Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Lance Ryan (tenor) – Siegfried; Johannes Martin Kränzle (baritone) – Gunther; Jochem Schmeckenbecher (baritone) – Alberich; Gregory Frank (bass) – Hagen; Susan Bullock (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Anja Fidelia Ulrich (soprano) – Gutrune; Claudia Mahnke (mezzo) – Waltraute/2. Norn; Meredith Arwady (contralto) – 1. Norn; Angel Blue (soprano) – 3. Norn; Britta Stallmeister (soprano) – Woglinde; Jenny Carlstedt (mezzo) – Wellgunde; Katharina Magiera (contralto) – Flosshilde
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester, Chor und Herren des Extrachores der Oper Frankfurt/Sebastian Weigle
rec. live, Frankfurt Opera, January-February 2012
Libretto with English translation enclosed.
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 938 [4 CDs: 60:03 + 59:22 + 68:13 + 79:09]
My colleague Gavin Dixon welcomed the first instalment in this Frankfurt Ring cycle with great enthusiasm (see review), proclaiming it Recording of the Month. I have yet to hear it but have listened to the following three days of the Ring with somewhat mixed feelings. Sebastian Weigle’s conducting has been the real glory of the cycle. Time and again he has drawn superb playing from his orchestra to match even Solti’s VPO and Janowski’s Dresden forces. The prelude to Götterdämmerung has the right solemn weight. In the interlude before Zu neuen Taten there is a visionary glow in the strings and rarely has Siegfried’s Rhine Journey been so jubilant. That Siegfried’s death scene lacks the nobility of Solti, Barenboim or Haitink is not the conductor’s fault. Weigle instead finds exactly the right tone in the restrained funeral march – a restraint that grows to an earth-shaking climax that holds the listener spellbound. He also brings the cycle to a likewise spellbinding conclusion with a glorious depiction of the flooding Rhine.It’s as memorable as any of the more than one dozen other versions I have.
I wish the singing had been on the same exalted level but alas – there are shortcomings, some more serious than others. The three Norns are expressive. That’s the overriding impression of the whole cycle – it’s great theatre. Meredith Arwady, who was Erda in Siegfried, has a rather prominent vibrato and Claudia Mahnke isn’t free from that either. She also sings Waltraute. Her narration is good: she has dramatic glow and insight and characterizes well. Angel Blue, the young American soprano, has a splendid dramatic soprano voice, a little weak in the lowest register but she will no doubt advance to more important roles before long. The three Rhine maidens are also a shaky bunch – or rather, their vibratos don’t match particularly well when they sing together, which they do most of the time.
On the credit side we must mention the Gibichungen, who are the glories of this set. Gunther, Johannes Martin Kränzle, is strong and dark-voiced and excellently expressive. Maybe he is too strong and determined for this basically weak character, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. His sister, Gutrune, is sung with steady, beautiful, lyric-dramatic soprano voice by Anja Fidelia Ulrich. I only wish her part had been bigger. Gregory Frank, whom I heard as an impressive Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos in Helsinki just a few weeks ago, is a formidable Hagen, singing and spitting out his evil with pitch-black malevolence. The scene with Hagen and Gunther (CD 1 tr. 11-12) is stunning. Alberich’s short appearance in act II is well characterized too but Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s low notes are weak and he is also rather wobbly.
Having saved the two central characters for last may indicate that I’m less than impressed, which unfortunately is true. Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde is uneven and far too often her tone is squally. In all honesty she must be credited for her excellent diction and her deeply involved reading. In general her vibrato is held in check better than in the previous operas. The immolation scene, so gloriously sung by Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad and Lisa Gasteen in various recordings, is admirably conceived. I only wish her voice had been in a shape to better express her intentions. In my review of Die Walküre I wrote: ‘... 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 Lance Ryan’s singing is even more ugly than it was in Siegfried. He has power but the voice is afflicted by an incipient bleating beat. When he is disguised as Gunther he manages to apply a really nasty tone but the wobbling reveals his true identity to the listener. Even so he has his good moments. At the end of the fourth scene of Act II (CD 3 tr. 14) there is actually some golden tenor tone, and in the death scene he scales down to a pianissimo on Brünnhild’ bietet mir – Gruß! (CD 4 tr. 13). There are therefore some grains of gold, but far too few.
In spite of Sebastian Weigle’s conducting, generally excellent recording and some memorable solo singing I cannot endorse this Götterdämmerung or the complete cycle for that matter. This is not a library version or even a starting point for the beginner. Solti or Böhm (both on Decca) – with many of the leading singers in common – or Janowski’s (RCA) middle-of-the-road set (and the first digital Ring) are safer bets. The more recent Bayreuth set under Barenboim (Warner) and the Adelaide set under Asher Fisch (Melba) also have much going for them. Haitink (EMI) would be a top contender but is ruled out by the terribly wobbly Eva Marton’s Brünnhilde.
I cannot endorse this Götterdämmerung. Not a library version nor even a starting point for the beginner.
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