Die Walküre

Sebastian Weigle
Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona
31 May 2008
Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundPlácido Domingo
HundingRené Pape
WotanAlan Held
SieglindeWaltraud Meier
BrünnhildeEvelyn Herlitzius
FrickaJane Henschel
HelmwigeSilvana Dussmann
GerhildeMichelle Marie Cook
OrtlindeEugenia María Bethencourt
WaltrauteJane Dutton
SiegruneRenate Spingler
GrimgerdeInés Moraleda
SchwertleiteNadine Weissmann
RoßweißeGemma Coma-Alabert

It is interesting to see how things change over time in the world of the opera. Not too many years ago, when there was a good cast in a Wagner opera, it was normal to say that the line-up was worthy of Bayreuth. No Wagner fan could say this now however after looking at the stellar cast list for this Liceu Walküre. What we enjoyed in Barcelona would never be available on the Sacred Hill although the mystique of the place is a different matter, as is the Orchestra.

Although this Walküre was advertised as a concert version, taking into account the great experience of all the singers, it became more of a kind of semi staging. as all the singers moved round the stage and none of them used a score: the orchestra was in the pit and the singers sang from the front of the stage. Usually operas are offered in concert, when they are rarities, and then mostly to avoid building new productions, but the reason here was simply due to the exceptional casting. Managing to get superstars like Domingo, Waltraud Meier and René Pape together for a longer period of time than a concert, would be almost a pipe-dream these days.

The musical direction of this opera in concert was in the hands Sebastián Weigle, whose performance was very uneven, with some good moments and some others that were truly disappointing. I had the impression that conducting two such complicated works as Death in Venice and Walküre one immediately after the other requires more preparation time than he probably had availablt to him, . but although this may be an explanation, it isn’t enough to justify such a poor performance by the musical director of a world class opera house. The first act did not go much beyond correctness in the notes, with a love duet that was very short on inspiration indeed. Weigle improved in the second act, the best part of his reading, mainly in the Todesverkundigung. The worse came in the last act with a very poor Ride of the Valkyries and disappointing Magic Fire music. The cast was worthy of better conducting than this and the Liceu Orchestra was not on its best form either, with some catastrophic failures from the brass during the first act and a constant lack of strength in the string section.

Separate from the other singers in term of star quality, the valkyrie giving the opera its title is of course Brünnhilde, interpreted here by Evelyn Herlitzius. If Jennifer Wilson were able to sing with the intensity and conviction that this German soprano does, we would have the perfect Brünnhilde. Herlitzius’ voice is not exceptional and is even rather unattractive in some registers, but her intensity and her capacity for living the role is such that these flaws almost become secondary sconsiderations. She had slight difficulties in the initial ‘Hojotoho’, but she overcame them with power and artistry. Very few singers these days have her capacity to move me so much.

Waltraud Meier was a very convincing Sieglinde, in a role that suits her far better than some others she sings, since its tessitura is very much in the middle range. She does not need to overplay her hand to be completely convincing, since Sieglinde is a part of her that everything flows out from her naturally and easily. I am almost tempted to say that I prefer her in concert, since her everyday appearance is so elegantly gorgeous.

Placido Domingo becomes more like Superman every day. The pact of Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles to retain youth seems like a children’s game compared with him. It is almost impossible to understand how at 67 (that’s official) he can maintain the affecting so many of his colleagues much earlier. He is in fact unique and a phenomenon never likely to be repeated: . his Siegmund was extraordinary in every sense. It is evident that he has lost his very top notes – if he hadn’t he would actually be Supergod – , but he has enough intelligence to produce the high A at the end of Act I with tremendous dignity, if not brilliance. He is definitely from another planet.

American Alan Held was a powerful Wotan, more in the line of Falk Struckmann than James Morris or Albert Dohmen and his voice is well suited to singing the God, although finishing the opera with some signs of tiredness. All in all a good Wotan, though perhaps slightly on interpretative nuance.

What I can say of René Pape? He actually is Hunding. One does not know whether to admire his sumptuous true bass voice more , more than his interpretation or his general way of singing. I cannot remember any Hunding able to sing so softly as he does.

American Jane Henschel was an outstanding and powerful Fricka, too often reduced almost to a secondary role in some cast lists. Not so here though with Ms Henschel providing the perfect complement for a stellar cast.

The group of Valkyries was rather poor, with some significant failures. The worse came from the best known, ie Silvana Dussmann (Helmwige) and Renate Spingler (Siegrune). Every opera house needs to be careful casting Helmwige, because she has to reach a high C in a clear and sonorous way but Silvana Dussmann hurt my ears with her shouts and something similar happened with Ms. Spingler. This is very surprising considering that the group also included Eugenia Maria Bethencourt singing Ortlinde, who was a remarkable Helmwige in Valencia and Florence. Michelle Marie Cook, who replaced Maria Rodriguez as Gerhilde, was not very convincing either. The other sisters were Jane Dutton (Waltraute), Nadine Weissmann (Schwerleite), Inés Moraleda (Grimgerde) and Gemma-Coma Alabert (Rossweisse).

