Die Walküre

Antonio Pappano
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
28 March 2005
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundJorma Silvasti
HundingStephen Milling
WotanBryn Terfel
SieglindeKatarina Dalayman
BrünnhildeLisa Gasteen
FrickaRosalind Plowright
HelmwigeIréne Theorin
GerhildeGeraldine McGreevy
OrtlindeElaine McKrill
WaltrauteClaire Powell
SiegrundeSarah Castle
GrimgerdeClare Shearer
SchwertleiteRebecca Pont Davies
RoßweißeElizabeth Sikora

This star-studded revival of Die Walküre was something of an end of term jamboree for Covent Garden. (Prommers and radio listeners can hear it in concert at the Royal Albert Hall tomorrow night.) Any appearance by Domingo has an air of excitement about it, and for the purists in the audience the assault of hearing unusually bright vowels and rattling rolled Rs from Siegmund was mollified by Waltraud Meier’s coolly nuanced Sieglinde. Each did their own thing: Domingo broad and glossy, Meier fluttering and vulnerable. But magnificent as those things were in their own way, they had little connection to the rest of Warner’s production. Earlier this year, Jorma Silvasti and Katerina Dalayman proved that it was possible for two singers of very different appearances to convince us that they were twins – through shared accents of movement, through body language, and through the expression of their eyes – and this was one aspect that I sorely missed from the first run. Another was Silvasti’s fearless head-first collapse when Siegmund is slaughtered. Domingo instead lowers himself onto the helix, as if in anticipation of a lymphatic drainage massage, then gently rolls to the ground.

Though some details of Stefanos Lazaridis’s designs remain problematic – either in terms of sight-lines or the health and safety of the singers – Warner has refined and clarified the production. The set for Act I is somewhat cleaner than before. Nonetheless, the theatrical simplicity of the dialogues between Fricka (Rosalind Plowright) and Wotan (Bryn Terfel), and Wotan and Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) – not to mention the imprecations of the Valkyries on the giant revolve of Act III – has more impact than any amount of detailed set dressing. Plowright, Terfel, and Gasteen have thoroughly absorbed their roles: the acting is as compelling as the finest on small or large screen, the changing moods and dynamics are fluid and beautifully understated, the singing quite magnificent. Wolfgang Göbbel’s lighting has also improved in focus, heightening the sense of privacy in the dialogues.

Underpinning all of this is Antonio Pappano’s extraordinary conducting. The opening storm and Act III flight remain electrically charged, and the arc of the rest shows extraordinary control and understanding. From piccolo to timpani, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House are a model of responsiveness, and, with the exception of a slightly curdled cello solo, their playing is both impeccable and continually surprising. I can barely wait for Siegfried’s Rhine Journey.

Anna Picard | 03 July 2013


Any production of Wagner’s Ring cycle needs some kind of coherence, so it is logical for a staging of Die Walküre to continue where the previous instalment, Das Rheingold, left off. In the case of the Royal Opera’s new production, though, that turns out to be not such a good thing at all.

The cluttered world created by director Keith Warner for this Walküre seems even more in hock to Stefanos Lazaridis’s designs than it did in their Rheingold, unveiled just before Christmas; once again, spurious imagery replaces carefully defined characterisation and relationships, and conveys little sense of who psychologically any of the protagonists are, or where they come from.

We emerge from this production knowing as little about any of them as we did when we went in 5 hours earlier, but far more than we need about the range of references and sources from which Warner and Lazaridis have blended their show.

Some elements of the design have been carried over. The space that holds Hunding’s hut in the first act is recognisably the Victorian drawing room from Rheingold, though showing major signs of wear and tear; Brünnhilde enters down the same perilous ladder that featured prominently in the previous opera.

The armchair from which Erda had observed all the action crops up again in the second act here too; she clearly takes a prurient interest in Wotan and Fricka’s domestic difficulties.

