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Wagner: Die Walküre / Elming, Secunde, Barenboim, Et Al

Wagner / Kupfer / Barenboim
Release Date: 09/27/2005 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 62319  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Anne EvansNadine SecundeJohn TomlinsonPoul Elming,   ... 
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival OrchestraBayreuth Festival Chorus

Imported from : European Union   
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Stage direction: Harry Kupfer
Picture format: 16:9 wide screen
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish

A wonderful thing about Wagner in Bayreuth is the range of voices the Festspielhaus will permit. The theater is not large, seating only around 1,400, with a clarifying and famously enveloping acoustic, so one doesn’t have to countenance singers the size of NFL linemen to achieve satisfying musicodramatic ends. This Walküre comes from the first of Harry Kupfer’s Ring s, introduced to Bayreuth in 1988. It succeeded a cycle Read more directed by Peter Hall, which followed the celebrated Patrice Chéreau centenary production. (Kupfer’s second Ring originated in Berlin; it was filmed in Barcelona and released on four DVD sets by Opus Arte that have been covered in Fanfare, finishing with Götterdämmerung this issue.) Despite some impressive light and laser effects, this production really succeeds as well as it does thanks to the believability of its characters, visually and otherwise. Kinship and other relationships are key. The four main protagonists who are actually related by blood—Siegmund, Sieglinde, Wotan, and Brünnhilde—all have the same shade of red hair, while the dour Fricka (Linda Finnie) has a jet black coiffure and Hunding (Matthias Hölle) is an evil Nordic blond. The staging is very physical. Just about everyone runs at some point and Poul Elming and Nadine Secunde, as the incestuous siblings, are young and flexible enough to sing their ecstasies while rolling around on the floor. Don’t try this at home if you are Jessye Norman or Greg Lakes.

Musically, there’s a similar level of emotional acuity. Daniel Barenboim and the superb Festival Orchestra provide a tightly wound, almost violent sort of orchestral support. The first act sizzles with a sense of danger initially and, later, of erotic emancipation. Act II opens with Siegmund and Sieglinde still wrapped in a post-coital embrace before they hit the road. Then Anne Evans portrays a vigorous Brünnhilde. Her voice is youthful, clear, and penetrating; it’s not a giant instrument, but this is the kind of thing you can get away with at the Festspielhaus. John Tomlinson’s bass is rich and resonant, yet agile and expressive. When Wotan dispatches Hunding at the close of act II with “Geh! Geh!” many singers will contemptuously whisper the second “Go!”—Tomlinson bellows it. For scene 3 of the last act, Wotan and Brünnhilde sit facing away from each other as they negotiate over the latter’s offense, like a Dad and a teenage daughter who has missed her curfew. Tomlinson’s “Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!” is triumphant, exultant, and very moving. Finnie’s Fricka is shrewish, but she’s no more assertive than anyone else: her scene with Wotan is truly a war of wills.

Elming has dime-store-novel good looks, but unlike Peter Hoffman in the Chéreau Ring , who’s also a hunk, he can really sing. Secunde is excellent, suitably passionate in act I and delirious in act II. When Sieglinde sings her farewell of thanks to Brünnhilde with the first appearance in the cycle of the “assurance” motive that ultimately ends Götterdämmerung , it’s a glorious climax. The beginning of the last act is staged more effectively than it usually is, with the Valkyries energetically descending a kind of gangplank to a stage crowded with huddled heroes. These gals love their work, moving (and singing) with confidence and authority.

This Ring has been available on Teldec CDs as well as previous videotape and laserdisc incarnations. The new widescreen, surround-sound edition gives a substantial taste of the Bayreuth experience. (I’ve seen seven operas there.) The curtain rises for act I with virtually no visible light from the hidden orchestra pit and, thanks to ambience microphones used at the original recording sessions, the unique acoustic of the Festspielhaus is approximated nicely. Voices and instruments are presented in an exceptionally well-integrated fashion and there’s a subtle sense of music in the air around the listener. You are there . The opera was filmed and edited effectively yet simply, without artsy fades, or even much in the way of cuts from singer to singer. Subtitles are provided in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

Of five video versions of Die Walküre on hand—the others are Levine, Boulez, Zagrosek, and de Billy—this one is the clear winner. (Audio-only Walküre s are, of course, another story.) I hope the other dramas from the Kupfer/Barenboim Ring will follow soon.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Anne Evans (Soprano), Nadine Secunde (Soprano), John Tomlinson (Bass),
Poul Elming (Tenor), Matthias Hölle (Bass), Linda Finnie (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 

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