Die Walküre

Christian Thielemann
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Date/Location
5-17 April 2017
Großes Festspielhaus Salzburg
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegmundPeter Seiffert
HundingGeorg Zeppenfeld
WotanVitalij Kowaljow
SieglindeAnja Harteros
BrünnhildeAnja Kampe
FrickaChrista Mayer
HelmwigeAlexandra Petersamer
GerhildeJohanna Winkel
OrtlindeBrit-Tone Müllertz
WaltrauteChristina Bock
SiegruneŠtěpánka Pučálková
GrimgerdeKathrin Wundsam
SchwertleiteKatharina Magiera
RoßweißeSimone Schröder
Stage directorVera Nemirova (Herbert von Karajan)
Set designerGünther Schneider-Siemssen
TV directorTiziano Mancini
Gallery
Reviews
Gramophone

A bizarre concept: a 50th-anniversary celebration of Karajan’s Salzburg Easter Festival by his major disciple Christian Thielemann which comprises a new production of that event’s opening opera on a painstaking recreation of the original 1967 setting by Günther Schneider-Siemssen.

Stage director Vera Nemirova (who has already created her own Ring for Frankfurt, issued on Oehms) is, of course, restricted severely by the set’s Karajan-dictated stripped-down imitations of Wieland Wagner, sculpted tree and ring-shaped platform included. You may smile ironically at the thought of Karajan’s posthumous reactions to her new conceits attempting to break up the potentially epic monotony of a staging in these conditions. Siegmund’s Act 1 narration of his flight is upstaged by Hunding’s aggressively sexual groping of Sieglinde – but the hero’s reaction is to reach into the rucksack he conveniently carries for tobacco and filter papers and roll up a cigarette. Later the back wall in Act 2 is covered with a mirroring of the chalk-drawn dramatis personae of The Ring that Wotan and Brünnhilde have been making on the floor to help them understand Wotan’s monologue. That, plus the addition of some ram-dressed chair carriers for Fricka and some self-sacrificing heroes for the Valkyries in Act 3, is about it for original production ideas.

A for effort for the production team – but the real interest of this release is musical. Thielemann’s fourth recording of this opera assembles his strongest cast yet, one more than capable of filling the wide spaces of the Grosses Festspielhaus. The top of Peter Seiffert’s voice may no longer be a thing of beauty but it, and his instinct for the personality of Siegmund, are very much there. Harteros is a clearly projected, emotional Sieglinde. Zeppenfeld, nervous of his marriage as soon as he first sees Siegmund at home, is a convincing wife-abusing neurotic in good, un-woolly voice. Kowaljow’s Wotan is best when he is frighteningly angry. He and Thielemann present the Act 2 monologue with a detail and colour that is almost Clemens Krauss-level and, on the repeated ‘Das Ende’, even manage a reasonable facsimile of Hans Hotter’s memorable dynamics. Anja Kampe, as always, is bright, forward, intelligent and the centre of attention onstage. She doesn’t (quite) yet manage Brünnhilde’s final plea in Act 3 with the lyrical dynamite of Frida Leider or Anne Evans but is a nicely detailed interpreter of her confrontations in Act 2. Christa Mayer is more self-doubting than usual as a cleanly sung Fricka but is then given extra silent appearances to confirm and gloat over Siegmund’s fall. The Valkyries, despite a boringly safe stand-and-deliver staging, make some vocal impact.

The sound of Thielemann’s orchestra, darker-sounding than usual from more Western-based orchestras and with plangent winds and an aggressively present timpani balance, is one of the pleasures of this set. Thielemann has long been a ‘stop-goer’ in Wagner with large tempo contrasts. Now, perhaps following his Bayreuth Tristan, he is even more daringly slow in his pointing up of love and suffering. For that and the cast this set is valuable.

Mike Ashman | 01/2018

Fanfare

This Walküre was staged at Salzburg in 2017, but harks back to an earlier era. That year marked the 50th anniversary of the Salzburg Easter Festival, and to commemorate the occasion, the first production in the event’s history was re-created. So what we have is the Karajan/Schneider-Siemssen with some slight adjustments for modern times by director Vera Nemirova. The sets are essentially those of 1967, with the glass screen backstage effects now achieved though computer projections. The costumes have changed though (the new designs by Jens Kilian), with the strictly abstract, neo-Bayreuth style of the original replaced by what seems to be 60s mufti. So, for example, Vitalij Kowaljow wears a huge fur coat as Wotan, but beneath is a 1960s business suit. Given the highly acrimonious state of aesthetic politics when it comes to opera staging these days, especially in Wagner, the whole project seems dubiously regressive, and if the 60s additions are designed to bridge the gap, they are a token gesture at best.

