Simon Rattle
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
8 February 2023
Elbphilharmonie Hamburg
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSimon O’Neill
MimePeter Hoare
WotanMichael Volle
AlberichGeorg Nigl
FafnerFranz Josef Selig
ErdaGerhild Romberger
BrünnhildeAnja Kampe
WaldvogelDanae Kontora

Rattle’s penultimate instalment of the Ring cycle

The great German dramatist of the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht, has one of his title characters say: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero”. Yet in the land of myths and legends that doesn’t apply. There the heroic is positively desired. Wagner’s supreme hero, around whom he built his entire Ring cycle, is of course Siegfried. If you happen to be Siegfried, you have to go on performing heroic deeds: re-forging your father’s sword, slaying Fafner, disposing of Mime, breaking through flames to awaken an ex-goddess, and all of that happens in Siegfried.

One clear advantage of any concert performance, as was the case here with Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra forces under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, is an inevitable shift in the focus of attention. There are no visual distractions, still less when the singers stand in front of music-stands positioned behind the orchestra, almost as though they were in the middle of recording this vast work. The ears are left to be entranced and exhilarated by the full power of the score.

Doing justice to the title role is an almost impossible task. Simon O’Neill’s very mature-sounding voice doesn’t easily convey the youthful impetuosity of the eponymous hero, but he is unmistakeably in the Heldentenor class, sustaining an intensity of expression over four hours of music, with vocal reserves hardly depleted at the end, and despite the occasional fraying edges an array of thrilling top notes.

Brünnhilde has to wait until the very last 30 minutes of this opera to sing, but from the radiance of her first entry Anja Kampe had the full measure of the role, satisfyingly secure at the top of her range, expertly colouring her phrases in the love duet with Siegfried so that her character emerged as a vibrant three-dimensional being. Gerhild Romberger’s Erda had all the virtues of an age-old oak tree, with unfathomably deep chest tones, and Danae Kontora much silvery sweetness as the Woodbird.

There were no weaknesses among the male characters. I was especially impressed by Georg Nigl’s Alberich, striking sparks off his exchanges with the Wanderer in Act 2, a constant touch of menace extending into moments of sheer viciousness. Peter Hoare delivered an almost likeable Mime, less whining in self-pity than many others, more musical than merely theatrical. Singing through a speaking trumpet Franz-Josef Selig’s ink-black Fafner was a chilling presence, while Michael Volle gave his Wanderer total assurance and conviction.

The real heroes of the evening, however, were Rattle himself and his Bavarian players. Even in this difficult acoustic which sometimes stunts on warmth, the strings of this glorious orchestra were unfailingly impressive, as much in the transparent delicacy of the forest murmurs as in the many powerful episodes of Act 1, where their uniform bowing arms acted like scythes driving through fields of corn. In the opera-house you never quite get the same uplifting effect as Rattle achieved just after Siegfried breaks through the fire barrier, when the first and second violins alone play a unison passage, high-lying and therefore cruelly exposed, without a tremor in the faultless intonation. There were glowing contributions from the principal woodwind soloists together with stamina-defying playing of remarkable power and precision from the entire brass section. In the climax of the Prelude to Act 3, the entire auditorium seemed to vibrate as a mushroom cloud of sound was unleashed.

Rattle and all his protagonists had already recorded this work during performances in Munich and now move on to Luxembourg. There is every indication that he and his Bavarians are destined for many fine things to come.

Alexander Hall | 09 Februar 2023

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 537 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording of a concert performance