidler-Winkler, cond;2 Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde); Marta Fuchs (Brünnhilde); Margarete Klose (Fricka); Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Hans Hotter (Wotan); Emanuel List (Hunding); Ella Flesch (Brünnhilde); Alfred Jerger (Wotan); Vienna PO & Berlin State Op O • NAXOS 110250-51 (2 CDs: 140:01) Before electrical recording was developed in 1925, most of the records of Wagner’s music were of brief vocal selections. For, while voices recorded quite well, there was no hope of capturing the breadth and complexity of the Wagner orchestra. Even after the advent of electrical recording, Wagner’s major works seemed far too long and too difficult to be fitted onto 12 – inch 78 – rpm discs, each side of which could hold only about 4 or 4.5 minutes of music. Yet, in 1926, HMV set about recording extended excerpts from the most challenging Wagner work of all, the Ring cycle, using the best available singers and conductors, and the London Symphony and Berlin State Opera Orchestras. By the time the project was completed in 1932, the whole set, which today is available on seven compact discs (Pearl GEMM CDS 9137), consisted of 122 78 – rpm sides.
There was no complete recording of any Wagner music drama. Therefore, it was decided that HMV would record a complete Die Walküre, with Bruno Walter leading the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, and a cast consisting of Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde), Frida Leider (Brünnhilde), Emmi Leisner (Fricka), Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund), Friedrich Schorr (Wotan), and Emanuel List (Hunding). Almost all of these signers, it should be noted, took part in the 1926 – 32 set of excerpts.
But the Nazis had seized power in Germany on January 30, 1933, and Jewish artists were unwelcome in Berlin. Thus, the site of the recording was changed to Vienna, so that Bruno Walter could conduct, as planned, and Emanuel List could sing the part of Hunding. Schorr, who was also Jewish, had left Bayreuth in 1931 and Covent Garden in 1933, and settled in the United States. During the 1930s he often appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, as well as gracing the stages of Paris, Buenos Aires, and San Francisco. He retired to a successful teaching career in 1943, and 10 years later, died in Connecticut.
Though the plan had been to record the whole of Die Walküre at Vienna, actually only act I and scenes 3 and 5 of act II—which, like act I, involve both Siegmund and Sieglinde—were recorded at the Vienna sessions on June 20 – 22, 1935. The rest of the recording took place at Berlin in 1938. Scenes 4 (Siegmund and Brünnhilde) and 1 (Wotan, Brünnhilde, Fricka) were recorded on September 19 and 20, respectively; scene 2 (Brünnhilde and Wotan), in November. Since Fuchs and Hotter, who were to take the roles of Brünnhilde and Wotan in Berlin, were not present at the Vienna sessions, those parts were taken in act II, scene 5, by Flesch and Jerger.
The act I recording is often singled out as the greatest of all Wagner recordings. Lehmann and Melchior, though firmly established in their careers, were both still gloriously in their primes. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic was superb, and Walter’s conducting was free of his often-annoying mannerisms. List was a strong and menacing, yet thoroughly uncaricatured, Hunding.
The thing to listen for is the slow yet steady growth of the love between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Throughout the 70 or so minutes of act I, every word is given precisely the inflection that clearly and naturally places its meaning within the dramatic growth of the relation between the two lovers. Listening recently to the familiar music, I began to take notes, writing down each word of the text that seemed important. Though I have known (and loved) the recording of act I for 60 years, I found myself growing increasingly excited and moved—then I noticed that I had been scribbling virtually every important word of Wagner’s text!
Here I can give only a few examples. Siegmund stumbles into Hunding’s and Sieglinde’s house dead tired, his fatigue captured by the orchestra’s cross rhythms. Declaring that he must rest, no matter whose house this is, he throws himself down on the hearth. Sieglinde enters. She surmises that he is tired out from a journey, and wonders if he is sick—giving the word (“siech”) a plaintive tone that suggests an interest in him and his plight. As the strings play yearning phrases, she decides that he is not sick but just tired: “Mutig dünkt mich der Mann” (The man seems to me strong/courageous). The difference between “siech,” which ends a question, and “Mutig,” which is set by an assertive, falling perfect fifth, says volumes. A little later, Siegmund mentions that he is wounded, and hence will not be a welcome guest. Sieglinde quickly blurts out: “Die Wunden weise mir schnell!” (Quickly show me your wounds!) Her concern is obvious to Siegmund, and he meets it with manly nonchalance: “Gering sind sie, der Rede nicht werth” (They are slight, not worth talking about).
