Die Walküre

Gregor Bühl
Kungliga Hovkapellet
11 March 2006
Kungliga Operan Stockholm
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundEndrik Wottrich
HundingHans-Peter König
WotanTerje Stensvold
SieglindeNina Stemme
BrünnhildeKatarina Dalayman
FrickaMartina Dike
HelmwigeSara Olsson
GerhildeAgneta Lundgren
OrtlindeLena Hoel
WaltrauteMartina Dike
SiegruneKatarina N. Leoson
GrimgerdeEva Pilat
SchwertleiteKristina Martling
RoßweißeMarianne Eklöf
Stage directorStaffan Valdemar Holm (2006)
Set designerBente Lykke Møller
TV directorBengt Wennehorst-Norrman

Das Rhinegold, which opened the new Ring Cycle at the Stockholm Opera in September 2005, was a resounding success and the expectations were high when I sat down in the fourth row in the stalls to see Die Walküre. I missed the premiere for family reasons, so this was the fifth performance and it can often be an advantage to see a production that has already matured, like a decanted wine where the crust has been left in the bottle. Whatever crust there may have been in the premiere bottle – and at least one review I saw had some objections to the conducting – it had been largely removed and the finished product is full-bodied, darkish, slightly harsh and with a bouquet of early 1900. Das Rheingold played in Wagner’s own time and at the end of the opera Valhalla was finished, the Gods moved in, a new era started. Now, a generation later, Wotan’s empire is shaken to its foundations. In a way the Ring and Mozart’s Don Giovanni are parallels insofar as both deal with the downfall and not the rise.

In the first act the ash-tree, around which Hunding’s habitation is built – according to Wagner’s detailed stage directions – has already rotted away and the sword that Siegmund is supposed to draw from its trunk is instead pulled out of the ground, where its roots still dwell. Far from the timbered hall of Wagner’s vision with rough-hewn walls and a simple fireplace, we are in an enormous turn-of-the-last-century middle-class kitchen with green walls, crammed with crockery on shelves (Hunding is a well-to-do man!) and a long table centre-stage on which Siegmund is lying when the curtain rises after the stormy prelude, being taken care of by the shy and obviously pushed around Sieglinde. There is a stale atmosphere, stale of existing social patterns and conventions and the fresh winds that Siegmund is supposed to bring in through his entrance, have already been stifled. Out of these pre-conditions the love between the twins slowly awakens and this is well caught in a performance characterized by a detailed and psychologically believable direction from Staffan Valdemar Holm and, not least, by sensitive acting and singing.

Gregor Bühl’s conducting is efficient enough, but it lacks the last ounce of passion and surge in this first act. He is more successful in the remaining acts. The singing, on the other hand, is excellent. It is good for once to hear a real Wagnerian hero, confidently sung with power and baritonal darkness, steady tone and a great deal of expression. Endrik Wottrich may not have the romantic glow of Siegfried Jerusalem in his heyday but it is an admirable achievement, so much more since he obviously wasn’t at his best. Before the second act it was announced that he was indisposed but would still carry through the performance. Hans-Peter König’s enormous black bass, which I have commented on before, rock-steady and thunderous, combined with his imposing figure, makes him a frightening Hunding, and Nina Stemme is Sieglinde. A lot has been written about her lately and she lives up to the superlatives that have been heaped upon her. Scenically she is lovely with total identification and she sings with such inward intensity that every phrase seems to come from her heart. She is a master of nuances and when she lets go at full gear in Du bist der Lenz she surpasses anything I’ve heard live and practically anything I’ve heard on records. Strong words, I know, but such warmth, such power, such beauty!

Act II plays in Wotan’s camp as the programme book says. Well, this seems to be his studio or living-room: a few chairs around the walls which are filled with paintings with motifs from Nordic mythology, i.e. Wotan’s own history. Center-stage a billiard-table, which is not just another prop but rather the arena where Wotan directs his forces and rules his world (in modern terms: plays his strategy-games). The real ruler is of course Fricka, tremendously sung and acted by Martina Dike, and after Wotan’s final defeat he climbs onto the billiard-table, lies down in the foetal position, thumb in mouth … It’s almost the equivalent of “making a poodle”, which is the buzz-word in Sweden for the excuses politicians make when they have flopped. Terje Stensvold made a deep impression as Wotan in Das Rheingold in September. He impresses even more here, expressing all the different facets of Wotan’s character: his pride, his pretensions, his anger, his indecisiveness. Vocally he is superb. He has an ideal Wotan voice, a true bass-baritone with lots of power, not a hint of unsteadiness or widened vibrato and an impressive stamina. In the final scene of act III his love and care for Brünnhilde is deeply moving, singing the weakest of pianissimos with great beauty. Katarina Dalayman’s Brünnhilde, dressed in black and white, like the other Valkyries, is also a lively actor with strong charisma. Her voice is actually a size smaller than Stemme’s and also brighter, somewhat on the lyrical side but she rips off the fearsome “hojotohos” confidently and impressively, although without quite the larger-than-life explosiveness of a real “Hoch-dramatisch” soprano. Her lowest notes are also on the weak side and maybe Bühl should have hold back in a few places to give her a chance. It should be noted that the Siegmund – Hunding duel takes place off-stage, but we get the message that Siegmund got the worst of it when Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the remnants of his sword and Hunding enters, wiping the blood off his.

In Act III we are in an empty room with high windows at the back of the stage, facing an open plain, where wild horses are seen running, to the left and right corresponding high doors. I have to admit to not getting a clue to the proceedings with the Valkyries, but then I have always disliked that part of the opera, with eight screaming women, waving their spears. The eight Valkyries in this performance are some of the best members of the Stockholm ensemble and no screamers per se; the one to blame is Wagner and not the singers. The famous Ride is of course thrilling and Bühl whipped up the tension, the orchestra playing boldly. But what stays in the memory, and will remain there for a long time, is the great and long final scene, after the wild horses have disappeared, with only Wotan and Brünnhilde on the empty stage in a marvellously tense duet of immense beauty, the two characters inter-acting in a true father-daughter relationship. Is there a more breathtaking half-hour anywhere else in all opera? When Wotan has thrown Brünnhilde into her torpor and calls for Loge, the man himself appears, together with some other characters from Das Rheingold, dressed accordingly and so becoming relicts from long bygone days. The fire does not surround only Brünnhilde but the whole room, enormous flames seen through the windows and the doors until the whole room is lit in yellow and orange and the curtain slowly falls – a beautiful conclusion to a gripping performance.

There were standing ovations and several curtain-calls and it is only to be hoped that there will be many more opportunities to see this Walküre. There was some criticism concerning too few performances scheduled of Das Rheingold, the management obviously not having expected such response from the opera-lovers. In the autumn Siegfried will appear to awaken Brünnhilde from her long sleep – something to look forward to.

Göran Forsling | Royal Opera in Stockholm, 17.3.2006

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
720×576, 1.5 Mbit/s, 2.1 GByte, 5.1 ch (MPEG-4)
Swedish subtitles
Telecast (SVT2, broadcast date: 8 November 2008)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.