Wagner: Arias and Duets

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Arias and duets from Lohengrin, Tannhäuser & Die Walküre
PERFORMER: Petra Maria Schnitzer (soprano), Peter Seiffert (tenor); Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: C 760 091 A

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Towering Heldentenor Peter Seiffert and rising dramatic soprano Petra Maria Schnitzer are undoubtedbly among today’s finest Wagnerian heroes and heroines – and also partners in real life.

Singing marriages aren’t uncommon, of course, but it is unusual to find a couple so well matched in the same repertory. Neither quite has the supreme vocal heft for a Siegfried or Brünnhilde, but they’re all the more at home in the slightly less overpowering roles in this programme, without the effortful bawling that too often passes for expressiveness.

The solo arias here, with Ulf Schirmer’s capable support, confirm their individual qualities. Seiffert began as a lyric tenor, and it shows; alongside ringing energy he retains a graceful legato, rarely strained, and elegant phrasing, especially appropriate in Lohengrin and Siegmund’s lovemaking, but also supportive in Tannhäuser’s gruelling narration. Schnitzer’s youthfully keen, clean-edged tone at times almost ‘floats’, with only a slight tremor, but remains amply expressive and passionate. 

In the duets they do make a striking effect, intense yet lyrical; but no more, perhaps, than we’d expect from two such superior singers – at least until the Walküre Act I finale. There it really isn’t too difficult to detect a special rapport, an unusual tenderness and more, confirmed by their performance on the new Valencia DVD (reviewed, p82).

It would have been good to hear two such bright-toned Wagnerians together in Meistersinger also, but they can at least be found on EMI’s 2004 Zurich DVD (599 7369), although Schnitzer seems less at ease vocally back then (and the production is mildly inane).

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And one can’t help wondering about those roles Wagner created precisely for another such couple, the von Carolsfelds – Tristan and Isolde. Of course, Seiffert has already sung Tristan, but will Schnitzer’s voice ever stand up to Isolde? If so, this pairing is an intriguing prospect. Michael Scott Rohan