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Wagner: Götterdämmerung / Levine, Polaski, Schmidt

Wagner / Schmidt / Polaski / Bay / Levine
Release Date: 09/11/2007 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 000958109  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Wolfgang SchmidtAnne SchwanewilmsDeborah PolaskiEric Halfvarson,   ... 
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Götterdämmerung James Levine, cond; Deborah Polaski ( Brunnhilde ); Wolfgang Schmidt ( Siegfried ); Erik Halfvarson ( Hagen ); Falk Struckmann ( Gunther ); Anne Schwanewilms ( Gutrune ); Hanna Schwarz ( Waltraute ); Ekkehard Wlaschina Read more ( Alberich ); Birgitta Svendén ( First Norn ); Yvonne Naef ( Second Norn ); Frances Ginzer ( Third Norn ); Joyce Guyer ( Woglinde ); Sarah Fryer ( Wellgunde ); Jane Turner ( Flosshilde ); Bayreuth Festival O & Ch DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000958109 (2 DVDs: 275:00)

Götterdämmerung was the only opera from the Bayreuth Ring cycle directed by Alfred Kirchner to be preserved on video. The production was first presented in 1994 and filmed in 1997; this DG set is its first commercial release. We won’t be getting another complete Levine Ring to compare/compete with his durable Met cycle, but it’s valuable to have a sample of this cycle, which was certainly unusual from a visual standpoint. The talk of the town was that this was “the designer Ring ,” that the director’s influence had been eclipsed by Rosalie, the woman who created the sets and costumes. (Yes, professionally at least, she goes by one name, like Midori or Cher.) The sets are very minimalist, harkening back to the “New Bayreuth” of the 1950s, but the costumes are anything but. The get-up for the principals is imaginative, striking, sometimes amusing or distracting, but always interesting. Brünnhilde, for example, looks like a dominatrix milkmaid in clown pants. Did that help? Didn’t think so. Rosalie’s costumes do make their dramatic points. Hagen’s men have the look of fascistic riot police: the Gibichung realm may well be a totalitarian state that Brünnhilde needs to liberate.

Musically, this Götterdämmerung is exhausting in its dramatic intensity. It’s a function of the singing and the direction, but mostly it’s Levine. Tempos are often very slow; for instance, the pause after Siegfried asks Gunther his sister’s name seems interminable. Levine’s weighty approach can pay considerable dividends. The crushing pair of low brass chords that are Hagen’s motive are always devastating, and the Funeral March is brutally powerful.

Erik Halfvarson is enormously menacing as Hagen and Ekkehard Wlaschina is one of the best Alberichs of recent decades. When the two are together at the beginning of the second act, the sense of genetically determined evil is palpable. Falk Struckmann’s Gunther is regal enough at the start of act I so that his subsequent humiliation is all the more painful, for him and for us. Anne Schwanewilms is costumed more than a little provocatively to accentuate Gutrune’s gold-digger intentions. If her voice is a little on the light side, her character isn’t exactly a heavyweight either. Hanna Schwartz, an experienced Brünnhilde herself in younger days, does a fine job as Waltraute.

Though a DTS multichannel option is available, this is a DVD with which even those with surround-sound setups are best served by the 48 kHz 16-bit PCM stereo version. Unlike Barenboim’s Warner DVDs that in multichannel deliver a real feel for the singular acoustic at the Festspielhaus, surround here adds very little in the way of air or dimensionality, and the quality of the vocal and instrumental reproduction is noticeably compromised. The cinematography is excellent. For example, at the end of act I after Hagen’s monologue, the camera lingers on his hate-filled face for the entire orchestral interlude until his eyes finally shut and the stage goes black. DG provides subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Chinese.

A Götterdämmerung worth considering for Rosalie’s flights of fancy and Jimmy’s dramatic intensity.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Wolfgang Schmidt (Tenor), Anne Schwanewilms (Soprano), Deborah Polaski (Soprano),
Eric Halfvarson (Bass), Falk Struckmann (Baritone), Hanna Schwarz (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871-1874; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1997 
Venue:  Bayreuth, Germany 

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