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Wagner: Die Walkure / Barenboim, Meier, Stemme, Tomlinson, Gubanova

Wagner / O'neill / Teatro Alla Scala / Barenboim
Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101694  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Vitalij KowaljowSimon O'NeillJohn TomlinsonWaltraud Meier,   ... 
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Also available on Blu-ray

Richard Wagner called Die Walküre the “first evening” of the Ring of the Nibelung (he called Das Rheingold the prologue or Vorabend). Musically and dramatically, we are introduced to a radically new and different world when the opening bars of Die Walküre resound. A fully developed orchestral palette of Leitmotivs paints a wild storm scene, and the curtain rises on a modest dwelling: a fully human scene that has nothing to do with the gods, dwarves and nymphs of Das Rheingold. At the same time, however, the way Die Walküre portrays radical beginnings reveals some telling reminiscences of the unfolding of Das Rheingold. Die
Read more Walküre is exciting and deeply feeling drama.

The Scala 'Ring' Cycle by Guy Cassiers is continued here with, as in Rheingold, numerous outstanding opera stars. Most of all, the leading ladies, ever wonderful Waltraud Meier as Sieglinde, marvellous Nina Stemme as a strong Brünnhilde and Ekaterina Gubanova as a convincing Fricka are to be named. Simon O’Neill and John Tomlinson fight a stirring duel as Siegmund and Hunding, and Vitalij Kowaljow gives his dark portrayal of Wotan. Daniel Barenboim presents a fantastic musical interpretation of this second and inspiring evening of the “Ring”.

“This was opera magic where Daniel Barenboim brought out the full depth and passion of Wagner’s music.” - The Telegraph


Siegmund – Simon O’Neill
Hunding – John Tomlinson
Wotan – Vitalij Kowaljow
Sieglinde – Waltraud Meier
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Fricka – Ekaterina Gubanova
Danielle Halbwachs
Carola Höhn
Ivonne Fuchs
Anaik Morel
Susan Foster
Leann Sandel-Pantaleo
Nicole Piccolomini
Simone Schröder

Milan La Scala Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Guy Cassiers, stage director and set designer
Enrico Bagnoli, set and lighting designer
Tim van Steenbergen, costume designer
Csilla Lakatos, choreographer

Recorded live from the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 7 December 2010

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Running time: 238 mins
No. of DVDs: 1

Full Review 3753600.az_WAGNER_Die_Walkure_Daniel.html

WAGNER Die Walküre Daniel Barenboim, cond; Simon O’Neill ( Siegmund ); Waltraud Meier ( Sieglinde ); John Tomlinson ( Hunding ); Nina Stemme ( Brünnhilde ); Ekaterina Gubanova ( Fricka ); Vitalij Kowaljow ( Wotan ); Danielle Halbwachs ( Gerhilde ); Carola Hoehn ( Ortlinde ); Ivonne Fuchs ( Waltraute ); Anaik Morel ( Schwertleite ); Susan Foster ( Helmwige ); Leann Sandel-Pantaleo ( Siegrune ); Nicole Piccolopmini ( Grimgerde ); Simone Schroeder ( Rossweisse ); Teatro alla Scala O ARTHAUS 101694 (2 DVDs: 238:00) Live: Milan 12/7/2010

One of the more interesting things one can do is to go online after you’ve watched a video production of an opera and check your reactions against those of other people. It doesn’t always alter your own perspective, but it’s curious to read what others consider of paramount importance when watching an opera on video.

For me, all things being equal, it starts in the orchestra pit. The style and phrasing of any opera performance is, of course, impacted by the singers as well, but it starts in the pit. If the conductor isn’t in synch with the basic direction and flow of the music, the rest of the production means absolutely nothing. In this case, we have Daniel Barenboim, a musician I’ve never enjoyed (and still don’t) as a pianist, but on the podium he is a different person. Perhaps it comes from leading a 100+ piece orchestra as opposed to trying to make his fingers respond to what he wants, but the choppy phrasing and emotionally disconnected sounds he produces at the keyboard are 180 degrees apart from the driving, sweeping sounds he elicits from an orchestra. In Wagner, particularly, his conducting is close to electrifying, even though his basic tempo choices are a bit on the slow side (as were Toscanini’s) rather than swift and manic (as were Furtwängler’s much of the time).

After the conducting comes the singing (an approach almost exactly the opposite of most people’s). Can the singers handle their roles? In Wagner, this is of paramount importance because he demands so much, and not just volume. He demands a good legato, the ability to spin phrases at full volume without running out of breath (or voice), and occasionally, bless his perverted little heart, turns and trills. Despite signs of aging in the voices of Tomlinson and Meier, and typically Slavic “flutters” in the voices of Kowalijow and Gubanova, this cast is good enough to handle their roles. Indeed, I was particularly impressed by tenor O’Neill, whose voice (to me) is far more pleasant than Peter Hoffmann’s or Siegfried Jerusalem’s (to name two of the most famous Heldentenors on previous Ring DVDs) in addition to being steadier and more ringing. Stemme has a little trouble warming up, but then again, most Brünnhildes do (even the great Flagstad, on her 1950 Walküre with Furtwängler, and Birgit Nilsson, who often sounded “covered” in tone during her opening “Ho-jo-to-ho”). Thus, in the six major roles of this opera, we’re doing pretty darn good.

Then, and only then, do I assess the stage production and the direction. In this case, happily, both were in the hands of one person, Guy Cassiers, and he did a very fine job of updating costumes and the like without ruining the overall impact of the opera. I still question the need, or appropriateness, of having Hunding wear a white shirt and tie (he is, after all, a hunter who lives in the woods, not a banker or a CPA), but other than that I was pretty happy with this aspect. Wotan has the “blind” side of his face painted with black greasepaint, so even though the bad eye isn’t covered the audience gets the impression of his having a “blind side.” Some online commentators complained that the principals looked too old. Well, this is certainly true of Tomlinson, whose bald dome and white hair and beard make him look 75, and I’ll be the first to admit that at this stage of her career, Meier has wrinkles on top of wrinkles. But in her case, the detriment comes from the merciless close-ups that TV director Emanuele Garofalo insisted on most of the time. Taking her from the perspective of an audience member, the overall darkness of the stage lighting covered up most of her physical blemishes pretty well.

The basic set seems to be a series of refracted mirrors in act I and dark and somewhat amorphous shapes in acts II and III. This was fine by me. Garofalo has his characters do more in the way of real acting on the stage than, say, the Wieland Wagner school (represented in our modern era by his pupil Nikolaus Lehnhoff). This, too, was OK. And it didn’t hurt that all of our principal performers were good stage actors, O’Neill possibly being the least realistic and most “stagey” but still fine.

So now, dear reader, you have an idea of what I look and listen for in any opera production. As I’ve complained many times, it doesn’t matter to me if the performer up there is Diana Rigg or Laurence Olivier; if they can’t sing, I don’t want to hear them, and if the musical aspect of a production is poor, it completely negates anything good or interesting in the stage production. As a woman, I can’t say that I was particularly happy to see all the female characters (Sieglinde, Fricka, Brünnhilde, and all of her Valkyrie sisters) wearing bustles with trains on their dresses. I suppose this was Cassiers’s idea to make all the women look elegant, but it just made them look ungainly, especially when they had to walk across the stage—except for Stemme, who just strode in with a direct, assured, almost masculine gait, train or not.

The “magic fire” was a bit disappointing at first, as eight or ten yellow-orange globes of light simply descended from above around Brünnhilde’s sleeping figure, but things got more interesting when red shafts of light arose from under the stage, creating a sort of circle of red prison bars around her. Barenboim conducted the last act like a man on a mission, at least until he reached Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde, at which time he slowed down the tempo until the purely orchestral denouement.

Overall, then, a decidedly impressive, professional, and (wonder of wonders!) adult production of a Ring opera. Cassiers doesn’t hit us over the head with idiotic symbolism. We have no gratuitous nudity, Nazis, or inappropriately snarling or growling characters where no snarling or growling is called for. The singing is good to excellent and the conducting (for the most part) on an exalted level. A shame, then, that the economic cutbacks in Italy have rather forced Barenboim to give a somewhat “potted” Ring, meaning that the casts aren’t consistent throughout the four operas. Consider: In the first installment, Das Rheingold from May 2010, René Pape sang Wotan. He withdrew from Die Walküre because, as he put it, he needed “to take a break from rehearsals and performances,” but he has also failed to materialize as the Wanderer (Wotan) in the 2012 Siegfried. In that Rheingold, Fricka was sung by Doris Soffel, who also dropped out of Walküre, and Mime by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, who failed to return for the 2012 Siegfried. Anna Larsson (Erda) and Johannes Martin Kränzle (Alberich) did show up for Siegfried, while Anna Samuil, who came back in May-June 2013 to sing Gutrune, sang Freia. Lance Ryan did sing Siegfried in both his self-named opera and Götterdämmerung, and Stemme returned as Brünnhilde in Siegfried, but by the time Götterdämmerung rolled around she was replaced by Irène Theorin, who also sang Brünnhilde in the very last performance of Siegfried and did not get good reviews. So we shall see how the remainder of this cycle plays out on video, but for me there is no question that this is a great video Walküre.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Vitalij Kowaljow (Bass), Simon O'Neill (Tenor), John Tomlinson (Bass),
Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano), Nina Stemme (Soprano), Ekaterina Gubanova (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 

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