The most coveted performance of Wagner's legendary epic Ring Cycle was in fact recorded by Decca in Stereo live at the 1955 Bayreuth Festival. But until now, that lost performance has remained but a memory.
Thrillingly conducted by Joseph Keilberth (called by Astrid Varnay, "a conductor with so much love, who was always there for you"), the cycle provides the opportunity to hear complete for the first time on commercial release the definitive performances of Hans Hotter, Astrid Varnay, Ramon Vinay, Josef Greindl and Paul Kuen, in addition to the much-loved Siegfried of Wolfgang Windgassen, here heard in his prime.
These live Bayreuth performances were taped by a Decca team led by Peter Andry and including the noted engineers Kenneth Wilkinson and Roy Wallace, with Gordon Parry as assistant. Using a new six-channel mixer designed by Wallace, the team made both stereo and mono recordings of each opera. Three microphones were placed in the sunken orchestra pit and three were hanged from a lighting bridge about 20 feet above the stage. "This was brilliant; it worked beautifully," remembers Wallace. The company prepared for an expected release, but John Culshaw, recently returned to Decca, vetoed the project. He disliked "live" recordings and already had plans for a studio Ring with Solti, which began four years later. Decca's recording vividly captures in wonderful stereo sound the unique acoustic and stage/pit balance of the Bayreuth Festival theatre with its sunken orchestra, in addition to preserving the leading singers from a Wagnerian golden age in live performance.