But there’s a lot of new stuff as well, most of it unnecessary and filling up the acting area in a way that makes it hard for the singers to negotiate any movement. Metal bands span the full width of the stage, providing a handy site for the sword Nothung, which Siegmund withdraws at the climax of the first act, as well as a channel down which the magic fire can creep when summoned by Wotan.

The Valkyries are a scrubby lot (though all of the women, the prissy Victorian Fricka excepted, look scrubby in Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes); riding horses reduced to skulls and throwing body parts around with abandon, they end the opera pinned to the walls like butterflies around the sleeping Brünnhilde.

Video projection appears intermittently too. The annunciation of death in act two is accompanied by a white rectangle slowly revolving in space at the back of the stage, the same symbolic rectangle, presumably, around which the Valkyries attempt to protect Brünnhilde from Wotan’s wrath in the third.

But so much of this baggage is predictable – as soon as you set eyes on a chaise-longue in act one you just know it will become Brünnhilde’s final resting place – and so much of it is tricksy and irrelevant that nothing meaningful remains.

A conductor with an over-arching sense of the Walküre architecture might have supplied the dramatic continuity so signally lacking. Antonio Pappano deals in short-breathed paragraphs that are convincing enough in their own right but never combine into something bigger and better. As in Rheingold, it is left to Bryn Terfel’s Wotan to lift the performance.

In the second act his voice sounded a little tired and worn – but, by the time he reached his confrontation with Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde in the third, he was in glorious form, and his rapt account of the Farewell, every word glowing and intense, was enough almost to erase memories of the ludicrous, infantile way in which his first scene with his daughter is directed. Gasteen’s performance is admirable and tireless, and there is clearly more to come in the rest of the cycle.

Katarina Dalayman sings gloriously, though we have seen the dowdy and downtrodden character she creates for Sieglinde at Covent Garden in both Wozzeck and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Neither Jorma Silvasti’s Siegmund nor Stephen Milling’s axe-wielding Hunding projects much of a personality, though that is partly the way in which they are directed, while, as Fricka, Rosalind Plowright attempts to fill that void with some grand guignol acting of her own; it doesn’t work, but at least she tries.

Andrew Clements | 7 Mar 2005


En route to this performance by train, I overheard two ladies, of advancing years, telling fellow travellers that they were looking forward to seeing “Die Walküre”, but that they expected it to be a “modern thing”, expressing a preference for “traditional settings” with “helmets and spears”.

I fear the ladies may have been disappointed in this regard since although spears were deployed, there was only a partial helmet – worn by Brünnhilde when announcing the fate in store for Siegmund – and there were certainly no traditional settings.

Last December I welcomed “Das Rheingold”, the first instalment of the Royal Opera’s new Ring cycle, commending various aspects of the staging and praising the director for some intelligent and perceptive touches.

Regrettably, my anticipation of a thoughtful and satisfying continuation of the cycle was not met in this “Die Walküre”.

In “Das Rheingold” there were certain visual symbols – at least that is what I took them to be – which did not make an awful lot of sense, but which did not prove, ultimately, too distracting.

However, the stage of this “Die Walküre” abounded with various sights, which drew the eye and attention away from the music and drama.

The most conspicuous of these was a fan with rotating blades which pervaded most of the first act and which returned at the end of the third over the sleeping Brünnhilde.

On its first appearance it was seen to be hanging from the ceiling of a separate box-like space, lit red, where Sieglinde was discovered. The significance of this ‘container’ – not to mention the fan – was not readily apparent. The fan also made a cameo appearance, much enlarged, at the start of the Prelude to Act Three – ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ – this time seen though the curtain and looking like a giant propeller.

Right at the start of Act One, it was actually rather difficult todiscern precisely what was supposed to be happening, as the curtain rose only a little way, and there seemed to be a figure – Wotan? – doing something with a spear! As only the person’s legs were visible, and by the time the curtain rose fully, he was walking away, this no doubt significant piece of stage business did not register properly.

