Die Walküre

Lorin Maazel
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
2 February 2008
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundClifton Forbis
HundingMikhail Petrenko
WotanJames Morris
SieglindeDeborah Voigt
BrünnhildeLisa Gasteen
FrickaMichelle DeYoung
HelmwigeClaudia Waite
GerhildeKelly Cae Hogan
OrtlindeWendy Bryn Harmer
WaltrauteLaura Vlasak Nolen
SiegruneLeann Sandel-Pantaleo
GrimgerdeEdyta Kulczak
SchwertleiteJane Bunnell
RoßweißeMary Phillips
New York Times

Maazel at the Met, Brünnhilde in a Bind

As soon as Lorin Maazel appeared in the pit at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night to conduct the season’s first performance of Wagner’s “Walküre,” he received a sustained ovation from the audience. At 77, after an inexplicable 45-year absence, Mr. Maazel has finally returned to the Met. Facing high expectations, he delivered, conducting a lucidly textured, rhythmically incisive and strongly conceived account of this touchstone opera and winning what looked to be very respectful applause from the orchestra musicians when he took a solo curtain call at the end of the five-hour evening.

General managers of the Met past and present have argued that it is difficult to bring major international maestros to its podium, since conducting a string of performances at a repertory opera house involves a time commitment of several weeks, even months. So it’s curious that the company has not looked more often to its Lincoln Center neighbor, the New York Philharmonic, to find ready maestros.

Of the orchestra’s last four music directors, including Mr. Maazel, two, Pierre Boulez and Kurt Masur, have still not appeared at the Met. Zubin Mehta has conducted nearly 100 performances with the company, but the last was in 1971, seven years before his 13-year tenure with the Philharmonic began. Mr. Maazel’s appearance came about on relatively short notice, when he agreed last year to take on five of the six performances in this run.

Though he is far better known as a symphonic conductor, Mr. Maazel has extensive experience in opera. However fair it may be to fault him for his sometimes heavy-handed interpretations or his lack of artistic vision at the Philharmonic, he is a formidable conductor. Few could have doubted that he would offer a commanding account of “Die Walküre.”

The profile of his performance was clear from the opening orchestral music, which depicts a raging storm as the tormented and wounded young Siegmund flees through a forest before chancing on the secluded home of the brutal tribesman Hunding and his oppressed wife, the lovely Sieglinde. Mr. Maazel made the relentless motif of pulsing quarter notes in the lower strings sound terrifying and inexorable. There were slashing brass attacks, crackling energy and cresting crescendos. Mr. Maazel never went for superficial effects, instead producing intensity through clarity and control.

Throughout Act I he showed acute sensitivity to the admirable singers: the lustrous soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as Sieglinde; the husky-voiced, powerful heldentenor Clifton Forbis as Siegmund; and the chilling young bass Mikhail Petrenko as Hunding. If anything, Mr. Maazel was overly accommodating during the long scene when Siegmund and Sieglinde realize that they are long-lost twins and fall helplessly in love. There were radiant colorings and supple tenderness in this scene. Still, I prefer performances that capture more of the nervousness coursing below the surface of the music as the needy siblings move toward the fatal culmination of their ardor.

James Levine has more or less owned the Wagner repertory at the Met, so comparisons between his approach and Mr. Maazel’s are inevitable. The differences were most evident in the sublime final scene, when Wotan (the bass James Morris) punishes his favorite child, the Valkyrie maiden Brünnhilde (the soprano Lisa Gasteen), by placing her in a sleeping state atop a mountain surrounded by fire.

When Mr. Levine conducts this long scene, some of the most sadly beautiful music ever written, as the motifs of Brünnhilde’s slumber and Wotan’s farewell mingle, he typically tries to shape the passages without disturbing them, to reach a plane of timelessness and flow. Mr. Maazel, in contrast, articulated every phrase, taking dramatic pauses to alert listeners to a coming shift of transfixing harmony, balancing textures as if the string section were a choir of voices. This was a very pronounced but engrossing interpretation.

Over all, the Met musicians played superbly for Mr. Maazel. The “Ride of the Valkyries” was blazing without being steely, driving without being forced.

There was great news for Wagner buffs with the performance by the mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, Wotan’s indomitable wife. Ms. Blythe has proved her excellence in everything from Handel to Puccini. This was her first Wagner role at the Met, and she was glorious, singing with sumptuous tone, unforced power and textual clarity. A big woman, she commanded the stage with Junoesque presence and charisma.

As Brünnhilde, Ms. Gasteen had moments when her high notes wobbled and her tone turned strident. Yet she gave a fearless, insightful and vocally savvy account of this terribly demanding role. Mr. Morris, who had missed the dress rehearsal because of illness, was in impressive vocal shape here. This great Wagnerian, who turns 61 on Thursday, sang with a stentorian power and authority that recalled his prime years.

Mr. Maazel may have more time on his hands when he leaves the Philharmonic in 2009. The Met should line up some dates now.


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320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 534 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1986)