For act I, Hunding’s house is formed by the roots of the ash tree, an impressive and imposing piece of stagecraft dominating the Festspielhaus stage. Acts II and III have a more abstract setting, a ring set on the stage and broken at the back with one arm raised—so that’s the mountain peak on which Brünnhilde (Anja Kampe) is exiled at the end. The glass paintings-turned-computer projection backdrops consist of a lot of smoke effects in the first act, and later on a huge eye looking down on proceedings. Beyond that, the physical props are minimal. The valkyries have impressive feather-crested helmets, but ride hobby horses. Fricka (Christa Mayer) is flanked by two rams—men with ram skull helmets—but her chariot is a beige easy chair that they carry on for her. Once that has gone, there is very little on the stage for the remainder of the opera. The Magic Fire follows the inner rim of the ring on the stage, which isn’t very impressive, but is supplemented by a torchlit procession of fallen soldiers over the final bars.

The musical side is more impressive, and the festival has assembled a world-class cast, most of whom are on top form throughout. The two leading ladies, both Anjas, give the finest performances, Anja Harteros as Sieglinde and Anja Kampe as Brünnhilde. Harteros has a rich, sweet tone and excellent vocal support, which Thielemann exploits for his steady tempos and long lines. Kampe has a brighter sound, which is perfectly even, right up to the top. The musical highlight here is act III, scene 1, for the Brünnhilde/Sieglinde interactions, the two voices equally accomplished and both perfectly cast.

Peter Sieffert is on his way down—but from what heights! He was 63 when this was filmed, and he still has all the vocal power of his younger years. But the tone is more husky and lacks bloom. There is also a wobble in the most taxing passages, like the act I finale. Even so, this is still an impressive performance, and one that few of his younger rivals could match. Georg Zeppenfeld is a reliable Wagner bass, but he seems miscast as Hunding. Maybe I’ve just seen him too often as Pogner, Marke, and Heinrich, but it is difficult to take him seriously as a bad guy. Nemirov has him groping Sieglinde to demonstrate his menace, but the aggression in his voice is more effective. Christa Mayer has an appropriately mature sound for Fricka, and plenty of character in her voice. She is a good balance to Kowaljow’s Wotan, whose voice is sufficient but not huge. All the words are there, and all the emotions, but he can’t compete with Kampe, who completely dominates the final scene.

Thielemann delivers a typically excellent account of the score. His tempos are generally slow but always fluid, and skillfully communicated to the singers. One big difference from the Karajan days of the Salzburg Easter Festival is that the Berlin Philharmonic has decamped, now spending its Easters at Baden Baden. But given the beautifully idiomatic performance here from the Staatskapelle Dresden, few are likely to complain. The woodwind solos are particularly elegant, though every section of the orchestra excels.

Given the huge stage, it is understandable that the camerawork is mostly close-ups, but, apart from a few arty slow zooms, the cameras are usually static, with unobtrusive editing. The surround sound on the Blu-ray is good, giving a sense of space and depth to both the stage and the pit. Subtitles are provided in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, and Japanese, suggesting that C Major are reaching out to a wide audience with this release. It should find a receptive audience in all those regions, though more for its musical virtues than its recycled visual conception.

Gavin Dixon | issue 41:4

Musicweb-International.com (I)

This April 2017 production of Wagner’s Die Walküre marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Salzburg Easter Festival by Herbert von Karajan. This opera, the second of the four Wagner Ring operas, was the inaugural work which kicked off the festival on March 27, 1967, with Karajan on the podium. Vera Nemirova, stage-director for this 2017 production, used a reconstruction of sets employed in that original Karajan-led staging.

Christian Thielemann is the conductor here, and his cast is a highly respected assemblage of singers, all with strong Wagnerian credentials, and their performances are, on the whole, quite strong. That said, it is Thielemann who is the star, fashioning a most spirited and effective interpretation of this opera, and drawing excellent performances from the Staatskapelle Dresden, the orchestra in residence at the Salzburg Easter Festival. Thielemann, by the way, has served as artistic director of the festival since 2013.

