Norman Bailey, the internationally renowned British operatic bass-baritone, passed away on September 15 at the age of 88.
Bailey made his debut in 1959 at the Vienna Chamber Opera, performing the role of Tobias Mill in Rossini’s one-act opera, La cambiale di matrimonio. His association with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre (later the English National Opera) beginning in 1967, launched a major career. He was particularly associated with the operas of Wagner, including the title role of Der fliegende Holländer, the role of Wotan in the Ring cycle, and the role of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Here are four excepts from Bailey’s extraordinary Wagner recordings:
Die Walküre, Act III (Wotan’s Fairwell)
At the end of the third and final act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde, sending her into an enchanted sleep. Loge, the Norse god of fire, creates a protective circle of fire around the rock where she lies. Only the bravest of heroes will be able to penetrate the fire. At the opera’s 1870 premiere in Munich, the special effect of the flames terrified the audience.
In these final minutes of Die Walküre, the Ring cycle’s most central motifs emerge, including the ominous “Fate” motif and the “nature” or “genesis” motif. This final motif, evoking the gently rising and falling water of a mythical Rhine River, is first heard in the gradually-unfolding Prelude of Das Rheingold, the first opera of the Ring Cycle. Following a thrilling chromatic journey through seemingly endless modulations, the final moments deliver a cosmic resolution in E major.
Der fliegende Holländer, Act I (Die Frist ist um)
Because he once invoked Satan, the Dutchman is condemned to sail the seas for eternity. An angel offered his only hope for redemption: Every seven years he will be cast upon the shore. If he can find a faithful wife, he will be released from the curse. The aria opens with gloomy, desolate wandering lines. A few moments later, we get a visceral sense of tempestuous waves.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act III (Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!)
As the curtain rises on the third act, Hans Sachs enters into a dreamy monologue, pondering the previous night’s riot. (“Madness! Madness! Everywhere madness!”) Through the music, we can almost feel the freshness of dawn as the sun rises on a new day.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act III (Verachtet mir die Meister nicht)
Set in the mid-sixteenth century in Nuremberg, the story of Die Meistersinger revolves around the city’s guild of amateur poets and musicians, known as the “Master Singers.” The most famous of the “Master Singers” is the cobbler-poet, Hans Sachs. The young knight, Walther, enters the singing contest. His free-form song breaks all of the rules and long-held traditions of the guild. At first it is rejected. Yet, Walther is ultimately declared the winner of the contest. In the final scene, Hans Sachs extols the virtues of both tradition and innovation. The curtain falls amid festive, joyful celebration.
- Wagner: Die Walküre, Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! (Wotan’s farewell) Norman Bailey, Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra Amazon
- Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer, Norman Bailey, Janis Martin, Rene Kollo, Martti Talvela, Werner Krenn, Sir Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Amazon
- Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Norman Bailey, Hannelore Bode, Julia Hamari, Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Georg Solti Amazon
Featured Image: Wotans Abschied (1909), Hermann Hendrich