Die Walküre

James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
14 May 2011
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Siegmund Jonas Kaufmann
Hunding Hans-Peter König
Wotan Bryn Terfel
Sieglinde Eva-Maria Westbroek
Brünnhilde Deborah Voigt
Fricka Stephanie Blythe
Helmwige Molly Fillmore
Gerhilde Kelly Cae Hogan
Ortlinde Wendy Bryn Harmer
Waltraute Marjorie Elinor Dix
Siegrunde Eve Gigliotti
Grimgerde Mary Ann McCormick
Schwertleite Mary Phillips
Roßweiße Lindsay Ammann
Stage director Robert Lepage (2011)
Set designer Carl Fillion
TV director Gary Halvorson

This 2011 production of Die Walküre comes from Robert Lepage’s production of the Met Opera’s first complete Ring cycle in 20 years, with its notorious multi-million dollar “machine” – a set consisting of 24 independently moving platforms, with additional video projections, that could be raised or lowered to form different scenes. Although the machine caused several mishaps during the production run, and reviewers complained about its noise, none of these flaws are evident on the filmed version and visually it is stunning in places – becoming a tangled forest, a rolling bed of lava, and even the graceful flapping wings of Brünnhilde’s horse. Other complaints about the production were that the machine limited the movement of the singers, resulting in very static staging, that the singers were obviously nervous about it, and that Siegmund and Sieglinde spent most of the first act standing a couple of feet below the apron. These aspects also become less problematic on film, were plenty of camera close-ups and changes of view add variety, although the Act I staging does still look a little odd and there are still one or two nervous wobbles to be seen as the singers navigate the machine.

The small cast is made up of experienced Wagner singers and some newcomers. Jonas Kaufmann smoulders his way through the role of Siegmund, with warm, honeyed singing with musical passion to match his looks – it didn’t matter that his acting was a little wooden. Eva Maria Westbroek making her Met debut as Sieglinde is beautifully well-matched to Kaufmann, and with them both kitted out with luxuriant pre-Raphaelite hair, it’s easy to believe that they’re twins. Ms Westbroek allows Sieglinde’s character to grow, from put-upon bullied housewife, girlishly eager to please her handsome guest, to the serene purity of the idealised mother-figure, the woman who will bear the great saviour.

Bryn Terfel is a magnificent Wotan, terrifying in his blustering rage, and touchingly bewildered as his wife and daughter run rings around him, and finally at the end, tragically stubborn. Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka is an imperious battleaxe, treating Wotan like a wayward child, her terrifying demeanour only enhanced by glorious singing. The weaker point is Deborah Voigt, singing Brünnhilde for the first time; her voice was clean and bright, but it lacked power, and although her flirtatious simpering manner worked well in Act II, it never went away, and so did not match up to Mr Terfel’s very moving performance of the final scene when Wotan condemns Brünnhilde to her fiery sleep. This production film includes some nice shots of James Levine’s distinctive conducting style. The Met Orchestra switch nimbly between the characters’ emotions, giving wonderful support to the acting and the narrative.

This production certainly enraged the critics, but for anyone who doesn’t have ready live access to singers of this calibre, and for newcomers to the Ring, it is well worth seeing.

Jane Shuttleworth | 01 Dezember 2013


On the final day of its 2010-11 season, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast world-wide in HD its new production of Die Walküre, the second instalment of Robert Lepage’s high-technology take on Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle that is to be completed next season. Before the performance could begin, however, a problem with the gigantic, computer-driven ‘machine’ that serves as the set for the entire cycle had to be solved, delaying the start of the opera for some 45 minutes. During the first interval, the HD audience was given a detailed and fascinating explanation of the problem and its solution by the Met’s technical director, John Sellars.

