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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Walküre

Robert Lepage's high-flying Wagner circus continues.
Nine girls and a machine in Act III of Die Walküre.
(That's Deborah Voigt bringing up the rear.)
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Like every opera in Robert Lepage's version of The Ring, Die Walküre takes place on a massive unit set with 24 rotating planks above the Met stage. Over the course of four hours, the "Machine" (as stage-hands call it) transforms into mountain-tops, buildings, trees, and even a gigantic flying wing for the Ride of the Valkyries.

The second installment met with a mixed reception in 2010, partially because the star, Deborah Voigt opened the run by tripping over her skirt and falling (a few feet) off the set. (She was unhurt and continued the performance.) This time out, the cast features Ms. Voigt, who will alternate in the part with Katherine Delayman. New faces include Simon O'Neill as Siegmind, Martina Serafin as his love interest (and twin sister--don't ask) Sieglinde and baritone Mark Delevan as Wotan. Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi replaces the recuperating James Levine.

 Many opera-goers love Die Walküre but don't want to necessarily sit through the entire 15 hours of Wagner's Ring. They will be excstatic abut the Met's decision to sell individual tickets to performances of the seperate operas in addition to the complete cycles. Ticket prices remain, alas, inflated.

Die Walküre opens April 13, 2013. Please note that the Saturday matinée starts (for some ungodly reason) at 11am.

Recording Recommendations:
For recommendations for a complete Ringclick here.
There are probably more recordings of Walküre out there than any other Wagner opera, for the simple fact that it's the one opera from the Ring that stands alone without being part of a complete cycle. But when it comes to this opera, there are basically two contenders.

Bayreuth Festival, 1966, cond. Karl Böhm (Philips, (now Decca) 1970)
This is a special performance, recorded live at the Festspielhaus. What sells it is James King and Leonie Rysanek as an ardent, nearly unbeatable pair of lovers. This is the recording with the famous Rysanek scream: it comes at the end of Act I when Siggy pulls the sword out of the tree.

The later acts feature the solid Wotan of Theo Adam and the great Birgit Nilsson, the one soprano of the golden age of recordings who could sing Brunnhilde, Isolde, Turandot and Elektra and not seem fatigued. Karl Böhm keeps things moving at a lively clip, and the orchestra plays superbly.

To hear what the Ring sounded like in the silver age of Bayreuth, this is the recording to own. The fact that it comes as part of an excellent complete Ring on 14 discs for about $56 bucks should sweeten the deal.

Berlin Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (DG, 1968)
Karajan's Berlin recording of the Ring is not without its admirers--and I'm one of them. The Austrian maestro has a special touch with Wagner, creating chamber-music dynamics out Wagner's huge set pieces, and making his crack Berlin troops respond with tender, languid playing that makes the first act feel, well, erotic.

This recording boasts a great pair of Walsüngs: Jon Vickers and Gundula Janowitz. For the casting of La Janowitz as Sieglinde, we can thank the confines of the recording studio: the role was far too heavy for this middle-weight soprano to tackle onstage.

The same applies to Regine Crespin, a controversial Brunnhilde (she recorded Sieglinde on the Solti Ring four years before) in a different mold from Nilsson. In the studio she brings a youthful freshness to the young warrior maiden. Thomas Stewart's performance as Wotan is under-rated.

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