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Thread: Recordings of Wagner's operas without overpowering vocals?

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Default Recordings of Wagner's operas without overpowering vocals?

    I love Wagner's music. The human voice is my least favorite instrument, and unfortunately all the recordings I have of his operas have the voices twice as loud as the instruments. Are there any particular recordings that have a good volume balance between voices and instruments?

    In particular I want a better recording of Tristan und Isolde. The way it goes through the sublime prelude and then obnoxiously loud shrill soprano belting pierces my ears really reduces my enjoyment of the opera. I want recordings where the instruments are at least as loud as the voices, ideally.

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    For the Ring: I would recommend Karajan. He's said to use smaller voices, voices he picked more for their beauty than their power. Tristan is a difficult opera, I've yet to be fully satisfied with it. Isolde is so angry in Act I (which I understand plot wise but still makes it a challenging listen for me), but the closest I've gotten with enjoying it is Barenboim with Waltraud Meier as Isolde.

    Do try Lohengrin if you haven't yet. It was the first Wagner opera I was really able to enjoy on the whole. It's more melodic than some of the others. I own both Kempe with Jess Thomas and Elisabeth Grummer and Solti with Placido Domingo and Jessye Norman and I would recommend either one
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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sonata View Post
    For the Ring: I would recommend Karajan. He's said to use smaller voices, voices he picked more for their beauty than their power. Tristan is a difficult opera, I've yet to be fully satisfied with it. Isolde is so angry in Act I (which I understand plot wise but still makes it a challenging listen for me), but the closest I've gotten with enjoying it is Barenboim with Waltraud Meier as Isolde.

    Do try Lohengrin if you haven't yet. It was the first Wagner opera I was really able to enjoy on the whole. It's more melodic than some of the others. I own both Kempe with Jess Thomas and Elisabeth Grummer and Solti with Placido Domingo and Jessye Norman and I would recommend either one
    Thank you, I'll try these recommendations. Beauty over power is exactly what I want.

    I'm actually listening to Lohengrin right now and loving it. The vocals could still be quieter still but they're not ruining the music. I'm not sure what recording I have.
    Last edited by Fredx2098; Sep-10-2018 at 13:52.

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    Generally I'd say modern recordings are more likely to have a natural balance than older recordings. For the Ring, I have listened to Haitink's Rheingold recently and the orchestra and voices struck me as naturally balanced. If memory serves it is from about 1990, and has since been released as a discount box with minimal packaging. I agree with mentions above that Karajan's recording is not too vocal dominant. I don't have a particular recommendation for Tristan. I like the old live Bohm recording form the 60's, don't particularly remember about the vocal/orchestral balance.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    The voices aren't small, but Solti's Ring sure puts the orchestra up front.

    For Tristan, Karajan's EMI recording. The orchestra frequently over powers the singers.
    Or maybe Pappano's recording with transparent textured and lighter voices.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    The voices aren't small, but Solti's Ring sure puts the orchestra up front.

    For Tristan, Karajan's EMI recording. The orchestra frequently over powers the singers.
    Or maybe Pappano's recording with transparent textured and lighter voices.
    Certainly Karajan's is splendid, although it's been a while and I don't specifically remember the vocal/orchestral balance.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    I'd suggest going for a video version where the voices are connected to the performers/characters. Wagner's operas are dramas. They're meant to be seen as well as heard. I know that people argue that no single production can visually encompass everything Wagner intended, but that is just another reason that the pursuit of the one perfect Ring is a mistake. Try a few video Rings, starting with the most conservative ones first. Once you've seen the Ring a few times, the voices won't sound as disconnected from the orchestra any more and you'll be able to enjoy sound only versions better. You'll also realize why you always need another Ring cycle, no matter how many you already have.
    Last edited by bigshot; Sep-10-2018 at 23:19.
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    I’ve certainly found video productions a big help (easier than trying to follow along in one of those little booklets) but there are limitations. Not every singer is a good actor. My best experience is listing to an audio recording after becoming familiar with the piece from a video production.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Wagner's operas are dramas.
    Bingo. Interestingly, most discussions on finding the ideal balance between singers and orchestra in Wagner that I have read have centered around finding recordings where the singers are able to adequately pierce through or soar above Wagner's commanding orchestra. If you have so little interest in hearing operatic singing or dislike it to the point that you simply want to be able to ignore it or tune it out, his operas will probably hold very little appeal to you. Might be best to stick with the preludes, overtures and orchestral excerpts.

    If however you decide to accept Wagner and his art on it's own terms, then a very deep and enthralling world full of imagination and expression will potentially open itself up to you. Every musical phrase invoked by the orchestra and every melody or searing high note sung by a character is meant to compliment and intensify the essence of the drama. It requires effort and the willingness to put the time into concentrating on the words and the music, either through a DVD or by reading a libretto while listening. His operas are by no means easy casual listening.

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    I have seen Siegfried in person and loved it (even though the set and costumes were modernized, which I hate). There's a full Ring cycle next year that I'm going to see. I love opera. My problem is just when the vocals are so loud that I actually can't hear the orchestra. As someone who's into recording and production, it seems quite common to make vocals disproportionately loud compared to instruments, which I can't stand. I want the orchestral crescendos to be the loudest parts, not random ear piercing soprano notes.

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    I don't mind modern dress operas or stylized designs as long as they follow the intent of the opera and don't try to make their own point by shouting down the points made in the opera. I used to only accept helmets and horns, but as I get older, I'm understanding the purpose of reinvention better.

    You might try doing a bit of an EQ cut between 1 and 3kHz. That might help balance things better for you.
    Last edited by bigshot; Sep-11-2018 at 22:10.
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    Senior Member Dan Ante's Avatar
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    I enjoy Wagner’s music but the type of singing in his operas I do not enjoy so generally keep away from him, however choral music plus operas by other composers I can enjoy no problem.
    "Understeer is when you hit the wall with the front of the car, oversteer is when you hit the wall with the rear of the car.

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    You did notice there is a blind listening test for Tristan going on here. Might be worth listening to the samples, although you will have to wait till it is over to find out what is what.

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