With Sieglinde in her box-space, the remainder of the stage was the same setting as most of “Das Rheingold” had taken place in. That is to say the interior of a once well-appointed room, with marble floors, a table and fireplace, all having seen better days and pointing diagonally upwards. At the rear of this is a window – this time with some broken panes – through which can be discerned a constantly moving sky-scape. This was the room in which the gods were awaiting their ascent into Valhalla, which they did via ladders.

Musically speaking, Wagner’s music-drama got off to a fine start with an extremely well-played and incisively conducted account of the tempestuous prelude culminating in ferocious and thundering timpani. Wagner’s musical storm is quite graphic enough in its own right, so one wondered why strobe-lighting was deemed necessary here and at the start of the other acts.

Later on, one could admire some sensitive playing – the solo cello was outstanding – and generally the orchestral response was first-rate. But Antonio Pappano’s conducting was extremely variable. There were some ‘moments’ – literally – which took flight but, all too often, the music remained stubbornly earthbound – including the increasingly ecstatic conclusion to the first act – and passages with dangerously low tension, such as Wotan’s lengthy Act Two monologue which is difficult enough to bring off at the best of times.

There were times when the score seemed curiously ‘sectional’ – not at all the organic unity of Wagner’s imagining – and a sense of culmination at various points was quite absent.

In the persons of Jorma Silvasti and Katarina Dalayman, the Wälsung twins (Wotan’s children born of a mortal woman) had sympathetic exponents. If the eroticism of the first act failed to ignite, this was not really their fault. Their initial encounter, however, was well staged, the exchanged glances and hesitancy being particularly convincing.

Whoever plays Hunding has to impress through baleful delivery of a few pithy phrases. Stephen Milling had the physical presence – he towered over Sieglinde, who seemed genuinely terrified of him – but the voice was not dark enough to suggest a menacing, dour character. As the ardour between brother and sister grew, they retired to Sieglinde’s ‘box’ and at the point where the door is supposed to fly open to reveal a moonlit spring night, we were rewarded with the sight of a few petals descending from the ceiling – an inadequate replacement for Wagner’s dramatic stage direction and intended image.

Act Two – inexplicably – found us in the same location. Supposedly set on a “wild, craggy summit” we see Wotan encountering his favourite daughter and, a little later, his enraged wife.

I’m not at all sure that Brünnhilde’s entrance should be a moment for laughter, but Lisa Gasteen’s descent from a ladder and unbuckling herself from a safety-harness caused just that. She has a strong voice and undoubtedly has the security and stamina to sustain the role. But a want of variety of timbre meant that there was too little contrast in this Brünnhilde’s encounters with different characters and in her reactions to different situations. She actually became a little wearying to listen to, and one wanted a less unyielding approach.

Bryn Terfel continues his convincing assumption of Wotan. Again, the lower reaches of the part are less powerful than the remainder, but his relish of words – and conveying of their meaning – was wholly admirable. His is a defiant god, perhaps – like many human beings – refusing to face up to the consequences of his actions.

Rosalind Plowright once again made Fricka a most interestingpersonality. Indeed, the scene in which she confronts Wotan was perhaps the highlight of the evening. She convinced with the force of her arguments against allowing the Wälsung’s incestuous union to flourish, and did not merely rant and nag – as so many Fricka’s do. One actually felt distinctly sorry for her putting up with the wayward and whimsical Wotan.

The staging of the final moments of this act did not convince. To have Wotan actually run-through Hunding with his spear is an unsubtle substitute for Wagner’s direction that Hunding is felled by a “contemptuous wave of the hand” from Wotan. And the music tells us that it is Wotan’s fury at Brünnhilde’s disobedience that is raging just before the curtain closes. Here, Fricka was seen staring from the back of the stage like a vengeful ogress.

In the preceding scene, when Brünnhilde meets Siegmund and informs him of his impending departure for Valhalla, another rotating object was glimpsed in the sky at the back of the stage. This was a large rectangle – presumably some kind of monolith – which grew in size as the scene continued.

This was seen in actuality at the start of Act Three and served as both an entrance-point and as a wall against which all the Valkyries were discovered.

