Die Walküre

Zubin Mehta
Orchester der Bayrischen Staatsoper München
Date/Location
July 2002
Nationaltheater München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegmundPeter Seiffert
HundingKurt Rydl
WotanJohn Tomlinson
SieglindeWaltraud Meier
BrünnhildeGabriele Schnaut
FrickaMihoko Fujimura
HelmwigeSally du Randt
GerhildeIrmgard Vilsmaier
OrtlindeJennifer Trost
WaltrauteAnn-Katrin Naidu
SiegruneHeike Grötzinger
GrimgerdeMarita Knobel
SchwertleiteAnne Pellekoorne
RoßweißeIngrid Bartz
Gallery
Reviews
Gramophone

This performance derives from a new production at last summer’s Munich Festival. The late Herbert Wernicke, who had earlier been in charge of Rheingold, was replaced as director by David Alden, with apparently dubious results, but most commentators liked the musical side of things. Farao Classics, a locally-based firm, was on hand to record three of the performances from which these CDs have been assembled. I imagine the rest of the cycle will appear in due course.

Zubin Mehta, who has often seemed on auto-pilot in recent years, has been rejuvenated by the challenge of completing a Ring cycle at the Bavarian State Opera, where he is music director. On this evidence, he is fully equal to the immense work’s demands. He benefits from the often incandescent and technically masterful playing of his orchestra and from the ideal acoustics of the Nationaltheater, finely caught by the engineers. His interpretation is good both in detail and as an overview of a score that is not always easy to gather into awhole. Purple passages, such as the introduction to Act 2, Wotan’s fury with his errant daughter, the Ride of the Valkyries and the Magic Fire music are well contrasted yet integrated with the slower, reflective music, such as the Todesverkündigung.

The last-named passage is one of the most successful in the whole reading where the singers are concerned. Gabriele Schnaut, who has already recorded her role for Dohnányi, is here at her most persuasive. The long section favours her warm lower register and she brings to it, as required, clear, idiomaticdiction and verbal colouring. And here Peter Seiffert’s well-schooled Siegmund is at its most convincing. Elsewhere, Schnaut is once more eloquent as she pleads for mercy in the work’s inspired finale. It’s when she has to place pressure on her tone that it loses focus and she appears a bit flustered. In her previou seffort she is in marginally better voice, but doesn’t provide so many insights.

As for Seiffert, his voice has certainly lost some of its bloom since he recorded excerpts from the work with Julia Varady for EMI a few years ago (recently reissued at budget price, 12/02), and he isn’t quite impassioned enough in Act 1, where Poul Elming on both the sets listed above is more plangent in timbre and poetic in delivery of the text. Waltraud Meier certainly has the passion for Sieglinde, but the part, especially in Acts 2 and 3, calls for a radiance that her narrow voice cannot provide. Mention the names of Lehmann, Rysanek or Varady, even Nadine Secunde for Barenboim, all immortalised on disc, and the point is made. Similarly the Japanese Fricka,a late replacement for Violeta Urmana (who took the role in a September revival), is adequate enough if one chooses to forget the many imposing Frickas in older sets, or even Anja Silja for Dohnányi.

As Wotan, John Tomlinson has sometimes to resort to melodramatic ranting as his vocal powers wane. Even so, his interpretation still carries with it an enormous weight of authority and experience: he seems to live the role to the very fibre of his being, even more so than for Barenboim, where he is obviously in much richer voice. Kurt Rydl’s rough-hewn singing is not inappropriate to Hunding’s rude interventions. The Valkyries are a coarse-voiced lot.

Among comparatively recent recordings, the Dohnányi suffers from a studio-bound atmosphere and an ill-focused recording. The Barenboim is another matter. Like the new one, it benefits from being a live performance and from a faithful, immediate opera-house acoustic. It has Anne Evans as a very womanly and musical Brünnhilde. As for the conductors, Mehta is more successful attaking the long view where Barenboim is more responsive to emotional and spiritual undercurrents. Both are – whatever the vocal shortcomings – satisfying traversals of the score. Older versions – Furtwängler on three occasions, Krauss and Böhm at Bayreuth (still sounding well after 37 years) – and Solti enjoy Wagner singing on another plane, and they are available at variably cheaper prices than the newer sets.

