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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung – opera in three acts (1874) [257:41]
Siegfried: Albert Bonnema (tenor)
Brunnhilde: Luana DeVol (soprano)
Hagen: Roland Bracht (bass)
Gunther: Herman Iturralde (baritone)
Gutrune: Eva-Maria Westbroeck (soprano)
Alberich: Franz-Josef Kapellmann  (bass-baritone)
Waltraute: Tichina Vaughn (soprano)
1st Norn: Janet Collins (soprano)
2nd Norn: Lani Poulson (soprano)
3rd Norn: Sue Patchell (soprano)
Woglinde: Helga Ros Indridadottir (soprano)
Wellgunde: Sarah Castle (soprano)
Flosshilde: Janet Collins (soprano)
Staatsopernchor Stuttgart/Michael Alber
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
rec. live, Staatstheater Stuttgart, Germany, 3 October 2002, 12 January 2003
Derived from soundtrack of DVD release – EUROARTS 10 5399 9 – 7 disc set)
NAXOS 8.660179-82 [4 CDs: 49:16 + 66:34 + 63:52 + 77:59]


“’cos you can always catch our act at the Met…
I’ll play Siegfried and I’ll play Brunnhild,
Die Gotterdamrung, Die Gotterdamrung, yeah die Gotterdamrung..” 

(from the stage show “Two on the Aisle”, music by Julie Styne) 

Listening to Condon and Green’s take on the concluding section of Wagner’s mighty “Ring” epic the other day - in effect “Another evening … another show” - I wondered if some suspected a similarly glib attitude from the Stuttgart Opera’s management when assembling their 2002/3 Ring. This, you may recall, was the epic cycle launched with not one but four directors, each managing one of the four operas.

Some doubtless argued this exhibited a healthy disregard for the pompous baggage that frequently surrounds the cycle. However it not only resulted in an inevitably disjointed overview on stage, it also led to a number of musical discontinuities.

Whilst the Staatsorchester and conductor Lothar Zagrosek remain a constant, the interpreters of the key roles vary. In the case of Brünnhilde three different sopranos essay the role in Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Whilst no one is saying that casting a Ring is easy, such a situation cannot help the continuity or dramatic verisimilitude of what is, after all, a cycle.

However, we must turn to the discs in hand. Whatever problems I have with the visual aspects of the Stuttgart Ring - I own the DVDs from which this issue derives - the impact of this factor is obviously eliminated when experiencing the sound alone.

I’ll begin, perhaps unfashionably, with the orchestra and conductor. Zagrosek tends towards a swift approach to the score, emphasising clarity of line, but not harassing the music. The result is similar in feel overall to  Boulez’s approach, but without the older man’s tendency to “nag” and skate over parts of the score. Sometimes however one could imagine greater depth and power to the music - the Norns scene for example … presumably a result of a wish not to over-inflate the sound and avoid portentousness. His players meanwhile meet the tremendous demands of the music well. Two performances are credited as the basis for the recording - perhaps with some patching sessions too? - and there are only a few signs of tiring inevitable in such a long work.

The singers however are less consistent. Luana De Vol was nigh on 60 during these performances - according to the New Grove Opera. Although she has harboured her vocal resources well she can’t conjure up much feeling of “young love” in the Act 1 duet,  but then in truth not too many can these days … and anyway any truly young singer would wreck their voice on this music. She manages to keep something in reserve for the Immolation scene, and certainly doesn’t disgrace herself, although she is inevitably found wanting in relation to the great shadows of the past such as Nilsson and Varnay.

Bonnema is a decent Siegfried, not immune to some vocal scooping, who again by and large acquits himself well … although some listeners may not appreciate his audible gasps at the beginning of the Funeral March. At least we are spared seeing him prance about in a bearskin - albeit that this is just visible on the CD cover - whilst his “bride” sports a cocktail dress. Still I would far rather experience his singing than that of one recent incumbent at Bayreuth.

It was with the appearance of the unhappy Gibichung family that vocal matters seemed to make a small but definite turn for the better. The Gunther, Herman Iturralde was a new name to me but this Argentinean musician made a very positive effect, marrying an attractive voice with insightful characterisation. Take his very first appearance in Act 1 proper: just the right amount of vanity mixed with annoyance at Hagen’s advice that perhaps his image isn’t, after all, all that it might be.

Roland Bracht meanwhile plays the evil half-brother, using his considerable Wagnerian experience to telling effect, although it must be said that his voice isn’t as steady as it once was. In truth the wobble only became worrying to me during the summoning of the vassals in Act 2. Not in the same class as Gottlob Frick or Matti Salminen, but perfectly OK. Incidentally as we so often hear these days …no steerhorns are used in this juggernaut of a scene, just trombones from the orchestra pit. I think the recent Proms performance under Runnicles was the first time I’ve heard these instruments since the legendary Solti Ring on Decca. No matter … listen to Goodall (CHAN 3060) and hear what you can achieve with a normal orchestral complement.

Eva-Maria Westbroek manages to make something of the ungrateful part of Gutrune, a figure who always strikes me as a more sophisticated yet nevertheless morphed version of the Rheingold Freia: the hand-wringing “little woman”. Meanwhile Tichina Vaughn has more opportunities as Waltraute, and makes the most of them. She impressed me greatly earlier in the cycle as Fricka, and she certainly doesn’t let the side down here. Along with Iturralde these are the singers whom I shall be looking out for in the future.

In terms of sound quality this Naxos issue scores highly. There is an excellent sense of being seated in a prime stalls seat in the house with the real tangibility of the theatre. Voices and orchestra are well balanced and although there is not perhaps the depth or perspectives of the best studio recordings I found the enterprise very satisfying from the audio point of view. In fact for reasons I can’t explain I preferred it marginally to the DVD.

But … and it’s a big but … just who is going to purchase this set? There is a complete Ring cycle still on sale at a leading London store for not much more than a tenner … and it’s a good bet too. Famous cycles by Solti, Karajan, Levine and most keenly, Böhm have been severely discounted of late. Moreover the great shadows of the further past loom large even over this distinguished company. I refer to Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Krauss and most pertinently Keilberth, with the magnificent “lost” Ring, masterminded by Decca, and recently re-issued by Testament.

I don’t enjoy “doing down” more recent efforts in the Ring stakes – this is a living, breathing medium and it needs to be re-examined afresh by new generations and current artists - but the magnificence of the singing, playing and conducting of a cycle such as Keilberth’s does tend to put most of the rest in the shade.

I couldn’t honestly therefore put this Naxos issue at the top of the heap, but if you acquire it as an impulse purchase, or as a present, I hope you derive as much pleasure as I have from it. These discs have interest for any Wagnerian and are by no means negligible.

Ian Bailey

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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