another Böhm-led version from Orange, 1973, which pairs her with Jon Vickers. She is on peak form vocally and interpretatively in the Vienna performance, which reflects her work with Wieland Wagner. ‘With Wieland it was like having a tailor-made costume. Other directors would give you a ready-towear dress. He formed the role exactly for me.’
The Nilsson-Vickers Tristan partnership has acquired legendary status, no doubt in part because it happened only once at the Met, yet Jess Thomas (on the 1967 Vienna recording) and, especially, Windgassen (Bayreuth, 1957) were splendid too, as these performances attest. Nilsson said that she sang Isolde with Windgassen so many times that doing it with someone else was almost like committing adultery. Vickers was tremendous, of course, but his Tristan has a sameness of mood, and in the exciting passage after Isolde’s ship is sighted in Act 3 he sounds half-crazed where Windgassen sounds ecstatic. On that 1957 recording Sawallisch’s engrossing performance has sweep, and also the tremendous Kurwenal of Hans Hotter; but Böhm is likewise detailconscious and his quick tempos are an asset, at least for me.
■ As Lisa in ‘The Queen of Spades’, Stockholm, 1949
Böhm was to emerge as Nilsson’s most important conductor. He was on the podium for her Met debut as Isolde, as well as for a new Salome with singers including Karl Liebl (a neurotic Herod) and Irene Dalis (a condescending Herodias). With Nilsson in glorious voice, it is a great performance and is heard in better sound than in other incarnations of this 1965 broadcast (including my own, made at the time). Inevitably Nilsson came to find Elektra, which she took on relatively late, a more rewarding role, and hers was a staggering achievement. In this collection it is heard in classic form twice, each time conducted by Böhm and with the incomparable Chrysothemis of Leonie Rysanek: first in a Vienna Staatsoper tour performance from Montreal (1967), and then from the Met (1971, for which I was in the house). The Met’s is notable for the vivid Klytemnestra of Jean Madeira, her last Met performance, sung when she was already fatally ill with cancer. The Montreal performance has Regina Resnik, a more frequent participant in Nilsson Elektras, but the recorded sound is muffled.
Only one Italian role is included: a 1961 Met Turandot, conducted by Leopold Stokowski with the familiar cast of Franco Corelli (Calaf), Anna Moffo (Liù) and Bonaldo Giaiotti (Timur). This is the role that prompted Nilsson to remark, ‘Wagner made me famous, but Puccini made me rich’. The voices come through well, even though the sound is not great. It is understandable that the emphasis of this collection
Opera, December 2018