Die Walküre

Antonio Pappano
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
18 October 2018
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundStuart Skelton
HundingAin Anger
WotanJohn Lundgren
SieglindeEmily Magee
BrünnhildeNina Stemme
FrickaSarah Connolly
HelmwigeMaida Hundeling
GerhildeAlwyn Mellor
OrtlindeLise Davidsen
WaltrauteKai Rüütel
SiegrundeCatherine Carby
GrimgerdeMonika-Evelin Liiv
SchwertleiteClaudia Huckle
RoßweißeEmma Carrington
The Standard

Feel the tectonic plates shift in enthralling production of Wagner’s Ring

With Die Walküre, in Keith Warner’s enthralling Covent Garden production of Wagner’s Ring, you can really sense the tectonic plates beginning to shift.That movement is represented visually by a wall that has detached itself and begins slowly to spin and turn. We become conscious of it in the great Annunciation of Death Scene, where it enhances the hieratic quality evoked by the resplendent Wagner tubas and by Wolfgang Göbbel’s numinous green lighting.In the other momentous scene of Act 2, in which Wotan unburdens himself to his daughter Brünnhilde, the various stages [of the process] are powerfully articulated by meticulous blocking; psychological insights abound.The stage choreography of Act 1 is no less convincing. Ain Anger’s Hunding is a brooding presence, his brutality etched into his acidulous verbal projection as well as his prowling physical movements. His oppressed wife, Sieglinde, though understandably cowed, bravely stands up to him. She later reappears, in white nightdress, to Siegmund transformed. Emily Magee’s character is now confident in body language, even if her vocal production can be wayward. Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund, by contrast, heroically ringing in tone, is incomparably sung, but we get too little sense, from his stolid mien, of his supposedly uncontainable desire for Sieglinde. Incestuous as the passion of the siblings is, the chemistry should sweep aside all reservations, which is doesn’t quite here.Sarah Connolly’s Fricka has become one of the production’s highpoints: she conveys the bitter anger of marital betrayal in every phrase and every stiffened joint. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is also tremendously accomplished, reflecting the gamut of emotions in facial expression and vocal line alike. John Lundgren deploys his lean, virile tone intelligently as Wotan, even if he as yet lacks the textured upholstery of the great exponents of the role. His final great scene with Stemme was almost unbearably moving.Antonio Pappano continues to complement this outstanding staging with his wonderfully fluid conducting. The Ride of the Valkyries, here a boisterous brood, was for once visceral and thrilling.

BARRY MILLINGTON | 27 September 2018


Moments of searing power in an unfocused evening

The valkyries were fierce, and Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme among the compelling soloists, but the drama wasn’t consistent enough in the second part of Keith Warner’s Ring Cycle

There were moments in Die Walküre at the Royal Opera House when the audience was entirely still and only Antonio Pappano’s periodic gasps broke the surface of Wagner’s score. When the low brass cohered into a single heavy tread that swept up everything in its path. When Nina Stemme’s fearless Brünnhilde gazed at sword point into the eyes of the hero she had been commanded to lead into death and the physical chemistry on stage was instantly charged. When John Lundgren’s Wotan, flawed but tenacious, sank to his knees, voice flagging: an all-too-human god pathetically stricken.

But in the second evening of Keith Warner’s Ring cycle revival these peaks were clouded by problems elsewhere. Dubious tuning, ragged ensemble and hit-and miss horn motifs stood as a reminder that even excellent orchestras have off-nights. Only a second after that flash of palpable connection onstage at the sharp end of Siegmund’s sword, Stemme glanced down to Pappano’s baton – the obvious focus of much singing throughout the evening – and the dramatic intensity was immediately lost.

Then there was Stefanos Lazaridis’s set, with its often mystifying symbolic debris – “an obstacle course of leftover props” as it was described during the production’s previous outing – which seemed designed principally to impede its occupants. They ducked, clambered and clung to walls until it was all cleared away leaving only a spinning white wall, to make space for the final act’s devastating confrontation between Stemme and Lundgren: a drama of minute gestures (glances missed, hands left ungrasped) and searing, desperate vocal power.

Emily Magee’s Sieglinde sounded overcast, but Sarah Connolly (Fricka), Ain Anger (Hunding) and Stuart Skelton (in an overdue ROH debut as Siegmund) were deeply compelling, the valkyries themselves deliciously fierce. All the more frustrating, then, that this performance failed to sustain the focus of its unforgettable highlights.

Flora Willson | 27 Sep 2018


John Lundgren’s Conflicted Wotan is the Highlight of Keith Warner’s Die Walküre

It is difficult coming to see just Die Walküre because – as hopefully everyone knows – it is part of Wagner’s Ring cycle and any staging demands a sense of coherence, so it is logical that Walküre must continue where Das Rheingold leaves off.

