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Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Walküre

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Robert Lepage's high-flying production returns.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Walküre

Anger management: Bryn Terfel as Wotan in Die Walküre.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera continues the launch of its complete cycles of Robert Lepage's Ring with Die Walküre, starring Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Deborah Voigt as his errant daughter Brunnhilde.
There are a number of annoying "directorial" touches--the "Harry Potter" animated film projected on the roof of Hunding's hut in Act I, and the "Eye of Wotan" emerging from the depths to accompany the God's long Act II monolog. The best effect is an imaginative, high-flying Ride of the Valkyries, using the multimillion dollar "machine" set to good effect to portray Brunnhilde's eight sisters riding across Teutonic skies on bucking hobby-horses.
Despite two onstage accidents (an opening night fall by Ms. Voigt and a fall during the Ride at a later performance) Walküre was generally deemed to be the most successful portion of the Lepage Ring
There are some key changes to the cast from last season's performances. Stuart Skelton sings Siegmund at some of the performances, platooning with Jonas Kaufmann in the role. Also, Katherine Dalayman will sing Brunnhilde in the the Saturday broadcast, and will presumably cover Ms. Voigt.
Recording Recommendations:
For recommendations for a complete Ringclick here.
There are probably more recordings of Walküre out there than any other Wagner opera, for the simple fact that it's the one opera from the Ring that stands alone without being part of a complete cycle. But when it comes to this opera, there are basically two contenders.
Bayreuth Festival, 1966, cond. Karl Böhm (Philips, (currently Decca) 1970)
This is a really special performance, recorded live at the Festspielhaus. What sells it is James King and Leonie Rysanek as an ardent, nearly unbeatable pair of lovers. This is the recording with the famous Rysanek scream: it comes at the end of Act I when Siggy pulls the sword out of the tree.
The later acts feature the solid Wotan of Theo Adam and the great Birgit Nilsson, the one soprano of the golden age of recordings who could sing Brunnhilde, Isolde, Turandot and Elektra and not seem fatigued. Karl Böhm keeps things moving at a lively clip, and the orchestra plays superbly.
To hear what the Ring sounded like in the silver age of Bayreuth, this is the recording to own. The fact that it comes as part of an excellent complete Ring on 14 discs for about $56 bucks should sweeten the deal.
Berlin Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (DG, 1968)
Karajan's Berlin recording of the Ring is not without its admirers--and I'm one of them. The Austrian maestro has a special touch with Wagner, creating chamber-music dynamics out Wagner's huge set pieces, and making his crack Berlin troops respond with tender, languid playing that makes the first act feel, well, erotic.
This recording boasts a great pair of Walsüngs: Jon Vickers and Gundula Janowitz. For the casting of La Janowitz as Sieglinde, we can thank the confines of the recording studio: the role was far too heavy for this middle-weight soprano to tackle onstage.
The same applies to Regine Crespin, a controversial Brunnhilde (she recorded Sieglinde on the Solti Ring four years before) in a different mold from Nilsson. In the studio she brings a youthful freshness to the young warrior maiden. Thomas Stewart's performance as Wotan is under-rated.
Die Walküre opens April 13.

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