Nina Stemme: Wagner
The Swedish soprano Nina Stemme is, of course, pre eminent among contemporary Wagnerian singers. But the market choices of today mean that collecting official recordings of her major roles necessitates quite a hike through different labels and even formats – two-thirds of her Brünnhilde, for example, is still only available on DVD. It was never thus with her predecessor Birgit Nilsson.
That fact, however, makes Orfeo’s new assembly of live bleeding chunks from a decade of the singer’s repertoire at the Vienna State Opera all the more valuable a reminder of the class and range of this artist. We begin in 2003 with two scenes from the Holländer, the voice excitingly forward, the pitching exact and the tricky agilità that Wagner demands in the climactic run-out of Senta’s first actual meeting with the Dutchman (Falk Struckmann) expertly negotiated. Also expertly negotiated is Seiji Ozawa’s handling of the score which, stylistically, rightly eschews the big modern-instrument bashing of Karajan (and, truth to tell, a little Thielemann) in favour of Weber-influenced point and lightness.
The two excerpts from the then new Vienna Ring of the late 2000s find Stemme in similar pulsating form, although it’s a pity that the orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst cannot sound as fresh in the entire final scene of Siegfried as their newly awoken Brünnhilde. There is a beautiful control of line and length of phrase in the Swede’s singing here, together with a beyond fearless placing of the tessitura – a special performance, well noticed and chosen by Orfeo. It’s good too to have a further part of her Sieglinde (Act 1 of this performance is already available). Because of her Glyndebourne appearances and the Abbey Road studio recording (under Pappano – EMI/Warner, 9/05), Stemme’s Isolde seems more familiar to us here. An exciting reading of the Act 1 Narration and Curse and a well-vocalised end of Act 3 (strictly the Verklärung but the world still calls it the Liebestod) are a little held back by Welser-Möst’s intentionally but frustratingly restrained accompaniment.
This is indeed a record of outstanding vocalism but I don’t think that Orfeo’s note needs to promote that so excessively on what is after all (to the purchaser) the hidden interior of the disc. For the record, the transfers from broadcasts are good and natural; there are no texts or translations.