Why Sir Georg Solti’s ‘Ring Cycle’ Recording Remains An Enduring Part of His Legacy

By David Salazar

Conductor Georg Solti contributed a tremendous amount to the world of opera, leading some of the greatest singers at the greatest houses in the great works ever written.

Born on Oct. 21, 1912, in Budapest, he built up a sturdy career in the opera world, working prominently at such companies as the Salzburg Festival and Hungarian State Opera in his early years before making major impact as musical director at the Bavarian State Opera, and eventually at the Convent Garden Opera Company. At Covent Garden, he reshaped the company to create the highest musical standards. It was renamed the Royal Opera House under his tenure.

But there is no denying that one major achievement stands tall above all the others – his Ring Cycle. His recording remains, for many, the ultimate benchmark recording for a number of reasons. Here are some reasons why it remains such a major part of his operatic legacy.

First At Bat 

Recorded between 1958 and 1964, Solti’s was the first-ever studio recording of the complete tetralogy. That alone makes it a major achievement, showing the world that putting together this massive 15-hour epic was possible and could be achieved at a high quality. For producers of that era, recording the tetralogy was a no-go because it was an expensive endeavor. No one believed it could truly sell enough to turn a  profit.

But British recording producer John Culshaw convinced Decca management to give it a shot and hired Solti to lead the recording.  While Solti was the mastermind behind the musical interpretation, the engineers for the production, Gordon Parry, James Brown, and James Lock, were crucial in making it a reality.

Brilliant Cast

To put together a major project like this, it was essential for the production to include star singers in all the major roles. This was obvious from a marketing standpoint, but also from a musical one. And Solti and Culshaw assembled a dream cast that included George London and Hans Hotter as Wotan, Birgit Nilsson as Brünhilde, Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried, James King as Siegmund, Régine Crespin as Sieglinde, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Gunther, Kirsten Flagstad (!) as Fricka in “Das Rheingold,” Christa Ludwig as Fricka in “Die Walküre” and as Waltraute in “Götterdämmerung,” Lucia Popp as Woglinde, and Joan Sutherland (!) as the Woodbird. And I just left out a huge slew of names. Everywhere you look, you will find a top star in a role, no matter how small. And they all deliver incredible performances, without a single artist lagging behind at all. One can argue that there are stronger interpretations in other sets, but overall this star power truly shines.

Solti Himself

There is a lot to be said about the man himself who while overlooked in light of the cast on the set, has drawn tremendous raves over the years from the critics, for his work here.

“Solti’s supercharged approach pays enormous dividends in a work as long as the ‘Ring.’ Wagner’s great epic has more than a few pages of tedium, and Solti’s unfailing energy is enormously helpful in enlivening such passages,” writes Paul E. Robinson of Classical Voice America.”

“No other conductor produces such an exciting Ring. The emotional power is incredible here. The first time I heard Wotan’s farewell I shed a few tears. And after listening to the second act of Götterdämmerung for the first time I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes. But Solti does not sacrifice musical detail either. Even when the music is at its loudest the amount of detail that can be heard is astonishing,” writes Charles E. Muntz from Wagner on the Web.

“No one has bettered Solti’s London/Decca Ring in terms of sweep, scope, grandeur, dramatic immediacy, and sheer adrenalin,” adds Richard Lehnert of Sterophile.”

Need we say more?

Why do you love (or not) Solti’s Ring? Tell us in the comments below!




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