Director Keith Warner – looking very much like a young(ish) Alfred Hitchcock in some pre-recorded footage – was shown walking us through Stefanos Lazaridis’s set for the prologue to the Ring. I saw this of course when Das Rheingold was first put on at Covent Garden in 2004 – and a few times since then – but actually learnt something now. Warner said nothing new with ‘Love throughout the cycle is cursed’ (because of Alberich’s actions in Rheingold) and how ‘we see this very painfully in the relationships in Die Walküre’ but I never knew – or maybe I forgot? – about the significance of the Rhinemaidens’ blue hair and how it is ‘the symbol of anti-love [that] becomes the driving obsession of Wotan’s, that somehow this power of hatred – the opposite of love – is taking over the world’. Additional things to look out for were explained by Warner and others: these included the black marbled walls of Wotan’s Victorian drawing room with a huge window to the rear through which Valhalla could be seen; a long ladder (Valhalla at the top, via the Earth, to Nibelheim at the bottom); a giant stage deep helix (described as representing genetics, DNA and regenesis); the fur coat bequeathed by Wotan to his mortal children (Siegmund and Sieglinde); and a long red rope of fate.

It always seemed a very cluttered world that Warner and Lazaridis created for their 2005 Die Walküre. While clearly there has been attention paid to characterisation and relationships over the intervening revivals, nevertheless this time – apart from Ain Anger’s Hunding, Dame Sarah Connolly’s Fricka and John Lungren’s Wotan – I got little sense that anyone else had got ‘under the skin’ of their character’s part in the story. This was a surprise given how experienced some of the singers were and this might reflect more on the vocal demands of four Ring cycles – this was the last – than their acting abilities. Certainly, we heard signs of some very tired voices, though I am worried about commenting too much about this because I was hearing them through cinema speakers. However, it was significant that in his interview committed Wagnerite Stephen Fry – who otherwise praised what he had seen so far – did comment that for him some of the voices were ‘underpowered’.

Hunding’s hut in Act I is clearly surrounded by Wotan’s Victorian world from Das Rheingold with its black leather chaise longue with its ram’s horns (Brünnhilde’s final resting place in Act III) and chairs. Brünnhilde precariously enters down the ladder that also previously featured prominently. The helix makes its first appearance and ends near the floor as some gnarled roots. One of its bands has the sword Nothung – which Siegmund will claim at the end of Act I – handily stuck in it and they will provide the channels down which Wotan’s ‘magic fire’ will traverse the stage at the end of the opera.

The Valkyries are a bedraggled looking bunch of bloodied warrior women and apart from the regal looking and corseted Fricka all the women look rather bedraggled in Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes. They ride ‘horses’ that are just skulls and reassemble body parts into the heroes they once were (on an old mattress!) and send them – shown as video – up to Valhalla. Other video shows us – and I missed this in the theatre – a monumental white rectangle slowly revolving at the back during the Todesverkündigung (Brünnhilde’s annunciation of Siegmund’s death). Was this symbolically supposed to be Valhalla that we heard Warner speak about? Certainly this comes to the fore – literally – at the start of Act III as around it – and through a door – the Valkyries try to protect Brünnhilde from her angry father.

It was a long evening, though thankfully not as long as it was for those in the Royal Opera House where the second interval was not far off 1½ hours! Introducing the broadcast Clemency Burton-Hill constantly said what we were seeing was live when it was actually recorded live! It is a shame that no one other than Antonio Pappano has conducted Warner’s Ring as someone with a better over-arching understanding of Wagner’s musical architecture might have supplied this Die Walküre with the dramatic continuity it was lacking in his episodic approach to the score. All the great moments – and there were many – never coalesced into something bigger and better. This may not have been entirely Pappano’s fault as some of his singers, particularly Nina Stemme, were constantly looking in his direction – perhaps they were missing the prompt box they would get in other opera houses? – and this hint of insecurity might have trickled down to the orchestral accompaniment.

My impression of the performances begins with Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund that was rather ungainly physically and sometimes vocally too. He was indulged with the way he was allowed to hold onto his cries of ‘Walse!’ and while his softer singing during ‘Winterstürme’ and elsewhere had its radiant moments it wasn’t always appropriately supported, perhaps through tiredness. Neither he nor Emily Magee – who was clearly uncomfortable and out-of-sorts as the downtrodden Sieglinde – projected much personality. This possibly would have been one of the worst first acts I would have seen if it had not been for the Ain Anger’s brutish, menacing – yet surprisingly nuanced – axe-wielding Hunding. Another highlight of this performance followed at the start of Act II, with a vignette from Sarah Connolly singing the fearsomely manipulative Fricka with imposing mezzo vehemence. The eight Valkyries were feisty enough but did not sound an ideal blend of voices and, as to expected, Lise Davidsen (a Brünnhilde-in-waiting) caught the ear as Ortlinde.

I saw in a Das Rheingold review Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde described as ‘incomparable’ before she had sung a note in these cycles! No performance is ‘incomparable’ and certainly Stemme is not ‘up there’ with some great Brünnhildes of the past. Her voice was admirably tireless, though extraordinarily dark and mezzo-ish, and she never personified a creditable warrior maiden who should be girlish to begin with (her ‘Hojotohos’ were not particularly secure) and go on a ‘journey’. This is her fourth cycle and tenth current Brünnhilde so again tiredness might have crept in.