So it goes, right to the lovers’ delirious ecstasy and their escape into the spring night. Act II is always something of a letdown—too much of it is taken up by Wotan’s argument with Fricka and his long monologue giving Brünnhilde the story of the ring. Also, it is a long act, usually lasting slightly under an hour-and-a-half. Therefore, it was decided to take several small cuts. Here they are, keyed to the Peters full score, reprinted by Dover:
From “ewige Ende” (p. 245) to “Kunde empfing” (p. 246);
From “verloren” (pp. 252 – 3) to “Nur einer” (p. 255);
From “Wunsch (p. 257) to “trauteste mir?” (p. 258);
From “nur” (p. 262) to “Ihrem Willen” (p. 264);
From “Und für das Ende” (p. 273) to Sehr breit (p. 278).
Lehmann and Melchior are just as fine here as in act I. Hotter, though only twenty-nine, has the sympathy, intelligence, and control of his beautiful voice that would make him Schorr’s successor, the finest Wotan and Sachs of our time. Fuchs is competent but rather pedestrian—how one longs for Leider or Flagstad!—but Klose is one of the great Frickas. Seidler-Winkler is fully Walter’s match. Incidentally, act III of Die Walküre did finally get recorded in 1945, giving us at last our first (almost) complete recording of a Wagner music drama.
One more thing before I close. In 1940, when Lehmann and Melchior were still singing very well indeed, the Met gave two performances of Die Walküre that were broadcast. The performance of February 17 starred Kirsten Flagstad as Brünnhilde, Marjorie Lawrence as Sieglinde, and Melchior as Siegmund, while the performance of March 30, when the company was in Boston on tour, had Lawrence as Brünnhilde, with Lehmann and Melchior as Sieglinde and Siegmund. Both performances were conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. List sang Hunding both times, while the earlier performance had Julius Huehn as Wotan and Karin Branzell as Fricka, and the later one had Schorr as Wotan and Kerstin Thorborg as Fricka.
Some years ago, it occurred to a brilliant sound engineer named Richard Caniell, whose specialty is the restoration of old records, that these two performances could be combined to produce the Walküre of one’s dreams, in which the cast would include Flagstad, Lehmann, Branzell, Melchior, and Schorr. The job has now been done, and the three-CD set is available as Guild GHCD 2215/7. Other “golden age” Wagner sets are also listed on the Guild Web site: http://guildmusic.com. Full disclosure time: for a pleasant year and a half, I provided Caniell with album notes for a number of old Toscanini broadcasts. But I never worked on the Wagner project, and I had heard (and admired) a tape of the amalgamated Walküre long before I had worked with or even spoken to Caniell.
I should add that the sound of the 1933/1938 Walküre discs, which was restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, is superb. William Youngren
Beaumont Glass writes in his Lehmann bio: But most important were two opera performances in Berlin; the first was in Die Walküre, conducted by Erich Kleiber on September 29, 1932, at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden: …The sensation of the evening [was] the world-famous Sieglinde of Lotte Lehmann….Her Sieglinde is a full-blooded woman filled with an uninhibited passion that breaks through all the limitations of conventional operatic acting. Her voice is as radiant, as brilliant, as ever. After the first act a hurricane of applause broke loose.
Further, Glass writes: She was almost forty-six when she finally made her Metropolitan debut as Sieglinde on Thursday evening, January 11, 1934, ten years after Covent Garden, eight years after Salzburg, six years after Paris, three after Chicago. It was high time. Besides Melchior, the cast included Gertrude Kappel as Brünnhilde, Ludwig Hofmann as Wotan, and Karin Branzell as Fricka. Artur Bodanzky was the conductor. As for Lehmann, the debut was a triumph:
…Never before in the history of the Metropolitan Opera House has there been such a scene as that at the close of the first act of Die Walküre last night….The instant the curtain fell the applause rang out spontaneously; then when Lotte Lehmann came before the footlights it rose in volume, and as her confreres left her alone—something rare on the first curtain call—the whole audience broke into cheering which lasted a full ten minutes.
