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Wagner: Götterdämmerung / Barenboim

Jerusalem, Evans, Brinkmann, Kang, Bundschuh
Release Date: 01/09/2007 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 62321  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Waltraud MeierUte PriewHilde LeidlandPhilip Kang,   ... 
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival OrchestraBayreuth Festival Chorus

Recorded in: Stereo 
Imported from : European Union   
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Götterdämmerung Daniel Barenboim, cond; Anne Evans ( Brünnhilde ); Siegfried Jerusalem ( Siegfried ); Philip Kang ( Hagen ); Bobo Brinkman ( Gunther ); Eva-Maria Bundschuh ( Gutrune ); Günter von Kannen ( Alberich ); Waltraud Meier Read more ( Waltraute ); Birgitta Svendén ( First Norn ); Linda Finnie ( Second Norn ); Uta Priew ( Third Norn ); Hilde Leidland ( Woglinde ); Annette Küttenbaum ( Wellgunde ); Jane Turner ( Flosshilde ); Bayreuth Festival O & Ch WARNER 62321 (2 DVDs: 270:00)

& Barenboim and Tomlinson discuss Kupfer’s Ring

This release concludes the DVD reissue of Harry Kupfer’s Bayreuth Ring, first performed in 1988 and conducted by Daniel Barenboim; the other three dramas were covered in Fanfare s 29:4, 29:6, and 30:3. Technically, this DVD continues the high level of execution of the earlier releases with an excellent video transfer that effectively renders some difficult-to-capture-on-film special effects and multichannel audio that allows those with carefully set up surround-sound audio systems to get a decent idea of how Wagner sounds at the Festspielhaus.

As far as the cast goes, what can you say about a Götterdämmerung that has a guy named “Siegfried” singing Siegfried and a woman named “Waltraud” singing Waltraute? Every major part, as well as the Rhinemaidens and Norns, is covered in both a musically and dramatically satisfying fashion. In the prologue, Anne Evans positively radiates a post-coital glow and Jerusalem’s Siegfried, although not yet enlightened, has been transformed too, no longer the narcissistic lout he was in the preceding opera. There’s real affection and tenderness, and Brünnhilde’s shock and despair when the drugged Siegfried returns an hour-and-a-half later becomes very understandable. Jerusalem sings with confidence, power, and expressiveness. And the guy can act: when Brünnhilde confronts him in act II, scene 4, the discomfort shows on Jerusalem’s face.

The three principals of the Gibichung realm are a conniving and self-interested trio—you can tell before they open their mouths. Bobo Brinkman’s Gunther has an arrogant assuredness—Hagen does not intimidate him and we can, in fact, detect a hint of superiority towards his half-brother. Gutrune’s eagerness to marry up puts her firmly in Hagen’s thrall; Eva-Maria Bundschuh’s blond bimbo persona helps ensnare the pharmacologically altered Siegfried. Philip Kang is a very Verdian villain, darkly scheming. He’s got the goods theatrically, even if his voice isn’t as vast and commanding as some others undertaking the role. With these superb singer/actors, all the various plot contrivances—memory-erasing potion, magic helmet, disguise—go down easy. We never lose a sense of a metaphysical context even as the opera is acutely enjoyable as a grand entertainment.

Waltraud Meier is a compelling Valkyrie emissary, pleading with a Brünnhilde who only wants to stare at the garish ring on her own finger. Günter von Kannen, back as Alberich, is energetically hateful at the beginning of act II. Hagen should come off as even more malignant than his father, and the fact that Kang doesn’t has as much to do with the vitality of von Kannen’s performance as with any shortcoming with Kang’s.

The orchestral contribution is magnificent, with Barenboim making every detail in the score count dramatically. Just the first forte chord of act II speaks volumes with its ominous, despondent weightiness, and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey is fresh and exciting, the difficult string passagework remarkably confident and unified. Small touches draw us in: in the Prologue, when the Second and Third Norns arrive, in turn, at the line “weisst du, wie das wird?” (“do you know what will befall?”), Barenboim slows down significantly as the “Death” motive rises in the orchestra. It’s breathtaking. Thanks in equal parts to conductor, singers, and orchestra, the climatic fourth and fifth scenes of act II reach their full dramatic potential, the curtain descending on a mood of hollow triumph.

Directors often take their greatest liberties with the last act of Götterdämmerung to make a statement regarding the “meaning” of the Ring and here, Kupfer may be overreaching. After Siegfried is killed, Kupfer brings back Wotan to throw his splintered spear into the Rhine—the poor bass/baritone who has worked so hard for three evenings is supposed to be home with his feet up. And as Valhalla goes up in flames and the Rhine reaches flood stage, we see future generations of humanity watching it all on TV; finally, a young boy and girl exit hand-in-hand, leaving only a despondent (and ringless) Alberich on stage for the final D? chord.

So, with the last issue of the Barenboim/Kupfer cycle, there are now six complete Ring s available on DVD. To identify them by conductor—which is not to minimize the importance of the directors—there’s Levine, Boulez, de Billy, Haenchen, Zagrosek, and this one. All have their attractions and all add something to an appreciation of Wagner’s timeless magnum opus. But if you must choose just one, Barenboim’s is the one to have—in terms of the singers, leadership in the pit, orchestral contribution, production values, video quality, and sound. In the brief “extra” included on disc 1, John Tomlinson (the cycle’s Wotan/Wanderer) and Barenboim talk about the Ring and this production in particular. Remarkably, several of the principals had never performed their roles before, including Tomlinson, Jerusalem, and von Kannen. Even Graham Clark, surely the world’s reigning Mime, had only sung his part once previously. That may help explain the emotional acuity of this Ring —the “process of discovery,” as Tomlinson calls it, is palpable. No Wagnerian with a DVD player and a television should be without this set.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano), Ute Priew (Soprano), Hilde Leidland (Soprano),
Philip Kang (Bass), Eva-Maria Bundschuh (Soprano), Günter von Kannen (Bass),
Annette Küttenbaum (Mezzo Soprano), Anne Evans (Soprano), Linda Finnie (Mezzo Soprano),
Siegfried Jerusalem (Tenor), Birgitta Svendén (Alto), Bodo Brinkmann (Baritone),
Jane Turner (Alto)
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871-1874; Germany 

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