Although James Levine, the Met’s music director, has sharply curtailed his conducting duties for reasons of health, Die Walküre is one of only two operas that he kept on his Spring schedule (Berg’s Wozzeck was the other), and he brought undiminished energy to the task, evoking from the orchestra a performance rich both in sweeping grandeur and in fine detail. The cast was equally brilliant, with Deborah Voigt shining in her first run as Brünnhilde, and Bryn Terfel giving an even more powerful and sensitive characterisation of Wotan than his portrayal in Das Rheingold earlier this season.

Terfel’s every note and gesture conveyed Wotan’s seething anger – at Fricka for not allowing him to aid Siegmund, at Hunding for his abuse of both of the Volsung twins, at Brünnhilde for her disobedience, and at the Valkyries for protecting Brünnhilde – and then became poignant and tender as he bade farewell to his beloved daughter. Voigt was a youthful and energetic Brünnhilde, hitting exuberant high notes with assurance and evoking sympathy with her dismay at the severity of her punishment.

As Siegmund and Sieglinde, Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek sang superbly, with beauty and accuracy of tone. Being attractive in appearance and of equal and appropriate age, they also matched perfectly how we might imagine the twins whose coupling sets in motion the plot not only of this opera but also the two that follow it. Kauffmann’s youthful and heroic appearance was a particularly welcome change from the often over-sized or over-aged Siegmunds that had been cast at the Met in recent years, however well they may have sung.

Stephanie Blythe’s commanding portrayal of Fricka took up where she left off last Fall in Das Rheingold. The imperious goddess’s confrontation with Wotan was gripping, her unwavering commitment to principle compelling her husband’s acquiescence, with Terfel conveying effectively the god’s pain as he reluctantly accedes to her demands. Hans-Peter König’s rich, pitch-perfect bass and stern demeanour made a chilling and menacing Hunding. The octet of Valkyries also excelled, and their singing of Wagner’s eight individual vocal lines (without some doublings used in the previous Met production) came through especially clearly in the HD venue.

During the opera’s brief opening ‘storm’, the ‘machine’ went into action. Its 24 planks at first bore projections evoking the icy, wind-swept tempest that raged in the orchestra, then tilted, separating to become trees in a forest through which Siegmund is seen being pursued by Hunding’s kinsmen. Finally, the planks rotated forward to become the sloping roof of Hunding’s house, with the two central planks remaining upright and, via projection, becoming the ash-tree with the sword set between them, waiting to be discovered by Siegmund. This dramatic portrayal of the action being depicted in Wagner’s score was quite effective, and Lepage used this idea again later in the opera during two extended monologues that challenge the stage director to create visual interest. As Siegmund relates his life story to Sieglinde, shadowy projections on the roof show the events of which he sings, and in Wotan’s extended monologue in Act Two, Lepage used a sequence of projections in the shape of a circle to represent Wotan’s lost eye and his shield, and then to illustrate his retelling of the entire plot of Das Rheingold.

Lepage began and ended the final Act with manoeuvres of the ‘machine. As the orchestra accompanies their ‘Ride’, the eight Valkyries, reins in hand, sit astride as many planks, which rock up and down to simulate galloping steeds. This ingenious high-tech effect was more amusing than realistic, but was a considerable improvement over most stagings in which there are no horses at all to be seen. (It could not, however, top a staging that I had the pleasure of seeing in Seattle some years ago, in which the Valkyries sat astride carousel horses that flew high above the stage suspended on wires – an effect that alone was worth the price of my ticket!). In the final scene, the planks rotate to give the audience a birds-eye view of the sleeping Brünnhilde (actually a body-double for Voigt), suspended upside-down and surrounded by fiery red projections. This, together with the magnificent ‘Magic Fire’ music, brought the opera to a touching close, although I did miss the realistic fire and smoke of the Met’s just-retired Otto Schenk production.

