Die Walküre

Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra
24-27 June 2011
16-19 February, 10-12 April 2012
Concert Hall Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundJonas Kaufmann
HundingMichail Petrenko
WotanRené Pape
SieglindeAnja Kampe
BrünnhildeNina Stemme
FrickaEkaterina Gubanova
HelmwigeTatiana Kravtsova
GerhildeZhanna Dombrovskaya
OrtlindeIrina Vasilieva
WaltrauteNatalia Evstafieva
SiegruneEkaterina Sergeeva
GrimgerdeAnna Kiknadze
SchwertleiteLyudmila Kanunnikova
RoßweißeElena Vitman

This is the first major release of the Wagner bicentenary year to come my way, and it’s thrilling. Even more exciting is the news that it is only the first instalment of a complete Mariinsky Ring: Rheingold will follow in September 2013, with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung in 2014. If this instalment is anything to go by then this it’s going to be a Ring to cherish.

So much about this set works so well, but it makes sense to begin with the singing. Much of the attention this release gets will focus on Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund, and rightly so because he is a marvel. He is now at the point of his career where his voice is perfect for the role of the Wälsung hero. He combines lyrical beauty with dark, rugged heroism and a supreme sense of excitement in articulating every phrase. The baritonal darkness of his voice makes you sit up and take notice from the very first phrase, and it’s this that makes his assumption of the role so distinctive. It adds an even greater layer of pathos to the character’s suffering while giving Siegmund extra heroic grandeur that makes us root for him all the more. The excitement is there in his cries of Wälse! Wälse! and in his ringing excitement of Wälsungen-Blut that brings down the curtain on Act 1, but the lyrical beauty of his Winterstürme is every bit as compelling, as is his lovely song to the sleeping Sieglinde at the end of Act 2. As important as the vocal beauty, though, is the thoughtful artistry that underpins everything he does. Like a lieder singer, he seems to have thought deeply about the text and each phrase feels laden with meaning, articulated with clarity and precision. Listen, for example, to the way in which he grows into his narration of his past in the first act. The opening phrases seem tentative, even nervous, as if he is reluctant to share his life story with Hunding, but the monologue grows like a great arch leading to a final couplet (Nun weisst du, fragende Frau…) that will break your heart. Likewise, the entire Todesverkundigung scene grows in stature from its dream-like beginnings through to a hair-raising finale, electrified by Kaufmann’s identification with the text, before subsiding into the peace of Zauberfest. Kaufmann’s Siegmund is more lyrical than Jon Vickers (Karajan on DG), more beautiful than Gary Lakes (Levine on DG), more distinctive than Poul Elming (Barenboim on Warner) and more heroic than James King (Solti on Decca or Böhm on Philips). The closest comparison I’ve come across on disc is with Ramón Vinay (Krauss on Archipel and Keilberth on Testament) whose dark voice is of a similar hue to Kaufmann’s and who has a similarly complete identification with the character. This should be enough to show you that Kaufmann’s Siegmund is in a very special league indeed, and for his contribution alone this set is worth the purchase price.

This is far from being a one-man show, though, because the rest of the cast are just as notable. Anja Kampe’s Sieglinde develops most movingly as the opera progresses. When she first appears in Act 1 her primary characteristic is of clarity and thrilling nobility, as well as beauty of tone that you can take as read. Her attempt to get Siegmund to remain in the house of bad luck (So bleibe hier!) made the hairs on my neck prickle, and she crests the wave of ecstasy in Du bist der Lenz. However, by the time of Acts 2 and 3 she has assumed an air of wounded vulnerability, almost broken in Act 3 when she asks to be left alone. She revives rapidly when she hears the news of her child, though you’ll hear O herrstes Wunder sung better from other sopranos. René Pape’s Wotan is almost as remarkable as Kaufmann’s Siegmund. He has already recorded roles like Landgrave Herman and King Heinrich for Barenboim, and his graduation into Wagner’s most difficult role is a triumph. He has a bewitching beauty of tone that will win over any listener, but his secret weapon is the way he sings with a bel canto-like ear for the long line. This obviously helps to make the farewell very moving, but it also helps to energise and unify other moments that can sprawl, most notably the great monologue of Act 2 which ebbs and flows with a natural air that you seldom hear from other singers. His interpretation emphasises the warmth of Wotan the father, and during the moment in Act 3 where he pronounces his sentence on Brünnhilde you can really sense the character’s pain, as if he is forcing himself to say the reluctant words. As that errant daughter, Nina Stemme reminds us that she is the premier Wagnerian soprano at work today. Her voice has a grandeur and nobility that lends dignity and stature to the role of the Valkyrie – it is another reason why the Todesverkundigung is so thrilling, as is her interaction with her sisters at the start of Act 3 – and her singing with Pape makes the end of Act 3 very special. She still manages an element of impetuosity in her Hojotohos that open Act 2, even if she never sounds exactly girlish. Mikhail Petrenko is a genuinely malevolent Hunding. He never falls back on posturing or vocal colour alone, but uses an edge to his voice to make him sound properly sinister while remaining exciting at the same time. Ekaterina Gubanova’s Fricka is noble, dignified and very well sung, if slightly anonymous in her vocal acting. Furthermore, I have seldom heard a band of Valkyries sound so convincingly war-like. They sing thrillingly, but have an excited ring about their voice that never lets you forget that these are warrior maidens.