Alan Blythe

ClassicsToday.com

Acknowledging that the world doesn’t need another recording of Walküre, I approached this set with trepidation. I needn’t have, despite some real problems. First the extraordinarily good news: The sonics are perfect at all listening levels, from the pppp timpani strokes in the Todesverkündigung to the free-for-all scream-a-thon in act three. Peter Seiffert’s Siegmund is manly, protective and strangely wise (in act II), and he sings beautifully almost consistently, a slight beat in the voice and one or two over-stretched fortissimo notes aside. Mihoko Fujimura sings Fricka with authority, a youngish, bright tone, and superb diction. Zubin Mehta’s leadership is joyously free of any eccentricities, his tempi are wisely chosen, his crescendi sensible, intense and exciting, his sense of the opera’s huge moments as correct as the very intimate ones. And his orchestra plays brilliantly throughout.

But some of the singing is a matter of taste. Waltraud Meier gets inside Sieglinde’s sad skin admirably, and one might think that since the role lies lowish that the troublesome top of her voice wouldn’t be an issue. Wrong. Most of her voice is now produced in an ugly, nasal manner, and the top is simply hideous–her big moment in act III is just this side of punishment. The top three or four notes of John Tomlinson’s voice have turned grotesque (his final f sharp in his entrance monologue gives the impression that he might start bleeding momentarily), but he remains a thoroughly imposing Wotan, proud of his favorite daughter, then put upon with Fricka, needy again with Brünnhilde, disgusted at the end of Act II, simply terrifying in his third act rage and later, just the right combination of sad, trapped and righteous. Gabriel Schnaut mumbles her way through Brünnhilde’s words from start to finish, and the quality of the voice is nothing to bask in, but she feels the part deeply and her timing, dynamic range, emphasis and general understanding of the part are excellent. Kurt Rydl offers a Hunding that sounds ready for a nursing home, albeit one with bars on the windows. The Valkyries, as Anna Russell used to say, are a noisy bunch. What to do? Great conducting, amazing sound, almost ideal Siegmund and Fricka, but some ugly sounds everywhere else. Up to you–you’ll know what to expect.

Artistic Quality: 7
Sound Quality: 10

Robert Levine

OperaToday.com

This release documents performances of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Munich National Theater in July of 2002. The cast includes several contemporary singers well known for their Wagnerian performances, as well as a famous conductor who has enjoyed a long and successful career, both in the concert hall and opera house.

Die Walküre is an opera that has been particularly well served on records, with several outstanding versions derived both from the studio and live performances. Unfortunately, this new Walküre does not stand up well to that formidable competition.

The largest flaw in this enterprise rests with the inability of many of the singers to fulfill Wagner’s admittedly challenging vocal demands. All of the principal singers in this Walküre possess timbres that are basically appropriate for their roles. But most of them also encounter severe difficulties when their voices are under pressure.

The worst offender in this regard is John Tomlinson’s Wotan. From his first entrance, it’s clear that the role taxes the bass to his vocal limits, and perhaps beyond. A fine actor, he certainly understands the role, and attempts to portray it with considerable conviction. But just about anytime Tomlinson is called upon to sing with force in the upper portion of his voice, it threatens to go out of control. Not surprisingly, this flaw becomes more pronounced over the course of this long and demanding opera. As a result, Wotan’s Farewell becomes less a glorious conclusion to a great opera, and more of a failed endurance contest.

In light of Tomlinson’s Wotan, it’s interesting to return to Hans Hotter’s assumption of the role in the legendary London Ring Cycle under Solti. In the twilight of his great career, Hotter was roundly criticized at the time by some for the precarious condition of his voice. And yet, Hotter was far more vocally secure than is Tomlinson in this Munich Walküre. And neither Tomlinson nor just about anyone else for that matter, can begin to match the insight and humanity Hotter brings to this magnificent role.

Likewise, soprano Gabriele Schnaut reveals a pronounced beat in her voice, particularly when the voice is under pressure. She does offer some lovely, committed singing in the Act II dialogue with Siegmund. But any illusion of Brünnhilde as a youthful warrior vanishes whenever Schnaut is called upon to offer heroic singing. Again, the recorded competition, with the likes of such varied and thrilling artists as Flagstad, Traubel, Mödl, Varnay, and Nilsson, is just too strong for this performance to pass muster.