It was a welcome that must have gladdened her heart, for it came from everywhere—parquette, boxes, and galleries. It was honest and sincere and every bit deserved. In the lobby, after things had quieted down a bit, everybody talked to everybody else and all were saying the same thing—”nothing like it in their lives,” while the oldsters, your scribe among them, are firm in the belief that nothing like it in singing or acting has come from a Sieglinde in the half-century’s life of the Metropolitan.
Lehmann is the very essence of grace and beauty. We knew she could sing, for she gave us a recital last season; but we didn’t know what the great love scene at the end of the first act was like until she showed us, and, rising fully to the occasion, Melchior played up to her and sang up to her as he never has before. She was an inspiration. What a glorious voice she has…. (Charles Pike Sawyer, The New York Evening Post, January 12, 1934)
…To tell the story of her achievement last night is to report a complete triumph of a kind rarely won from an audience at a Wagnerian occasion. The delighted auditors vented their feelings in a whirlwind of applause and a massed chorus of cheers….More expressive, emotional, lovely singing has not been heard from any soprano at the Metropolitan for many a season…. (Leonard Liebling, The New York American, January 12, 1934)
…To those familiar with her lieder singing her finished phrasing, precise in definition yet always plastic, and her crystalline diction were no surprise. Yet even her admirers in the recital field were not altogether prepared for the other qualities she brought to her superb impersonation: the dramatic fire, the capacity to endow the vocal line with a breadth befitting Wagner’s immense canvas yet to retain always the purely musical finish she might have bequeathed to a phrase of Hugo Wolf; her telling restraint and sureness as an actress. At the end of the first act a cheering audience recalled her seven times….But if the first act was of a sort to startle the critical faculty into sharp attention and admiration, her performance in the second had an electrifying quality that swept that faculty away for once and made even the guarded listener a breathless participant in the emotions of the anguished Sieglinde…. (H. H. [Hubbard Hutchinson], The New York Times)
…There has not been such a vital and thrilling first act of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan in years…. (W. J. Henderson, The New York Sun.)
…Rarely has any singer been so uproariously applauded and so often recalled as Mme. Lehmann was at the conclusion of Act I…. (Pitts Sanborn, The New York World-Telegram)
Time had this to say in the January 22 issue:…If the singer had been an Italian tenor who had spent his last nickel on the claque, the ovation could not have been bigger….[Before the performance] Lehmann was nervous. Her husband knew it. The battered old doll which she kisses for luck each time she goes on stage trembled in her hands. But the audience saw no signs of uncertainty, no lack of confidence….
Christopher Purdy writes: I have a 1940 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Walküre, with Lotte Lehmann, Friederich Schorr, Lauritz Melchior and Marjorie Lawrence. The first act (with the brother/sister getting together) is near X rated…
The Ultimate Fantasy Ring: Lehmann is Sieglinde
In the April 2000 issue of Opera News Conrad Osborne assembles a dream team for Wagner’s Ring with Lehmann as his Sieglinde. He writes: “I have seen several splendid Sieglindes (Crespin and Rysanek head the list) and heard many others sing it well on records. A few of the acoustical sopranos suggest magnificence in brief excerpts. But I find that when I recall or listen to these others, I miss something from Lehmann and when I listen to Lehmann, I miss nothing from them. It’s not just familiarity. (Actually, the Ljungberg/Widdop version–pretty good!–first led me into this music.) It’s partly the set of Lehmann’s voice, which is ideal for the role, from its well-supported blend at the bottom (as at the opening of ‘Der Männer Sippe’) to its freshly soaring top and the way her beautifully formed German is incised into the line. But more, it’s her knack for landing us directly in the middle of her character’s predicament. I refer not only to the passages of transport and terror or discovery, which are all wonderful, but to small situational moments, such as her fist nervous explanation to her husband (‘Müd am Herd fand ich den Mann’). This ability to keep her character constantly before us, and important to us, is what makes her Sieglinde inimitable.”
Beaumont Glass writes:…her first Sieglinde, a role she quickly made her own. She sometimes felt that of all her roles Sieglinde came closest to her own inner nature. Her identification with the part was almost magical. It was later to become her calling card in South America, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.