As in Lepage’s production of Das Rheingold, virtually all of the action had to be set in the relatively narrow area of the stage in front of the ‘machine’. That constraint brought the singers closer to the audience, but also made the staging more static and less interesting, deficits only partially compensated for by the beauty of the projections and lighting effects created by lighting designer Étienne Boucher and video image artist Boris Firquet. HD viewers also benefited from the multiple camera angles, close-ups, and reaction shots that were directed for TV by Gary Halvorson. Thus, although Lepage’s staging of Wotan’s confrontation with Fricka was quite dull – she was seated or standing directly in front of her ram-drawn cart through the entire scene – Halvorson created some memorable images, including one with Wotan and his spear in close-up in the foreground, with the seated and stern-faced Fricka looming above him. François St-Aubin’s costumes were rather more pleasing than those in Das Rheingold, with Wotan’s eye-patch being a distinct improvement over having his hair hang down across half of his face as in the earlier opera.

Seeing the performers’ facial expressions, both as they sang and as they reacted to the other characters, added a marvellous dimension to the HD experience, but it also made some production glitches more visible to HD viewers than to most of the audience in the Opera House. For example, whenever one of the performers stood in front of the ash tree in Hunding’s house, the projected image of the tree’s bark was cast upon the performer instead, making part of the “tree” look like the bare plank it actually was.

This continuation of the Ring remains on the path on which Lepage set out in Das Rheingold – a straightforward telling of Wagner’s epic tale without imposing any external ‘concept’ upon it. Although the staging was somewhat less interesting than in Rheingold, all of the singers in this performance of Die Walküre were superlative. Siegfried and Götterdämmerung will offer many more opportunities for creative use of the ‘machine’, as well as for great music making, so the ultimate assessment of this Ring must await its completion in the spring of 2012.

David M. Rice | May 14, 2011


Die Walküre has Problems with an Ambitious Set

As a ‘glass half empty’ person I expect things to go wrong with everything around me and this is especially the case with events that I have been most looking forward to. This Saturday matinee of Die Walküre broadcast to cinemas live from The Metropolitan Opera sums this up perfectly as never have I anticipated one of these performance more than on this occasion only to see the following notice ‘Today’s peformance has been delayed and will begin shortly’. Yes peformance – and it is not my typo! Apparently it was all to do with a rogue ‘encoder’ that controlled the movement of one of the 24 planks on Carl Fillion’s stage wide piano keyboard high-tech mechanical set that tilts and turns to provide the stage pictures. It is known (affectionately or otherwise) backstage as ‘The Machine’ – and on this occasion the machine was broken and the complicated computer-controlled movements weren’t happening:so the start of the show was delayed for some forty minutes.

A lot more happens in Das Rheingold and perhaps Lepage’s Cirque du Soleil-inspired approach was at its best then and this and remaining Ring operas – will see diminishing returns. Die Walküre is more of an intimate kitchen-sink drama by comparison with the earlier story involving water nymphs, dwarves, giants, gods and a rainbow bridge. All we have to concentrate on here is the reuniting of the long-lost twins Sieglinde and Siegmund and their falling into incestuous love, the marriage difficulties of the gods Wotan and Fricka, as well as, a father (Wotan) punishing his young errant daughter, Brünnhilde. Yes, all human life is here just like any (other) soap opera.

With some skill – as well as fine singing and a bit of good acting from his performers – the Ringmaster Lepage delivers a great show. As much as I enjoyed this Die Walküre – and I consider it one of the best I have seen in recent years – it is possibly because it is concept-free and that appeals to the innocent part of me that wants to see the fairytale aspect of the Ring given its due from time to time. We live in enough of a cynical world not to have this rammed down our throats every time we go in the opera house … though I accept this generational reinvention is precisely what Wagner wanted when he said ‘Kinder! macht neues!’. Truth be told that if you did not know the singers and the production and took some sepia photographs François St-Aubin’s costumes could have been from a Met Ring performance anytime in the early twentieth century. Brünnhilde retains her winged helmet, shield and spear throughout the entire evening.