Mezzo Mihoko Fujimara as Fricka is one of the more vocally secure artists in this performance. Still the voice is relatively lightweight, and Fujimara does little, either with the text or vocal coloration, to suggest the power of Fricka’s personality and the strength of her argument against Wotan.

By comparison, Siegmund and Sieglinde fare better. Peter Seiffert has had great success in some of the more lyric Wagnerian tenor roles, such as Lohengrin and Walther. I don’t think Seiffert’s voice is quite so well equipped for Siegmund, however. It lacks the baritonal foundation and heroic ring that the best Siegmunds (Lauritz Melchior above all others) bring to the part. Still, Seiffert sings with great conviction and expression, and overall makes a positive impression. His contribution in the Act II scene with Schnaut’s Brünnhilde is likewise impressive.

Perhaps the best performance comes from Waltraud Meier as Sieglinde. As usual, Meier throws herself completely into the role, both vocally and dramatically. There are some precarious moments, but for the most part she sings with admirable security. And Meier does a masterful job in Act I of portraying the transformation of Sieglinde from repressed wife to passionate lover. Likewise, her contributions in Acts II and III are most compelling. If there is one reason to acquire this set, it is probably for Meier’s Sieglinde.

Kurt Rydl’s Hunding is typical of this performance–a basic vocal quality that is dark and imposing, but marred by a wobble in the upper part of the voice. That flaw, coupled with a lack of dramatic bite, make this Hunding not nearly the menacing figure he should be.

The orchestral contribution under Zubin Mehta’s direction begins admirably, with a brisk storm sequence capped by thundering timpani. Throughout, the Munich National Theater Orchestra plays with tonal warmth and lovely blending of strings, brass, and winds typical of fine European ensembles. But overall, the performance lacks tension and forward momentum. This is due in great part to the absence of crisp articulation. But it is also the result of Mehta’s apparent unwillingness to ratchet up the tempos for such climactic moments as the conclusion to Act I. Everything is played beautifully, but little is played with compelling point or drive. Over time, the results can be numbing.

The recorded sound is quite fine, with excellent balance between the vocalists and orchestra. Some stage noise is apparent, as is the audience response at the conclusion of each act. They seemed to enjoy the performance much more than did I.

Given all of the superb recordings of Die Walküre currently available, I can’t see much call for this new recording, save, perhaps, Meier’s Sieglinde. For those seeking an introduction to this opera, either of the London recordings (Nilsson, Brouwenstijn, Gorr, Vickers, London, Ward, Leinsdorf, conducting; Nilsson, Crespin, Ludwig, King, Hotter, Frick, Solti, conducting) are good places to start. And of course, the legendary Act I recorded in Vienna in 1935 with Melchior and Lehmann, conducted by Bruno Walter is a must. If possible, seek out Stephen Worth’s magical remastering for VIP Records of this classic recording at www.vintageip.com/records.

Kenneth H. Meltzer | 13 Jan 2005

classicalcdreview.com

Zubin Mehta’s views on Wagner’s Ring are well documented. He conducted the remarkable Valencia production mentioned on this site about five years ago (REVIEW). This “Ring of the 21st Century” was fascinating in every way, with fine singers and impressive often stunning visual effects. This new release is a dynamic performance of Die Walküre recorded during performances in July 2002, five years before the Valencia production. Peter Seiffert is a rather unsteady Siegmund (he is much better in the Valencia production), with Waltraud Meier splendid as Sieglinde. John Tomlinson is somewhat strained as Wotan, Gabriele Schnaut is a powerful Brünnhilde. Audio is excellent, but there are many other Walküres superior to this—although it is intriguing to get the entire opera in high quality audio on a single disk. This is a deluxe presentation in a cardboard box and includes the complete libretto.

R.E.B. | January 2015

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
Media Type/Label
Farao
Farao
Farao
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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 517 MByte (MP3)
3.2 Mbit/s VBR, 48.0 kHz, 4.8 GByte (flac 24/48)
Remarks
Live compilation of three performances from the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2002
A production by David Alden (2002)
Mihoko Fujimura replaces Violeta Urmana as Fricka.