Apart from Anger and Connolly what lifted this Die Walküre for me was John Lundgren’s Wotan despite occasional evidence (again!) of fatigue. Carefully harnessing his resources throughout his two acts by the time of his confrontation with Stemme’s Brünnhilde in the third, he created a Wotan full of conflicting emotions and contradictions. (After the incest in the story already there between Siegmund and Sieglinde, Warner has Wotan give Brünnhilde a full-on kiss and this is a disturbing image in 2018.) Vocally there were some glorious moments, from an intriguingly conversational Act II monologue to a rapturous Farewell. Most importantly Lundgren brought deep meaning to every word he uttered.

If this Die Walküre – broadcast to 884 cinemas in 23 countries throughout the world – makes more people want to explore Wagner’s operas further then I am happy. I wished they had been seeing a stronger – or maybe even fresher – cast!

Jim Pritchard | 28.10.2018


Skelton and Anger set the scene for Stemme in Covent Garden’s superb Walküre A tenor and a baritone (or, in this case, a bass) vie melodiously for possession of the girl. It’s not exactly Wagner’s greatest piece of operatic innovation, but with the tenor and bass in question being Stuart Skelton and Ain Anger, the first act of Die Walküre was sheer bel canto bliss. And yes, I do mean bel canto. As Skelton paced the stage in suitably lupine fashion, what rang out was a truly beautiful voice which remained lovely through anguish and fury, tenderness and passion. Skelton’s long overdue Royal Opera debut has been eagerly anticipated, and not without reason: this was accomplished with panache.

But in his contrasting way, Ain Anger was just as thrilling. The way Anger sings him, Hunding isn’t a churlish oaf to set against the heroic Siegmund: this is a hard man who is sure of his cause and will not give quarter. This was an immense piece of bass singing, Anger summoning up immense richness and depth or switching to the precision of cold steel. As Sieglinde, Emily Magee didn’t quite match the vocal prowess of two such virtuosic suitors, but solidity throughout her range and an utter commitment to her character made its contribution to a riveting first act.

From Act 2 onwards, Wagner does innovate: the opera is a series of confrontations, each presented in a fascinating way: Wotan and Fricka, Brünnhilde and Siegmund, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, Brünnhilde and Wotan. Whatever ailment troubled John Lundgren in Monday’s Rheingold seemed almost entirely behind us; his voice had nuance, clarity of diction and, most importantly, authority. I don’t think one could ask for a pair of antagonists more imperious than Lundgren’s Wotan and Dame Sarah Connolly’s Fricka: the ebb and flow of the power struggle between them was as dramatically convincing as it was musically thrilling.

It’s hard to find new words for Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde. Suffice to say that the beauty of her timbre, her phenomenal understanding of how the music fits around the text and her sheer vocal stamina were in every way up to our most exalted expectations. But I’ll focus on one thing: her transition from carefree warrior maiden to tragic heroine. With the greatest respect, it’s a long time since Stemme was a footloose teenager, but you wouldn’t have known it from the early part of Act 2, with her skipping body language full of joie de vivre. As a result, the moment where Siegmund refuses to come to Valhalla if Sieglinde isn’t going to be with him, at which point Brünnhilde realises for the first time the meaning of mortal love, was all the more spellbinding. Her final duet with Wotan was equally convincing in a power struggle of a very different kind, a contest between tenderness and fate (at least as Wotan perceives it). The final farewell was overpoweringly poignant.

The Ride of the Valkyries may be the most famous scene in Walküre, but it’s the one that plays the least part in the dramatic backbone of the piece. Still, it gave the chance for Pappano and his orchestra to let rip and for some spirited singing from our octet of Valkyries. However, their execution of the choreography, with its turns and lifts of horse skulls, was less than perfectly coordinated, and in general, Keith Warner’s staging of the scene has not worn well: the video effects look dated, the assembly of dead heroes from bloody body parts looks merely odd, and the Valkyries’ costumes are more Macbeth witch than warrior maiden.

Various elements of continuity in the staging are becoming discernible. The red rope of fate and the wolf costumes of the Wälsungs return prominently from Monday’s Rheingold, as does the steel spiral around the stage which blends into tree roots at the bottom – some conflation of Yggdrasil and Níðhöggr, Norse mythology’s world ash tree and the serpent that gnaws at its roots. An enlarged version of the nacelle and propeller from Rheingold’s aeroplane puts in an appearance as ceiling fan on the end of the red rope: perhaps industrial power is now driving fate. But Warner’s overall intent remains obscure.

But one thing remained a constant between these two evenings: the quality of the orchestral performance. From the very first notes, we knew we were in safe hands, with the pounding, driving cellos and basses and the soaring brass as Siegmund flees through the storm. From then on, it just kept getting better, the pace maintained and the full palette of orchestral colours shining brightly: however great the curtain call cheers were for Skelton and Stemme, the ones for Pappano were louder. With vocal performances at the very highest level, this was a Walküre to remember.

David Karlin | 27 September 2018

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 499 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC 3, transmission date 3 November 2018)
A production by Keith Warner (2005)
Also available as video
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.