This was as superb a team as one could hope to find, led by a powerful Geraldine McGreevy who sounded very much like a potential Brünnhilde.

By this point I was giving up trying to work out what the ‘significance’ was of some of the things we were seeing. I couldn’t work out what Siegmund’s body was doing on-stage or how it had got there, since Brünnhilde and Sieglinde make a hasty getaway at the end of the previous act to avoid encountering the wrathful Wotan. Presumably they nipped back for the corpse!

What I took to be horse-skulls were waved about by the Valkyries,eventually being placed at the front of the stage facing and grinning outward.

In this scene the music suddenly came to life most thrillingly, though the accents in the famous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ motif were misplaced – as they so often are. The collective cries of the Valkyries were exhilarating, and they were most convincing – in spite of some of the things they had been directed to do.

The final meeting of father and daughter was not the heartbreaking occasion it can be and I felt a bit sorry for Bryn Terfel having to constantly push the wall about for no discernible purpose.

His farewell to Brünnhilde was sung powerfully and elegiacally, though it was preceded by a full-on snog between the two which left Lisa Gasteen wiping her lips. I don’t think this was what Wagner intended.

Having said their good-byes in front of the white wall, Wotan summons the fire-god Loge and a single flame descended the chute that was also a virtually omnipresent feature of the décor. Terfel, having picked this up, was obliged to blow it out due, one supposes, to his hand and costume being in danger of igniting. Subsequent flames appeared and this was an evocative sight. However, the wall was removed to reveal a supine Brünnhilde on a couch – which had also been seen earlier – and we mustassume that the fan, which made its final appearance, had beenthoughtfully provided by her father to keep the flames at bay.

Pinned to the wall like trapped butterflies were the other Valkyries.This was an arresting image, though quite what it has to do with the end of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” is a mystery.

As this is all supposed to happen on an open mountain top, andBrünnhilde was resting comfortably indoors, one can only surmise that director Keith Warner has taken Thomas Mann’s description of this scene as “the couch ringed by flame” all too literally.

I was sorry that the expectations I had following “Das Rheingold” were not rewarded, but then I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised given that Wagner seems to be ‘fair game’ – more so than other composers – for directorial and scenic irrelevancies.

In his absorbing autobiography, the composer’s grandson, Wolfgang Wagner, asserts that “ideally, the stage designer should create images true to a particular work” and goes on to cite his grandfather’s dictum that scenery must be a “silently-enabling background to the action”.

I regret that Keith Warner and his team do not appear to have heeded Richard Wagner’s monition, since for much of the time in this production, direction and design provided distraction rather than illumination.

Timothy Ball | 5 March, 2005

New York Times

Bryn Terfel’s First Wotan as Horns and Hounds Bay

The new Covent Garden production of Wagner’s “Ring” revolved Saturday night into its second quadrant, with a performance of “Die Walküre” every bit as exciting as the “Rheingold” in December. Once again, the excitement was thoroughly and fundamentally musical, its dual sources in the singing and in the pit, where the company’s music director, Antonio Pappano, made the score consistently intense and animated.

When Mr. Pappano was in charge of the Brussels opera, in the 1990’s, his performances moved with the certainty that nothing is more dramatic than opening orchestral music to its full richness, detail and flow: its full expressive potential. In this “Walküre” the determination is the same, as is the triumph. Right from the opening storm music, where the main attacks seem to be punching out into the auditorium, there is the thrill of music speaking its utmost.

Mr. Pappano has his musicians fully committed. The brass sections, in particular, bring Wagner’s musical onomatopoeia to life: the baying of Hunding’s hounds, the snorting of Wotan’s war steed, the bitter cosmic laughter. The strings beautifully underscore the tentative burgeoning of desire and recognition in the first act, with phrases caressingly dovetailed into silence. In the final scene, as Brünnhilde quietly starts to turn the mind of her father, Wotan, from fury, the woodwind counterpoint is delicately but firmly in support, with all its effects of color, contour and harmonic surprise on view.

