Wagner: Die Walküre

LABELS: Etcetera
WORKS: Die Walküre
PERFORMER: John Keyes, Kurt Rydl, Albert Dohmen, Charlotte Margiono, Linda Watson, Doris Soffel; Netherlands PO/Hartmut Haenchen
A recording of the remarkable 1999 Netherlands Opera production, recently released on DVD, but in its 2005 revival; here it is now on SACD, inviting comparison with South Australian Opera’s recent version. It’s quickly apparent that the cast improves substantially on 1999, especially in replacing John Bröcheler’s gruff Wotan with Albert Dohmen, leaner-toned but much more incisively sung and characterised, even to Hotter-like nuances. Linda Watson is likewise a fresher, fuller Brünnhilde than Jeannine Altmeyer, though with some unsteadiness and strained high notes. Kurt Rydl’s robust Hunding reappears; as does John Keyes’s dark-voiced Siegmund, but with a painfully obtrusive wobble. Charlotte Margiono is a finer Sieglinde, but neither match Australia’s Stuart Skelton and Deborah Riedel. Soffel’s Fricka impresses, the Valkyries less so. However, there are wider problems. Pierre Audi’s striking ‘ringed’ staging placed the orchestra at stage level in mid-set, and the recording doesn’t seem to cope with this, creating a remote and underdetailed sound, the opposite of what SACD should achieve. ‘Authentic’ touches, such as a magnificently recreated Bayreuth thunder machine and a restored harp part in Wotan’s Farewell, are fascinating – as touches. Above all, Haenchen’s conducting, for all it draws on the latest researches of the New Wagner Edition, feels even shorter on proper dramatic tension than in 1999 – until Act III, when everything seems to pick up. But by then it’s too late. Asher Fisch on the Australian set is consistently finer, and – despite the presence of Brocheler, ironically – retains the SACD recommendation. This remains more for scholars and completists, the more so as no libretto is included. Michael Scott Rohan