Obviously, the Liceu overflowed with people, many coming from distant places. I witnessed Superman’s arrival for the performance when he was almost covered by flowers from his numerous fans. He was more “infiorito” than la Madonna in Tosca. This was huge triumph for all the artists: I left the theatre after 1 a.m. and the ovations were still continuing. Maesto Weigle was received with a mixture of applause and extremely loud sonorous booing, which did not stop, but continued to crescendo.

Any theater that can offer offers this dream cast two days after a marvellous production of Death in Venice however deserves hearty congratulations. Bravo, Joan Matabosch!

José M Irurzun | Liceu de Barcelona. 28. 5.2008


Die Walkure dream team in Barcelona: Domingo, Meier and Pape in marvellous Act 1 performance

Scheduled as a concert performance, this was in fact a semi-staged performance: Three (or more) chairs placed on the stage in front of a brown screen. With the orchestra in the pit and the singers moving and acting as in a fully staged performance, the difference between this and a “modern” stage production may have been very small indeed.

The beautifully restored Liceu Opera House, of course was packed. The atmosphere was electric. None of the protagonists had cancelled. The performance was marvellous. The drinks were cheap. The auditorium was fantastic, being perhaps the most beautiful traditional opera house I have been in. What more can you ask for, except cheaper tickets?

Well, mainly a better conducted performance. Sebastian Weigle was actually booed by some at the end of the evening, and while I strongly disagree with this type of behaviour, I appreciate the underlying point: He was not good. This was in fact one of the most boringly conducted Wagner performances, I´ve heard in a theatre of this level. And a pity, really, since the quality of the orchestra seems to be rather high. And especially since his sleepwalking Wagner reading prevented the first act to be truly electric, despite fabulous performances from the singers. He was equally boring last year in the Bayreuth Meistersinger, which I then attributed to his unfamiliarity with the special covered pit.

This was in theory a complete performance of Die Walküre, but in reality the performance was built upon a dream-team Act 1, as I don’t expect anyone payed the steep 150+ Euro ticket prices (my only real complaint about this performance apart from the conductor) to see Alan Held (who was in fact a very fine Wotan) or Evelyn Herlitzius´ lively Brünnhilde, once again demonstrating that huge sounds may be produced by slim singers. Otherwise Jane Henschel was a fine Fricka.

Now, to the point: Why does Plàcido Domingo keep singing Siegmund at 67+ years? The simple answer: I suppose, because nobody does it as well as he does…

If singing Siegmund was a competition on generating the loudest sound or displaying the freshest voice, he would perhaps be pressed by some his younger colleagues. But then there is the characterization, the vocal drama, the intensity. In fact, the only one beating Plàcido Domingo’s Siegmund today, is his own Siegmund 15 years ago..

In this respect, it is incomprehensible that we do not have his Siegmund (preferably with Waltraud Meier’s Sieglinde) on disc or DVD from his prime, but hopefully this will change..

I have now heard Plàcido Domingo as Siegmund four times within the last year, and he seemed in equally fine shape here in Barcelona as he was in London last autumn, with a Wälse cry (almost) effortlessly filling the auditorium and a thrilling dramatic intensity including superb chemistry with Waltraud Meier.

And again, no: Domingo’s German diction is not bad. He has, in fact, excellent diction of a heavily accented German, of which I understood anything. How many times have I not heard native German tenors sing Siegmund and not being able to understand a word? Countless. Next to Renè Pape, who probably has the most perfect German diction seen on stage today, German speakers (as myself) probably cannot help occasionally noticing his somewhat strange German. But more as a curiosity than anything flawing his performance, in my opinion.

Should he stop singing the part, just because he was better 15 years ago? I don`t think so. If several significantly better singers were around, then maybe…

Plácido Domingo curiously only turned up at the second Third Act curtain call (thus missing the first), which I´ve been told was due to him having dinner outside the Theatre during Act 3 and simply not hearing the cell phone call for him to return!

Nevertheless, Plàcido Domingo was not the best singer of the evening. That was Renè Pape.

You don’t need a beautiful voice to sing Hunding – most basses just yell their way (and quite effectively) through it. But it does help and it’s refreshing for once, to hear all the words sung in full noble Wotan-type voice with complete command of the stage. But completely, 100% mean, he just cannot be with that beautiful voice…And, while he has the low notes well within his grasp, they are clearly outside his comfort zone. Which is just fine, since Renè Pape has really moved on from this part, and with his upcoming Wotan (about time!), I suspect his Metropolitan Opera performances of Hunding next season will be among his last ones, for the foreseeable future.

Had Richard Wagner been alive today, one of the singers that would have made him really happy (he would probably have tried to have an affair with her as well!) would have been the superb Waltraud Meier. In superb voice, completely unstrained, Sieglinde remains one of her most moving portraits. She has everything this part asks for: The vulnerability, the passion, the slight madness, the capability of going over the edge..And as always with Waltraud Meier, I know perfectly well what her vocal flaws are, I just don´t care about them..

And finally, to the really important issues:

Plàcido Domingo looked fine. Renè Pape looked great. Waltraud Meier looked..well, as much as I hate to say it: Disappointingly plain. She was wearing the same type flowery dress, as last year in the same team’s Munich Walkure, and it just makes her look unsophisticated, which is the last thing she is, being one of the most beautiful and sophisticated women on stage today. Hopefully, she’ll take the opportunity to change it before this summer’s Walküre performances with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra…

1 June 2008


Comme au bon vieux temps

Qu’il est réconfortant de retrouver, après chaque acte de cette Walkyrie, quelque 10 minutes d’ovations, comme aux plus beaux jours de l’ère Liebermann à Paris. Mais il faut dire que la distribution a de quoi faire rêver.

Certes, me direz-vous, la rencontre Domingo-Meier dans Walkyrie n’est pas une première : ils l’ont chanté en concert à Paris et à Salzbourg, avant de le jouer à Bayreuth. Mais le miracle se reproduit, encore magnifié en donnant l’impression de suspendre les années qui passent (Domingo a près de 70 ans…)

Plácido Domingo a chanté pour la première fois au Liceo lors de la saison 1965-66, et y a depuis interprété près de 30 rôles différents. Après avoir joué dans le monde entier tous les grands personnages du répertoire, il a affiché une nette préférence pour le répertoire allemand, qui l’a conduit à Bayreuth. Il est actuellement un des meilleurs Parsifal, qu’il a notamment chanté au Met et à l’Opéra Bastille. Plus de 40 ans après ses débuts, il revient donc au Liceo dans le rôle de Siegmund. La voix est toujours aussi belle et puissante, l’apparente facilité est confondante, rappelant celle de Vickers, et la technique – sans faille – est un véritable cours de chant comme l’était chaque apparition d’Alfredo Kraus. Avec l’âge (les cheveux ont blanchi…), il atteint une humanité profonde, et ses duos avec Waltraut Meier touchent au sublime. Waltraud Meier reste l’une des plus grandes divas actuelle, et l’une des meilleures chanteuses wagnériennes (Isolde, Ortrud et Venus). La voix, très légèrement voilée, était néanmoins en parfaite harmonie (volume, nuances et interprétation) avec celles de ses partenaire. Quant à sa personnification du rôle de Sieglinde, sans faire oublier Régine Crespin, c’était là du grand art, et son jeu scénique (bien que l’on soit en version de concert) particulièrement convaincant.

Jane Henschel (Fricka) et René Pape (Hunding) étaient chacun également exceptionnels, tandis qu’Alan Held, sans égaler Hans Hotter, se positionne pour devenir l’un des meilleurs Wotan de sa génération. Quant aux Walkyries, il est rare d’entendre en « live » un tel ensemble, d’une telle perfection, d’une justesse absolue, et avec des voix et des caractérisations de chacune d’entre elles aussi parfaitement différenciées : du grand art.

Reste le cas d’Evelyn Herlitzius : il est tout aussi rare d’entendre les célèbres Hojotoho ! avec les notes hautes projetées aussi fausses et aussi stridentes. Cette cantatrice allemande, spécialisée dans les rôles wagnériens, a pourtant chanté le rôle de Brünnhilde à Bayreuth de 2002 à 2004 et y a abordé Kundry au seul festival 2006 ; s’agit-il donc d’une défaillance momentanée ou du signe inquiétant d’une usure vocale ? Passé ce premier moment fort désagréable, et des jeux de scène déplacés (il ne faudrait pas qu’elle continue de confondre, comme tant d’autres, personnification d’un personnage avec agitation permanente), son interprétation de Brünnhilde – aux antipodes de la dureté d’une Birgit Nilsson – fut remarquable, et a même atteint dans les duos avec Wotan, des sommets. Voix ample, art des nuances, profond naturel du jeu malgré la version de concert, bref, une Brünnhilde certes modernisée, mais habitée de la moindre des nuances du texte et de la partition.

Sebastian Weigle, directeur musical du Liceo depuis le départ de Bertrand de Billy, a hissé l’orchestre à un niveau d’excellence, ce qui fait regretter pour les Barcelonais son départ, dès la saison prochaine, pour occuper la fonction de directeur musical de l’opéra de Francfort. Ce jeune chef possède un répertoire éclectique dont une des facettes l’a déjà mené à Bayreuth en 2007 (Les Maîtres chanteurs) ; sa direction à la fois précise et fougueuse, malgré quelques rares et minimes décalages, entraîne l’enthousiasme de la salle par ses solides envolées lyriques : on l’aura compris, c’est un nouveau grand chef wagnérien à suivre. Ce concert exceptionnel – disons même historique – donné deux fois, a été enregistré : souhaitons donc le retrouver très rapidement sur CD ou DVD.

Jean-Marcel Humbert | Gran Teatre del Liceu, 31 mai 2008

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