Gergiev’s Wagner has not always been well received – his Ring was slated during its appearances in this country – but for me this recording shows him as a Wagnerian of importance and skill. He conducts with an eye on the long view. This works exceptionally well in Act 1, whose orgasmic climax on the retrieval of the sword is so powerful because it has been so well prepared. The same is true for Act 3, which unfolds entirely appropriately, each scene giving way naturally to the next, though for me it was marred by a too speedy rendition of the Magic Fire Music which made the end of the act feel rushed. Only Act 2 felt a bit episodic, though it’s sometimes hard to make it seem anything else. He is particularly skilled at judging transitions, and in most cases they are so powerful because you barely notice them, a skill surely honed from his vast experience in the theatre. His tempi don’t tend to draw attention to themselves, though a few times I noticed him holding onto a moment for a fraction longer than you might expect (such as in Siegmund’s Wälse monologue), thereby heightening the expectation for what is to come next. He repeatedly lights up a particular passage with a sharp flash of colour, and in this he is helped by the superb playing of the Mariinsky orchestra. The press notes for this release make great play of the theatre’s connection with Wagner, including the informed speculation that it was this orchestra that first played any music from The Ring, and their playing is indeed very special, comfortably passing any comparison test with orchestras to their west. The surging, pulsing strings are particularly effective in Act 1, and the brass add a special touch of class to the climaxes of Acts 2 and 3. The whole enterprise is supported by excellent recorded sound. The engineers have done a fantastic job of capturing the performances (sessions and live concerts) with supreme clarity and, perhaps surprisingly, they reveal an enormous amount in the Ride of the Valkyries, laying bare the sound with a degree of clarity that is often lost elsewhere: you’ll never hear better piccolos in the Ride than here!

Few operas take their audience on a journey as extensive or profound as does Walküre, and it is difficult for any recording to do it complete justice. In terms of modern performances, though, this is the finest CD version to have appeared in many long years. For me, this version surpasses digital recordings from Haitink, Levine and Janowski, and, while it won’t make anyone throw away Solti, Keilberth or (especially) Böhm, it is able to look them in the face and stand the comparison. The booklet contains a thoughtful essay with libretto in Russian, German and English. Incidentally, while some of the music was recorded live in concert, there are no intrusive audience noises, though you might pick up a fair amount of groaning in the quieter passages, presumably coming from the maestro himself.

If the rest of the Wagner bicentennial produces recordings as good as this then we are in for a great year.

Simon Thompson

The Guardian

Taken from a series of concert performances that Valery Gergiev conducted in the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg in February and April last year, this is the first instalment of what over the next two years will become a complete Ring: Das Rheingold will appear later this year, with Siegfried and Götterdammerung due in 2014. As with Gergiev’s fine 2010 Parsifal, the new Walküre is founded upon the Mariinsky Opera’s own staging, but with genuinely international-class Wagner singers drafted into the principal roles for the discs. On this recording, just Hunding (the very fine Mikhail Petrenko), Fricka (the more ordinary Ekaterina Gubanova), together with the eight Valkyries are company singers.

In the first act at least, with Jonas Kaufmann as an incomparable Siegmund, Anja Kampe a profoundly moving Sieglinde and Gergiev pacing the performance to an overwhelming climax, the result is spellbinding. In fact, few performances on disc can match it for sheer excitement, or for Kaufmann’s blend of easy power, immaculate diction and lyric beauty. It would have been miraculous if the rest of the performance had been able to maintain the same level, and it doesn’t. The huge span of the second act has proved the stumbling block for many Wagner conductors, and Gergiev doesn’t quite bring it off, either. The focus comes and goes, with the dramatic pulse quickening unnaturally when things start to flag, and, for all his evenness and beauty of tone, René Pape’s Wotan does not project the strength of character to bind it all together.

Both Pape and Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde are more comfortable in the third act, which seems all of a piece again dramatically. Kampe’s final moments are simply glorious, too, and though Pape’s subsequent reproaches to his daughter seem a bit uninvolved, he sings the Farewell with touching fondness while Gergiev obtains transcendently beautiful playing from the Mariinsky Orchestra. Even if, except in the first act, this doesn’t challenge the finest Walküres on disc, it’s still a fine beginning to what promises to be a very worthwhile cycle.

Andrew Clements | 30 January 2013

The Telegraph

This is a frustrating release. It’s hard to imagine the second episode of Wagner’s Ring cast with a stronger line-up of currently active singers than the one here, and most of them deliver superb performances: Nina Stemme, in particular, is a magnificent Brünnhilde, emphasising the humanity of a woman discovering the meaning of love rather than the fierce Amazon. She stands in powerful contrast to the awesomely implacable Wotan of René Pape, and together they make something greatly moving at the end of the renunciations in the third act.

Jonas Kaufmann is a consummate Siegmund, and Ekaterina Gubanova makes a regally persuasive Fricka. Only Anja Kampe’s wayward if impassioned Sieglinde disappoints: she develops a quavering intonation under pressure.

But the fundamental problem is the conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, who offer a listless and even flaccid interpretation, lacking in muscle and energy. It’s as though they’re being forced to play music in a foreign language they only partially understand, with the result that the opera’s moral grandeur never registers as it so emphatically does in Mark Elder’s recent Hallé recording (despite its inferior cast).