But the essence of Mr. Pappano’s work is dynamic, not only in the general briskness of his tempos and the thrust of his forward motion but also in his careful staging of the moments of orchestral outburst. The music following Brünnhilde’s change of heart in her interview with Siegmund comes with its terror and colossal joy: the joy that she will now help the hero, the terror that she will be unable to do so. Similarly, in the last act, the interlude before Wotan’s closing monologue has rapturous power, which certainly comes from its immediate context as a statement of father-daughter love but also from its place within that 70-minute act, as the arrival at the peak.

Arriving there with Mr. Pappano and the orchestra is Bryn Terfel in the role of Wotan, which he is singing for the first time, outstandingly. This is a god becoming a man, and growing. In the early stages of the second act, he finds places where he can let a phrase run loose a little, green and fresh, before he pulls it tight again. Then, as he is cornered by his wife, Fricka — sternly and strongly portrayed by Rosalind Plowright — he exchanges the easy confidence of command for a force born of awareness and experience. You hear this happening in his slow, soft turns within a trap from which he cannot escape. “I can do what I will” is changing into “I will do what I must.”

The “will” is the same. Mr. Terfel’s Wotan from this point abandons suavity to gain massively and musically in power. He sings, of course, what is written. Yet he seems to be improvising: to be Wotan. Just as, in his physical presence, he makes every gesture and movement come from the character, so his singing — always absorbing, always purposeful — projects the consciousness of the flawed immortal. The more he goes down, the more he rises.

His rage as he enters in the last act is stark, a rage Wotan is directing at himself, for his powerlessness. At the end he reaches up to magnificent pride. Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde is also a farewell to his own divinity, yet he goes like a god.

His Brünnhilde, Lisa Gasteen, is human all through. Her voice is rich and rounded, and she uses it to create a character of loveliness and eager sympathies. She does not need to learn from Siegmund and Sieglinde what it is to feel: she knows, and responds. The flame in her voice is warm, not hot, and easily blown by emotional circumstances.

Katarina Dalayman’s Sieglinde is conversely complex. At first, as a domestic slave, she is wary, with a thoughtfulness that makes it possible for her to advance gradually, increasing in strength and resilience until she is fully steering the love scene with Siegmund. She later conveys distress and resolve with equal strength, her bleakness as engaged and luminous as her passion.

Jorma Silvasti offers a nicely gentle Siegmund, but one who can rise to the certainty of selfhood in the second act. Stephen Milling is the boorish, malevolent Hunding to the life, physically and in the superb rippling muscles of his singing.

Alas, as in “Rheingold,” Keith Warner’s direction is weak and sometimes vulgar.



A l’occasion de notre recension de L’Or du Rhin en décembre dernier, nous avions fait état de sérieuses réserves quant à la production de Keith Warner. Cette première journée n’est pas faite pour lever nos appréhensions : la scénographie reste toujours aussi compliquée, la direction théâtrale anecdotique et on ne sait toujours pas où le metteur en scène veut en venir.

Nous retrouvons au premier acte le décor du palais des dieux avant leur déménagement au Walhalla, agrémenté du spaghetti métallique sur lequel Alberich surfait vers les profondeurs dans Rheingold, complété d’une espèce de cabane cubique et rougeâtre légèrement au dessus du sol et au centre de la spirale d’acier.

Comme si la scène n’était pas assez encombrée, un ventilateur à pales brasse bruyamment l’air avant de disparaître dans les cintres ; depuis sa cabane, Sieglinde assiste à l’arrivée de Siegmund à grand renfort de mimiques exaltées.

La suite n’offre pas de scènes particulièrement marquantes : l’épée de papa est accrochée à la spirale métallique et Siegmund l’enlève sans plus de difficultés que l’invité d’un cocktail arracherait des dents une saucisse de sa pique ; clou du spectacle, la baraque s’envole vers les cintres, laissant place à un tas de vieux bouquins dont quelques feuilles volent sous l’effet d’une soufflerie.

