Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sebastian Weigle's Die Walküre from Frankfurt

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre

Siegmund       Frank van Aken
Hunding         Ain Anger
Sieglinde        Amber Wagner
Wotan             Terje Stensvold
Fricka              Martina Dike
Brunnhilde    Susan Bullock

Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester
Conducted by Sebastian Weigle

Directed by Vera Nemirova

Recorded live June/July 2012 at Frankfurt Opera

DVD OEHMS Classics OC99  (3 hours and 54 minutes)

This Walküre, recorded from live performances in June and July 2012, continues the Frankfurt Opera Ring Cycle conducted by Sebastian Weigle and directed by Vera Nemirova. Oehms Classics released a CD recording of live performances from the 2010 production.  The current DVD issue is the second in a complete DVD Ring recorded live two years later in the summer of 2012 (with an overlapping, but slightly different cast). I reviewed the Blu Ray version of the opening Das Rheingold very positively here [add hyperlink], describing it as “a very fine start to the cycle, with very strong singing, good conducting, and an imaginative staging that supports, rather than diverts attention from, the drama.” I am a little more equivocal about the second drama in the Frankfurt cycle. The production is no less effective (perhaps more so in fact); the conducting is even better; and there is some very fine singing indeed. But, unlike the earlier drama, there is some significant unevenness in the singing (unfortunately in two of the key roles).

Vera Nemirova’s production continues the minimalist staging that worked so well in Rheingold. The curtain rises on the same blue circular rings  which rise and rotate throughout the drama to shape all the necessary locations. The rings open up to allow Siegmund to stagger on the stage during the overture and then rotate to reveal Hunding’s hut. In Act 2 the space beneath of rings is closed off with a wall on which graffiti depicts the family tree for Wotan’s extended clan and the other major participants. Brunnhilde  and Wotan make additions/deletions as required. The only real props in the entire drama come in Act III, where the space under the rings (which now represent what will become Brunnhilde’s rock) is filled with coffins, added to by teams of men in military uniform to represent the Valkyries collecting dead heroes. In the final scene a circular plug rises out of the middle, while a circular ring of fire descends onto the stage. It is a very intelligent and economical production.

Vocally the highpoints are all in the more reflective, extended dialogs. As in Das Rheingold  the dynamic between Wotan and Fricka is well captured by Terje Stensvold and Martina Dike. Fricka comes across exactly as she should – as Wotan’s conscience, rather than a shrill nag – which highlights Wotan’s own responsibility for the terrible decision he has no choice but to take – the decision to sacrifice his own son and potential savior. The scene that follows with Brunnhilde is the dramatic center of the performance. Stensvold really excels here, starting in an almost understated way before building to a magnificent climax as he foresees the end of the gods. Sebastian Weigle’s finely paced conducting shapes the scene very effectively, as he does in the lengthy dialog between Wotan and Brunnhilde in Act III. There Stensvold portrays Wotan’s rage and subsequent softening with sympathy and understanding.

In the final part of Act III Susan Bullock is a fine Brunnhilde, portraying the depth of the character in a way that explains why the edge comes off Wotan’s rage. She is also good in the scene summoning Siegmund to Valhalla. Elsewhere, however she is disappointing. Her voice sounds very strained in the more heroic parts of the role, including (unfortunately) her initial entrance and her flight to the other Valkyries in Act 3.

Amber Wagner is a fine Sieglinde in all three acts. She is capable of singing with passion, delicacy, and despair – all essential parts of the role. In Act I she is not helped by Frank van Aken’s Siegmund, who has great enthusiasm but also an unfortunate tendency to shout. Van Aken is the second disappointment in this production. He meets his end in Act I. Sieglinde lasts into Act II, where she delivers a moving performance in the scene with the Valkyries.

Even more so than in Rheingold, Sebastian Weigle conducts with a finely judged sense of pace and a clear understanding both of the architecture of the drama and of the partnership between orchestra and singer. His efforts, together with the excellent performance from Stensvold, make this a recommendable recording, despite the uneven singing from Siegmund and Brunnhilde. The sound and visual quality is first rate.