Currently priced at $15.79 at Amazon.com, this is 40 CDs of Wagner for the price of one.
The first 27 discs span eight of Wagner’s ten mature operas: The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, The Ring Cycle, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal, omitting Tristan and Isolde and Tannhäuser.
Frankly, it strikes me as bizarre that Tristan and Tannhäuser were excluded, since they would have taken only 6 or 7 more discs.
Furthermore, the performances of the operas they did include are always serviceable, but only Marek Jankowski’s 14-CD Dresden Ring Cycle is really top-drawer: beautifully recorded, conducted, and sung. But where else can you get an excellent Ring Cycle for under $16? Even if you never listened to the other 26 discs, it is still an amazing bargain.
I already had the Jankowski Ring, which I will now pass along as a gift. But I did not have any of the other opera recordings. The Flying Dutchman features James Morris, Deborah Voight, and Ben Heppner and is conducted by James Levine. Lohengrin, recorded in 1965, features Sándor Kónya and is conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. Die Meistersinger was recorded in 1963 and conducted by the great Joseph Keilberth. The Parsifal is a historic recording from 1961 conducted by Herbert von Karajan and featuring Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, Hans Hotter, and Eberhard Waechter. At the very least, all of these recordings are interesting, and I have many hours of pleasure ahead of me.
The last 13 discs in the set are recitals of one sort of another, some of which I already had, some of which I had never heard of, and most of which are long out of print. The highlights for me are:
- Swedish tenor Gösta Winbergh’s thrilling 1995 collection of arias from Rienzi, Die Meistersinger, Lohengrin, and Parsifal, which is long out of print and quite rare. This is quite a find.
- German tenor Peter Hofmann’s collection of arias from 1983
- Kirsten Flagstad’s historic (1935-1940) collection of arias and duets with (Lauritz Melchior) from Tristan and Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung
- Laurtiz Melchior and Helen Traubel’s 2 disc historic (1942-1945) collection of arias and duets from Rienzi and Lohengrin, and extensive selections from Tristan and Isolde
- Eileen Farrell and Leonard Bernstein’s celebrated recordings of the Wesendock Lieder and Brünnhilde’s Immolation, plus the Overture from Tannhäuser and the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde (1961 and 1967)
- Mezzo soprano Waltraud Meier’s famous 1997 collection of her signature arias
- George Szell’s classic 1968 recording of excerpts from the Ring with the Cleveland Orchestra. This is a treasure.
- Leopold Stokowski colorfully conducting overtures and excerpts recorded in 1960-1961 and 1973
- Lorin Maazel’s brilliant pastiche Tannhäuser Without Words, recorded in 1990
- Just for fun: the Duo Tal and Groethuysen’s collection of Wagner transcriptions for piano, four hands, including the Preludes from Die Meistersinger and Tristan and Isolde, The Ride of the Valkyries, and the Tannhäuser and Faust Overtures
Again, if you have ever considered buying just one of these discs at full price, you can consider the other 39 discs as a bonus.
This collection comes in a sturdy cardboard cube. The discs are housed in thin cardboard sleeves which reproduce the original record albums. The only place Sony scrimped is by not including libretti, but these are just a Google search away.
This is one of the great bargains in the history of classical music. Originally priced much higher when it appeared last year for the Wagner bicentennial, the drastically cut price indicates that this collection will not be around much longer.