Le deuxième acte est plus amusant. Brünnhilde descend des cintres par une échelle côté jardin (dispositif utilisé dans Rheingold). Ficelée par un câble, la pulpeuse Lisa Gasteen lève la jambe en hurlant joyeusement : on pense à une pom-pom girl géante égarée dans un concours de saut à l’élastique. Après s’être détachée, la walkyrie gambade sur scène, hilare, sautillant comme une starlette de Broadway, à la grande joie du public d’où fusent des rires bruyants.

Après “La Mélodie du Bonheur “, nous passons à “Scènes de ménage dans un supermarché” en retrouvant Wotan et Fricka toujours aussi prosaïques, dans un affrontement qui manque de force et même d’humour.

Le duo avec Brünnhilde lui succède ; on comprend que les vieux bouquins entrevus à l’acte précédent figurent les innombrables traités auquel le dieu est soumis.

La scène finale est un peu confuse dans la pénombre et se conclut par Wotan qui brise son épée en coupant la fameuse échelle.

Le dernier acte nous confronte au “Retour des Morts-Vivants” : tachées de sang, les traits torturés, les walkyries semblent de fait tout droit sorties d’un film d’horreur ; une idée as

sez juste puisqu’on les voit rassembler débris humains ou équins pour redonner naissance à de nouveaux héros (1). Pour tout décor, un gigantesque mur blanc pivotant autour duquel Wotan et Brünnhilde jouent à cache-cache. L’acte s’achève avec un effet particulièrement spectaculaire : une coulée de (vrai) feu descend progressivement le spaghetti métallique, embrasant progressivement la scène.

Vocalement, le bilan est assez mitigé.

Jorma Silvasti a le format d’un Siegmund au timbre clair, au volume vocal largement satisfaisant et c’est un bon acteur ; malheureusement, la voix a tendance à chevroter et à s’amenuiser dans le haut de la tessiture.

A condition de ne pas trop penser aux références de l’âge d’or du chant wagnérien, Katarina Dalayman est une Sieglinde particulièrement convaincante, engagée dramatiquement, à l’aise sur la tessiture même si l’on aimerait des aigus un peu plus sonores et un timbre plus riche.

Rosalind Plowright ne démérite pas non plus vocalement en Fricka, du moins dans la partie centrale de la tessiture ; son jeu dramatique est fin et étudié, mais sans doute un peu trop humain : on a du mal à voir en elle la gardienne des valeurs sacrées (mais la faute en incombe à la direction d’acteurs).

Le public parisien découvrira Lisa Gasteen en Isolde la saison prochaine. Malgré le ridicule de la mise en scène en ce qui la concerne, sa Brünnhilde est attachante, la voix est bien conduite, pas très puissante, le style un peu trop anglais, mais le timbre intéressant. Les aigus ne sont pas son fort et à cet égard, le début de l’acte II se révèle éprouvant pour l’oreille. Un mélange donc d’indéniables qualités et de quelques défauts qui pourront être corrigés avec le temps.

Après un deuxième acte plutôt laborieux, Bryn Terfel est annoncé souffrant au lever de rideau de l’acte III : impossible dans ces conditions de juger de son Wotan qu’il termine tantôt parlé, tantôt murmuré et toujours transposé (quand il ne se tait pas tout simplement) ; une expérience assez pénible pour le spectateur, surtout quand il songe au prix de son billet. Il y a quand même des moments où une doublure s’impose…

La direction d’Antonio Pappano est toujours aussi élégante, refusant clairement le spectaculaire, mais manque passablement de tension. Compte tenu des conditions d’exécution de la représentation, il ne semble pas raisonnable non plus d’émettre un jugement définitif sur ce travail.

A charge de revanche.

Placido CARREROTTI | Londres, Royal Opera House, 22 mars 2005

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 342 MByte (MP3)
Telecast (BBC)
A production by Keith Warner (2005)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.
Also available as telecast