Here, from My Many Lives, is Lotte Lehmann’s interpretation of a key scene from the role which she felt was closest to her own impetuous, passionate nature:
Siegmund, drawing Sieglinde down upon the bear-skins beside the hearth, sings the lovely and ever-new song of spring. Sieglinde lies half leaning against him. From the fervent embrace which ends the song she raises herself, looking up at him with delight. She tells him how she has always longed for him. Everything around her has always seemed strange to her. But he is deeply close to her; he is no stranger, he is like a part of herself. Embracing him, pressing herself against him, she discovers in his face the “sacred light, which falls from his eyes and face and stirs her senses so sweetly.” As if overcome with passion she half sinks against him—he draws her to him, looking into her face, enchanted. Her hands encircle his brow, she smooths back his hair with a tenderly questioning gesture—she wants to absorb the wonder of this face as closely as possible. The wonder! For is it not a wonder? Like distant, half-forgotten memories, images return to her out of the buried past. Hasn’t she seen him before? When? Where? She has seen this face before. And when he says that it may have been a dream, a dream of love in which he has seen her and she him, she denies it, looking into the distance with absorbed concentration. No, it was not a dream. It was reality…. And now as she remembers, her eyes are lowered as if she sees before her the running brook whose waters had mirrored her face: and it was his face! It is the same face, hers and his—they are one…. Siegmund remains absorbed in the lovely dream in which he has sensed her presence: “You are the image which is concealed in my heart.” But with a sudden movement she seems to want to hold fast the sound of his voice—her whole being drinks in his words. Yes, as a child—didn’t she know this voice as a child? Or is she confused—does the echo of her own voice resounding from the forest blend with the sound of his? Memory becomes more vivid—she presses against him, peers feverishly into his eyes…. These eyes—didn’t the same flame glow from the eye of the father, of the God who came to her in her saddest hour and plunged into the tree trunk the sword which will now free her?… And a name comes to her—didn’t the strange old man mention a name? Was it only an inner voice which whispered the name he bore, the name which she will perhaps hear from the mouth of this stranger, who is her own, strange and yet a part of her as nothing else on earth? Turning violently to him she asks with trembling voice: “Is Wehwalt your true name?” But he, completely hers, wants only to bear the name which she will give him—what is a name if it does not come as a gift from her hands? Sieglinde wants to know. The name of your father—tell the name of your father. Was it really Wolfe? Siegmund remembers: Wolfe he was called by his enemies—yet his name was Wälse….
With a cry Sieglinde springs up: Wälse! That is the name which glows in her heart like the sign of a God, to whom she belongs, as Siegmund belongs to him…. Wälse! What gives her the certainty that Wälse was the name of the aged man who came to her? She knows it, she knows it: Wälse is her father, he is the father of the stranger, they are both children of one father…. And the sword which he drove into the tree trunk was destined for his son, for the Wälsung who will be victorious with this sword. Exultantly she now gives him the name which he shall bear, under the protection of which he shall fight and conquer: “So let me call you, as I love you: Siegmund—so I name you.”
With one bound Siegmund has leaped upon the table and gripped the hilt of the sword. The hour of greatest need has come—the promised sword seems to tremble under his touch. With great strength he tears the sword from the trunk, the sword to which he gives the name “Nothung”—which means: found in need.
Sieglinde has watched Siegmund with breathless excitement—her bearing is one of concentrated passion, of glowing expectation. Bending forward, she sinks slowly to her knees. This is a gesture which until now was foreign to her: she has never knelt down before. It is as if the primeval woman kneels for the first time, driven to her knees by the superior power of her passionate belief. Now she springs up, utters a cry, and as if in an ecstatic dance reels across the stage. Her arms are outstretched, her whole body vibrates in the triumph of her victory. She sinks to the ground beside the table, her flaming eyes fixed upon Siegmund.
Siegmund has but one thought: he will take the sword and with Sieglinde will leave the house of her ignominy. Not another second shall she remain here—out into the forest, out into freedom, into the fresh stormy spring! And tomorrow he will fight and win, and will make Sieglinde whom he has won through love his forever.
Sieglinde throws herself into Siegmund’s arms as, leaping down from the table, he clasps her to him in blissful oblivion, swinging the sword above her. Reeling, torn between laughter and tears, she calls to him: “Are you Siegmund whom I see here—I am Sieglinde who longs for you—your own sister have you won with the sword…” Doesn’t he realize that it is his twin sister, whom he believed lost, whom he holds in his arms, the sister with whom he shared his first years of life, whom he had thought dead?