The Met audience – a few spotted wearing horned helmets with pigtails – even applaud the set when the Valkyries are ‘riding’ up and down on rather phallic ‘horses’ at start of Act III, and indeed it is a thing of wonder how it can elsewhere turn from trees, to Hunding’s hut (with the sword as a convenient coat hook), the side of a volcano with lava flows and a mountaintop with avalanches. Boris Firquet’s video projections are an essential part of this and often during some of the expository monologues we have images and shadow play from the characters’ back stories. Only once was I disappointed by what I was seeing and that was at the very end of the opera; Brünnhilde (clearly now a stuntwoman) is suspended from above surrounded by flickering, fiery projections on the moving set. I can appreciate that it is as if the audience is looking down on her but some real flame or a little smoke – or something – should have been conjured up to create more atmosphere.

That is most of the good – though there will be more – but what about the bad? Well perhaps Lepage is a good director of sets but less good with people who are mostly left to their own devices it seems; and acting styles go from Jonas Kaufmann’s vacuous Siegmund often seen with folded arms, to Bryn Terfel’s eye-rolling, scenery-chewing Wotan and to the real dramatic subtleties of Westbroek’s Sieglinde and Voigt’s Brünnhilde. We’ve had some good, some bad – so what about the ugly? Well that was the contraption for the enthroned Fricka that was complete with rams’ heads and slid forward on the set at the start of her scene looking like a large mobility vehicle.

I know I am possibly alone in this but I have problems with Jonas Kaufmann’s Wagner as it seems such a manufactured sound. There are thrilling top notes and some wonderful moments but there are clearly times when he sings below the note seeking baritonal effect and seemingly striving to imitate Domingo (who did a good job as a co-host for this broadcast). Eva-Maria Westbroek was an ideal Sieglinde clearly an abused victim of a loveless, enforced union to the brutish Hunding (the very stentorian Hans-Peter König). Ms Westbroek was one of the evening’s vocal successes, singing with a suitably radiant and impassioned sound. Wotan has clearly had a make-over since Rheingold and gone is the face-concealing stringy hair; he now has an eye-patch across his left eye, with breastplate and spear still in place making this Wotan a very statuesque, imposing, presence. Terfel’s voice is perhaps a little too mellifluous for the role but I felt throughout he knew what he was singing about and understood Wotan’s turmoil whether it is anger, remorse or fatherly love – and he made me believe it too.

His wife, Fricka, was the comfortably proportioned Stephanie Blythe whose size must limit her chances of European engagements, and talking backstage with Joyce DiDonato she put her character’s firmness in this opera down to body-shaping ‘Spanx’! Actually Ms Blythe summed up opera singing quite pithily as a matter of just ‘taking a breath, supporting it, singing the words and getting to the end of a phrase’. Her resplendent chest voice gave full vent to her character’s ire and made it clear who was in charge in her marriage with Wotan.

Finally for me the revelation of this broadcast was Deborah Voigt’s vulnerable, girlish and very affecting performance as Brünnhilde. Her ‘Hojotohos’ were laser bright with at least one ‘Heiaha’ brought on by a playful nudge from Wotan’s spear. Her powerful voice never seemed to be under any strain and it was a youthful and engaging performance throughout the evening. Bigger challenges lie ahead for her next season with her debuts in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung but this was an auspicious start. I understand she has studied Brünnhilde for a short time in Cardiff with Anthony Negus and could have no better coach for Wagner.

There is much concern over James Levine’s current health as he recovers from ‘back problems’ and indeed from what we saw of him his ability to walk does appear to have been compromised. He clearly struggled to his seat in the pit and took his curtain call there without coming up on stage. Having many years ago witnessed an infirm Reginald Goodall being carried by a nurse from the pit at an interval during Tristan we are clearly not yet at that stage yet, as Maestro Levine smiled broadly and was not seemingly in distress at the end of a very long evening. Both he and his orchestra seemed inspired by the occasion and – as is to be expected – he bought a great sense of overall direction and immense character – with all the required passion, tenderness or excitement needed – to a very strong performance. Levine’s tempos were sometimes broad and sometimes brisk but most importantly it sounded very fresh and was by no means routine. It was the 2,248th performance he has led at the Met … and fingers crossed this will not be his last.

