Die Walküre

Daniel Barenboim
Staatskapelle Berlin
15 December 1993
Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Siegmund Poul Elming
Hunding Eric Halfvarson
Wotan John Tomlinson
Sieglinde Waltraud Meier
Brünnhilde Deborah Polaski
Fricka Uta Priew
Helmwige Susan Owen
Gerhilde Zwetelina Dimitrowa
Ortlinde Magdaléna Hajóssyová
Waltraute Rosemarie Lang
Siegrunde Katharina Kammerloher
Grimgerde Uta Priew
Schwertleite Barbara Bornemann
Roßweiße Ute Trekel-Burckhardt
Stage director Harry Kupfer (1993)
Set designer Hans Schavernoch
TV director
New York Times

Valkyries in a Neon Cage in Berlin’s ‘Ring’

Whether it was wise for the last Bayreuth team of Daniel Barenboim, Harry Kupfer, Hans Schavernoch and Reinhard Heinrich – whose “Ring der Niebelungen” followed Peter Hall’s ill-fated approach to the cycle seven years ago – to attempt a new version of the four-opera work so soon at the Berlin Staatsoper, remains to be seen.

The first new production, “Die Walküre,” did not look exactly like its Bayreuth version, but closer examination showed that the basic ideas are very similar – a sort of neon cage in which the trapped participants of the “Ring” story act out their fates (in Bayreuth it was an eternal road in a world destroyed by mankind’s greed for power and wealth).

Kupfer’s violent, often debasing stage action for Acts 2 and 3 has been substantially retained. As there is nothing to sit on, the gods and their family members flop onto the floor, squatting, crouching, creeping on all fours. At one point, Wotan drags the reclining Brünnhilde 10 paces across the stage between his legs for no apparent reason.

As in Bayreuth, the searingly strong lighting is from both sides, giving the singers seemingly crossed eyes and shadows down the front of their faces.

The cut of the costumes is the same, but in Berlin the gods and Valkyrieslook as if they all have negligees on. This is particularly grotesque for the warrior maidens as they all wear the white lions’ manes and red eye makeup familiar to us from Kabuki theater, no doubt a very early form of cultural exchange.

Act 1 is, however, completely different, for the huge coal-textured trunk of a tree lies diagonally across the stage requiring some fleet-footed climbing from the singers. Here it was that the new production revealed its soft underbelly, for the aerobic, even calisthenic mating postures given to Siegmund and Sieglinde were intricate, requiring exact coordination.

As luck would have it, this passage (from Sieglinde’s re-entry at “Schläfst Du, Gast?” to the end of the act) was where Barenboim chose to do the wildest experimentation with dynamics and tempos. He hushed up the strings to bring out a woodwind accompaniment pattern (the opera house’s already dry acoustics made even drier by a black cloth mask surrounding the proscenium), interrupting the natural flow of the music so that the singers did not know where they were and stared at him constantly instead of singing and acting.

THERE was some fine singing, though, from the lighter, lyric Siegmund of Poul Elming through Waltraud Meier’s mezzo Sieglinde and Eric Halfvarson’s auspicious debut as a true bass Hunding. That is the role John Tomlinson should actually be singing, but as Wotan he has learned to cope with the higher baritonal passages by crooning, and very well too. Uta Priev made a voluptuous Fricka. Deborah Polaski has likewise learned to cope with unruly registers in her exciting voice, no longer backing away from high notes. She is always the committed, exciting actress, as her Brünnhilde showed.

Making her smear Siegmund’s face with cold cream, turning him into a clown during the most serious moment of the opera, “Death’s announcement” in Act 2, was just one more of Kupfer’s questionable, gratuitous effects, but he is enough of a theater man to make the necessary changes.

James Helme Sutcliffe | Dec. 22, 1993

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
476×348, 668 kbit/s, 1.2 GByte (MPEG-4)
In-house recording
The premiere took place tree days before with the same cast.