Die Walküre

Pierre Boulez
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
June/July 1980
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundPeter Hofmann
HundingMatti Salminen
WotanDonald McIntyre
SieglindeJeannine Altmeyer
BrünnhildeGwyneth Jones
FrickaHanna Schwarz
HelmwigeKatie Clarke
GerhildeCarmen Reppel
OrtlindeKaren Middleton
WaltrauteGabriele Schnaut
SiegrundeMarga Schiml
GrimgerdeIlse Gramatzki
SchwertleiteGwendolyn Killebrew
RoßweißeElisabeth Glauser
Stage directorPatrice Chéreau (1976)
Set designerRichard Peduzzi
TV directorBrian Large

The second installment of the landmark Boulez/Chéreau Ring is a passionate, fiery performance that rockets forward with momentum, passion, and energy. From Peter Hofmann’s entrance, the sense of sexual chemistry between Siegmund and Sieglinde (Jeanine Altmeyer) propels the first act, aided by delicate textures and precise orchestral playing. This is one of the fastest performances of Die Walküre ever recorded, but Boulez does not skip over the big moments–he just gives them a greater sense of urgency.

Hofmann, a sturdy Nordic blonde who looks the part of a Wagnerian hero, does not have the prettiest heldentenor voice–he later went into contemporary repertoire and country music. However, 1980 saw the singer at a personal peak, and this Siegmund is his legacy performance. Altmeyer (who has the distinction of singing Freia, Sieglinde and Brunnhilde in three different video productions of Wagner’s operas) expertly conveys the weight of Sieglinde’s plight. Matti Salminen is a fine Hunding, portrayed here as the leader of a gang of Mafia toughs who will help him hunt down the hero who steals his wife.

Act II introduces Brunnhilde, sung by Welsh soprano Gwyneth Jones. Jones is a singer with a powerful instrument who, through the course of a long career, was beset by vocal inconsistency. However, she is a consumnate actress, and although her voice isn’t always pretty, she sings with passion and power. Few other Brunnhildes capture the character’s blend of bravado, innocence and vulnerability. This comes across most strongly in the Annunciation of Death scene. Boulez makes that famous three-note figure shimmer in the air as Brunnhilde confronts (a now shirtless) Siegmund and informs him that he is going to die in the coming fight. This is the scene upon which the whole Ring turns, and the actors are superb.

Donald McIntyre remains one of the most intelligent interpreters of Wotan ever committed to videotape. The famous moment when he stares into a mirror and removes the covering from his mutilated eye remains a signature image of this Ring Cycle. His reliable bass-baritone lacks warmth and some of the sonorous depth associated with the part (although this may be due to Boulez’ interpretation of the score.) However, this remains a deeply understood reading of the character that makes perfect dramatic sense. And he dominates the latter half of the third act, singing a moving Wotan’s Farewell despite an orchestral accompaniment that wants to make it as brief as possible.

Paul J. Pelkonen | February 19, 2010


The second instalment of Patrice Chéreau’s 1980 Bayreuth Ring cycle is set, like Das Rheingold, in a sort of industrial bourgeois late 19th century. One would almost say steampunk if that were not an anachronism. Actually the “industrial” side is much less evident than in the earlier work. There’s a sort of astrolabe/pendulum thing in Valhalla but that’s about it. Setting aside, the story telling is very straightforward; so much so that it takes a real effort of the imagination to get into a mindset where this production could ever have been considered controversial. It’s quite literal; Brünnhilde has a helmet and breast and back plates (worn over a rather severe grey dress), Wotan has a spear, Siegmund has a sword. There’s not an assault rifle or light sabre to be seen. It is though dramatically effective.

Act 1 is set in a rather grand neo-classical hall with a realistic tree in the middle. It’s an effective backdrop for some really fine singing and acting. The chemistry between Jeannette Altmeyer’s Sieglinde and Peter Hofmann’s Siegmund is excellent and Matti Salminen makes a convincingly menacing Hunding. There’s really passion and fine ardent singing culminating in a terrific Winterstürme. It all makes a pretty convincing case for this being one of the finest acts in all of opera.

Act 2 is also strong. Hannah Schwarz continues as a very dignified and finely wrought Fricka. Gwyneth Jones is both convincingly girlish and slightly sinister as Brünnhilde, singing with strong and steady tone. Even Donald McIntyre’s Wotan is an improvement on Das Rheingold. It’s not that he is any more regal. He isn’t. It’s that his introspective, depressed even, Wotan is quite convincing, if very unconventional. At times, he’s almost speaking the part rather than singing it but, somehow, it works. The Brünnhilde/Siegmund/Sieglinde scene is extremely touching and y, with his shirt off, looks, as well as sounds, heroic. Altmeyer’s portrayal of Sieglnde makes a rather strong case for her as a sufferer from PTSD, which rather makes sense.

Act 3 is set around a ruined castle. Again, it’s fairly straightforward and slightly abstracted. There are no horses but Large throws in a fair bit of smoke at the beginning and the end. Gwyneth Jones has really warmed up by this point and she’s a very fine Brünnhilde indeed. McIntyre does quite well in the big confrontation. He does sound a bit petulant and he can’t really sustain a line but dramatically he’s fairly convincing. Boulez continues with his emphasis on detail rather than grandeur which makes for a rather peculiar Walkürenritt but is quite listenable.

From a video direction and technical point of view this is much the same as Das Rheingold; decent sound but both direction and picture quality having a very 1980s TV feel to them. At least there’s rather less extraneous smoke.

John Gilks | August 1, 2014

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
720×480, 3.0 Mbit/s, 3.5 GByte, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
Also available as audio recording
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.