Jim Pritchard | 14.5.2011


Stage against the Machine: Strong cast triumphs over problematic set in Met’s “Walküre”

The stage equipment of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre claimed another victim Thursday night at the opera’s third performance. (Deborah Voigt, the Brünnhilde, tripped and fell at her initial entrance on opening night.)

The mishap Thursday night, which occurred during the Ride of the Valkyries, looked at first more serious when Eve Gigliotti as Siegrune took a slide down one of the 24 movable planks (collectively known as “the Machine”) that are the heart of Lepage’s production and made an obviously uncomfortable landing. She immediately left the stage, but returned after a minute of two, winning a round of applause. Singing heartily, she performed as though nothing were wrong.

That’s one way to earn recognition as one of the valkyries, whom even serious Wagnerians have a hard time keeping straight. But if I were a singer, I would think twice about going near the Machine, which cost millions, weighs so much that the Met stage had to be specially reinforced to accommodate it and almost seems to have a life of its own, as it goes into all sorts of different configurations. One false cue and a mere mortal could easily be flattened between converging planks.

Ms. Gigliotti’s mishap didn’t make it any easier to watch the final scene, in which Wotan puts the disobedient Brünnhilde asleep on the Valkyries’ rock. Here, after Voigt had sung her final, impassioned passage, but with much music still remaining, Bryn Terfel, as Wotan, led Voigt offstage. He soon returned at the top of the Machine with a body double for Brünnhilde, who was placed head down a plank sloping down toward the audience. Then the Machine tilted still further, so that the double’s body was totally upside down. It’s silly enough to use a double in the first place. But the ploy distracted terribly from this moving scene. I kept thinking that if something went wrong—as things do with the Machine—the double could have been killed.

Maybe OHSA should get involved and ban the Machine as a hazard in the workplace, so that when the final two operas of the Ring cycle, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, appear next season, the Machine will be history. Aside from being dangerous, it is irrelevant. When it starts creaking (audibly) to assume a new configuration, you could only wonder what its next gyration would be. Occasionally, the Machine is helpful in suggesting something meaningful, as at the outset when it represented a storm and a forest.

But normally, one just wanted it to stay put. This it did for much of the start of Act 2, when it took on the glow of a charcoal fire. But here a mysterious spherical thing emerged and proceeded, unhelpfully, to represent images like the ring or a shield, as a kind of gloss on Wotan’s long narration. Similarly, in Act 1, shadowy figures acted out events described by Siegmund as he relates to Sieglinde and Hunding his life of hardship.

As far as the direction of the singers goes, this was an extremely traditional Walküre. Often the interaction of the characters was very effective, especially the scenes for Siegmund and Sieglinde in Act 1. But other scenes were rather clumsily staged, such as the exchange for Wotan and Fricka, which found the latter sitting in her chariot most of the time. And Lepage really camped up the Ride of the Valkyries by having the girls ride the planks as if they were seesaws. Like other directors, Lepage builds on the work of his predecessors by having, for example, Hunding appear with his clansmen. (They actually assist Hunding in his fight with Siegmund, which made the battle rather unbalanced.) But I didn’t spot even one novel idea that future directors might want to borrow from Lepage.

Still, this was an improvement over Das Rheingold in the fall, and the strong cast is a decisive factor. To no one’s surprise, Jonas Kaufmann offers an outstanding Siegmund sung with burnished tone and phrasing of great sensitivity. Scarcely less good is Eva-Maria Westbroek, in her Met debut assignment as Sieglinde. Sometimes the voice sounds a touch thick at climactic moments but her O hehrstes Wunder is intense and exciting. Both she and Kaufmann look perfect in their roles.

I was not especially looking forward to Voigt’s role debut as Brünnhilde, but she acquits herself quite well. The voice sounds edgy and has lost much of its former bloom, but she sings with confidence, has the requisite power when needed and she acts the part convincingly.

