René Pape sings Wagner
There is a long tradition of singers graduating from the Wagnerian bel canto of Wolfram in Tannhäuser to the more declamatory roles of Wotan, Sachs and Gurnemanz – in other words, of baritones turning into bass-baritones. René Pape has been a leading figure on the operatic scene for long enough to have completed this transformation; yet he remains more than capable of the spellbinding legato that Wolfram’s Hymn to the Evening Star requires.
This disc centres on two extended sequences, the final stages of Die Walküre (Wotan’s Farewell) and a substantial chunk of the Good Friday scene from Parsifal. Both are first-class, and although the singing is inevitably less vividly phrased than would be the case in an actual staging, purely musical values are of rare distinction. The Parsifal scene in particular benefits from Barenboim’s characteristic blend of spontaneity and deliberation, while Plácido Domingo easily matches Pape in his eloquent ardour.
As well as the Tannhäuser aria – broadly paced and rather coolly projected – there is a snippet from King Henry’s homily (Lohengrin, Act 1), and a Meistersinger “package” in which the “Flieder” monologue (Act 2) and peroration of Act 3 frame the Nightwatchman’s very brief song at the end of Act 2 (with its orchestral continuation). Why this is included rather than the great “Wahn” monologue is a mystery: and these extracts have a rather more generalised vocal style – with some of the slightly effortful nuances evident in Pape’s performance of Gurnemanz in the recent Mariinsky Parsifal (A/10). Perhaps those final admonitions to the folk of Nuremberg can only really ring true if the voice gives evidence of the wear and tear of the previous five hours or so of live performance? For all that, when it comes to sheer vocal refinement and the purest Wagnerian gravitas, René Pape is hard to beat.