Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stuttgart Ring: Die Walküre

After watching Christof Nel's version of Walküre, I have concluded that I am musically spoiled by the Met.  I even had a moment of weakness in which I wondered whether being faintly bored by a production was better than being deeply frustrated by one. This was a Walküre which lost mythic romance without substituting gritty bite. The program notes inform me that the director saw his role as that of a psychoanalyst, who wanted to reveal the internal conflicts and ambivalences of the characters, using "today's materials." I'm sorry, but putting Sieglinde in a print dress rather than a medieval kirtle does not automatically make her plight more moving. Brace yourselves, Gentle Readers; I'm going to rant!  Act I of the staging specializes in emphasizing the obvious. In introducing gestures mimicking those of lust into Siegmund and Sieglinde's first exchange, I would accuse it of reducing the profound to the profane. Awkwardly stylized movements sat oddly with a set and properties which are insistently mundane.  Robert Gambill's voice is leaner than what I usually expect from a Siegmund, but he had some beautiful phrasing, and I liked his tone.  I found him sympathetic, as well, though it would be hard not to feel sorry for a man wearing a Lycra tank top, knit shorts, and an iridescent blue windbreaker.  He also contributed moving moments in Act II, though he seemed a shade underpowered (the Stuttgart audience loved him, so maybe he was fine in-house.)  Angela Denoke was, similarly, a slightly small-voiced Sieglinde, and I thought she had some intonation problems, but I'm not sure whether that might be the fault of the recording. The sword bore an unfortunate resemblance to a butter knife, but what the staging did with it was rather interesting: first visible as a sword of light on Sieglinde's body, the weapon itself is revealed when the walls open out during "Du bist der Lenz."

Brünnhilde (Renate Behle) wears a sports coat, identical to Wotan's, and clownish makeup. In the opening of Act II, she is helping her father arrange miniature statues--standing in for human destinies--in the unfurnished basement of a house, where Wotan lounges in track pants. (Under the circumstances, I'm tempted to use the odious term "man cave.") He dons blazer and over-sized sunglasses for the confrontation with Fricka.  The staging, then, seemed to me to take Fricka's side.  Wotan is a self-centered shirker of responsibility; Fricka is an elegantly dressed woman with a mission, and morals (sung with conviction by Tichina Vaughn.) I watched this twice, dutifully, and just was not drawn in by Wotan's monologue. I didn't get a sense of his anguish, nor the scope of the matters at stake. This staging of Siegmund's death managed to leave me dry-eyed. Need I emphasize that this is hard to do? Wotan, Brünnhilde, Hunding, and Siegmund stood behind music stands holding bullhorns while automata built of scrap material raised and lowered swords behind a scrim. After the Siegmund-robot fell, Siegmund walked over to Wotan, who contemplated the scene with him. This leads me to my main criticism of the production: emotionally, it fell flat.

Valkyries, Act III. Via
The Ride of the Valkyries, well sung, has been dubbed the "Silly Walk Walküre" by, a label on which I cannot improve. Eva-Maria Westbroek is a nice treat as Gerhilde, playful and sexy, as well as rich-voiced. Wotan reading a newspaper and stonily ignoring Brünnhilde during "War es so schmaehlich" struck me as a painfully realistic depiction of paternal displeasure. I thought having them on separate levels of the stage for the entire scene, however, undermined the poignancy of their laments for intimacy-about-to-be-lost. Wotan intermittently observes Brünnhilde on a security camera he has, which strikes me as interesting, but didn't seem to fit with an overall idea of the production.  He seems preoccupied and distracted. True, he breaks his "staff," here a long straw of the kind Tom Sawyer might chew, into pieces when describing his "ewige Gram." But I wasn't feeling it. Wotan finally looks directly at his daughter when she is making her plea for the magic fire, and they reach out as for an embrace; but he turns away at the last minute. Brünnhilde sits dejected at a table identical to the one found in Hunding's hut in Act I. I figured that one out: the table and chairs of an oppressive patriarchy that shops at Ikea! Wotan, drunk on the whiskey he has been imbibing, staggers about in the tie that he dons partway through the scene.  He sings "Der Augen leuchtendes Paar" to the TV screen. It is a poignant choice--a loving father unable to show his love--but I didn't feel that it was really supported or explored much by Jan-Hendrik Rootering's Wotan. (Note: the only Walküre-Wotans I've heard live are Morris and Terfel,  so I am spoiled by performances of great emotional depth and nuance.)  Again, Zagrosek and the orchestra of the Staatsoper contributed clean, precise playing; this sometimes verged on feeling too clean, for me, given the larger-than-life emotions of the opera.  The tempi also could seem measured where I wanted them to be running away. This may well have been a noble attempt by the conductor and orchestra to support the interpretation of the production. Would that it had been more rewarding.


  1. ...Wow. That does sound pretty awful. I hadn't thought that you could make "Walkure" cringe-worthy, but I take it this did a pretty good job. Shame.

  2. @Christie Musically, it was far from cringe-worthy. I liked Siegmund and Sieglinde especially (granted, I usually do!) Still, I didn't think the specific details of the production added up to a coherent picture. I'd like to think I'd be fine with missing the familiar take on the narrative if something of substance was substituted... but I didn't get that here. As you say, a shame.

