Die Walküre

James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
12 April 1997
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundPlácido Domingo
HundingJohn Macurdy
WotanJames Morris
SieglindeDeborah Voigt
BrünnhildeHildegard Behrens
FrickaHanna Schwarz
HelmwigeFrances Ginzer
GerhildeEmily Pulley
OrtlindeJanet Hopkins
WaltrauteVictoria Livengood
SiegruneMichelle DeYoung
GrimgerdeJane Shaulis
SchwertleiteBirgitta Svendén
RoßweißeJudith Christin
Newark Star-Ledger

Die Walküre packs plenty of Wagnerian power

Brünnhilde’s back, steel brassiere and all, in Die Walküre, second of the four operas in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” here in a Met production as gorgeous and traditional as the first opera’s.

Pagan, appetitive, anti-egalitarian, these are likely the least Judeo-Christian 19th- century cultural artifacts we have. Meet Siegmund, woeful hero, happening onto the house of Sieglinde. They fall in love, beget a child. She’s married, though; also – oops – his twin sister. Fricka, goddess of marriage, complains to husband Wotan (also Siegmund’s father – don’t ask.) He, the opera’s alleged moral center, shrugs.

Spring happens; besides, useful Siegmund might save the gods from vengeful Albert. Fricka, her honor outraged, wants Siegmund’s blood; also, she knows Wotan’s power comes only from law. Wotan accedes, withdrawing from Siegmund’s sword Nothung, the magic that protects him. Or so he commands warrior-daughter Brünnhilde; but she, knowing he loves Siegmund, disobeys, spurring Wotan to shatter the sword himself and strip from Brünnhilde her godhood. (Interestingly, only the daughter figures yield, “patriarchally,” to Wotan; in Wagner, as in Camille Paglia, — mothers – Erda, Fricka, even Sieglinde -rule.)

Now Brünnhilde is mortal, doomed to sleep; but won’t Wotan shield her with fire, so only the best mortal will win her? Done: a burst of flame, and curtain.

No wonder this stuff is such nectar to power fiends. Look at its world: Contracts are kept only if one can’t get out of them; class privilege is assumed; gods rule because they’re gods, not because they’re good. (Brünnhilde: Save me for a hero, at least, not one of the unwashed!) Taboos – against incest, adultery, lying – are negotiable. Over all, the glow of privilege shimmers.

How comforting it must be to listeners able to shell out nearly $500 for a single seat to this cycle.

Politics aside, how good is the piece? Well, its music far surpasses Das Rheingold’s; it’s as if the Valkyrie music’s swiping strings and glittering trumpets brightened and energized the whole score. Wagner’s famous way of dramatizing by layering orchestral motives blooms here; note, though, that his slippery harmony makes applying this technique easier than it sounds.

The opera is pitilessly, enragingly long; if, in Act 2, Wotan is going to explain all of Das Rheingold to Brünnhilde, why won’t Wagner scrap that damn prologue and give us back three hours of our lives?

Still, a cast like this is its own reward. James Morris is a wonder as Wotan; how is a voice that large so refined, so dramatically acute? Placido Domingo and Debra Voigt, the incestuous lovers, sound big, rich, vibrant, and exemplary. The Brünnhilde, Hildegarde Behrens, isn’t the vocal disaster people claim; wavery, edgy, yes, but onstage she’s an electromagnet. The eight Valkyries make a joyful noise.

James Levine knows this music like his own name, and, a few appeggiated wind entrances aside, his orchestra sounded golden.

Still eager to find out what happens to the actual ring of Der Ring? Stay tuned: two operas to go.

Mark Adamo

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 303 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1986)
Part of Metropolitan Ring Cycle #97 however only Das Rheingold und Die Walküre were transmitted.