Notes and Editorial Reviews
The second installment of The Netherlands Opera’s Ring—Das Rheingold was covered last issue—continues its fascinating take on Wagnerian aesthetics and tradition. An extra feature with this Walküre, the 20 minute “Introduction” includes an interview with Peter-Jan Wagemans, a Dutch composer who articulates his far-from-unique view that the full elaboration of Wagner’s art has been stymied by the tyranny of those who feel themselves to be The Keepers of the Flame. “Bayreuth isn’t the be-all and end-all,” says Wagemans. “It has known one period of great innovation, in the 1950s. . . . But since then, nothing much new has happened there. It’s just another theater.”
Those are fighting words and there better be something
substantially groundbreaking about this Dutch cycle to warrant such provocation. The most obviously radical aspect of this production is that the orchestra is basically onstage, in full view of the audience—much more so than with Rheingold—and surrounded by the vast performance space of the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. Some will find this a distraction: the camera follows a singer as he moves and, suddenly, there’s Hartmut Haenchen beating time. I preferred the starkly impressive stage picture when instrumentalists were not in the frame. But this unorthodox arrangement does bring the audience much closer to the action, and the point is underscored that the orchestra is indeed an equal participant in the drama.
The cast is solid, if not unassailable. Far and away, the star is John Bröcheler, whose Wotan is dramatically and vocally commanding, as fine as any on the other five DVD versions now available. (The substantial competition is James Morris, Donald McIntyre, John Tomlinson, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, and Falk Struckmann.) His second act monologue is riveting, knowingly paced, the setting perfect with The Father of Battles and Brünnhilde perched on a sliver of rock on an otherwise empty stage that suggests infinity. Bröcheler’s stern fury at his entrance in act III gives way not to a maudlin softening of his demeanor at the hands of a manipulative daughter but, instead, to a moment of impassioned inspiration (“Lebwohl, du Kühnes, herrliches Kind!”) as he embraces the compromise that he and his errant offspring have negotiated. His closing words to Brünnhilde are moving, without a trace of sentimentality. (Bröcheler also does a fine job as Wotan in Melba Record’s Die Walküre, a release that has the distinction of being the first complete Wagner opera on SACD. It’s a Want List entry for me elsewhere in this issue.)
Otherwise, Nadine Secunde is a youthful-sounding Sieglinde, who convincingly manifests the lability of her mood in act II. John Keyes is best when he’s belting it out; at other times he squeezes his notes a bit. Kurt Rydl is a black-voiced Hunding, as menacing to look at as to listen to. Reinhild Runkel, as Fricka, looks about 140 years old, moving around tenuously on two canes—more like Wotan’s mother than his consort. Between her get-up and slightly matronly vocal quality, Fricka’s less of a sympathetic character than she can be.
All the principals here have “big” voices and the American-born soprano Jeannine Altmeyer is no exception. Her singing loses a little focus at the most extreme moments but, in general, she captures both the determined strength and empathetic warmth of the Valkyrie. Her “Hojotoho!”s may be a little labored, but “Hojotoho!”s are greatly overrated as a measure of a Brünnhilde’s worth. Her eight sisters, who have a tendency to move in formation like a squadron of fighter jets, are satisfactory vocally and most impressive to look at, bird-like in shape and movement. Haenchen leads authoritatively and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra plays gloriously.
As in Das Rheingold, all the costumes are imaginative. The Valkyries’ attire has been noted above and Wotan, in act II, has the look of a starship commander. (Wagner stole the whole idea of the Ring from George Lucas, right?) In act III, alone with Brünnhilde, he removes his blood-red cape to reveal a white gown embroidered with an ash tree. The camerawork occasionally disappoints: in act I, when Sieglinde observes “Only cowards fear a man who travels alone and unarmed,” we should see Hunding’s response to the insult, and we don’t. Otherwise, from a technical standpoint, the DVD offers subtitles in seven languages and 5.1 DTS or two-channel PCM audio options. Pianist Stefan Mickisch contributes some musical observations to the “Introduction” mentioned earlier; there’s also an illustrated plot synopsis and cast gallery.
-- Andrew Quint, FANFARE
Running Time: 259 minutes
Picture Format: NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch
Works on This Recording
Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Jeanine Altmeyer (Soprano),
John Keyes (Tenor),
John Bröcheler (Baritone),
Nadine Secunde (Soprano),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Reinhild Runkel (Mezzo Soprano)
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1856; Germany
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