Following up on some previous ideas about Wagnerian aesthetics I must
personally admit that I generally do not following singers when it comes
to Wagner. Great Wagner conductors have ever since the time of Mahler
treated the vocal parts like additional sections of the orchestra. Still
I like to hear a good string or wind section when I hear Wagner being
played and similarly I can appreciate good singing - and wonderful singing
as well! However I have heard recordings in which the conductor was not
up to the task. Then no amount of good singing can ever in my mind salvage
the situation. Wagner always gives the orchestra the first and last say.
That is partly what I meant when I wrote that late Wagner is above all
symphonic in conception. I suspect this is the reason why Wagner
recordings designed merely to show off particular singers invariably do not
work. Would you listen to a Wagner recording made merely to show off the
orchestra brass sections?
However there is something else amiss here. Many late 19th century
performing musicians stress the importance of declamation in Wagner.
In some older recordings this style can still be heard. The biggest
complaint I must say I have about Placido Domingo is that all hint of
any sort of declamation is lost. The reasons seems to me all too obvious.
I suspect he speaks little to no German. I don't know what the Spanish
word for rhubarb is but that is what we get when he sings in German. The
same goes for his Mahler. I am afraid I find the results so jarring that
I can barely stop myself from laughing. Donald McIntyre once said in a
radio interview that he refused to sing the role of Hans Sachs with Solti
because he felt his German was not yet up to it. By being 'up to it'
however he didn't just mean that the pronunciation should be 'correct'
like that in an dictionary. Would it be enough to be able to pronounce
the words 'correctly' when performing Shakespeare? No, and I agree that
the same applies here.
(I'm afraid I had to work on Saturday night and didn't get to the Mahler..)