Die Walküre

Marc Albrecht
Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest
7 Dezember 2019
Nationale Opera en Ballet Amsterdam
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundMichael König
HundingStephen Milling
WotanIain Paterson
SieglindeEva-Maria Westbroek
BrünnhildeMartina Serafin
FrickaOkka von der Damerau
HelmwigeChristiane Kohl
GerhildeDorothea Herbert
OrtlindeAn de Ridder
WaltrauteKai Rüütel
SiegruneBettina Ranch
GrimgerdeEva Kroon
SchwertleiteJulia Faylenbogen
RoßweißeIris van Wijnen

Once more around the catwalk: Audi’s Walküre in Amsterdam

If the staging of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen is a colossal task for any opera company, the cycle directed in the late 1990s by Pierre Audi was without doubt a defining moment in Dutch National Opera’s ascent to international recognition. This acclaimed production was revived several times during this century, most recently during the 2013/2104 season in a run that the company advertised at the time as “final”. That Die Walküre, the second chapter of the cycle, is being revived more than five years later is therefore a most unexpected surprise. We will probably never know for sure what made the company change its mind. But we can safely assume that someone thought it unacceptable to turn the page on this piece of company history without casting native daughter Eva-Maria Westbroek, one of today’s leading interpreters of Sieglinde, at least once.

So, now “really for the last time”, as the company’s promotional literature and website ironically claim, the monumental semi-circular wooden catwalk designed by George Tsypin was dusted off and reassembled. For the last time also, the gods’ luxuriously minimalist robes and the valkyries’ shiny wings designed by the late Eiko Ishioka were pressed and polished. These tasks set to revive a production which is over 20 years old might sound mundane but the result remains a visual spectacle that has not aged at all. The catwalk embraces the orchestra that sits literally on the stage, in full view of the public. Lit by Wolfgang Göbbel and Cor van den Brink, this unique set is transformed into an atemporal mythical world. What is more, the way it slants over the edge of the proscenium brings the singers strikingly close to the public and creates an unusually intimate musical theatre experience.

“Intimate” is not the first adjective that comes to mind when talking about Wagner’s music in general, or Walküre in particular. Yet next to the famously rousing Ride of the Valkyries, the opera is packed with intimate scenes, like the first encounter between the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, or Wotan’s heartbreaking farewell to his favourite valkyrie daughter, Brünnhilde, as he induces the magical sleep that will hold her captive. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, securely led by Marc Albrecht with admirable precision, navigated this string of musical contrasts, from tender cello solos to staggering orchestral outbursts, in a performance that never fell short of engrossing.

Vocally, things were just as thrilling. The team of soloists gathered for this revival is arguably the strongest in this production’s history. The other eight valkyries, Brünnhilde’s sisters, showed off an array of timbres that contrasted with the most pleasing effect. Tackling the summit of the dramatic soprano repertoire that is Brünnhilde, Martina Serafin’s soprano displayed the required heft for the valkyrie’s valiant call to battle, whilst the warmth of her timbre and her innate way with the text made for a convincingly compassionate deity. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson proved equally articulate and eloquent as her father, Wotan. While his instrument is not naturally the most multicoloured, he summoned all the shades to portray the god’s slow descent into moral and emotional decay in the most vivid manner. His confrontation with Okka von der Damerau’s regal Fricka was captivating. Stephan Milling’s towering bass made for a truly menacing Hunding. Michael König’s tenor, handsome in timbre and dark in colour, sounded a fine fit for Siegmund’s low-lying tessitura.

As Sieglinde, Eva-Maria Westbroek was simply riveting, giving one of the most memorable performances to have graced this house. Her portrayal encompassed all the contradictory facets of this complex character, in turns defiant and vulnerable. She sounded in top vocal form. Her cry “O hehrstes Wunder” as she received Siegmund’s sword from Brünnhilde, sung with beautiful tone, raised the roof of the theatre. A consummate actress, her character seemed to inhabit her every gesture and facial expression and when she told Siegmund “You cannot bring misfortune where misfortune dwells already”, I swear I could see tears in her eyes, but perhaps it was just mine.