The recording lacks bloom and vividness: one longs for the electric brilliance of John Culshaw’s 1966 Decca recording with Solti – and in most respects that would remain my first recommendation.

Rupert Christiansen | 22 Feb 2013


This new set, the first of a planned Ring that is being assembled from live concert performances, boasts a promising line-up. Pape sings beautifully – one might add ‘of course’ – and he is a bass, Wagner’s intended voice for the role. But Pape is also rather cautious about taking risks, both with finding appropriate colours for the text and adding just that extra lick of tension (aka ‘going for it’) which would make his war-father the dramatic equal of, say, Sir John Tomlinson’s. The Act 2 monologue is most sensitively managed from a dynamic point of view – by Gergiev too – and is often, rightly, very quiet. But it remains intimately Lieder-like and (too?) beautifully sung even in the great outbursts of bitterness at ‘Nimm’ mein Segen’ and ‘Das Ende’ – the latter unforgettable from both Hans Hotter and Tomlinson but here just a statement of fact. In Act 3, too, Pape seems obsessed with remaining noble; he never sounds angry with his daughter or bitter at his loss of control.

Stemme has the measure of her role in spades and her strong, pure, just slightly chilled tones (a description, not a criticism) deliver memorably the great curve of Act 3 – fear, defiance, guilt, more defiance to almost flirtation. Act 2 is also precisely given, especially the Todesverkündigung, but she is not best served in the scenes with Wotan by Gergiev’s enigmatically laid-back approach. Act 1 goes well from all three participants, Kaufmann making his voice distinctively other (older, darker) than his Lohengrin. Again, though, Gergiev pulls back in the middle of things, here in Kampe’s delivery of her life-so-far monologue, which doesn’t explode into the entry of spring and the lovers’ declarations as it might. Gubanova is a lively, probing Fricka and the Valkyries a well-saddled bunch.

The still decidedly un-Western sound of Gergiev and his orchestra is a dramatic advantage to this opera’s tense underlay. The act timings, incidentally, are almost identical to those of Karajan’s DG recording. Here their evident command and enjoyment of the piece are slightly compromised, either by their maestro’s occasional holding back or the difficulty of maintaining a dramatic line over three very distant recording periods from June 2011 to April 2012. Was much added from outside the concert performances? Sound and balance are excellent. Collectors will relish Stemme and Kaufmann but this first instalment is not a major challenge to old favourites such as Krauss or Barenboim.

Mike Ashman

Opera News

Act I of this performance belongs to Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund. Buoyant and lyrical of tone, his portrayal is so engrossing that the long expository narration after the arrival of Hunding, sometimes the dullest part of the role in other performances, is a highlight. Otherwise, this most beloved single act of the Ring is most notable for the unfocused, stream-of-consciousness conducting of Valery Gergiev. With all good will, it might be theorized that Gergiev is trying to portray how young and vigorous Siegmund is supposed to be. But Gergiev’s conducting puts the listener in mind of a cat distracted by a shiny object. This Act I is not so much fast by the clock (other Walküre Act I performances are shorter in duration) as relentless in a wearying way. Perhaps it is the high-pressure environment that makes Anja Kampe’s Sieglinde sound so tremulous; she does not sound this shaky in live performance. But it is lovely that she doesn’t scream when the sword comes out of the tree. Mikhail Petrenko’s rudimentary German makes his Hunding a place-holder.

The picture changes in Act II, as it so often does, with the entrance of Wotan. René Pape is nearly ideal in the role, authoritative with Fricka, intimate with Brünnhilde and always steady of tone. It’s a youthful, suitably god-like sound. The topmost notes of the role seem more like an extension built onto the voice than an integral part of it, but that is a small price to pay for this portrayal. In Act III, Pape offers an unusual perspective on the character. He takes a very long time to soften even the tiniest bit to Brünnhilde’s entreaties. His implacable rage and disappointment come, it is clear, because her betrayal is to him a personal one, not merely one to their enterprise. Only at the very end is there (quite beautifully) a sense that he realizes how events have veered beyond his own personal sphere. Nina Stemme’s soprano has mezzo colorings, making her a little too worldly-wise for the early section of the role of Brünnhilde in this opera, but she seems born to play the Brünnhilde of Götterdämmerung. Ekaterina Gubanova offers a polished Fricka.

This is a curious recording. In the Wotan–Brünnhilde scenes and in the Siegmund–Brünnhilde scene, we have the two singers we perhaps most want to hear in these roles today. And we also have a conductor who is all over the map. Gergiev in fact does the Todesverkündigung quite well. But other passages sound as if he simply didn’t know what is happening in the opera. The nadir is the tender moment when Brünnhilde is trying to cajole her father into telling her what is troubling him. The entrance of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Act II is a grand, sumptuous affair rather than a panicked flight from danger. Gergiev’s jump-cutting makes it seem as if the characters had no thought processes, raising the question of whether he has any thought processes himself. Perhaps he thinks that the characters are cardboard comic-strip characters. But then why have thousands of commentators never tired of analyzing them?