His sister? And both united by love? What is the law of blood to them? The law of mankind? Wotan’s wild blood flows in their veins, the blood of the father who detests the law, who knows no bounds, his blood rages in their untrammeled hearts. What do brother and sister mean? You Sieglinde, I Siegmund—and outside rage the tempests of spring. Out into freedom! Away from the narrow confines of human habitation with its rigid laws? Wotan’s children are united.
They storm out into the spring—and amidst the wild tumult of the music the curtain falls.
Here, from My Many Lives, is Lotte Lehmann’s interpretation of a key moment in Act III of Die Walküre. Sieglinde has just been told that she bears Siegmund’s son in her womb.
The message strikes Sieglinde as though a strong hand has torn the clouds asunder, and she looks upward into the blinding light of the eternal sun. Her face, at first distorted through a superhuman shock, is transfigured with divine joy. Tempestuously she rushes to Brünnhilde: “Save me, daring one! Save my child!”
Brünnhilde hands her the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword and tells Sieglinde that the child she is destined to bear will become a great hero.
Sieglinde has received the pieces of the sword as if they were sacred. She leans her brow against the cold iron, and holding the pieces before her breaks out with the exultant words: “O most sublime wonder, noblest Maid!” The incredibly beautiful and noble music is a flood of harmony over which Sieglinde’s voice soars in radiant purity. It is the intoxicated singing of her soul, a leave-taking from this earth, a union of herself with the gods, whose blood through Wotan, her father, courses through her own veins. The human woman rises into a goddess—and it is a goddess who lays her hand in blessing upon Brünnhilde’s head in her parting: “Farewell! May the woe of Sieglinde be a blessing upon you…” Shuddering, Brünnhilde bows deeply before Sieglinde and receives her blessing. Sieglinde moves away with animated steps and disappears into the darkness of the forest.
Beaumont Glass writes: Lotte’s fourth Metropolitan season started with a Sieglinde on January 16, 1937, a Saturday matinee broadcast. It was only the second time in New York for the role of her successful debut, three years before.
The New York Times had this to say about her performance: Perhaps the most magical of Wagner’s women is Sieglinde. She is not the greatest, but she haunts us the longest. Like the Iphigenia of Euripides, she is passionate and tender, simple and complex, piteous and wise, strong and weak, heroic and shrinking; and her purity is as elemental as her passion…No singing-actress of our time, I think, has achieved a more telling and veracious Sieglinde than Lotte Lehmann…It gives us the essence of the character, this remarkable and deeply touching embodiment of Mme. Lehmann’s…In certain moments of exceptional exactness and felicity of suggestion, she colors her voice and shapes her gestures with something of the primitive magic and strangeness and wonder of those who were daughters of earth in old, far-off, forgotten times…It was one of the signals of Mme. Lehmann’s achievement yesterday that she was most piercing and most memorable when the music was. Wagner…speaks of the agonizing utterances of sorrow that this score contains—“I have had to pay for the expression of these sorrows,” he remarks parenthetically. Mme. Lehmann’s delivery of Sieglinde’s music in her frenzied scene with Siegmund in the Second Act made us realize with peculiar vividness what Wagner must have meant. In such measures as…“Wo bist du, Siegmund?” she charged the music with an almost insupportable intensity of tragic woe.
Olin Downes, the critic of The New York Times, had this to say on January 17, 1937, about the “rediscovered” Sieglinde:…As for this writer, who has been privileged to hear some great Sieglindes at the Metropolitan, and that within no distant date, he would sacrifice them all, great and small, high and low, for the glory, the sweep and the transfiguring emotion of Mme. Lehmann’s interpretation…one of the warmest, most womanly and beautiful enactments of the Sieglinde part we have seen…one sustained sweep of line and surge of feeling….
Lehmann wrote the following, after singing her last complete role of Sieglinde on February 16, 1943 (in her 55th year!):…It is simply too tiring for me now. I am too old, I have lost some of my strength, and I cannot risk endangering my voice with such extravagances. Therefore I have canceled the performance announced for the 27th and will never sing Sieglinde again. She has disappeared from my repertoire, which now consists only of the Marschallin and Elisabeth… The first act was perfect, I was in glorious voice and was emphatically applauded by the audience. The second act nearly killed me; and in the last act I drowned in the ocean of orchestral sound, struggling along with the last remnants of my voice… My vocal technique is so adapted now to the more delicate requirements of lieder that it is a crime even to attempt anything so dramatic….