Terfel’s Wotan is engrossing and handsomely sung. He strongly conveys Wotan’s conflicting emotions in dealing with Brünnhilde, but what is lacking is a stronger sense of the chief god’s dignity. In delivering his final words, Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet, durchschreite das Feuer nie! (“He who fears the point of my spear will never pass through this fire), Terfel belt out the word “fürchtet” so strongly that he not only spoiled the musical line but suggested Wotan was angling for a fight rather than accepting with resignation what the future will bring.

Perhaps in part the staging is to blame, but I found Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka way over the top. Terfel’s Wotan tries repeatedly to gently cajole Fricka, only to find himself the object of another broadside of vocal artillery. Hans-Peter König is an excellent Hunding whose menacing side only gradually comes into focus.

Back problems or not, James Levine’s conducting is fully involved with the music and gives more attention to detail than in the past. Tempos, especially in Act 3, are more energetic, but there are still places where slow tempos cause the pacing to drag and prevent a stronger sense of the work’s architecture from emerging.

And finally a word about audience behavior. It is appalling that the audience began to applaud during the final quiet chord of the opera instead of waiting for it to die away. It’s as if a thousand cell phones went off simultaneously.

George Loomis | April 29, 2011

New York Post

Met’s ‘Die Walkure’ is cursed

In “Die Walkure,” the second installment of Wagner’s four-part “Ring” cycle, the god Wotan enlists his children to recover the stolen Ring of the Nibelung, a source of infinite power carrying a deadly curse.

A lesser curse dogged the divas of Friday night’s sold-out performance at the Met. Deborah Voigt, as the valkyrie Brunnhilde, lost her footing on uneven scaffolding and fell before singing a single note.

Later, debuting soprano Eva Maria Westbroek took sick, leaving understudy Margaret Jane Wray to finish her role of Sieglinde.

A more serious problem was James Levine’s erratic conducting, unfocused in the first act and glacially slow in the second. Even a superbly paced final act couldn’t dispel concerns about the maestro’s health as he tottered out, frail and exhausted, to a standing ovation.

At least the giant motorized metal slats of the $16 million set didn’t stall as they did in the previous “Das Rheingold.” Richly detailed projections morphed from snow-flecked forest to flame-encircled mountain peak, with only an occasional clank or scurrying stagehand to break the spell.

But director Robert Lepage’s obsession with eye-popping visuals showed little concern for the work’s complex intellectual and moral dimensions.

The finest performance of the night, and the clear audience favorite, was Jonas Kaufmann’s role debut as Siegmund, Wotan’s troubled mortal son. The German tenor deployed his dark, virile voice with a precision that always sounds spontaneous, and created a moody “loner” character far more subtle and nuanced than the usual heldentenor posturing.

Voigt’s first-ever Brunnhilde found her soprano metallic but penetrating. Even when dusting herself off after her pratfall she looked fierce in a tousled red wig and the traditional warrior maiden garb of silvery armor.

After some melodramatic lurching early in the opera more appropriate to Sweeney Todd, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel joined Voigt to build the emotional third act father-daughter encounter into the opera’s musical and dramatic highlight. In sumptuous voice, he capped the evening with a lyrical account of Wotan’s “farewell” aria.

For those who complain that “they don’t sing like that anymore,” there was Stephanie Blythe, who does sing “like that” and then some. Her glamorous mezzo-soprano sailed from thundering low notes to a gleaming top. Even in a campy getup that suggested Queen Elizabeth I guest-starring on “Star Trek,” her Fricka projected the haughty grandeur of the queen of the gods.

The final two installments of Wagner’s epic arrive next season; with any luck, they’ll shake the curse on this “Ring” — Lepage’s shallow, flashy direction. In the meantime, Wagnerians on a budget may want to check out the HD simulcast of “Die Walkure” on May 14.

James Jorden | April 24, 2011

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 12.5 Mbit/s, 21.0 GByte (MPEG-4)
HD Transmission
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.