The Valencia Ring
continues apace with this splendid Walküre
, confirming earlier promise and raising high hopes for the rest of the cycle. While the sheer excitement of La Fura dels Baus’ conception of Rheingold
may have gone down a notch or two it still packs a mighty punch and the musical values of this production are superb.
It is wonderful to hear Peter Seiffert singing Siegmund. This set is worth experiencing for his interpretation alone. He has long been the most mellifluous of the current generation of Heldentenors as his Tannhäuser and Lohengrin attest. He brings a honeyed smoothness to the role of Siegmund which comes like balm to the ears. The truly incredible thing, though, is that he manages to remain grizzled and heroic at the same time. This is no mere lover-boy that we see appearing from the storm: he is indeed the son of a god and a hero to boot. His Act 1 narration plumbs the depths of his misery and his cries of Wälse!
seem to go on for ever, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. However his Winterstürme
is smoothly seductive and his wooing of Sieglinde genuinely moving. He is perhaps at his finest during the Todesverkundigung of Act 2 as this scene combines these two elements most powerfully. He is matched here by the outstanding Brünnhilde of Jennifer Wilson. Based on the strength of this performance alone Wilson deserves consideration as one of the leading dramatic sopranos of our day. She is thoroughly inside the role, from the fireworks of the opening Hojotohos to the lower tessitura of Act 2. Every note is clear and assured and her vocal acting stands comparison with any. Her voice is huge and steely in the Nilsson vein, but carries the warmth and humanity of Dernesch or Behrens so that her transition from goddess to mortal is heartbreaking but still utterly convincing. If she looks after her voice then she should develop into a leading artist of our day.
Juha Uusitalo’s Wotan continues to astonish. It is difficult to imagine this most titanic of roles being sung better today. His voice carries depth and grandeur, reminiscent of the young Hotter, but he carries it with agility and, where necessary, injects a lightness that points up key aspects of the god’s character. The sheer scale of his and Wilson’s singing at the start of Act 2 stands in marked contrast to that of the mortals in Act 1, underlining that we are now in the presence of gods. His vocal acting is intense during the dialogue with Fricka so that we can sense his resistance crumbling as she wears him down. His control and pacing of the monologue is outstanding, building to two shattering climaxes which never feel stressed. He tames the Valkyries with extraordinary vocal power on his entry in Act 3, but the farewell is infinitely tender without losing strength. This is an assumption to cherish.
Matti Salminen’s black-voiced Hunding is sinister but thoughtful and calculating too, confirming that Salminen is still one of the very great Wagner basses. Larsson’s Fricka remains shrill and insistent, but that suits her interpretation of the character, and there is a highly characterful and hugely exciting band of Valkyries. The only vocal disappointment comes from Petra Maria Schnitzer’s Sieglinde who sounds unsteady and uncomfortable when the rest of her colleagues shine with assurance. She still conveys passion and ardour at every turn but musically she lacks that final degree of confidence and her O Herrstes Wunder
is disappointingly underplayed. That said, her vulnerability in Act 1 is very convincing, as is the suggestion of how her marriage to Hunding has damaged her.
One of the finest things about the Valencia Rheingold
was the truly excellent playing of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana. If anything they are even finer here, with surging strings, passionate winds and ultra-confident brass. It is wonderful that such a top-class Wagner sound can come from so young an orchestra. Mehta’s conducting remains masterful and assured. He lets the tempo slacken at key moments where the adrenaline should flow, such as the climax of the Act 1 love music or the fight scene of Act 2, but he makes up for it with passages of brilliance such as an electrifying Act 2 Prelude and wonderfully judged transitions in the long span of Act 3.
La Fura dels Baus’ production style remains very engaging here, though there is less call for the jaw-dropping physicality that made Rheingold
so distinctive. The performers themselves – it seems reductive to call them dancers – are used most actively on only three occasions. They carry the platform on which Brünnhilde is put to sleep and their hand-held torches create her ring of fire. At the end of Act 2 they are used to create a slightly puzzling vertical image to accompany the fight scene - a classically inspired sculpture of death, perhaps? - and in a visual coup de théâtre
they form a human demolition ball of fallen heroes to accompany The Ride of the Valkyries
. Elsewhere the main work is done by the astonishing video graphics that accompany the action. It’s worth repeating just how visually spectacular most of these animations are, real artworks in themselves. Often they simply illustrate the action: for example, we burst through the forest with the exhausted Siegmund during the Act 1 Prelude and we soar up into the stratosphere to accompany the gods for the Act 2 Prelude. Hunding’s Ash Tree exists only on the screen but it pulsates and glows like a living character. At other times the vast screens provide a comment on the action: Wotan’s fury is accompanied by a vast, blazing sun which is eclipsed during his cries of Das Ende!
The Ash Tree flowers with the Wälsungs’ names once they are revealed at the end of Act 1, and a world spinning out of control accompanies most of the latter part of Act 3. True, they don’t provide as much insight or excitement as they did in Rheingold
, but as in Rheingold
they point up the all-important mythical aspect of this Ring
and I suspect that this would please the composer a lot.
The only major criticism of the set, and it is a serious one, comes with the camera-work. The editor who put this set together is excessively fond of cutting and fading. He seems to be afraid to let the camera settle for too long on any one view: instead we chop and change rapidly to a very unsettling degree so that no sooner has the eye got used to one particular viewpoint than we are swapped to another which is not necessarily better. It is deeply distracting, and all the more infuriating because it tends to be worst at the most contemplative moments, such as Wotan’s monologue and farewell and the opening of the Todesverkundigung scene. The angles and cuttings are so badly chosen that during the battle sequence of Act 2 it is all but impossible to follow exactly what is going on. Perhaps I’ll learn to live with this on repeated viewings, but the viewer really shouldn’t have to. It wasn’t a problem in Rheingold
and let’s hope that it isn’t for the upcoming Siegfried
. Elsewhere on the technical front the picture quality is top notch and the audio production is outstanding, achieving a fantastic effect with DD 5.1, even if there is no DTS.
So with these reservations I can’t recommend this quite as heartily as Rheingold
, but it’s still well worth picking up for the spectacular staging and the outstanding musical values. I have high hopes for the next instalments.