  3. hey, if you're still taking DVD suggestions I was in the record store yesterday and noted a few that I think you would find interesting!
    Don Giovanni--Salzburg/Guth or Glyndebourne/Kent (which I think isn't out quite yet but I remembered it, it should be available soon and got really great reviews)
    Yevgeny Onegin--Salzburg/Breth or Bolshoi/Tcherniakov, the one with Kwiecien
    Lohengrin--Liceu/Konwitschny (not new but it's a classic!)
    Or if you just want goofy fun I recommend La vie parisienne (Pelly production from Lyon) or La finta giardiniera (Salzburg, Dorris Dörrie)

  4. Isn't Dorris Dörrie the one who did Planet of the Apes Rigoletto?

  5. @Zerbinetta As always, yes! Thanks v. much. I didn't know the Salzburg/Guth Giovanni had made it to disc; saw the Kent one webstreamed last summer but was sick at the time so not processing nuance very well. I'd be v. interested to see a number of takes on Onegin. Goofy fun recommendations also appreciated!

    @stray I had to look it up, but yep!

  6. The downside of the Guth Giovanni is that Annette Dasch sings Donna Anna and does not do it so well. But it is worth seeing and the rest of the cast is excellent! I didn't watch the Glyndebourne webcast myself, so you're ahead of me there, I just heard it was good. The Bieito Don is also, er, something, and there's always the Kusej Salzburg one too (though I personally don't like that one much). And Sellars's classic NYC one.

    Dorris Dörrie also did the Cosí with hippies (DVD from Berlin with Röschmann).

    Some operas just seem to be stronger Regie magnets that others, and Onegin is definitely a bigger one--the Herheim production in Amsterdam in a few weeks is being taped so that will be another one eventually. Lohengrin also very frequently gets Regie treatment.

  7. It does sound crappy, worse than the Decker (Dresden/Madrid - not available on DVD) which featured all sorts obscurities and had Hunding (our own JPK) engage in particularly nasty abuse of poor Sigliende who is made out to be disturbingly bland (in the instance I saw it today's best and most beautiful Siggy - better than EMW - and the imposed blandness did not prevent her being the star of the show).

    I'm sure Zerbinetta would agree (perhaps she's even suggested it - the Kusaj Rusalka from Munich which I just saw live (I almost bought the DVD but they're cheaper in the U.S.) and while his Don G isn't great it kinda grew on me. Unfortunately the 2006 musical performance was the weakest of the 3 (2003 was probably best).

    The Konwitschny Lohengrin is weird bur worth it for Emily Magee's adorable Elsa. Don't know if you saw it yet but the Munich Lohengrin is obviously an absolute must for Harteros (you can never have enough of her - I read somewhere she was supposed to sing Siggy in the new Munich Ring but decided against it at this time - and what luxury as the Marschallin) ) and Kaufmann. I think Zerbinetta's already reviewed it but your views would also be well worth reading and if nothing else you'd really enjoy AH and JK. (I'm thinking about seeing it and probably will but have to say knowing that in the absence of the above ...- though Meier as Ortrud should be some compensation).

  8. @marcillac Nice to hear from you in the midst of your European wanderings! Thanks for the DVD recommendations! A Lohengrin binge might be in order. And I really should get to know Rusalka better. How neat that you got to see it... and do I gather that you heard AH's Marschallin as well? I dread the emotional devastation of watching her and Kaufmann together but I probably should do it. Meier as Ortrud--!!! Watching Ortrud steal the show could be awkward, but hey, if it's Waltraud Meier, I'm not sure how much I'd mind!

  9. Not so much wanderings as workings* (and, indeed, just at the moment I'm back in insufferably stuffy NYC - should make it back for Rosenkavalier number 3 next week but am compelled to miss Les Huguenotes in Brussels this weekend). Must confess that Munich office being about 90 seconds from front door of National Theater is a felicitous logistical circumstance.

    Meier also scheduled for Ortrud with JK and Emily Magee on BSO Japan tour - hope they all go cause the Japanese could use a pick me up.

    About that Rosenkavalier will comment only briefly because I'm sure Zerbi will have many interesting observations when she goes in July. Briefly though, AH rather amazing (my 2nd favorite M'lin after the Siggy mentioned above). She's quite at her remarkable loveliest, moves gracefully and is effortlessly playful, poignant and commanding as called for**. Her singing is effortlessly beautiful and secure and one is at a complete loss of words at the way she dispatches pianissimos (e.g. on "...nacht", "...reiten", "...R'sn", in the Act 1 sequence) on firm yet cushiny clouds of creamy tone. I'm troubled by her being the youngest (in age at time of performance and year of birth) and most youthful Marschallin in my experience and the first who does not qualify - for me - as "an older woman" (she is a bit older than me but certainly doesn't meet the OW standard). Die Zeit .....

    I would very enthusiastically recommend the DVD of the production with Kleiber/Dame Gwyneth/Fassbaender/Lucia Popp (incidentally Lucy Crowe's Sophie was actually tolerable - a rarity for me - as was, of course, Popp's) and would very eagerly read your views.

    I trust you're familiar with the Chereau Ring (Dame Gwyneth as Brunnhilde) but would love to see a review and perhaps the Barenboim/Kupfer.

    *I can't help but think that someone with your language skills and academic orientation will very shortly find herself on an extended stay in some Stem Duchy or another with all the musical opportunities such a stay would afford.

    ** Perhaps there's a bit of "operatic" overacting when she realizes she's forgotten to kiss Octavian and when she leaves after the Trio but its absurdly churlish to complain.

  10. @marcillac Ah... European workings less carefree than wanderings, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Thank you for all the delicious detail on Harteros' Marschallin; sounds enviable indeed. AH does strike me as a bit young for the Marschallin, but my ideas on how old the Marschallin should actually be are rather flexible.

    Thanks for the DVD recommendations! I do know (and quite like) the Chereau but haven't seen the Kupfer. Getting my hands on the DVD of Kupfer's Bayreuth Dutchman is on my wishlist, as well. And, yes, I am hoping that I will successfully persuade grant-giving organizations to send me over to live somewhere in Germany for a year or so, probably in 2013. Musical opportunities would be pounced upon with almost as much glee as obscure manuscripts.


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