Die Walküre

Andrew Davis
Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra
Date/Location
November 2002
Lyric Opera Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegmundThomas Studebaker
HundingPhillip Ens
WotanJames Morris
SieglindeDeborah Voigt
BrünnhildeJane Eaglen
FrickaMarjana Lipovšek
HelmwigeJennifer Wilson
GerhildeErin Wall
OrtlindeErin Wood
WaltrauteJennifer Roderer
SiegruneBuffy Baggott
GrimgerdeHeather Meyers
SchwertleiteElizabeth Grohowski
RoßweißeLauren McNeese
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Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre returned to the Lyric Opera House on Wednesday evening looking none the worse for wear for this nine year old production, first produced in 1993 and then revived in 1996 for Lyric’s first Ring Cycle. Some minor changes in staging and costuming do not intrude on Everding’s concept, and, yes, some of the projections do not seem as awe-inspiring as they did when this production was new, but, that said, I still found the evening quite moving and beautiful to look at.

ACT I of Die Walküre is one of my favorite operas! It’s exciting, has beautiful music, dramatic conflict, and is only about 67 minutes long. However, on Wednesday evening I found myself looking at my watch continuously. Andrew Davis’ conducting seemed sluggish, failing to move the music with impetus from the first notes. If he was trying for the expansive tempos that seem to be in fashion now, he fell short. Not enough attention was paid to the intricate interplay of the woodwinds and strings, and thus, the musical fabric, that is so wonderful in Winterstürme, was lost. The singing from the men was variable. Thomas Studebaker is in possession of a pleasant enough instrument which is about two sizes too small for this role. He came to some real trouble in his narration to Hunding and Sieglinde, a dry and constrained top that did not have the heft to bring off the most climatic moments. His cries of Wälse in his monologue were highly underpowered and cut short, the lower register a bit gravelly and underpowered as well. Mr. Studebaker might be well advised to take on some Mozart roles, Idomeneo or Don Ottavio, where he might find the bloom that is missing in his voice.

Phillip Ens made for a slight Hunding. More handsome than menacing with a rich bass-baritone voice and visibly smaller than his Siegmund and Sieglinde. The top, in the most climatic moments was constricted. Having heard both Matti Salminen and Kurt Moll (in different productions) in this role, I guess I’m a bit spoiled, and longing for a true Wagnerian weighted voice. Which is why we have Deborah Voigt! Her Seiglinde is very affecting and the voice is of gold. Whenever she appeared on stage I was in awe; an evenness throughout her entire range and when she gives what you think is everything she has there is a reserve of power that she lets pour out at the most climatic moments, throwing you back into your seat to bask in the warm shower of beautiful sound. It’s unfortunate that the artistic director of Lyric was not able to match the level of Deborah Voigt in her two male colleagues.

ACT II brought back to this production James Morris, Jane Eaglen, and Marjana Lipovsek. I will get to Morris a bit later. I have always found Jane Eaglen variable. Of the six performances I heard her in as Isolde in Chicago two years ago (can you tell I love Tristan und Isolde?) she was for three of those performances and the remainder she seemed to phoned in. I didn’t know what to expect on Wednesday night but what we got was a committed, full throated, impressively sung Valkyie. The immense sound of Eaglen’s voice in the opera house when she is having an on night is a force to be reckoned with. Her battle cry was most impressive and made me sit up in my seat, the high B’s and C’s thrown off like so much child’s play. This time around I found her much more in tune with the text. Her confrontation with Siegmund was very moving even if her Siegmund lacked the vocal resources to give her what she needed for a truly dramatic confrontation.

Marjana Lipovsek is a wonderful Fricka. You can tell she has sung this role numerous times and really understands her character. The first time around in this production the Fricka was dressed in a riding suit complete with riding crop and riding boots. This time around Fricka was clothed in an elegant gown with a long coat with hood. She looked wonderful and sang with a confidence that we rarely see in Chicago. I was worried after seeing her at the MET a few weeks ago as Klytemnestra in Elektra. The voice in that role in that house seemed rather dry and the top seemed to have lost its intensity and bloom. I was pleasantly surprised on Wednesday evening to hear the Lipovsek I remembered from years ago. The interview with Wotan was the most dramatic I have seen in a very long time. Perhaps the music of Fricka is more lyrically written and sits better in the voice that that of the Strauss Klytemnestra, but whatever the case, Lipovsek sang like a goddess and was very moving.

James Morris is Wotan. No, I mean James Morris is Wotan. Get it? I have lost count the number of times I have heard him sing this role. But, over the past 16 years he seems to get more into the meat of this role. The text declamation and understanding he has of the text is amazing. The singing is most beautiful in the lyrical passages, but I was most impressed in those quiet moments of intense conversation in the narration with Brünnhilde. Almost in audible at moments he tells a story in which words have an exact meaning and we the listener feel the weight of the words and their meaning. Morris’ Wotan seems to have become more introspective over the years and we the listener are given a view into the psyche of this character which is only possible with an artist like Morris who has spent a lifetime studying and re-studying this role making it his own. The voice is a marvel. I was prepared for some dryness in the voice but I was not prepared for the fullness of tone and color from the first notes of ACT II. He seemed to tire toward the end of the evening, and yes there were some dry patches in the quiet parts of the Leb~Rwohl , but the top was strong and secure at the climax.

ACT III was the best sung I have heard ever. Such superlatives, I know, but I really mean it. If the Ride of the Valkyries was a bit slow for my taste, (Davis should listen to Leinsdorf in this repertory) the singing of these eight women was thrilling. There were a few very large sized voices which should bloom into the next generation of Brünnhildes. Jane Eaglen did some of her best singing in the scene with her sisters and Sieglinde, but it was the final scene with Wotan that moved me. Both the singing and the text declamation had me mesmerized, and from what I could see from my box, Morris moved Eaglen to tears in the Farewell.

This could have been a performance for the record books save for the Siegmund and Hunding. I encourage you all to see it if you have the opportunity.

David Kulawiak | Lyric Opera of Chicago Wednesday November 6, 2002

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
Media Type/Label
Lyric Distribution
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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 512 MByte (MP3)
Remarks
Broadcast
A production by August Everding (1993)
Possible dates: 6, 10, 13, 16, 22, 25 November 2002