Die Walküre

Christian Thielemann
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Date/Location
8 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
nmz.de

50 Jahre Osterfestspiele Salzburg: Zum Jubiläum eine „Walküre“ als Re-Kreation und eine „WalküRe“ als erklärende Draufgabe

Was sonst noch passierte: Gundula Janowitz hat heuer ihre erste „Walküre“ erlebt – als Zuschauerin. Auf der Bühne stand sie in dieser Wagner-Oper natürlich schon häufig, nicht zuletzt in der Eröffnungspremiere der allerersten Osterfestspiele Salzburg am 19. März 1967. Damals gab’s Schneesturm.

Nach Bayreuther Vorbild – und zugleich in deutlicher Abgrenzung dazu – sowie als Pendant zu den 1920 von Max Reinhardt und Hugo von Hofmannsthal ins Leben gerufenen Salzburger Festspielen gründete Herbert von Karajan dieses besondere Festival. Dieser Tage feiert es sein 50jähriges Bestehen – in frühlingshaftem Sonnenschein.

Zum Auftakt der seit 2013 von der Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden bespielten und von deren Chefdirigent Christian Thielemann als Künstlerischem Leiter verantworteten Festspiele gab es (um diese wunderbare Wortkreation jenes Sprachraums noch einmal zu nutzen) heuer einen bekenntnishaften Blick zurück. Die Re-Kreation der Eröffnungsinszenierung, die Karajan nicht nur musikalisch, sondern auch als Regisseur betreut hatte, wurde zu einer bereits im Vorfeld umstrittenen Herangehensweise. Eine „Walküre“ im Bühnenbild von vor einem halben Jahrhundert ist da schon mal als „reaktionär“ bekrittelt worden, obwohl noch niemand wissen konnte, wie Regisseurin Vera Nemirova im Nachbau des historischen Bühnenbildes von Günther Schneider-Siemssen mit dieser Vorlage umgehen würde.

Gut möglich, dass Salzburgs Festspielpublikum für teuer Geld in ein theatrales Museum entführt worden ist – aber was, bitteschön ist denn gegen ein Museum zu sagen? Für einige wenige ist es ein Wiedersehen gewesen, für die meisten eine Begegnung mit legendärer Opernhistorie – und für Gundula Janowitz halt die erste „Walküre“ aus Zuschauerperspektive.

Das Schönste aber ist: Ganz Salzburg feiert dieses Jubiläum! Die Stadt ist mit Plakaten, Fahnen und Fotos geschmückt, beim ORF gibt’s eine Fotoausstellung des Kajaran-Archivs und im Salzburg Museum wird „WalküRE 1967 bis 2017“ präsentiert, eine anschauliche Geschichtsstunde zu Wagner, Karajan und Schneider-Siemssen. Alles dreht sich um die Re-Kreation eines Bühnenwerks.

All das dürfte es der Regisseurin Vera Nemirova nicht eben leicht gemacht haben, in der den gewaltigen Bühnenraum des Großen Festspielhauses ausnutzenden und von Jens Kilian wiederhergestellten Architektur eine eigene Handschrift zu finden. Die riesige Weltesche im ersten Bild, die assoziative Ring-Gestaltung einer abstrakten Landschaft, die Andeutungen von Verwobenheit und Abgründigem sind optisch schon vorhanden, bevor der erste Mensch darin auftaucht.

Doch welch ein Personal hat diese Re-Kreation zu bieten! Angefangen mit Peter Seiffert, der als Siegmund durch die orchestral umstürmte Einöde huscht und im Schutz der Esche erst auf Anja Harteros als schwesterliche Sieglinde und dann auf Georg Zeppenfeld als seinen Widersacher Hunding trifft. Da herrschen spielerische Souveränität und sängerische Großleistungen, wie sie von Vitalij Kowaljow als stark sensiblen Wotan und Christa Mayer als selbstbewusster Fricka nicht minder umgesetzt werden. Und auch Anja Kampe als mutige Brünnhilde ist nicht nur eine sportive Darstellerin, sondern gestaltet mit einer Stimme von wunderbarem Format. So gelingen – neben der eher statischen Walküren-Darstellung – anrührende Szenen, sei es im verzweifelt begehrenden Ringen der Geschwister, sei es in der auch visuell verschriftlichten Familienaufstellung des Götter-Clans, und ganz besonders in der väterlichen Strafaktion des dann doch sehr menschlich unmenschlichen Götterhelden, der seine Tochter auf den vom Feuer umtosten Felsen in fernere Zeiten schlafen lässt.

Dazu darf die Staatskapelle als ein Hauptdarsteller in diesem überhaupt nicht angestaubt oder gar reaktionär wirkenden Opus noch einmal betörend auffahren. Und ein schon zu den Pausen kräftig gefeierter Christian Thielemann beweist sich eindrücklich als Bewahrer des Feuers, das er vom einstigen Karajan-Assistenten in eine Nachfolge trägt, die geradezu zeitlos zu sein scheint.

Diese „Walküre“ ist ein Gesamtkunstwerk. Gundula Janowitz hat eine gute Wahl getroffen.