WILLIAM R. BRAUN | June 2013 — Vol. 77, No. 12


Throughout 2013, the bicentennial of the birth of Richard Wagner will be celebrated by the operatic community, with performances of Wagner’s operas in virtually all of the world’s important opera houses and several new recordings planned. The recent release of a recording of Tannhäuser—in which Nina Stemme, the present Walküre’s Brünnhilde, sings Elisabeth—continues Pentatone’s celebratory series of Wagner operas conducted by Marek Janowski, a series that will culminate in recordings of the Ring operas, recorded in concert. Similarly, the Mariinsky Orchestra’s recording of Die Walküre launches a complete Ring, with release of the complementary Rheingold scheduled for autumn 2013. Based upon the level of achievement in this Walküre, it must be hoped that the Mariinsky Ring does not suffer the same fate as DECCA’s effort with the Cleveland Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnányi, aborted after unimpressive sales of the Rheingold and Walküre performances. Recordings of Die Walküre are certainly not in short supply, though, and even in the year in which Wagner’s bicentennial is celebrated it is possible to question the wisdom and desirability of recording the Ring anew, especially considering the expense incurred both by the record labels and the potential purchasers. The vital consideration, then, is whether there are singers or conductors whose performances of Wagner’s music deserve to be preserved. Only a few minutes into Act One of the present recording, the entrance of Siegmund gives notice that this recording is one that all Wagnerians will want to hear.

During the twenty-five-year tenure of their Artistic Director, Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky Orchestra has been transformed from an ensemble appreciated almost exclusively for its performances of Russian music to a celebrated orchestra with a rich repertory—and discography—of international works. In 2003, Maestro Gergiev presided over the first performance of the complete Ring presented in Russia for more than ninety years, a milestone in his leadership of the Mariinsky. In the present Walküre, compiled from concert performances, the members of the Mariinsky Orchestra justify the esteem in which they are held by the international musical community. Bringing the individual strengths gained from sterling performances of Russian opera to the music of Wagner, the players embrace the very different idiom with evident dedication, producing playing that rivals that of the greatest German and Austrian orchestras. Nonetheless, this Walküre unfolds with a sonic ambiance very different from that of Bayreuth, with its notorious covered pit, or the Metropolitan Opera. Recording the opera during concert performances partially accounts for this, but much of the difference can be attributed to both the orchestra and Maestro Gergiev. Collectively, there is considerable brilliance in the orchestral playing, with particular honors going to the woodwinds and brass. Russian repertory is littered with resplendent passages for woodwinds and brass, and the Mariinsky reeds and horns play with assured intonation rivaled only by their Wiener Philharmoniker counterparts. No exposed passage embarrasses an instrumentalist, and the balance of the recording allows even the lowest bass grumblings consistent clarity. The harps, often harmonically critical in Wagner’s music, are granted welcome prominence within the sonic landscape, and the high woodwinds in the ‘Zauberfeuer’ music glisten, highlighting the evolution of Loge’s musical transformation into fire. Motifs that in many performances are unearthed by only the most attentive and practiced ears break the surface of this Walküre, supplying new insights even in a scene as musically sparse as the ‘Todesverkündigung.’ As a result of the balance of the recording, the orchestra occasionally overpowers the singers, which is not uncommon in performances of Die Walküre, whether staged or presented in concert. The overall acoustic of the recording is slightly unnatural, but the dynamic range and richness of sound are very rewarding.

Maestro Gergiev brings to this Mariinsky Ring a wealth of experience as a Wagnerian in the world’s greatest opera houses, in addition to a lauded Mariinsky recording of Parsifal. Pacing performances with an aim of producing a recording is a tricky business, one that has undermined the best work of fine conductors. Thus far, the Wagner recordings in the Pentatone series have been of one-off concerts, whereas the Mariinsky Walküre is compiled from a series of performances: though recording a single performance introduces greater opportunities for debilitating blunders, recording multiple performances can create nightmares for producers, engineers, conductors, and casts by necessitating a consistency of approach that can prove elusive. It is to the credit of the engineers involved with this recording that the editing is absolutely unobtrusive. Maestro Gergiev maintains a firm grip on the reins, achieving the consistency necessary to theoretically elucidate an individual concept within the context of a recording compiled from multiple performances over a prolonged period of time. Tempi for the most part are slow, allowing passages that are often rushed to unfold with exceptional clarity. With committed singing from the cast, lapses in dramatic cohesion are mostly avoided, though musical phrases are often given prominence that threatens to stall narrative progression. Musically, Maestro Gergiev’s attention to color in the orchestra recalls Ring performances conducted by Herbert von Karajan, but the sense of Wagner’s characters evolving, gradually but inexorably, towards their respective fates is shortchanged. Scenes do not always unfold along traditional lines under Maestro Gergiev’s baton, but there are few idiosyncrasies that compromise the integrity of Wagner’s dramaturgy: the root of the problem seems to be an absence of personal engagement with the score on the part of Maestro Gergiev. The care given to orchestral balances and logical if not always conventional phrasing produces an interesting Walküre and bodes well for the other installments of Maestro Gergiev’s Ring, musically: dramatically, considering that the challenges of the other Ring operas are more daunting than those of Walküre, greater focus on momentum will be paramount.

The Mariinsky’s Valkyries—Zhanna Dombrovskaya as Gerhilde, Irina Vasilieva as Ortlinde, Natalia Evstafieva as Waltraute, Lyudmila Kanunnikova as Schwertleite, Tatiana Kravtsova as Helmwige, Ekaterina Sergeeva as Siegrune, Anna Kiknadze as Grimgerde, and Elena Vitman as Roßweiße—are a formidable clutch of warrior maidens, their tones occasionally strident but little troubled by the wobbles that often affect Slavic voices. The ‘Walkürenritt’ is exciting but not without humor. The voices combine effectively in the cantilena-like passages in which the Valkyries plead with Wotan for clemency for their sister, and the abandon with which high notes are attacked reminds that these girls are happiest in the heat of battle.