In the past, Thielemann has always struck me as a conductor favoring moderate to slow tempos. Indeed, he has been associated with more traditional styles of interpretation; i.e., less quick tempos in Beethoven’s symphonies and a general disdain for de-Romanticized approaches to much of the Germanic repertoire. Thus, my experience with his previous Wagner recordings suggested his pacing at times was a little too broad, perhaps a bit too ponderous in places. Here, however, the music moves with a vital sense of flow, the drama having impact, with even Wagner’s plentiful slow sections compelling and potent, never lingering detrimentally.

Thielemann’s first video recording of this opera was on Opus Arte from the 2010 Bayreuth Festival where his overall timing was 259 minutes, compared with this Salzburg effort of 235 minutes. True, the Bayreuth version includes curtain calls between acts and about eleven minutes at the end for more. But the Salzburg, with about half as much bloat, is still considerably leaner. More importantly, it’s the better of the two from a musical point of view. But it’s the production too that’s crucial to any opera – and you wonder, how good is it?

Some reviewers commented that it was not particularly imaginative, while a greater number considered it either the highlight of the season in Wagner opera or at least one of the better productions. The cast received similarly mixed reviews, again with opinion coming down on the more positive side. Me? I like the production for its general neutrality and it’s not attempting to insert some supposedly relevant message into the story, a common tendency in the last couple of decades, especially in Wagner operas. And I like the cast here, foremost among whom is Anja Kampe as Brünnhilde.

She enters with a fine ‘Hojotoho’ at the beginning of the Second Act and remains in fine form throughout. Try the final scene in the Third Act to sample her superior singing and dramatic skills. She makes the most of ‘War es so schmählich’ and the numbers that follow, imparting a powerful sense of both earnestness and desperation as she pleads with her unyielding father Wotan. Lesser singers can actually make this music sound a bit bland and uninvolving. Admittedly, in an opera this long, almost any singer will have a moment or two that is sub-par: in Act III’s first scene Kampe sings ‘Fort denn eile, nach Osten gewandt’, and after she turns away from Sieglinde for a moment to pick up the broken sword (Nothüng), you can hardly hear the first two words when she continues with “Verwahr’ ihm…” But I may be nitpicking in pointing this out, as such moments are so very rare for her and because she is ultimately so convincing in the role. The other Anja, Anja Harteros, is also very fine as Sieglinde, and Georg Zeppenfeld portrays a very nasty and sexually abusive Hunding. You will love to hate him. Vitalij Kowaljow makes an imposing Wotan, and Christa Mayer is fine in the role of Fricka.

That now leaves us with Peter Seiffert as Siegmund among the leads here. He can be a little inconsistent, not exactly hot and cold, but perhaps hot and lukewarm. His First Act ‘Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond’ is somewhat understated, though it’s a respectable performance. Yet, he has many fine moments: in the three subsequent numbers (with Sieglinde) that close out the First Act, where he is more spirited and quite effective. In the end, one must assess his performance as good and reasonably strong, though not outstanding.

Regarding the other aspects of this production, the sets are adequate, if not lavish or boldly imaginative. In the First Act Hunding’s lodge has at its center a huge sequoia bored through at the bottom to form a sort of archway to enter and exit rooms. The Second Act features a circular walkway upon which the action takes place, and in the Third the walkway lies in gradual elevation as it runs clockwise. Thus, sets are minimal, the stage mostly barren. Lighting is rarely ever very bright in the foreground and typically dim or almost totally dark in the background. Costuming is fairly traditional for this Wagner opera, especially in the headwear and battle gear: the helmets of Brünnhilde and the Valkyries have feathered wings, and their body armor and spears have a sort of medieval genuineness.

I should mention that the audience reaction at the end of the opera was most enthusiastic, the curtain calls drawing plentiful and vigorous applause and cheers. I always watch to the end, measuring their reaction against my impression. Had I been there, I would’ve cheered too. Camera work, picture clarity and sound reproduction are all very good.

Thus, this Thielemann Die Walküre must be hailed as a triumph. I must point, however, that it goes up against heavy competition on video. I have five other performances either on DVD or Blu-ray, and all have something going for them. Two by Daniel Barenboim from his Ring cycles are both excellent: the first, from 1992 at Bayreuth (Warner Classics DVD), features an utterly splendid production by Harry Kupfer; and the second, from La Scala in 2010 (Arthaus Blu-ray), is also very fine. James Levine (DG DVD) from the Met, dating to April 1989, is very impressive as is Hartmut Haenchen in a 1999 performance from Amsterdam (Opus Arte DVD), but these two, like the first Barenboim, feature less up-to-date video and audio qualities. I’ve already commented on the previous video effort by Thielemann: it has many assets, but his newer one has the edge. I should mention also there is a very excellent Blu-ray audio-only Naxos set with Jaap van Zweden leading the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in live concert performances from 2016. So, there is much to choose from. My recommendation at this point would be either the Barenboim/La Scala or this fine new Thielemann-led Salzburg effort. Devoted Wagnerians might want to seek out both.