Nicolas Nguyen | 18 November 2019

Opera Today

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Indeed, director Pierre Audi’s production, the only one from his 1998 Ring cycle which has not been demolished, is still worth seeing or revisiting. But the publicity copy could just as easily have read “Don’t miss the first chance ever” to see Eva-Maria Westbroek sing Sieglinde on the operatic stage in her native country. Because, as she proved yet again, Westbroek is an ideal Sieglinde. The unique metal of her instrument fits the role like a glove and she portrays the downtrodden but plucky woman insightfully and with deep compassion. Her luminously intense performance was the kind that lingers in one’s memory. But the same applies to this Walküre as a whole. There was barely a cough or a wiggle as the rapt audience took it all in.

One of the strengths of this production is that, although the singers move across massive, nonspecific spaces, with the orchestra in full view, which should have an alienating effect, they always feel physically and psychologically within reach. George Tsypin’s gigantic set, which curls around the orchestra seated onstage, covers the pit and spills into the auditorium. It creates an almost conspiratorial intimacy between the singers and their public, and, with the musicians behind them, they never have to force to override the orchestra. At lofty junctures, such as Siegmund’s “Wälse!” cries and Brünnhilde’s annunciation of his death, Audi gives them heroic stature by placing them high on a rusty bridge, a construction jutting out into the hall that also serves as the ash tree growing through Hunding’s dwelling. At dramatic high points, dazzling lighting and fire effects transform the stage into an elemental battleground.

The set is not easy on the singers who have to walk up and down its steep gradient. Neither are the late Eiko Ishioka’s costumes – stiff, multilayered creations that are bona fide works of art. Alluding to several eras while avoiding the particular, they seem to be resistant to aging. The overtly aggressive Hunding, sung by orotund bass Stephen Milling, looks like a science-fictional samurai. His suffering wife Sieglinde is laced up in Medieval stays and her twin brother and lover Siegmund wears Bronze-Age tatters. The goddess Fricka, an imperiously irate Okka von der Damerau in splendid voice, uses twin ram-headed walking sticks in lieu of a ram-drawn chariot. And the Valkyries have wings that gleam like Harley-Davidsen engines. Their famous ride, as finely sung as it was choreographed, revealed another acoustic plus of the set – the whole spectrum of war goddess voices, from high to low, was distinctly audible.

The cast carried the heavy costumes with aplomb while delivering inspired performances. Tenor Michael König was a chiefly lyrical Siegmund, but with the required heroic heft. Although not the most penetrating of actors, he sang beautifully and tirelessly. Bass-baritone Iain Paterson, a master in shading text and measuring out emotion, was completely engrossing as a tyrannical Wotan. Audi’s top god in crisis is unable to keep his violent streak under control. During the clash with his wife Fricka he is disingenuous at first. Then, when he realises he is losing the argument, he makes a clumsy attempt at marital seduction. He is so emotionally crippled that he can only touch his errant favourite daughter Brünnhilde tenderly after she falls asleep. Paterson was gripping to the end, his voice quivering with emotion during Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde, a new role for soprano Martina Serafin. It is fair to say that her “Hojotoho!” battlecry was not the most focused, but a few stubborn top notes do not matter in such a vibrant and vocally appealing role debut. Serafin’s Valkyrie was warm of voice and temperament, a Brünnhilde to fall in love with. Next year she will sing the role at the Paris Opera in both Die Walküre and Siegfried.

Orchestrally, this was yet another riveting Wagner performance under DNO chief conductor Marc Albrecht. Amsterdam is now familiar with his supercharged, skilfully steered crescendos, and he did not disappoint when storms raged, villains gave chase and swords and spears clashed. Plying a darkish palette, the Netherlands Philharmonic burst through these passages with explosive élan, the brass bold, at times rough-edged, the strings metallized. In quieter moods, Albrecht took risks with broad tempi, sometimes paring down the sound to a mere whisper. The pay-off was a pliant performance with a steadfast sense of direction. Even when Siegmund and Sieglinde were falling in love, the music smouldered purposefully rather than flowering poetically. No wonder the audience listened with bated breath. Die Walküre runs until the 8th of December and is sold out, but same-day tickets could become available. If Siegmund’s ceaseless courage against overwhelming odds teaches us anything, it’s never say die.

Jenny Camilleri | 17 Nov 2019

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 526 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (NPO Radio 4)
A production by Pierre Audi