Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sebastian Weigle, cond; Terje Stensvold (
); Jochen Schmeckenbecher (
); Kurt Streit (
); Hans-Jürgen Lazar (
); Alfred Reiter (
); Magnus Baldvinsson (
); Dietrich Volle (
); Richard Cox (
); Martina Dike (
); Barbara Zechmeister (
); Meredith Arwady (
); Britta Stallmeister (
); Jenny Carlstedt (
); Katharina Magiera (
); Frankfurt Op/Museum O
OEHMS OC 935 154:34 (2 CDs) Live: Frankfurt 5–6/2010
Sebastian Weigle’s consuming interest in Richard Wagner’s operas dates back decades, to his days as an orchestral horn player. He performed the complete
under Daniel Barenboim several times. Weigle has since blossomed into an accomplished Wagner conductor, leading most of the dramas from
in the theater, including the current Bayreuth
(reviewed elsewhere in this issue.) I wrote up his
DVD back in
31:2 and found Weigle’s conducting for that Barcelona production effective, even if the production itself missed the mark. Weigle has been chief conductor of the Frankfurt Opera since 2008 and this
is the first complete cycle he’s led from the podium. One assumes that
recorded in May/June of 2010, is the first installment of yet another complete cycle on disc.
Nowadays, most new opera recordings (as opposed to historical reissues) are video releases. Christian Thielemann’s Bayreuth
on Opus Arte was an exception; a major reason for why it happened that way was because that production’s musical values greatly outclassed its design and stage direction. From the performance photos in Oehms’s booklet and others online, it seems that the Frankfurt
features the standard-these-days spare, abstract sets and modern costumes—nothing extraordinary. But musically, Weigle’s
is very much worth hearing. This isn’t Wagner on a larger-than-life, graphic-novel scale; there’s almost a chamber opera feel. This intimate sort of approach vividly represents the characters’ raw emotions—greed, humiliation, pride, rage, etc. Weigle’s pacing is superb; the first half of scene 4 is especially riveting.
The conductor has a fine cast to work with. Although he only began to register on the international opera scene when in his late-50s, Terje Stensvold has sung Wotan in several theaters away from his home base in Norway, including the Vienna State Opera, the Swedish Royal Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Stensvold is a real baritone who never has to bellow at the top of his range, but he still has an instrument with plenty of godlike substantiality. Also excellent is the American tenor Kurt Streit as Loge. Streit has impressive Mozart credentials (he’s recorded
Così fan tutte
with both Barenboim and Rattle) and brings an appealing lyrical sense to his part. Alberich’s curse, as rendered by Jochen Schmeckenbecher, is quite intense, and Hans-Jürgen Lazar offers an especially colorful portrayal of Mime, continually changing the timbre of his voice to add to that character’s high-strung, quasi-demented nature. Meredith Arwady, the Erda, delivers a sad yet stern warning to Wotan in her brief but dramatically charged appearance.
Sonics are a valued and carefully considered factor with this set. In his contribution to the liner notes, Weigle, who has experience in the Bayreuth pit, points out that the Festspielhaus is a unique aural environment and that he doesn’t believe “you will get very far if you try to reproduce the acoustics of Bayreuth and the special sound the orchestra makes there in a different opera house.” Speaking of the Frankfurt Opera, Weigle continues, “We have to find our own sound for Wagner and the
here.” To that end, Oehms employs the “Oper Frankfurt Recording System,” designed by Peter Tobiach. Acknowledging powerful psychoacoustic factors that limit the “naturalness of opera recordings,” the technology employs dozens of microphones—anathema to many audiophiles—including tiny head-mounted DPA transducers for each soloist that connect to a transmitter placed on the singer’s body. A sophisticated editing process results in a lucid, balanced, and, yes, natural presentation. Those who especially relish the orchestral contribution to a Wagner opera will not be disappointed by the wealth of detail and rich sonorities.
Oehms provides a libretto in German and English, and there’s an excellent essay on the
’s genesis, sources, and its 19th-century political context. The subsequent three
dramas are more dependent on individual vocal excellence to succeed than is the case with
. But I’m nonetheless looking forward quite a bit to hear what Weigle and the Frankfurters have in store.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint