Die Walküre

James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
20 April 1996
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundPlácido Domingo
HundingJohn Macurdy
WotanRobert Hale
SieglindeDeborah Voigt
BrünnhildeGabriele Schnaut
FrickaHanna Schwarz
HelmwigeSusan Neves
GerhildeDinah Bryant
OrtlindeJanet Hopkins
WaltrauteJoyce Castle
SiegruneMichelle DeYoung
GrimgerdeJane Shaulis
SchwertleiteEllen Rabiner
RoßweißeJudith Christin
New York Times

A ‘Walküre’ With Domingo at the Met

It is only in the politically charged world of modern Wagnerians that a straightforward, traditional and comparatively staid production can occasion as vehement a debate as an eccentric one. Ever since the Metropolitan Opera introduced its grandly Romantic, naturalistic staging of “Die Walkure,” a decade ago — with the other “Ring” operas quickly following — some have praised the company for having the sense to stage the work on Wagner’s own terms, and others have derided it for lacking the imagination and fortitpde to offer a fresh approach.

But the truly electrifying performance of “Die Walkure” on Monday evening, when the work returned to the Met repertory after an absence of three years, made it clear that the debate over production values should have been secondary all long. Whether one loves or hates Otto Schenk’s staging, with its craggy sets by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen and motley costumes by Rolf Langenfass, the real question was whether the Met could assemble casts with both the dramatic acuity and the vocal power to bring this hulking “Walkure” to life.

It should not have taken a decade to find out that the answer was yes. But although the company has offered some starry casts over the years, a dr’matic clunkiness has always afflicted the production. On Monday everything clicked. And surprisingly, some of the best performances were by singers who are not known primarily as Wagnerians.

Placido Domingo, for one, offered his first complete portrayal of Siegmund at the Met, having sung one act of “Walkure” at a gala a few seasons back. Mr. Domingo has been building his Wagner repertory carefully in recent seasons, and he brings something valuable to it from Italian opera: a supple lyricism that can transform a Wagner role from a heroic caricature into a character with some emotional depth.

Mr. Domingo conveyed Siegmund’s passion and pain in a way that his predecessors, Peter Hoffmann and Gary Lakes, never approached. Especially compelling was the tenderness with which he sang of his devotion to Sieglinde, moments before his death. For once, Brunnhilde’s decision to defy Wotan and protect Siegmund seemed plausible. How could she not have been moved? And where Mr. Lakes stumbled through the set (his performance is enshrined in the Met’s home video “Ring” cycle), Mr. Domingo moved through it as if it were his natural world.

Deborah Voigt, also rarely heard in Wagner, sang her first Sieglinde in the house, and gave an account that matched Mr. Domingo’s Siegmund superbly. Like Mr. Domingo, she offered a personal rather than monumental approach, for which her fully powered, clear-textured and sharply focused soprano was well suited. And John Macurdy, as Hunding, moved between them with the necessary brutishness.

Gabriele Schnaut, a German soprano making her Met debut as Brunnhilde, gave a performance that was not unblemished vocally, but her characterization was so finely detailed that one happily overlooked the few flaws. Ms. Schnaut’s Brunnhilde undergoes a real transformation: she is unusually spirited in her second-act discussions with Wotan, thoroughly regal at the start of her encounter with Siegmund, and disconsolate but not entirely repentant in the finale, when she is condemned to life as a mortal. One thing that made this such a thrilling performance was the tightness of the ensemble acting, which was directed by Phoebe Berkowitz. Much as Mr. Domingo’s Siegmund and Ms. Voigt’s Sieglinde were perfectly synchronized, the relationships between Robert Hale’s solid and often commanding Wotan, Hanna Schwarz’s persuasive Fricka and Ms. Schnaut’s Brunnhilde were finely meshed. And although Mr. Hale’s whispered death blow to Hunding lacked the sheer malevolence that James Morris supplied in an earlier cast, the entire scene — the fight between Hunding and Siegmund, with Brunnhilde’s aid and the helmeted Wotan’s sudden, startling appearance — has never been so wrenching.

James Levine conducted, sometimes taking lingering tempos as is his wont, but drawing a brilliantly polished sound from the orchestra.


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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 502 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1986)