Robert Cummings | November 2018

Musicweb-International.com (II)

Christian Thielemann has recorded Die Walküre more than once before, not least as part of his Ring cycles for both the Vienna State Opera and the Bayreuth Festival. This is a little different. For its 50th anniversary in 2017, the Salzburg Easter Festival mounted a recreation of Herbert von Karajan’s 1967 production of Die Walküre, which had opened the very first Easter Festival. Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s sets were reconstructed and the booklet also refers to his original “sophisticated lighting concept” and the “impressive video backdrops inspired by the original glass paintings”. Karajan’s biographer Richard Osborne recorded the disputes between designer and conductor over lighting – Karajan liked things a bit darker it seems. Costumes and stage direction are new, but seem generally in harmony with the concept of the stage as a timeless world, a universe bounded by a proscenium arch.

Overall this production, designed originally and very specifically for the very wide stage of the Festspielhaus, impresses as a worthwhile piece of theatrical archaeology, for the initial production concept of the Ring as a whole cosmos, and its homage to the stripped-back aesthetic of Wieland Wagner’s Bayreuth, remain highly effective scenically. There are just enough long shots to remind us of the epic scale within which the intimate drama is unfolding. The giant tree that also forms Hunding’s hut in Act I, and the ring-shaped platform for Act II, still functions well – simple, effective design does not date. The chalked up listing of the cast of characters on the floor, then back wall, in Act II is an intelligent reminder that after Das Rheingold, the Ring is deeply engaged with its own back-story, like the Oresteia of Aeschylus that formed part of its genesis. One wonders what Karajan would have made of some new directorial details, such as Hunding’s nastily aggressive groping of Sieglinde’s crotch, but generally the characters and their situations are well served by the direction. There is little here to upset a traditionalist, for Brünnhilde even has a winged helmet and a spear for the great ‘annunciation of death’ scene with Siegmund in Act II. The filming, editing and sound recording do it all justice.

Karajan liked younger, fresher voices rather than what he called the “old Wagnerian cannons”. He would not have liked Siegmund’s ill-focussed barking of “Wälse, Wälse” in Act I, but for much of the part Peter Seiffert still makes a very good Walsung. Anja Harteros has the measure of his twin Sieglinde to a still greater degree, vocally bright and secure through the range, and looking the part. Christa Mayer as Fricka is outstanding too, imposing in her insistence on her moral stance, but in full command of her rich voice so that she is never shrill or shrewish, which gives her an authority that makes the drama more interestingly ambiguous. It’s not just a case here, as it sometimes is, of ‘Fricka wrong, Wotan right’. The Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow is splendidly focussed of voice and suitably imposing in presence – not at all the sort of woolly-voiced veteran Wotan which is the undoing of too many recordings of this work. Anja Kampe is on top vocal form as Brünnhilde, whose interactions with Wotan are the emotional heart of this most human of the Ring dramas. Her wide experience in Wagner really tells, and she acts and sings those scenes with her father most affectingly. Her eight spear-voiced (and spear-carrying) Valkyrie sisters make a joyous noise in the opening to Act III.

Christian Thielemann’s pedigree could hardly be more auspicious for this enterprise, since as a young man he was an assistant to Karajan, as well as to Barenboim at Bayreuth. He even followed the traditional route of progressing through smaller German opera houses, learning his craft en route to his current eminence as one of the world’s leading Wagner conductors. His musical direction is superb, for he has the essential long-term perception of Wagner’s musico-dramatic structures, control of the broad tempi he often favours, and a truly magnificent orchestra in the Dresden Staatskapelle. Like Karajan, he understands that the drama is essentially in the pit. Perhaps too Thielemann was inspired by this reclamation of a classic production by his mentor. Karajan once said in a BBC interview “When I see staging and lighting that is right, the music runs out of my hand without effort”. So it does for Thielemann here, not least in the magnificent account of Wotan’s moving farewell to his favourite daughter that closes the opera.

