When I reviewed
Das Rheingold in the same cycle just a couple of months
ago I was eventually won over by the production as a whole,
even though I was less impressed by the singing (see review).
The present production
is even more sparse with the action taking place on a kind of
running-track surrounding the orchestra which itself is immersed
in the middle of the stage but fully visible. The players remain
an integral part of the action as well as producing an orchestral
sound that challenges and even surpasses most of what is encountered
on competing versions, whether it be sound only or DVDs. I have
to admit that I am not fully updated on all the different versions
of this opera that are currently available and so I will concentrate
on a description and an assessment of the present issue with
some references to other versions that I am familiar with. Some
readers may have read my reviews - on Seen and Heard - of the
ongoing new Ring from Stockholm Royal Opera, where Die Walküre
was premiered at the end of February. I saw it a few weeks
later and was enthralled. This “peeled off” production is a
world apart from the Stockholm version but to my mind both are
thought-provoking alternatives. The Dutch performance has a
lot to its credit, not least the quality of timelessness – if
that is what it is. The absence of references to milieus and
epochs forces the viewer to focus on the interactions and conflicts
between the main characters and that is the real strength of
The focus on the
orchestra also pays dividends, as I hinted at the beginning
and it is a pleasure to wallow in the sound of this well-rehearsed
band. Listen to the lush string sound, especially in the first
act love music which rarely has been so sensually and, dare
I say, sexually coloured. Hartmut Haenchen may not be known
as a Wagnerian, but just as in Das Rheingold, he won
me over fairly early in the first act. Not from the very beginning
though, since the stormy prelude seemed a notch too fast and
too streamlined. Maybe it was all too well-rehearsed and had
lost something of the raw power of nature. In this respect no
recording that I have heard surpasses the old Furtwängler, which
I hope will be released in Naxos’s ongoing series of classic
opera sets. The rest of the performance feels absolutely right.
The only problem with the placing of the orchestra is that some
of the soloists do not always manage to be heard properly at
climaxes; Haenchen obviously has no wish to hold back. This
afflicts, most of all, Jeannine Altmayer’s Brünnhilde, who,
although creating a wonderful portrait of Wotan’s favourite
daughter, lacks the ultimate steel and, more seriously, is rather
weak at the bottom of her register. However with such glorious
playing one can gladly sacrifice a note or two of the soprano
part. Sets and backdrop are practically non-existent. The costumes
get pride of place and even they are not very stirring.
Sieglinde looks at first like a run-away nun. Brünnhilde makes
her first entrance in a dark-brown tight-fitting jogging-dress.
When she takes on her duties as a Walküre, she adds metallic
wings, which her sisters also wear in the third act. Wotan,
in a red knee-length coat, has a kind of metal armour covering
his right shoulder and part of his arm, maybe indicating that
he is half-God but also half-human. Anyway, when he gets really
private and personal in his exchange of thoughts with Brünnhilde
in the third act, he removes the armour. Fricka, all white,
has aged considerably, becoming frail and stumbling along on
crutches, but when Wotan in anger tears them away from her she
is fully capable of walking at full speed. She uses all her
means to rule poor Wotan.
Much of the performance
is filmed in close-up and since most of the principal singers
are also good actors this enhances the feeling of presence and
involvement. Reinhild Runkel is very impressive indeed as Fricka,
her eyes very telling. She sings her part much better than she
did in Das Rheingold, maybe partly because here she sounds
her looks (or looks her sounds). Nadine Secunde, who was also
Barenboim’s Sieglinde in the Bayreuth production from 1992,
has lost some of her sonority and adopts an annoying wobble
which becomes prominent when the voice is under pressure. That
said, she has retained, and even developed, her insight in the
role and at more restrained moments, which are legion, her reading
of the part is extremely touching. John Keynes, a name new to
me, also has a wobble, which initially is troublesome but either
I got used to it or else he managed to keep it better in check
as the performance progressed. In spite of these shortcomings
he makes a good Siegmund, deeply involved, creating a nuanced
portrait of his character and singing with a manly voice with
a great deal of brilliance. He delivers a glowing spring song.
As Hunding Kurt Rydl is imposing, black-voiced and threatening.
has been around for some time now; she was Brünnhilde on the
first digital Ring, released in 1983. Even then she was regarded
by some critics as too light-voiced. The same criticism could
be posed seventeen years later. It is still a beautiful voice,
fairly unscathed by the passing years and she has stage presence.
In the final duet with Wotan she is very vulnerable and touching.
The real pillar of strength is, however, John Bröcheler as the
Chief of the Gods. He is a singer in the John Tomlinson mould,
maybe not quite as big-voiced and somewhat drier of tone but
he is still powerful, intense and untiring. In the final scene
he grows to heroic and tragic heights and from In festen
Schlaf verschliess’ ich dich he gains even more dignity.
Leb’wohl du kühnes, herrliches Kind up till the very
end is great singing indeed with an added sonority and warmth
that is heart-rending.
In sheer vocal terms
the Barenboim version may be even more recommendable but the
visual impact of this Spartan production is such that it will
not be easily forgotten. It is recorded in surround sound. I
heard it in ordinary stereo, which sounded excellent, and there
is a good booklet. There is also an introduction to the opera.
All in all this a quality product.