Die Walküre

Andrew Davis
Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra
29 March 2005
Lyric Opera Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundPlácido Domingo
HundingEric Halfvarson
WotanJames Morris
SieglindeMichelle DeYoung
BrünnhildeJane Eaglen
FrickaLarissa Diadkova
HelmwigeJennifer Wilson
GerhildeErin Wall
OrtlindeErin Wood
WaltrauteRobynne Redmon
SiegruneBuffy Baggott
GrimgerdeGuang Yang
SchwertleiteJill Grove
RoßweißeLauren McNeese
Chicago Tribune

Ye Gods! Lyric’s ‘Die Walkure’ is full-throated operatic delight

Talk about your dysfunctional families.

In “Die Walkure,” you’ve got an incestuous relationship between a twin brother and sister, Siegmund and Sieglinde. You’ve got an over-weight teenager, Brunnhilde, who defies her father, Wotan, so she can act on his covert desire to protect the hero Siegmund from being killed by Hunding, Sieglinde’s enraged husband. (Brunnhilde is also fond of dressing up in male armor.) And you’ve got Fricka, Wotan’s implacable wife, haranguing her philandering spouse about the sanctity of marriage vows.

There are enough domestic problems in this second opera of Wagner’s four-part cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” to stock an entire year of “Dr. Phil.”

But more likely it’s the glorious outpouring of Wagner’s music that makes “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyrie”) such a perennial audience favorite. Its return to the Civic Opera House on Tuesday night as part of Lyric Opera’s unfolding “Ring” cycle brought a storm of ovations from the capacity crowd. And why not, given that they had been regaled for nearly five hours by some of the foremost Wagner singers in the world.

What gives this “Walkure” bragging rights over the previous performances in 2002 and 1996 (when the Lyric first presented this August Everding production as an integral cycle) was a new set of singers in the roles of Siegmund, Sieglinde and Hunding. No less than Placido Domingo is performing the Valsung hero Siegmund in Lyric’s current cycles, with Michelle DeYoung as his sister/bride and Eric Halfvar-son as his foe.

Add to the list James Morris’ definitive Wotan, Jane Eaglen’s vocally tireless Brunnhilde and conductor Andrew Davis whipping up mighty surges of Wagnerian sound in the orchestra pit, and you can appreciate why so many Ring-heads have traveled from all corners of the globe to catch Lyric’s three “Ring” cycles.

Domingo has been absent from the Lyric roster for seven seasons, and it was wonderful to have this great tenor back with us, if only briefly. At 64, he still commands richer reserves of vocal strength, stamina, quality and charisma than singers half his age. He may have been suffering from a cold (he cleared his throat throughout the first act), which caused him to mute certain phrases and hold back on the hero’s cries of “Nothung!” But Siegmund’s lyrical apostrophe to the delights of love and springtime was beautifully done. All will be well once someone finds Domingo a more flattering wig.

DeYoung, who is doubling as Waltraute in the cycles, brought a sweet, ecstatic, girlish grace to the supposedly desperate housewife Sieglinde, while she and Domingo made palpable the twins’ erotic mutual attraction.

Vocally the role lies at the upper limits of what the American mezzo can sing; although she delivered a capable “Du bist der Lenz,” the sound did not blossom on top.

Halfvarson’s black-voiced Hunding was as menacingly effective as his Hagen later in the cycle.

The “Walkure” Brunnhilde always was the best of Eaglen’s assumptions of the Valkyrie warrior-maiden. Decked out in long blond locks and leather vest, the English soprano is too ample of figure to capture the young Brunnhilde’s coltish energy, while some of her pitches went awry. But it hardly mattered when she unleashed her gleaming battle-cries or pleaded with Wotan in the final scene when her father kissed away her divinity and put her to sleep on a fire-encircled mountaintop.

Morris continues to amaze with a performance that has sacrificed little if any vocal quality to the passing of time and now stands as a fascinating study in morally flawed humanity, at once noble and corrupt. His Wotan is a god-king towering in rage, tragic in hubris, heartbreakingly tender in his farewell to his defiant daughter. If you think this pivotal role is all heavy lifting, catch the playful pat on the backside Wotan gives Brunnhilde with his spear.

The rest of the cast included contralto Larissa Diadkova as Fricka, formidable in her confrontation with Wotan; and there was a splendid octet of Valkyries. Davis drew as thunderous an ovation when he entered the pit as when he left it; he and his sumptuous-sounding orchestra (is there a harder-working pit band in opera?) richly deserved their reception.

John von Rhein | April 01, 2005

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 510 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by August Everding (1993)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.