Michael Ernst | 09.04.2017

Musicweb-International.com (I)

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

Musicweb-International.com (II)

When Herbert von Karajan mounted his presentations of Wagner’s Ring music dramas at the Salzburg Festival in the late 1960s, even those critics who lauded his unorthodox casting and sometimes controversial approach to the music found little to praise in the stagings which the conductor himself produced with such effort and labour. They were condemned as shrouded in stygian gloom – Birgit Nilsson at a Met revival was reported to have donned a miner’s helmet complete with lamp for rehearsals – and at the same time as too reminiscent of Wieland Wagner’s Bayreuth production mounted earlier in the same decade. Parallels were drawn between Karajan’s set founded around a ring-shaped platform that surrounded the stage, and Wieland’s circular central area; and similarities could also be found in the costumes and make-up, somehow reminiscent of early mediaeval chess pieces in appearance, as well as the statuesque nature of the action that these imposed on the singers. When Karajan in the 1970s attempted to film the productions with some addition of realistic touches such as swimming Rhinemaidens, the results were almost universally condemned (by many of the same reviewers who were later to be so contemptuous of Sir Peter Hall’s similarly ‘naturalistic’ Bayreuth production); and that Karajan cycle never progressed beyond Rheingold. It is therefore welcome that this DVD attempts to recreate the original presentation (now fifty years old), even if the final results are somewhat mixed.

Most welcome are the re-appearances of the original stage sets and glass-painted backdrops by Günther Schneider-Siemssen. The designer returned to the Ring for the New York Met in the 1980s, and the results are familiar from the video recordings made at that time; but, especially in Act One, his earlier thoughts are even more impressive. Instead of the Met’s hyper-realistic and well-appointed woodland dwelling, we have a solitary tortured tree-trunk beneath which Hunding holds court and which has an Arthur Rackham-like fascination of its own. It doesn’t serve well to conceal the whereabouts of the sword – Siegmund’s failure to notice it during his apostrophe to Wälse is totally inexplicable – but it does boast internal plumbing from which Sieglinde can draw water, and it frames the woodland scene in spring most effectively. Towards the end of Act Two the ‘unit set’ of the ring splits apart to provide a series of ramps which help to stage the duel and conflict between the various characters with real dramatic impact; but in Act Three the conflagration of the magic fire is rather unimpressive.

Part of the problem here, and indeed elsewhere, may lie in the fact that it does not appear that Schneider-Siemssen’s designs have been left entirely unchanged. During his long monologue in Act Two Wotan strides around the ring, drawing up projected blackboard-like tables on which he explains the extensive back history of the impossible situation in which he now finds himself, as a didactic schoolmaster instructing Brünnhilde like a backward school-pupil. I cannot imagine that this ever formed part of Karajan’s or Schneider-Siemssen’s plans – such an intrusive element would surely have occasioned comment from contemporary critics – and this feature, like Hunding’s chauvinist manhandling of his wife, must surely be laid at the door of Vera Nemirova who is billed as the ‘stage director’. They jar horribly with the Karajan ethos, although the new costumes which are credited to Jens Kilian (who also re-created Schneider-Siemssen’s sets) blend in somewhat better. In Act Three the whole of the action, including the scene between Wotan and his errant daughter, is witnessed by a crowd of extras who interfere with the dialogue which should be so intimate, and whose sole function appears to be to kindle the magic fire at the end (the results can be seen on the box cover). Again this seems to be totally at odds with the beautiful effect conjured up by the cyclorama projections of Schneider-Siemssen. The whole procedure is supposedly justified by Jan-Eric Dörr in his booklet note, where he states “it is both a glimpse into the past as well as a vision for the future, without shying away from the predominate stage aesthetics.” I am not sure what the latter part of the ungrammatical sentence is intended to mean; but the attempt to combine old and new elements seems to me to detract from both, rather than to enhance them.

The musical performance, on the other hand, needs absolutely no qualification; it is simply magnificent, fully the equal of any rival on video and vastly superior to most competitors. In Act One, Peter Seiffert and Anja Harteros are an impassioned pair of lovers, and Georg Zeppenfeld is a properly louring husband. In Act Two we are introduced to Anja Kampe who, once over a slightly tentative opening, is superbly incisive as Brünnhilde; she and Seiffert are both superbly rapt and still during their scene together. I expressed admiration for Vitalij Kowaljow a few years back when he undertook Wotan for Barenboim’s video cycle at La Scala, while noting that in 2010 he did “not yet fully inhabit the role”; now, seven years later, he is totally in command of its nuances. Christa Mayer is an imperious Fricka, although the humanoid rams drawing her chariot are an unwelcome distraction. Brünnhilde’s eight Valkyrie sisters are, as so often, a squally bunch but Christian Thielemann and the Dresden orchestra give a magisterial tone to their scene and rise without fail to all the magnificent perorations which this score contains so plentifully.

Indeed it is for this musical presentation, with so many elements perfectly in place, that this Salzburg restaging should commend itself to purchasers. Even while regretting the fact that the new stage direction by Nemirova dilutes the force of the original Karajan presentation – and there are indeed some who might regard this as a blessing – I would place this recording at the peak of the available versions of Wagner’s Walküre on video, with more dramatic punch than Levine at the Met even when the later Schneider-Siemssen sets (for Act Three in particular) have greater verisimilitude both in appearance and action. The sound and vision on Blu-Ray are both exemplary; the booklet, despite its quirky translation, contains a complete track listing and notes in English, French and German; and to these languages the subtitles add Spanish, Italian, Korean and Japanese.

Paul Corfield Godfrey | April 2018

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Technical Specifications
1280×720, 2.0 Mbit/s, 3.3 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