Roy Westbrook | February 2018

classical-music.com

This Salzburg production was billed as a recreation of Herbert von Karajan’s classic 1967 staging, but on this DVD ‘recreation’ acquires inverted commas – advisedly, because it’s nothing of the sort.

Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s monumental sets are reproduced, yes, by another hand. However, their atmospheric, integrated lighting and projections used in his Ring cycles at Covent Garden, the Met and Warsaw are replaced by flatly lit, pallidly revamped images, the costumes with charity-shop and campy winged-helmetry. And Karajan’s straightforward but dramatic staging is replaced by Vera Nemirova’s even less imaginative attempt. Character direction is conventional, static, and larded with meaningless gestures. There’s no tension, sexual or otherwise, between Sieglinde, Siegmund and Hunding; Wotan, in an overtight suit and improbable Legolas wig, hands Brünnhilde a toy rocking horse; Fricka is heaved on in an armchair by ram-headed musclemen; the Valkyries simply line up downstage while zombiefied warriors stagger behind them; the magic fire is a puff of flame and a few torch-bearers. And so on, offering neither the consistency of tradition nor the vitality of reinterpretation.

Nor is this as distinguished musically as it suggests. Peter Seiffert’s lumbering Siegmund, at 63, is a shadow of his younger voice, Anja Harteros’s Sieglinde bright- voiced but uncharacteristically uninspiring, Georg Zeppenfeld a light-voiced, unimpressive Hunding. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Wotan is robust but unsubtle, often with choppy, short-breathed phrasing. Alongside acceptable Valkyries and Christa Mayer’s Fricka, Anja Kampe’s Brünnhilde provides the finest singing, but despite some whole-hearted vigour she too seems somewhat directionless. And while Karajan isn’t my ideal Wagner conductor, playing his recordings highlighted the drama and passion I missed in Christian Thielemann’s weighty, slow-flowing reading, especially a turgid Act I; even the Dresden orchestra sounded muted.

Next to many, even most DVD performances, for example Daniel Barenboim’s and Simon Rattle’s, this seems pointless and uncompelling.

Michael Scott Rohan | October 14, 2019

pizzicato.lu

Im Frühjahr feierte Christian Thielemann den 50. Geburtstag der Salzburger Osterfestspiele mit einer Revival-Produktion von Wagners ‘Walküre’, mit der Herbert von Karajan in einer revolutionären Produktion die Festspiele eröffnet hatte. Von 1967 ist nur das Bühnenbild übrig geblieben. Die Regie hat Vera Nemirova mit zahlreichen Details angereichert, die völlig überflüssig sind.

Musikalisch ist von Karajan nichts mehr da. Thielemanns Dirigat ist betont majestätisch, sehr dramatisch und schwergewichtig, auch wenn er schöne Farben aus der Dresdner Staatskapelle herausnimmt. Aber den geschmeidigen schlanken Klang der Karajan-Produktion erreicht er natürlich nicht.

Die Sänger sind mehrheitlich erstaunlich gut. Anja Harteros ist eine starke Sieglinde, die ich gerne in Karajans kammermusikalisch feinem Orchesterklang gehört hätte. Anja Kampe singt eine stimmlich wie darstellerisch starke Brünnhilde, und Christa Mayer ist eine charaktervolle Fricka.

Bei den Herren dominiert Vitalij Kowaljow als hoch musikalisch auftretender, emotional involvierter Wotan. Auch Georg Zeppenfeld ist in der Rolle Hundings untadelig, mit einer wunderbar schlanken und kräftigen Stimme. Und gerade da hapert es bei Peter Seifferts Siegmund, obwohl er mich sogar noch überrascht hat mit seiner Darbietung. Er ist ein durchwegs akzeptabler Interpret, aber die Stimme bleibt im unteren Register doch oft blass und schwach, und in der Höhe stört nicht selten ein allzu starkes Vibrato. Dennoch: Seiffert ist der beste Siegmund, den ich in den letzten Jahren gehört habe.

Remy Franck | 18/11/2017

Rating
(7/10)
User Rating
(0/5)
Media Type/Label
C Major
C Major
C Major
Technical Specifications
3840×2160, 12.0 Mbit/s, 33.3 GByte (MPEG-4)
Remarks
Telecast (3Sat) from the Salzburger Osterfestspiele
A production based on Herbert von Karajan’s staging 50 years ago.
Also available as broadcast