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Thursday, March 8, 2007

DVD Review: Die Walkure--...the World-Ash Will Fall



The second installment of Harry Kupfer's Barcelona Ring continues in the same bizarre vein as the first. Once more, effective use is made of the "grid" background, providing lighting accents and color during the second act. The tree-image is also crucial to this opera--Wotan' outburst of "Das Ende!" causes an enormous branch of the rotting wood to smash down onto the stage. For the "Ride of the Valkyries," the wall opens two Valhalla-sized doors, through which the diapered corpses of the dead warriors walk on their way to the afterlife.

Despite the neo-Wagnerian weirdness, this is a pretty good Walküre. Human drama is the order of the day here, and the Gods are both fallible and flawed. Deborah Polaski is effective in the title role. This is not always the most beautifully sung performance--all the notes are present and accounted for--but it is dramatically sound and there are some lovely moments, especially in her Act III dialogue with Wotan. Polaski is not afraid to take chances with the role--when she is being dragged across the stage, clutching to the end of Wotan's spear, the image is heartbreaking. Her final lines



Falk Struckmann is a capable Wotan. While his baritone veers between dramatic darkness and resonant warmth, he compensates with some really good acting. With his ponytail and one-lensed Gargoyle shades, this is a wannabe God--more like a gang leader than a deity. He captures all of the character's inner conflict--it is when that conflict becomes public that Wotan shoots himself in the foot, ensuring his own doom by renouncing and banishing Brunnhilde. That said, his Farewell scene is poignant, and wonderfully sung, with the piano notes in place and a resonant warmth that is both welcome and necessary in the final scene of this opera. The dramatic chemistry between Struckmann's Wotan and Polaski's Brunnhilde is palpable and tangible--their final scene together is sexier than anything the Wälsung twins do in the first act.

As Siegmund, Richard Berkely-Steele has his own strange bits of stage business to contend with. Most notably, the bizarre Annunciation of Death scene, in which Polaski's Brunnhilde smears cold cream (or greasepaint, or something white could have been yogurt or Cool Whip) over his face, neck and hair, presumably in preparation for the afterlife. For one moment, you ask if this is Pagliacci. His sister is sung by the capable soprano Linda Watson. whose path from abused housewife to raging bundle of hormones is one of the joys of this production. She sings well throughout the performance, almost outshining Polaski in "O Heiliges wunder."

Erik Halfvarson's acting skills come to the fore in the unlovable role of Hunding. Halfvarson plays him as an abusive schmuck who deserves to lose his wife. The Icelandic singer colors the role splendidly with his sturdy bass. Lioba Braun continues her excellent Fricka--her big Act II duet with Wotan is one of the highlights of the long second act.

Once more, Bertrand de Billy is able on the podium, although he has an annoying habit of slowing everything down for the big moments (like the first appearance of the "Siegfried theme" in Act III. Other than that, he produces a light, transparent texture for his singers to work with, and an effective balance in the pit.


Photos: (right) Brunnhilde asleep in the Magic Fire scene.
(left) Falk Struckmann (Wotan) and Deborah Polaski (Brunnhilde) share a family moment.
© 2005 Antonio Bofill/Opus Arte.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.