Notes and Editorial Reviews
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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 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
(Blu-ray Disc Version)
Siegmund – Simon O’Neill
Hunding – John Tomlinson
Wotan – Vitalij Kowaljow
Sieglinde – Waltraud Meier
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Fricka – Ekaterina Gubanova
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: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Running time: 238 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 50)
Daniel Barenboim’s Harry Kupfer-directed Bayreuth Ring Cycle on DVD from 1991-92 has long been a favorite. Kupfer’s direction, focusing so thoroughly on character(s) that it is impossible not to get involved in their plight, linked with a beautiful mise-en-scène that uses laser technology and conducting that strikes the perfect balance between, say, Böhm and Levine—i.e: between constant tension and long, myth-creating arcs—has made it the when-all-is-said-and-done set to return to on DVD.
Barenboim, in this new Walküre that opened La Scala’s 2010-2011 season, is competing with himself. As far as the conducting is concerned it matches the Bayreuth performance; if anything, the tense moments—from the very opening storm through the Wotan-Fricka argument and the finales of the first two acts—are even more edge-of-the-seat nerve-wracking, and the tender father/daughter and Act 2 brother/sister moments are even more lyrical and involving.
The La Scala Orchestra is not quite the equal of the Bayreuth forces, or at least their strengths are different: the dark brass Hunding motif in the earlier performance is terrifying but is lighter here, and the cushion of strings is more lush at Bayreuth. The orchestra in general has less bite than the Bayreuth forces, but there is some playing here that is absolutely beautiful both within and out of context, and it is to be treasured. The Todesverkundegung is as glorious and loving as possible, but the Ride entirely lacks the energy of the earlier set. Shall we call it a tie as far as Barenboim is concerned? Like Kupfer, stage director and set designer Guy Cassiers (with Enrico Bagnoli) uses abstractions, but only up to a point, and his view can be confusing, abetted in its lack of clarity by Tim van Steenbergen’s costumes. The Valkyries are in ball gowns with huge bustles that sometimes look like the stingers of a wasp but mostly impede their movements. Suffice it to say that horses are either sculptures or projections, and they are joined by the bodies of heroes—also projected—during the Ride.
The first act features a white cube amidst darkness; what is supposed to be the entrance of Springtime is an opening of two of the sides of the cube without a hint of verdantness, and the sword is pulled out of a sliver of silver. A big, green spinning ball shows up and morphs and then disappears—does it go with the prom/disco dresses? The second act, oddly good-looking, still makes little sense: trees become long tubes with liquid bubbling in them, sort of like elongated lava lamps, and silver, floor-to-ceiling spear-like spikes later show up with just glimpses of greenery to be seen between them. Intermittently, numbers and letters are projected. After the big horse and big hero backdrop in Act 3, the stage becomes bare; Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep on the ground under a series of red heat lamps. After a while the ground rises to become a mound (rock?), where we last see the Warrior Maiden. Half of Wotan’s face is painted black and he’s untidy; he looks like someone trying to look like Bryn Terfel.
The twins are sung by Waltraud Meier and Simon O’Neill, and close-ups lead us to believe that their mother was in labor for close to 20 years, giving birth to the girl first. Meier, in occasional worn voice, is nonetheless magnificent as Sieglinde; a superb actress who listens as well as sings, her involvement never flags, and despite the tell-tale obvious aging process, she is vivid and moving. O’Neill, youthful looking but somewhat awkward, rises to every vocal occasion and has learned the value of stillness: he and Brünnhilde’s Announcement of Death scene is all the more powerful for its restraint. John Tomlinson, the Wotan of Barenboim’s Bayreuth reading, makes up in menace and acting what he lacks in vocal power as Hunding.
Vitalij Kowaljow’s Wotan is undercharacterized/under-directed. His baritone voice is lighter than we are accustomed to in this role, and he occasionally is driven to attempted bellowing for effect: keeping up with Ekaterina Gubanova’s big-voiced, offended, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer Fricka seemed a chore. He has presence and stamina, however. His soft interactions with Brünnhilde are, by contrast, deeply touching, aided of course by Nina Stemme’s remarkable portrayal of the Valkyrie. Her voice is rock solid and every note is well-placed and handsomely sung. The dark tones of the Todesverkundegung, soft delivery of her shame-felt last act confrontation with Wotan, and brilliance during her “Ho-jo-to-hos” keep the listener feeling endlessly secure—a true rarity with today’s Wagnerian sopranos. Close-ups do not do her any favors either: though still under 50, she appears matronly.
And so, this is a very well-sung and led Walküre that somehow does not manage to win many friends. The confused and unfocused direction, the sets that elicit little except a sporadic admiring glance, and, oh yes, at least one or two Valkyries who should be doing valet parking in Valhalla rather than singing and rescuing heroes, takes this out of the running for top prize. Stick with Barenboim ’91 or the strange Copenhagen Ring (though you’ll need it all to understand the director’s concept); traditionalists might prefer the Met production from the ‘80s under Levine. Subtitles are in all major European languages and Korean; the picture and sound are excellent and TV director Emanuele Garofolo wisely concentrates on the characters and their reactions, since there’s so little going on visually.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Vitalij Kowaljow (Bass),
Simon O'Neill (Tenor),
John Tomlinson (Bass),
Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano),
Nina Stemme (Soprano),
Ekaterina Gubanova (Mezzo Soprano)
Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1856; Germany
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