Bass Mikhail Petrenko is a menacing presence as Hunding, his oily voice slithering through Wagner’s music with chilling precision. The irony of Hunding’s false chivalry in granting Siegmund temporary asylum from both elements and enemies is evident in every note that Mr. Petrenko sings. The intelligence of Mr. Petrenko’s singing makes Hunding less of a dolt than he is in many performances, with the sense that he is less Fricka’s puppet than an opportunistic mercenary. His exchanges with Sieglinde in Siegmund’s presence drip with sarcasm, suggesting that this Hunding is the sort of abusive spouse whose crimes are always just out of sight. Musically, Mr. Petrenko commands Hunding’s text and tessitura with complete security.

It is interesting to note that the Fricka of this performance, Ekaterina Gubanova, sang Giovanna Seymour in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2011 – 2012 production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. Though Donizetti’s music is vastly different from Wagner’s, bel canto credentials are anything but a disqualification for singing Wagner. It is well documented that Wagner hoped for bel canto ideals to extend to the singing of his music, though admittedly his vocal lines often suggest otherwise. If Ms. Gubanova’s voice seemed slightly ungainly in Giovanna Seymour’s music, it is entirely in its element in Fricka’s. To her credit, Ms. Gubanova’s Fricka is more womanly and audibly a wronged wife, wounded to the quick by her husband’s philandering, than many Frickas, but her baleful pronouncements to Wotan are voiced with dire authority. This is a Fricka who is not merely a consort but a powerful goddess in her own right, pursuing her own agenda. In order for Wotan’s denunciation of Brünnhilde to be completely convincing, Fricka must be a towering figure whose demands cannot be denied, and in this regard Ms. Gubanova’s performance is completely successful. The phrasing is not unfailingly idiomatic, but the voice is fully capable of delivering the role with aplomb. Top notes are granitic but solid, hurled out with defiance. The equalization of vocal registers required to sing bel canto lines eloquently is in evidence throughout Ms. Gubanova’s performance, which ultimately amounts to a fiery, fierce Fricka.

The Wotan of René Pape is an intriguing compromise. Mr. Pape is a bass singing a role that requires a bass-baritone voice, and the fact that several of Wotan’s highest notes, especially those in Act Three, push the singer to the very limits of his range cannot be overlooked. While many prominent Wotans lack ease on high, Mr. Pape’s struggles with the extreme top of the tessitura undermines climaxes. When the music stays low, however, Mr. Pape delivers a wonderfully assured performance, shaping many of the lower-lying phrases in Act Three with ease and greater firmness of tone than many singers bring to these passages. Mr. Pape’s native German diction is very welcome, and though his is not an exceptionally nuanced or insightful concept of his role he recognizes Wagner’s often eloquent matching of musical lines to the conversational flow of text. Perhaps the most involving aspect of Mr. Pape’s performance is his audible embarrassment at his favorite daughter witnessing his subjugation to his wife: not unlike Rigoletto’s reaction to Gilda’s first encounter with him in his jester’s garb, Wotan’s reaction to Brünnhilde’s confusion at his crumbling beneath Fricka’s unanswerable arguments is crucial to the opera’s ultimate conclusion. Seeing her father’s will dominated by his wife’s awakens Brünnhilde’s desire to continue Wotan’s agenda and precipitates her fall. Mr. Pape’s anger when confronting Brünnhilde after her rescue of Sieglinde is mild, sung with attention to vocal rather than dramatic values, but his farewell to his daughter is poised and poignant. If Mr. Pape’s Wotan is not one for the ages, worthy of mention in the same breath with Friedrich Schorr and Hans Hotter, it is handsomely though not perfectly sung and convincingly balanced between virility and resignation.

If her soaring Leitmotif is to be interpreted literally, Sieglinde is the seed from which Brünnhilde’s self-sacrifice, the destruction of the gods, and the rebirth of humanity are grown. It is interesting to note how few completely satisfying Sieglindes there have been in the years since Die Walküre was first performed in 1870, and it is delightful to hear from Anja Kampe a performance that comes so near to total mastery. A veteran of several acclaimed Ring productions, Ms. Kampe knows her way round Sieglinde’s music, and she exhibits the acumen required to focus the voice appropriately for each scene. In a sense, Sieglinde is similar to Verdi’s Violetta, each of Walküre’s three acts making different demands upon the singer: in Act One, Sieglinde awakens to true love with music of lyrical ecstasy; her terror in Act Two is depicted in rocketing dramatic lines; desperation and exultation in her final scene take her soaring to the top of her range. In Act One, the infusion of warmth into Ms. Kampe’s voice as she converses with Siegmund makes audible Sieglinde’s recognition of her brother. The sadness with which she sings of her life with Hunding is supplanted by radiant joy as she contemplates her flight with Siegmund, Ms. Kampe’s crisp diction contributing meaningfully to her persuasively excited singing. Unfortunately, Maestro Gergiev’s approach chips away the foundations of the dramatic arcs that Ms. Kampe strives to build, but she makes her points movingly nonetheless. In Act Two, Ms. Kampe’s Sieglinde battles fear, doubt, and uncertainly without resorting to stridency. Sieglinde’s greatest challenge comes in Act Three, however, in the brief but unforgettable outpouring of ‘O hehrstes Wunder!’ Ms. Kampe builds to this climax with gleaming tone and a power that temporarily threatens to upset her refreshing security, but she manages to re-focus the voice and scale the heights with commendably sure intonation. It is apparent from the strength with which she takes her leave in Walküre that this is a Sieglinde who will brave any hardship in order to safely deliver her son. Ms. Kampe enters the company of Sieglindes who both earn sympathy and emerge from their vocal and dramatic trials with glory.

