Munich Ring: Die Walküre
July 22, 2012
Germany R. Wagner, Die Walküre: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor), Bavarian State Orchestra, 11.7.2012 (JMI)
Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Andreas Kriegenburg
Sets: Harald B. Thor
Costumes: Andrea Schraad
Lighting: Stefan Bolliger
Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin
Sieglinde: Anja Kampe
Siegmund: Klaus Florian Vogt
Wotan: Thomas J. Mayer
Fricka: Sophie Koch
Hunding: Ain Anger
Helmwige: Barbara Morihien
Gerhilde: Danielle Halbwachs
Ortlinde: Golda Schultz
Waltraute: Heike Grötzinger
Grimgerde: Okka von der Damerau
Siegrune: Roswitha C. Müller
Rossweisse: Alexandra Petersamer
Schwerleite: Anaïk Morel
This second installment of Wagner’s Tetralogy was somewhat disappointing. Clearly, when the overall result is still good, the disappointment has to do with one’s expectations. I always expect the best in Munich and this time the result fell short. The stage production of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Walküre did not corresponded to expectations after Das Rheingold, it wasn’t fully convincing in musical terms, and finally cast offered not just light but also shadow.The stage is enclosed by three large wooden walls, with a ceiling of the same material. A large ash tree—in its branches entangled corpses—stands in the middle, a large dinner-table at the front, and several more tables and sinks at the back, where corpses are washed, cleaned, and wrapped. A large room also dominates the second act where Wotan looks like a business executive, surrounded by servants, who also serve the god and his wife as furniture, as needed. Siegmund’s death takes place on a stage full with corpses, and the last act shows a big empty space from which, finally, a table is raised for Brünnhilde to lie on, surrounded by a burning worm of cloth, held by supernumeraries. To add a little pyro-magic, the walls serve as screens for images of flames.If Kriegenburg’s idea is to show a society where violence reigns everywhere, it does not work very well. In the house of Hunding we meet Sieglinde with about 20 servants, of which 12 are dedicated to setting a table and to pass to each other a glass of water as Siegmund asks for a drink. The remaining servants are at the back, embalming corpses. Unlike in Siegfried, the continuous movements of the servants merely disrupt the attention on the musical flow. At least Kriegenburg put a stop to the extraneous stage movement for the wonderful duet of the twins. Two rows of (male) servants appear in the second act with little to do, except to serve as chairs. But oddly they never pick up the glasses that their bosses break when they get angry.
The opening of the third act upset the audience: More than a dozen female tap dancers in Doc Martens reference the horses for the ride of Valkyries with their otherwise silent stomping. Before the music starts this group delights the audience with five minutes of “footwork, accompanied by boos from the crowd after four minutes of patience. The great duet of Wotan and Brünnhilde has no emotion; both characters are situated far from each other and it doesn’t help that Wotan twice disappears from the stage, leaving his daughter back. He had to step out, incidentally, to bring back a few bottles of water: one for Brünnhilde, who seemed thirsty, the second time the water was for himself. In a way it was the most naturalistic, that is un-staged, moment of the evening. Finally, the Magic Fire was something of a let-down.
Kent Nagano’ Bavarian State Orchestra performed marvelously, but the conductor didn’t quite. It is possible that my expectations were placed too high, but after an excellent start with the music of the storm, I found Nagano’s conducting short of energy and too slow. Wotan’s monologue in the second act lacked intimacy and the Death Announcement any sense of mystery. After the horese-incident, the famous Ride was well done, but soon the monotony crept back in. If you are not moved during “Leb wohl…” something is wrong.
Three different Brünnhildes inhabit this Ring, which is somewhat unusual and not to my liking. Iréne Theorin was the first one of the lot, and she didn’t convince me. No doubt she has a powerful voice, homogeneous and well-handled, but her singing is too monotonous and there is no emotion. Her top notes offered pitch problems in more than one occasion. In sum, a Brünnhilde of little interest.
The best singing of the cast came from the Walsung twins. First of all, Anja Kampe made a great, indeed ideal Sieglinde, perfectly suited to the role and living the character with outstanding intensity. The tessitura did not create any problems for her.
Klaus Florian Vogt was a convincing Siegmund and—at times—a brilliant performer. Admittedly, Vogt’s voice is not what I would choose for Siegmund, who requires a more heroic voice. That said, he sang very well and that he had no problems to get through and above the sound coming from the pit. For my taste, his “Wälse, Wälse” fell short of power and length, but he was truly outstanding in his duet with Brünnhilde. The announcement of the death was well solved, although he did not look too comfortable with that low tessitura.
Thomas J. Mayer’s Wotan is not what I expect from a top opera house. He is a good singer, quite expressive, but he is more comfortable at the top than at the bottom of the range. In general, he fell short of emotion in the passages where Wotan shows his most human and tender side. He is better suited to the role than Johan Reuter, at least, but to rule the Walhalla you need an exceptional Wotan.
Sophie Koch was much improved from her previous night’s Fricka. She was even more convincing on stage, although her voice is too weak at the bottom for the role. Ain Anger is now one of the best Hundings around and he proved it again that night: Excellent in voice and if anything perhaps a little too noble for this evil character. The group of Valkyries was fine, once the “horses” left the front of the stage.
José Mª. IRURZUN