Wagner: Die Walküre

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Die Walküre
PERFORMER: John Bröcheler, John Keyes, Nadine Secunde, Jeannine Altmeyer, Kurt Rydl; Netherlands PO/Hartmut Haenchen; dir. Pierre Audi (Amsterdam, 1999)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0947 D (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
Following a highly original Rheingold comes this next instalment of Netherlands Opera’s Ring. As before, Pierre Audi controversially sets the action on a wide surface that sweeps around and above the orchestra, raised to stage level. In general this works surprisingly well, the more so as Audi nonetheless presents the drama fundamentally straight. Not without sillinesses, among them depriving Hunding’s ‘hut’ of the necessary table, then providing a superfluous one for Wotan; a symbolic hut blasting off in flames; more flames at intervals – except for the Magic Fire. Audi also favours stylized action, often inadvisably – having the Valkyries bat their chrome seraph-wing shields in time to the Ride, which singers can hardly help bodging.

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The cast is also rather mixed. John Keyes is a stalwart, dark-voiced Siegmund, Secunde a livelier Sieglinde than on Barenboim’s set (on Warner), but neither they nor Rydl’s leathery-voiced Hunding generate the proper excitement. Jeannine Altmeyer, a searing, beautiful Sieglinde for Boulez (on DG), is a strong enough Brünnhilde vocally, and cuts an imposing figure in her ‘wings’ and skull helmet, but her face is inexpressive now and her acting, however hardworking, uninvolving. Most impressive are Runkel’s Fricka, rather caricatured by Audi, and Brocheler’s Wotan, reminiscent of Furtwängler’s favourite, Ferdinand Frantz – strong-voiced and characterful, if not the subtlest, with a core of nobility. And, literally at the heart of the performance, Haenchen’s conducting, authentically brisk but attentive to detail, only occasionally wanting more tension. Barenboim, Boulez and Levine’s Walküres are finer in toto, but this production, modern but not deformative, offers a fascinating newer alternative. Michael Scott Rohan