Much of the interest in the Metropolitan Opera’s Robert Lepage production of the Ring centered on the Siegmund of Jonas Kaufmann. Mr. Kaufmann is without question one of the most significant singers of the current generation, and his forays into Wagnerian repertory have mostly been undertaken judiciously as the voice has darkened and expanded. In comparison with Lohengrin, in which role Mr. Kaufmann was acclaimed prior to his inaugural Walküre performances, Siegmund’s tessitura is markedly lower, accessing Mr. Kaufmann’s burnished, baritonal lower register. Natural diction shapes Mr. Kaufmann’s musical phrasing, enabling him to focus on the technical challenges of the music. There is a touching simplicity to the Siegmund who stumbles into Hunding’s hut in search of shelter, and the sense of wonder that Mr. Kaufmann brings to Siegmund’s increasing cognizance of his ancestry is disarming. Siegmund is no ‘holy fool’ like Parsifal, but there is more poetry in Mr. Kaufmann’s performance than in many Siegmunds. This is not to suggest that any power is lacking in Mr. Kaufmann’s singing: in the context of concert performances, he brings impressive power to climaxes without forcing the voice. At Maestro Gergiev’s tempo, Mr. Kaufmann’s ‘Winterstürme’ is an expansive performance, the tone beautifully bronzed and completely steady. Steadiness is also an impressive hallmark of Mr. Kaufmann’s singing in the ‘Todesverkündigung,’ where the low tessitura poses daunting challenges for many tenors. The boldness and unflinching focus of Mr. Kaufmann’s performance recall the acclaimed Siegmund of Jon Vickers. Mr. Kaufmann’s timbre is leaner than his Canadian forbear’s, but he has little to fear from comparison with the best Siegmunds of past generations. It can be debated whether Wagner repertory is natural territory for Mr. Kaufmann, but there are few instances in which hype proves as justified as in the case of this Siegmund.

Brünnhilde is a role in which the success of any Hochdramatischer soprano is measured. In Die Walküre, the soprano singing Brünnhilde endures tremendous vocal ordeals—the infamous battle cry with which she makes her entrance demands trills and takes her, within a few bars, to top C—and has the difficult task of credibly portraying a free-spirited immortal whose brush with humanity engenders her own mortality. In her initial interview with Wotan, the voice must possess the sharp edge of her father’s spear. When she appears to Siegmund as the harbinger of death and destiny, her vocal lines inhabit the low tonal world of the man whom she addresses, presenting perilous choices of registers and vocal placement. As she reveals Sieglinde’s pregnancy and plans the despondent mother’s escape, she must display spot-on intonation. Perhaps most difficult is the necessity in her final scene with her father of audibly transforming from playful girl who has never suffered reproach to a troubled, remorseful figure who will wake in Siegfried fully a woman. Few are the sopranos who accomplish these feats. That Nina Stemme achieves almost total success, singing each scene almost as if she were checking requirements for a first-rate Brünnhilde off of a list, is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this Walküre. When the young Brünnhilde greets her father at the start of Act Two, it is obvious that this is a maiden who enjoys nothing more than doing Wotan’s bidding on the battlefield. She is audibly confused and exasperated by Wotan’s response to Fricka’s ultimatum, however, and her uncomplicated psychology is shattered by her observation of Siegmund’s love for Sieglinde. After triumphantly rescuing Sieglinde and the unborn Siegfried, Ms. Stemme’s Brünnhilde stoically faces Wotan’s bitterness, offering her defense imperturbably. Ms. Stemme is one of the few Brünnhildes heard in recent years whose voice is genuinely worthy of the role in terms of vocal amplitude, and her singing on this recording is a rare example of a Wagner performance for which no apologies must be made. Ms. Stemme’s is a large but also an attractive voice, and she sings with near-native command of the text. It is clear from her first notes that this Brünnhilde is no shrinking violet but also no mindless harpy. Intelligence and emotional directness are central to Ms. Stemme’s performance. While she does not achieve the dramatic wonders remembered from the Brünnhildes of Martha Mödl and Dame Gwyneth Jones, Ms. Stemme sings more securely and beautifully than either of her esteemed predecessors. Her interpretation of Brünnhilde will likely deepen with time, but it is a great gift to Wagner on the occasion of his 200th birthday to have a Brünnhilde as imposing, impressive, and thoroughly capable as Ms. Stemme recorded in her prime.

