Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walküre - music-drama in three acts (1870)
Siegmund - Frank van Aken (tenor)
Hunding - Ain Anger (bass)
Wotan - Terje Stensvold (bass-baritone)
Sieglinde - Eva-Maria Westbroek (soprano)
Brünnhilde - Susan Bullock (soprano)
Fricka - Martina Dike (mezzo)
Gerhilde - Anja Fidelia Ulrich (soprano)
Ortlinde - Mona Somm (soprano)
Waltraute - Eve-Maud Hubeaux (mezzo)
Schwertleite - Bernadett Fodor (alto)
Helmwige - Christiane Kohl (soprano)
Siegrune - Lisa Wedekind (mezzo)
Grimgerde - Tanja Ariane Baumgartner (mezzo)
Rossweiße - Monika Bohinec (mezzo)
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester/Sebastian Weigle
rec. live, 2010, Franfurt Opera. DDD
Libretto and English translation enclosed
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 936 [4 CDs: 65:59 + 57:04 + 32:14 + 72:29]
My colleague Gavin Dixon reviewed Das Rheingold from Frankfurt a while ago and made it a Recording of the Month. I haven’t heard it but having played this Walküre I can understand his enthusiasm for the conducting of Sebastian Weigle. I heard him direct Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Bayreuth some years ago and was impressed. Katharina Wagner’s staging of was controversial, to say the least, but musically it was everything one could wish. Weigle belongs amid those conductors who let the music speak without adding ‘clever’ interpretative details. Really good music doesn’t need that help. What we have here is a reading that obeys Wagner’s intention and makes the drama unfold naturally. In that respect he has a lot in common with Marek Janowski, whose Ring cycle has stood the test of time better than some more illustrious sets. The stormy prelude to the first act is menacing, there is flair in the Ride of the Walkures and the Magic Fire music in the last act burns with an intensity that is almost blinding.
The Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester is in excellent shape and the impact of their playing is further enhanced by the recording, where one can pinpoint the location of every instrument without the feeling of artificial highlighting.
Being boiled over by the overwhelming orchestral and aural sound-feast I had great expectations of the singing. Alas, they were not fulfilled - not to the degree I had hoped. But let me start with the good things.
Terje Stensvold and Martina Dike were Wotan and Fricka in the Stockholm Ring 5-7 years ago and here they are united again, with equally grand success. Stensvold hasn’t the most voluminous voice but he projects well. He has the important lower notes that most baritones more or less lack and he is expressive with words. His tone is also admirably steady. Martina Dike is plainly glorious and the verbal duel with Wotan in the second act is a real thriller. In the first act Ain Anger is a suitably evil Hunding with steady dark tones.
Alas, steadiness is in short supply with the remaining soloists. Frank van Aken’s Siegmund is baritonal and manly. There is steel in his tone and he is an excellent actor with the voice. Few tenors I have heard in this role have been so sensitive to words and so nuanced. He can sing softly without losing the edge and there isn’t a dull moment in his reading. The fly in the ointment? You guessed it: unsteadiness. It varies, fortunately, and sometimes it is hardly noticeable at all, at other times it develops into a wobble. Overall it is anyway a good reading.
Eva-Maria Westbroek has made a name for herself as a leading singing-actor. A year ago she created the title role in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Anna Nicole at Covent Garden. Like her husband, Frank van Aken, she knows how to colour the voice and create a believable character with vocal means alone. That said, the tone is all too often squally and wobbly.
The Walküre herself? Susan Bullock is reputed to be one of the foremost dramatic sopranos, which unfortunately also means that she is constantly in demand for the voice-killer roles: Isolde, Brünnhilde and Elektra. Such an unbalanced diet takes its toll. Here she is wobbly throughout and some of her top notes are painful to hear. Against this can be said that her powerful voice conveys both warmth and dignity. Anyone who can, so to speak, listen through the shrillness and wobbles will find a deeply human Brünnhilde.
Unfortunately this set is is ruled out due to some less than attractive singing but the orchestral playing and sensitive vocal acting still makes it a version to return to occasionally - and then take the best plums.
Masterwork Index: Die Walküre
Ruled out due to some less than attractive singing.