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James King (1925-2005) stood in the 1960s on the cusp of his Bayreuth career, which had begun earlier with the role of Siegmund. Anyone who is familiar with the baritone origins of the tenor from Kansas, USA, may well be surprised at the tremendous dynamic grading in the suspended high registers through to the sonorous piano passages that he was capable of at his Bayreuth debut in the role of the Knight of the Swan. He kept that role in his repertoire for more than a quarter of a century, singing it right up to the end of his career at new venues. The Elsa at James King’s side in this case was Irish-born Heather Harper, who went on to become famous for her performances and premieres of works by Benjamin Britten. With her superlative, highly-spun lyrical phrasing and many nuances her “foray” into the realms of Wagner is a pure listening pleasure. The last of the soloists at that performance were Thomas Tipton as an elegant King’s Herald; the reason for his reputation as the leading gentleman baritone of the Bavarian State Opera in those days is audible here; and the “outsider” so to speak, in the midst of these English-speaking singers who nevertheless sang in perfect German: Karl Ridderbusch with his truly balmy bass as King Heinrich.
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