Despite significant drawbacks, it would be churlish to regard this Walküre as a missed opportunity. A recording that preserves the superb singing of Nina Stemme, Anja Kampe, and Jonas Kaufmann in clear, well-balanced sound is a major addition to the Wagner discography. By many Wagnerians’ assessments, Die Walküre is the most dramatically straightforward of the Ring operas, however, and the one that works best on its own, without benefit of the accompanying operas in the tetralogy. No matter how excellent the quality of singing is in any performance, the task of building a compelling Walküre does not fall solely to the singers, and in this regard it is regrettable that the worthy singing of the principals does not enjoy the dramatically alert setting it deserves. Perhaps there is something valid to be said for leaving room for improvement. That is emphatically done in this recording, but this Walküre is still a vehicle for wonderful Wagner singing and, on those terms alone, is likewise an auspicious beginning to what is likely to be a divisive but endlessly fascinating Ring.

Joseph Newsome | 14 February 2013

Spiegel Online

Reitet ‘ne Walküre auf der Newa

Eine tolle “Walküre” im Wagner-Jahr: Die neue Einspielung des ersten “Ring”-Tages stürmt von Beginn an los. Valery Gergiev und sein Mariinsky Orchester brillieren mit Effekten. München darf sich auf diesen Mann freuen.

Heulende Winde, drohendes Schicksal und drängende Gefühle: Kraftvoll und plakativ beginnt Valery Gergiev, designierter Chef der Münchner Philharmoniker, seine neue “Walküre” – als präsentierte er ein Stück Filmmusik. Mit äußerster Klarheit führt er die Streicher seines St. Petersburger Mariinsky Orchesters durch den Vorspiel-Ritt am ersten Tag vom “Ring des Nibelungen”. Mit ebensolcher Transparenz wird Gergiev später den Sauseflug der Walküren präsentieren. Als hätte er sich vorgenommen, zum Wagner-Jahr einen russisch-winterlich-kühlen Wagner zu entdecken. Mit Jonas Kaufmann hat er dabei einen Siegmund, der für die nötige Erdung in Sachen deutschen Wagner-Feelings bürgt.

Blitzende Höhen und höllische Tempi

Ansonsten kümmert sich der selbstbewusste Gergiev wenig um Konventionen. Seine “Ring”-Vision brilliert mit Effekten, dynamischen Wechselbädern und knalligen Pointen, wie sie dem renommierten Petersburger Orchester offenbar bestens liegen. Vielleicht auch eine Eigenart der Stadt: Wer sich zum Vergleich historische Wagner-Aufnahmen der Leningrader Philharmoniker unter dem legendären Pultfürsten Evgeny Mrawinsky anhört, bekommt eine vergleichbar heftige Dröhnung mit blitzenden Höhen und höllischen Tempi. Deren “Walkürenritt” fegt noch heftiger los als bei Gergiev – wie ein Puschkin-Schneesturm, wobei manche Note einfach verweht. Da geht Gergiev trotz aller Kraftmeierei ein paar Takte subtiler zu Werke.

Jonas Kaufmanns gemessener Siegmund dient als idealer Ausgleich: Seine immer noch leicht manieriert rollende Diktion bringt eine würdevoll historische Note ins Spiel, die sich mit dem auftrumpfenden Sopran von Anja Kampes Sieglinde verbindet. Ein sexy Paar, das sich vom dämonisch drohenden Mikhail Petrenko (Hunding) nicht einschüchtern lässt. Und auf René Pape als traurigem Gott Wotan ist generell Verlass; vor allem, als er bewegend von seiner Lieblingsstreiterin Brünnhilde Abschied nehmen muss. Nina Stemme gibt eine kraftvolle Schmerzenswalküre, stellenweise ein wenig spröde, aber stets berührend und dramatisch. Das Feuer rund um das Gefängnis, in dem sie ihre Verbannung antritt, lodert am Ende musikalisch hell und elegant, Ausdruck vollkommener Harmonie zwischen Stimmen und Orchester. Auch der Tatsache geschuldet, dass dies eine Studio-/Konzertsaal-Produktion ist und kein Live-Mitschnitt.

Vom russischen Fach zu Brahms und Mahler

Valery Gergiev, 1953 in Moskau geboren, gewann nach seiner Dirigenten-Ausbildung in Petersburg schon mit 23 Jahren den Karajan-Wettbewerb in Berlin. Seit 1996 leitet er das Mariinsky Theater (ehemals Kirov-Theater) in St. Petersburg. Naturgemäß bildete zunächst das russische Fach einen Schwerpunkt seines Schaffens, aber längst gehören auch Strauss, Verdi, Wagner oder Débussy zu seinem Repertoire. Dies umfasst freilich mehr als nur die Oper: Mit dem jungen Geiger Nikolaj Znaider und den Wiener Philharmonikern nahm Gergiev die Violinkonzerte von Korngold und Brahms auf, dazu Werke von Strawinsky, die kompletten Mahler-Symphonien (mit dem London Symphony Orchestra) – die späte Romantik und das frühe 20. Jahrhundert gelangen unter seinen Händen überzeugend und aufregend.

Muss auch sein, denn sein 2015 beginnendes Engagement in München wird er nicht allein mit seinen Hausgöttern Schostakowitsch, Tschaikowski und Prokofjew bestreiten können. Da kann Wagner im Jubiläumsjahr eine goldene Brücke sein, denn ohne eine profunde Auseinandersetzung vor allem mit Bruckner wird es an der Isar kaum zufriedene Gesichter geben. Aber Gergiev, dem neben seinem musikalischen Genie auch kommunikative Kompetenz und uneitle Überzeugungskraft nachgesagt werden, gelang es mit seinen Münchner Schostakowitsch-Dirigaten schon, Vorfreude zu wecken. Und eine so modisch-frische “Walküre” kann diese bestens bestätigen.

Werner Theurich | 09.02.2013


Ich erinnere mich noch, als vor vielen Jahren Valery Gergiev seinen ersten Wagner/Lohengrin im Westen dirigierte; ach was taten da alle Schreiberlinge überrascht. Dabei war doch nach seinen unzähligen vorangegangenen Klangwundern zu erwarten, dass gerade unter seinem Dirigat sowohl Wagner als auch Richard Strauss besonders aufregend klingen müssten (z. B. Salome in Oberammergau zu den Garmischer Richard-Strauss-Tagen vor vielen Jahren). – Nun wage ich kühn zu behaupten: Christian Thielemann und Valery Gergiev – die beiden „Wagner-Götter“ unter den Dirigenten der Gegenwart!

Hat man an seiner heimischen Anlage die bestmögliche Einstellung gefunden, steht einem mit dieser Walküre ein Wagnerfest ohne Schwachpunkte ins Haus, wie man es auf den Bühnen der Welt kaum einmal so überzeugend zusammen bekommen wird. So ergeben sich beim Anhören viele Gänsehaut-Momente, und diese genau da, wo es sich gehört. Die allzeit gegenwärtige Klangtransparenz, die herrlichen Crescendi und Decrescendi, die wohldosierten Tempi – das alles ergibt in der Zusammenarbeit von Valery Gergiev und seinen hochkarätigen Orchestermusikern ein beglückendes Wagner-Klangwunder. Dazu kommt hier erfreulicherweise ein ausgewogenes Sänger-Spitzenensemble, wie man es selten so gut zusammengestellt finden kann; irgendeinen „Wurm“ gibt es meistens, wie bei Gergievs Parsifal ausgerechnet den Titelhelden Gary Lehman in einem ansonsten großartigen Ensemble.

Amerikanische Kritiker lieben es, Sänger-Hitlisten aufzustellen, ein Ranking wer in welcher Rolle die Plätze 1 – … einnimmt. Da rangierten bei dieser Walküre alle ganz vorne, einzig Anja Kampe als Sieglinde rutschte wegen ihres nicht so ausgeprägten Höhenblühens etwas ab. Dennoch muss man ihr zugestehen, dass sie gerade unter diesen Vorzeichen das berühmte „Hehrste Wunder“ recht gut hingekriegt hat. Dass Jonas Kaufmanns Siegmund Spitze ist, weiß man ja ohnehin seit seinen Met-Auftritten in der Partie. Auch rein akustisch kommt die ungeheure, von ihm stets erzeugte Spannung zum Tragen. Auffällig, dass er seinen herrlichen Spezial-Tenor hier sehr heldentenoral abdunkelt. Mikhail Petrenkos Prachtbass verleiht dem Hunding nicht nur die notwendige vokale sondern auch die partie-adäquate Autorität. Eine fulminante, energische Fricka ist Ekaterina Gubanova mit ihrem kostbaren Mezzo (der mich bereits bei ihrer Brangäne an eine später vielleicht mögliche Isolde gemahnte). Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme – unzweifelhaft die Nummer eins auf dieser Position. Schließlich ist sie sowas wie ein „Wundertier“, nämlich die einzige derzeitige echte Hochdramatische (keine flackernde, in dieses Fach getriebene Jugendlichdramatische). Ihre warmen Höhen sind eine Wohltat (jedes Mal wenn man sie hört, tauchen die Göttinnen der Vergangenheit vor dem inneren Auge auf).

Bleibt noch René Pape als Wotan. Da es den Wotan momentan kaum gibt, darf man Pape in dieser Rolle vielleicht schon auf Platz eins setzen. Obwohl – ob man so ganz und gar glücklich mit diesem Wotan werden kann? Freilich singt Pape, der Meister des Wohllauts, wie immer ungemein schön und gepflegt. Aber wie bei allen echten Bässen (eben kein Bass-Bariton!), die sich auf die Wotan-Partie einlassen, gibt es Stellen, die höhentechnisch unbequem werden können. Pape schafft sie zwar klaglos, aber man merkt doch, dass ihm, im Gegensatz zu seinem sonstigen Singen, hier die Leichtigkeit, die Selbstverständlichkeit seines Stimmflusses nicht ganz im gewohnten Maße zur Verfügung stehen. Vielleicht hat das auch damit zu tun, dass Pape hier weit weniger ausdrucksstark rüberkommt als etwa bei seinem Gurnemanz. Aber vielleicht ist diese Beurteilung ja auch etwas zu pingelig (?). – Absolut „bombig“ ist das Walkürenensemble, alle vom Mariinski-Theater. Eine solch hochkarätige Ansammlung hehrer Voll-Weiber – wo gibt’s das noch einmal… Demzufolge ist der Walkürenritt ein ganz besonderer Hochgenuss.

Wenn man sich eine Walküre zulegen möchte, macht man ganz sicher mit dieser gegenwärtig den besten Griff!


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Siegfried and Götterdämmerung were scheduled for 2014 but were never released. Looks like this is another ambitious Ring project that never got completed.